The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Gehenna is Hades

Gehenna is Hades. At least, that is my current understanding. I remain unconvinced by the arguments to the contrary that I have encountered thus far in my research.

I would suggest that just as Jerusalem is a type prefiguring the antitype of the “New Jerusalem,” Rev. 21:2), Gehenna (type), once a smoldering garbage dump outside Jerusalem, prefigured and warned of the underworld Hades (antitype); and further, the Dead Sea (type) prefigures the lake of fire (antitype), into which Hades will one day be thrown, Rev. 20:14.

(Note: in an article titled Biblical Archeology: Sodom and Gomorrah,” Leibel Reznick shows that Josephus referred to the Dead Sea as “Lake Asphaltites,” and wrote that the lake–which was still smoking in his day–was formed as a result of the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)

Hades and the subsequent lake of fire are very real and very agonizing. They are literal, not allegorical, places; nevertheless, they are spiritual in nature, and therefore non-physical. To reiterate:

  • physical Jerusalem ≅ (congruent to) spiritual New Jerusalem
  • physical Gehennaspiritual Hades
  • physical Dead Seaspiritual lake of fire (Consider Matthew 25:41 and Jude 1:6-7, Young’s Literal Translation.)

In the New Testament, Jesus introduced the Greek term “Gehenna,” thus continuing, and expanding on, the Hebrew Old Testament “Valley of Hinnom” theme of Jeremiah 7:31 and Isaiah 66:24—with their stark imagery of appalling destruction, where the wicked are completely destroyed—in order to graphically illustrate, and warn about, that holding place of suffering for all wicked dead before their Final Judgment in Rev. 20:13-15. Jesus amplified the “Valley of Hinnom” motif of a loathsome burning dump outside Jerusalem to include not only the destruction of the body after death, but also of “the soul,” Mt. 10:28.

Here are all 12 instances of “Gehenna” in the New Testament, eleven by Jesus, one by James. And although Jesus did also prophesy the soon destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, e.g., Mt. 24:2, Lk. 19:44, his instances of “Gehenna” do not appear to be announcing ‘a prophetic metaphor to describe the end of the Old Covenant system,’ as per preterism’s assertion. After all, the Law of Moses was abrogated at the cross, through the body of Christ, not through the Roman army in 70 AD. Rom. 7:4, Eph. 2:15. No, with “Gehenna,” Jesus seems to be warning about something more.

To support my argument that Gehenna and Hades are synonymous terms, here is a supportive quote—from advocates of the King James Version of the Bible, no less (with my emphasis):

Critics claim that the KJV is wrong for translating two Greek words “αδης (Hadēs)” and “γεεννα (Gehenna)” both as “hell.” These critics claim that Hades is merely a place of the dead, and not a place of torment and fire. However, we must get our understanding of biblical words from the Bible rather than from Pagan lore. The biblical definition of “Hades” indicates that it is a place of fire and torment. Luke 16:23-24 portrays the rich man being “tormented” in the “flame” of Hades. Thus, “hell” is an appropriate translation of “Hades.”

Since “Gehenna” is Hebrew and “Hades” is Greek, it would make sense for the Greek-influenced Hebrews of the New Testament to use the two words interchangeably in referring to hell. Paul, despite referring to Hades numerous times, never uses the word “Gehenna” in all his letters which were addressed to Greek-speaking Gentiles. The only place outside of the Gospels where “Gehenna” is referred to is in James’ epistle (3:6) which was addressed to Jews. We must understand that the Greek of the New Testament is not a uniform dialect. Jesus used a Semitic dialect to Jews in Judea whereas Paul used the standard Greek dialect in his letters to the churches throughout the Roman Empire. “Hades” was the word for hell when the audience may not have understood “Gehenna”. Apparently with the Hellenistic influence the word “Hades” was gaining currency even in Judea. But “Hades” was the only word for hell for the Gentiles. Why in the world would a Gentile in Rome understand the Hebrew word “Gehenna”? Common sense must be applied in ascertaining why the Bible uses both “Hades” and “Gehenna”. There seems to be no difference between the biblical Gehenna and the biblical Hades. “Gehenna” is the Hebrew word for hell and “Hades” is the Greek word for hell. The KJV, being a translation, translates both words for hell as “hell.”

I have argued elsewhere that up until the cross, the souls of humans who died all went DOWN to one of two places; but that ever since the cross, the saved who die go UP to Paradise, whereas the unsaved still today go down into suffering in Hades:

Consider: here are two very different places of suffering which are both described as fiery:

1) Hades

Luke 16:23-24
In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’


2) the subsequent lake of FIRE.

But I believe Hades and the lake of fire are qualitatively very different: Hades is a POW camp for those who died captive to the devil, and so remain captive to the devil after death; whereas the later lake of fire, also known as “the second death” (the death of death), is the restorative, healing ministry of a loving God who will bring about freedom from bondage and death to those captives, through His “wise fire.”

In Revelation, we read that after Judgment Day, Hades and its occupants will be thrown into the lake of fire:

Rev. 20:13-15
13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.
14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

The lake of fire is part of our temporal classroom (a classroom which also includes Paradise, earth, and Hades), and is only “age-during,” not never-ending, as we learn here:

I would argue that everyone in the lake of fire will, one by one, eventually come out and go through the gates of the New Jerusalem which are never closed (Rev. 21:25), in order to take the water of life (Rev. 22:17) being freely offered by the Spirit and the bride to “the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” who are “outside,” in that lake of fire (Rev. 22:15).

Make no mistake: “Salvation is found in no one else [except Jesus of Nazareth], for there is NO other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12.

Have no doubt: “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God UNLESS they are born again.’” John 3:3.

But my most important argument is that there is still opportunity postmortem, post-Judgment to repent and receive Jesus and his gift of salvation. I further argue regarding the non-physical nature of the lake of fire here:

Some argue (I think mistakenly) that Gehenna is not Hades, but rather that Gehenna is synonymous with the yet to be occupied lake of fire (into which Hades will be thrown). But in contradistinction to the lake of fire, “Gehenna,” like “Hades,” appears to be an active malignant force in the present. Compare:

Matthew 16:18 YLT
And I also say to thee, that thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly, and gates of Hades shall not prevail against it;

James 3:6 YLT
And the tongue is a fire, the world of the unrighteousness, so the tongue is set in our members, which is spotting our whole body, and is setting on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by the gehenna.

The three following examples of reasoning in support of the idea that Gehenna is not Hades but rather the lake of fire are considered, and rejected.

1. “We read in Matthew 10:26-31 that we are to fear God, who destroys both physical body as well as soul in Gehenna —and since that punishment is specified to include the physical body, we recall we only elsewhere see reference to physical bodies being thrown into fiery punishment in relation to the lake of fire punishment, as indicated in Rev. 20:15. Therefore, Gehenna is the lake of fire.”

However, the Matthew 10:26-31 passage does not actually say it is “God” who does the destroying. I believe it is the devil who does that destroying, not God: the devil is the one whom we should fear, not God. God strenuously warns us to avoid Gehenna at all costs: “But, if thy right eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee, for it is good to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to gehenna,” Mt. 5:29 YLT. (But for those who do end up in Gehenna, the God of love’s saving work in the subsequent, temporary lake of divine fire is remedial).

Consider the following important alternative interpretation of Matthew 10:26-31, which defends the lovingkindness of God, and contrasts Him with Satan (and recognize that this alternative interpretation is in harmony with the distinction between God and the devil spelled out by Jesus in John 10:10):

2. “In Matthew 18:8-9, Jesus warns of the ‘eternal’ fire of Gehenna; and since Hades fire is temporary, whereas only the subsequent lake of fire fire is ‘eternal,’ Gehenna must be the lake of fire.”

It is true that many translations erroneously employ the word “eternal”—with its idea of something timeless, having no beginning or end—to translate the Greek adjective aiōnios, e.g.,

Matthew 18:8-9 (NIV)
8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into ETERNAL [aiōnios] fire.
9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell [Gehenna].

But thankfully there exist less biased literal translations, which recognize that “aiōnios” is used to designate something as temporary:

Matthew 18:8-9 Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)
8 And if thy hand or thy foot doth cause thee to stumble, cut them off and cast from thee; it is good for thee to enter into the life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast to the fire the AGE-DURING [aiōnios].
9 And if thine eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee; it is good for thee one-eyed to enter into the life, rather than having two eyes to be cast to the gehenna of the fire.

3. “After his Second Coming, Jesus will judge between the sheep and the goats, and then send the sinners (the goats) to the never-ending Gehenna of fire”:

Matthew 25:41, 46
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal [literally, age-during] fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

46 “Then they will go away to eternal [literally, age-during] punishment, but the righteous to eternal [literally, age-during] life.”

We do know that the devil, shortly afterward followed by those whose names are not found in the book of life, will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10, 15). However, although this Matthew 25 passage about the separation of the sheep and the goats does speak of the “age-during [lake of] fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” it never actually refers to it as “Gehenna” (or “Hades” or “hell”) anywhere. (Further regarding the fate of the devil and his angels, please consider, “Will the devil be saved?”)

The overriding question in this debate, as in most theological debates, has to do with the true nature of God. I would like to conclude with some additional Bible verses with Universalist implications:

John 3:17
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

1 Corinthians 15:22
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ ALL will be made alive.

1 Timothy 4:10
That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

When the classroom of time ends, the real adventure begins:

Isaiah 9:6-7a (ESV)
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,

All those evil doctrines about God that work misery and madness have their origin in the brains of the wise and prudent, not in the hearts of children. -George Macdonald

Postscript: according to the entry on “Gehenna” in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), “Gehenna” is figuratively equivalent to “hell,” which I discuss in this comment (below).

Also, please see my related post, "The Temple, the Antichrist, and the Structure of Revelation."

Very good point. And a think-worthy post.

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Gehenna is the Lake of Fire. At least, that is my current understanding. I remain unconvinced by the arguments to the contrary that I have encountered thus far in my research. Even Paidion agrees with me that gehenna is the LoF… though we differ as to its purpose; he is closer to you on that aspect.

Actually Jesus’ use of Gehenna as… ‘a prophetic metaphor to describe the end of the Old Covenant systemis a pantelist position more than a prêterist position… many prêterists don’t share that consistent realisation. (great linked quote above BTW)

There is a great lack of understanding here above… ‘the law’ although indeed abrogated through the cross was STILL very much in vogue in those NT times even though thereafter because of the cross it carried NO redemptive power or value; thus it needed to be totally removed, which it was in the fiery end on that whole system in AD70 when everything then finally changed, or as the writer of Hebrews testifies of the Spirit…

Heb 9:8-9a the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time

Note: the tabernacle aka the temple was STILL standing… indicating ALL was not yet complete. This is where futurist eschatology is just so woefully lacking as it just doesn’t get this stuff. You will further note in this regard from the rest of verse 9 that gifts and sacrifices were STILL being offered… and yet NOW because to the Cross of no avail.

Absolutely agree.

There is NO EVIDENCE (and certainly not from your referrence) that the… “appalling destruction, where the wicked are completely destroyed” THEN translates into a “holding place” after death wherein the wicked THEN re-materialise. Destruction is destruction, i.e., total physical annihilation… nothing left — consider Sodom; THAT was Israel’s LoF aka gehenna.

But Jesus for his illustrative parable does just that, i.e., he draws from what had become common lore to make a point etc.

This is unfortunately really poor… the Hebrew equivalent to the Greek hades is sheol NOT gehenna — this is really basic stuff and anyone should really just know this.

Hades is not hell in Greek mythology, Tartaros is.

There were only hazy understandings of the afterlife in the early Abrahamic religion of the Bible. The clarity of later revelation, and especially that revelation in Christ, is far superior to that ancient nomadic people. They just did not know, at that time, the truth about those things, it appears.
I rely a lot on Channing’s way of putting it:
“We regard the Scriptures as the records of God’s successive revelations to mankind, and particularly of the last and most perfect revelation of his will by Jesus Christ. Whatever doctrines seem to us to be clearly taught in the Scriptures; we receive without reserve or exception. We do not, however, attach equal importance to all the books in this collection. Our religion, we believe, lies chiefly in the New Testament. The dispensation of Moses, compared with that of Jesus, we consider as adapted to the childhood of the human race, a preparation for a nobler system, and chiefly useful now as serving to confirm and illustrate the Christian Scriptures.”

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“Hades” is simply “the grave” whereas “Gehenna” seems to refer to a place of correction in the after-life.

Consider these passages in the NKJV concerning “Hades.” I have place “the grave” in parentheses after “hades.” Does it not make sense?

Mt 11:23 “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades (the grave) for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Mt 16:18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades the grave shall not prevail against it.

Lu 10:15 “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades (the grave).

Ac 2:27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades (the grave), Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

Ac 2:31 “he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades (the grave), nor did His flesh see corruption.

1Co 15:55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades (grave), where is your victory?”

Re 1:18 “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades (the grave) and of Death.

Re 6:8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades (the grave) followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

Re 20:13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades (the grave) delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.

Re 20:14 Then Death and Hades (the grave) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

You doubtless noticed that I omitted Jesus’ parable from Luke 16 where “Hades” clearly refers to the afterlife. That is because Jesus was using a well-known belief of the Pharisees that Hades was where everyone went after they died. Jesus used that Jewish belief to show that even if someone returned from the dead to warn them, they still wouldn’t repent.

here is a interesting view…

@FormerUR I dont think that Jews believe in hell. period. Also it has already been stated that Gehinnom is a valley south east of Jerusalem that has a long period through Babylonian times of offering live human child sacrifices to the god Molech. You and I can go visit Gehinnom right now if you’d like.

I do however think that scripture states there is the ‘holding place’ of sheol/hades. This place included everyone, believer- non-believer, jew-gentile, however was split between the righteous and the unrighteous.

From the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia entry on “Gehenna”:

The place where children were sacrificed to the god Moloch was originally in the “valley of the son of Hinnom,” to the south of Jerusalem (Josh. xv. 8, passim ; II Kings xxiii. 10; Jer. ii. 23; vii. 31-32; xix. 6, 13-14). For this reason the valley was deemed to be accursed, and “Gehenna” therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for “hell.” Hell, like paradise, was created by God (Soṭah 22a); according to Gen. R. ix. 9, the words “very good” in Gen. i. 31 refer to hell; hence the latter must have been created on the sixth day.

…The “fiery furnace” that Abraham saw (Gen. xv. 17, Hebr.) was Gehenna (Mek. xx. 18b, 71b; comp. Enoch, xcviii. 3, ciii. 8; Matt. xiii. 42, 50; 'Er. 19a, where the “fiery furnace” is also identified with the gate of Gehenna). Opinions also vary as to the situation, extent, and nature of hell.

…Because of the extent of Gehenna the sun, on setting in the evening, passes by it, and receives from it its own fire (evening glow; B. B. 84a). A fiery stream (“dinur”) falls upon the head of the sinner in Gehenna (Ḥag. 13b). This is “the fire of the West, which every setting sun receives. I came to a fiery river, whose fire flows like water, and which empties into a large sea in the West” (Enoch, xvii. 4-6). Hell here is described exactly as in the Talmud.

…There is a smell of sulfur in Gehenna (Enoch, lxvii. 6). This agrees with the Greek idea of hell (Lucian, Αληθεῖς Ιστορίαι, i. 29, in Dietrich, “Abraxas,” p. 36).

…The pious go to paradise, and sinners to hell (B. M. 83b)….Hence it would have been better for the latter not to have lived at all (Yeb. 63b). They are cast into Gehenna to a depth commensurate with their sinfulness. They say: "Lord of the world, Thou hast done well; Paradise for the pious, Gehenna for the wicked " ('Er. 19a).

the valley was deemed to be accursed, and “Gehenna” therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for “hell.”

That doesn’t mean that it is hell itself. Also key word “became” means that it wasn’t always like that from a Jewish perspective.

The term gehenna could be used as a way of describing similar aspects of hades if that is actually correct. However to say that they are the same place is not correct IMO. If we are to be exact on interpreting the bible we cant say that is the same thing. We cant conclude that in every case where the word gehenna is used that it is referring to hades. That would be incorrect.


True, but that was only due to the translators and the translators eventually turned a valley outside of Jerusalem into a underground place where all who are not abiding by the said structure were doomed to everlasting torture, it has to be noted that how would a loving creator God who made creation the way it was made would turn around and throw that creation into a ‘hell’ as evangelicals see it.

Jesus heavily rebuked the Jews for their unbiblical traditions, there were various sects among the Jews with different eschatology, the Saducees believed in no afterlife at all as we know from the bible.

@FormerUR I just don’t see that to be correct from what I’ve studied so far. Saying ‘definitely’ is a gross overstatement of this topic as well. I think that theres much more to saying that it’s black and white when considering the almost 6 thousand years of biblical history to account for.

Also on a side not, I do have a problem with the term ‘everlasting’ as it should more appropriately be translated as ‘age-lasting’ or ‘an unspecified amount of time’ according to the Greek and Hebrew.

You said that you did not think the Jews believed in Hell.
Where is the holding place that you say scripture talks about? Are you saying the grave (Sheol) is a holding place? Please put forth the argument.

@maintenanceman Im saying that it is their belief that hell does not exist. The term hell refers to eternal conscious torment for people. The term hades/sheol denotes a holding place void of any torment for eternity. So what Im saying is that there is a difference by definition of the terms in the Greek and Hebrew. It would get more complicated when introducing any sort of corrective punishment for ‘an unspecified amount of time’ (eonian) but the concept remains that it could be a holding place for souls before a form of judgement.

Yes, some people think that. But others, like myself, see hell as one big “purgatory.”

Thanks for the view point Paidion, that is very well possible.

I agree.

Speaking strictly from a scriptural standpoint, it would seem that the gospels dealt with Jesus going to face the dead (maybe in your Sheol) and dealing with them. And if so, the deal was done and there would be no reason to think any other judgement was forthcoming. As to us here and now dying, I will say that I proclaim that Jesus did once for ever deal with all of the sin of humanity in rearguards to the Father God, and I at least am very well convinced that I and everyone I know and many I don’t know are all covered. Christ took sin away. Amen

Well I think thats a great thing to believe in. Im still in the mix as to whether or not Sheol/hades is done away with due to the Messiahs coming. But either way I just wanted to make sure the definitions of biblical terms are correct so we aren’t believing in something false or misguiding. Appreciate the views.

Amen, so go to all the nations and proclaim the gospel!