The Evangelical Universalist Forum



Oh well, Craig. never mind.


That’s fine. I only share what I’ve come to believe based on the information available to me. You interpret scripture from a different viewpoint, a view that I have not extensively studied. Maybe you’re right, maybe I’m right, or maybe we’re both completely wrong. Some day we’ll all come to full understanding and I look forward to that day. Until then I simply share what I’ve come to believe and why I’ve come to believe it.

There are several sites that discuss Jewish beliefs concerning the afterlife. which notes:

Traditional Judaism includes belief in both heaven and hell, as we will see below. How is one’s destination decided? The School of Shammai offered this description:

There will be three groups on the Day of Judgment: one of thoroughly righteous people, one of thoroughly wicked people and one of people in between. The first group will be immediately inscribed for everlasting life; the second group will be doomed in Gehinnom [Hell], as it says, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence” [Daniel 12:2], the third will go down to Gehinnom and squeal and rise again, as it says, “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on My name and I will answer them” [Zechariah 13:9]… [Babylonian Talmud, tractate Rosh Hashanah 16b-17a]

The school of Hillel suggested a more merciful view, in which the middle group are sent directly to Gan Eden (Heaven) instead of Gehinnom after death. Rabbi Hanina added that all who go down to Gehinnom will go up again, except adulterers, those who put their fellows to shame in public, and those who call their fellows by an obnoxious name [Babylonian Talmud, tractate Baba Metzia 58b].

As implied in the Book of Daniel, the Jewish notion of resurrection in the Maccabeean period was tied to a notion of judgment, and even to separate realms for the judged. In rabbinical thought, the model for heaven was Eden. The rabbinic word for hell, “Gehenna”, is taken from the name of a valley of fire where children were said to be sacrificed as burnt offerings to Baal and Moloch (Semitic deities). Gehenna is a place of intense punishment and cleansing. This place is also known as “She’ol” and other names. This line of Jewish thought argues that after death the soul has to be purified before it can go on the rest of its journey. The amount of time needed for purification depends on how the soul dealt with life. One Jewish tradition states that a soul needs a maximum of 11 months for purification, which is why, when a parent dies, the kaddish (memorial prayer) is recited for 11 months. The concept of Gehenna as a place for temporary purification was the source for the orthodox Christian doctrine of “purgatory.”

Only truly righteous souls ascend directly to Gan Eden, say the sages. The average person descends to a place of punishment and/or purification, generally referred to as Gehinnom.
The name is taken from a valley (Gei Hinnom) just south of Jerusalem, once used for child sacrifice by the pagan nations of Canaan (II Kings 23:10). Some view Gehinnom as a place of torture and punishment, fire and brimstone. Others imagine it less harshly, as a place where one reviews the actions of his/her life and repents for past misdeeds.
The soul’s sentence in Gehinnom is usually limited to a twelve-month period of purgation before it takes its place in Olam Ha-Ba (Mishnah Eduyot 2:9, Shabbat 33a). This twelve-month limit is reflected in the yearlong mourning cycle and the recitation of the Kaddish (the memorial prayer for the dead).
Only the utterly wicked do not ascend to Gan Eden at the end of this year. Sources differ on what happens to these souls at the end of their initial time of purgation. Some say that the wicked are utterly destroyed and cease to exist, while others believe in eternal damnation (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Law of Repentance, 3:5-6).

Actually, much of Jesus’ ministry was centered on correcting the doctrine and attitudes of the Pharisees. This is especially seen in Matthew. Even much of the Sermon on the Mount was focused on countering the doctrine, attitudes, and practices of the Pharisees. Was what Jesus said concerning Gehenna meant to contradict what the Pharisees taught concerning Gehenna? Or did what Jesus say concerning Gehenna affirm or assume the common understanding of Gehenna. To me it seems that Jesus assumes the common usage of Gehenna primarily, though He does use it to counter some other doctrines of the Pharisees like in Mk.9.49, and the story of the rich man and Lazarus (though Gehenna is not specifically mentioned in this one, instead Hades is used).

As to your other comments, I’ll get to them tomorrow.



It seems that we interpret scripture using different methodology. I believe it is important to interpret individual passages based upon their context, paying particular attention to their literary context (immediate and extended), the audience to which it was spoken/written, the cultural context, historical context, and even the authorial context (ex: John uses different wording than Paul does).

Thus if Jesus is speaking of personal judgment, then Gehenna would relate to personal judgment. If Jesus is speaking of the corporate punishment of Israel or specifically of Jerusalem, then Gehenna would relate to that. But I do not believe it is a good practice to impose upon a passage an interpretation that is not derived from the passage.

I believe that a first step in proper interpretation of scripture, or any literature for that matter, is to understand what specific words, phrases, metaphors, etc. would have meant to the literature’s primary, first, audience. Yes it’s true that Jeremiah prophecied the destruction of Jerusalem, noting that such destruction was coming because of the sin of Judah, particularly the sin of sacrificing their children in a fiery offering to Molech in the valley of Hinnom, and noting that the valley of Hinnom would come to be know as the valley of slaughter because the dead of Jerusalem would be piled high there, unburied, desecrated. Notice though that this is not metaphorical language, but an actual prophecy of certain doom of Jerusalem with a specific judment againt Jerusalem’s valley of Hinnom. And as you know this prohecy was fulfilled, Jerusalem was destroyed, the bodies were piled high in the valley of Hinnom, it became known as the valley of Slaughter, and was ultimately desecrated by making it a trash dump.

But to the 1st Century Jew to whom Jesus spoke, what did Gehenna speak of? When Jesus spoke of Gehenna, what would they have understood Him to be speaking of? Would they have understood Him to be speaking of another coming destruction of Jerusalem, or would they have understood Him to be speaking of personal judgment of sin and coming remedial punishment?

As I’ve noted, Gehenna was a common 1st Century Jewish metaphor that spoke of punishment of sin in the after-life, primarily remedial punishment. And if Jesus intended to use Gehenna as a metaphor to prophecy another coming destruction of Jerusalem then He would have likely been very clear about such. Instead though, the passages where He speaks of Gehenna, He is speaking of personal sins, personal judgment, except possibly the Mt.23 passage; but even here the Pharisees would have likely heard it as a judgment against them specifically and not as a prophecy of doom for Jerusalem.

The passages where Jesus warns of Gehenna are meant to be an encouragement for individuals to repent from sin and are not speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Mt.5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.”

Mt.10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Notice the personal nature of these encouraging words. God knows each of us personally and treat each one of us as his beloved child! These passages are not warning of the judgment of Jerusalem. To interpret them to speak of the destruction of Jerusalem is to completely disregard the literary and cultural context of these passages. A Text without a Context is a Pretext - an assumed interpretation that often misses the author’s intended meaning.

If you’ll notice, Gehenna is not even mentioned in this passage you quoted! In fact, Luke only uses Gehenna in 12:5 where He quotes Jesus saying:

4"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Again though note that it is highlighting that God loves us individually, personally, the very hairs of our heads are numbered. We as individuals are important to God. God is not only concerned with groups of people, but is concerned with individuals.

As noted before, the passage in Mt.23 could be interpreted to speak of the coming destruction of Jerusalem; but the other passages are not meant to be a warning of the destruction of Jerusalem, but a warning of the judgment of God that every person will face.

I believe that the literary context helps us understand what He meant. To disregard the literary context and impose one’s interpretation on any given passage usually results in a misinterpretation. It doesn’t matter what I think He should have said, but what He actually said.


Hi Sherman,

Thanks for the response. What I’m most interested in knowing about the Talmudic passages to which you refer is this: were the passages in which Gehenna is employed to denote a post-mortem punishment (whether remedial or otherwise) written before, during or after the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, when the events recorded in the Gospels took place? If I’m not mistaken, the Babylonian Talmud (which is referenced frequently in your above post) was not even completed until at least around the 5th century AD. So could you (or someone else on this forum) please tell me when exactly those passages that refer to Gehenna as a post-mortem remedial punishment came to be included in the Talmud? Because while the answer to this question is pretty inconsequential to my own argument, it is, I believe, very critical to yours. So for the sake of your argument, please inform me when, exactly, the Talmudic references to Gehenna as a post-mortem remedial punishment were written and included in the Talmud.

Now, you wrote:

So according to one rabbi, "…the third will go down to Gehinnom and squeal and rise again, as it says, “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on My name and I will answer them” [Zechariah 13:9].

Really? :confused: “As it says” in Zechariah 13:9? I don’t read anything about anyone going “down to Gehinnom” in this verse. Nor do I see any allusion in this verse to post-mortem punishment of any kind (remedial or otherwise). Such a strained attempt to find support in the OT for their view of Gehenna betrays the uninspired origin of their belief. And these are the guys that you think defined the word for our Lord to use during his earthly ministry?

The fact that the above view may be considered “more merciful” (at least, to the “middle group”) doesn’t make it any more divinely sanctioned or worthy of acceptance by Christians. It simply made the falsehood easier to swallow for those who evidently had no problem with going beyond what was written in the Scriptures. And I still see no evidence from the above passage that this understanding of the word “Gehenna” originated before or during Christ’s day.

So according to this source, Gehenna "is also known as “She’ol.” Is this what you believe as well? If not, why? And do you also think that souls need to spend a “maximum of 11 months” in this place of “intense punishment and cleansing” in order for them to be made fit for heaven? If not, why?

I noticed that the above quote refers to the “Mishnah Eduyot.” I found the following site helpful in understanding a little about the history of this work: … ishna.html

Apparently the Mishnah was redacted sometime at the beginning of the 3rd century AD.

The fact that “Maimonides” is referred to above as a source is quite telling, as he wasn’t even born until 1135 AD. Also, here’s a rather interesting excerpt from the “My Jewish Learning” site you linked above (same page from which you quoted, actually):

According to the above site, it would seem that the idea of a future retrbution beyond this lifetime for individuals really began to develop in Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70. Of course, this isn’t to say that post-mortem retribution wasn’t alluded to in some intertestamental works, but it’s interesting that the article would place the emphasis on its being primarily a post-70 AD development among Jewish writers.

Now, in response to my question about whether Christ sanctioned everything that these Jews believed and taught about Gehenna when he spoke of it during his ministry, you wrote:

Well first, I think you need to prove that “what the Pharisees taught concerning Gehenna” (if they indeed taught anything about it) was anything close to what your views are - for nothing like that is affirmed in any of the above links with which you provided me. I still see no evidence that the Pharisees in Christ’s day understood Gehenna as a place of either remedial or endless punishment in a post-mortem state of existence. Second (assuming that anything close to the meaning which you ascribe to Gehenna was being taught prior to or during Christ’s day), I think you need to prove that Jesus “assumes” this “common usage of Gehenna primarily.” I could just as easily respond to your above statement (which I placed in bold) with, “Well it seems to me that Jesus didn’t sanction a single word of what those uninspired men had to say about Gehenna.” And why would he? Wasn’t it Jesus who rebuked the Pharisees for “making void the word of God” by their traditions that they had handed down (Mark 7:13)? And if their understanding of Gehenna wasn’t derived from the OT, then we have no reason to see it as having any kind of divine sanction, and every reason to understand it as being a part of uninspired Jewish tradition.

Concerning the “story of the rich man and Lazarus,” my views are expressed here: The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

I deny that the use of such a methodology supports your view that Jesus would have sanctioned the uninspired beliefs of certain Jewish rabbis, or that Jesus employed the word “Gehenna” to refer to something other than a national judgment upon Israel.

You’re erroneously assuming that a national judgment cannot be spoken of in terms that place the emphasis on the individual persons whose lives would be affected by the judgment.

A more important consideration when we’re talking about Jewish people who lived after the completion of their inspired Hebrew Scriptures is this: what should have certain words, phrases, metaphors, etc. meant to them? For the sake of argument let’s assume that just 50 years after the OT Scriptures were completed, Gehenna began to be employed by certain Jewish rabbis as a metaphor or figure for some sort of post-mortem punishment. What I want to know is this: By what means did these Jews come to know that Gehenna was a metaphor for some kind of post-mortem punishment? From where did the first Jews to employ Gehenna in such a sense get their information? It certainly wasn’t from their inspired Scriptures, because Gehenna is not once used in the OT in the sense that you think Jesus used it. So where did it come from? Did they derive this information from the pagans among whom they lived while in captivity? Or did they come up with it themselves? If it didn’t come from either of these two sources, where do you think it came from? Do you have any evidence at all that such information was derived from God’s authority, and revealed to them sometime after their inspired Scriptures were completed? It would, of course, be a matter of question-begging to assert that Jesus’ use of the word during his earthly ministry is evidence that whatever new meaning which had been affixed to it after the completion of the OT was done so by divine sanction.

Actually, I never said that the language in which the national judgment is described in the prophecy is meant to be understood as “metaphorical language.” Instead, my view is that, on the day that God instructed Jeremiah to “go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom,” the idea and imagery of national judgment upon Israel became, by divine authority, inseparably associated with the name of this accursed valley. My view is that, from that day on, the name “Gehenna” was invested with a meaning that it did not possess prior to this time - a meaning which any Jew living subsequent to the fulfillment of this prophesy in Jeremiah 19 would have been foolish to forget. When YHWH declared, “Behold, the days are coming that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter,” and, “Thus I will do to this place and to its inhabitants, and make this city like Tophet,” the names “Tophet” and “Gehenna” were henceforth imbued with the shocking imagery of God’s wrath being poured out upon the unfaithful nation of Israel, and of the corpses of countless slaughtered Israelites being dumped into this valley. It is true that I have called Christ’s use of “Gehenna” a “metaphor,” and I now realize the word “metaphor” is an inaccurate word to express my view on this. What I should have said is that Christ used the word as an emblem. That is, he spoke of people being “cast into Gehenna” as a shorthand way of alluding to a temporal judgment like that prophesied in Jeremiah 19. Recall that in Jeremiah’s prophecy YHWH declares that those slain in this national judgment would be buried in this valley “till there is no place to bury” (Jer 7:32-33; 19:11). Just as the bodies of Jerusalem’s dead were literally thrown into the Valley of Hinnom when the Babylonians overthrew the Jewish nation, so were the dead piled up in this same valley at the end of the war against Rome. This very event is even described by the historian Josephus:

Understood in this way, it is possible to understand Christ as being quite literal when he spoke of people being “cast into Gehenna,” since that is what happened to countless Jews who were slain in this judgment. But this language embraced more than the casting of dead bodies into this valley; it was simply the most effective way to embody in a single word or phrase this coming judgment, since the casting of dead bodies into Gehenna was undoubtedly the most unsettling and powerful image that would have been associated with this judgment (just as it was in Jeremiah’s day). Just as it was when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, so countless numbers of Jews who were slain in the overthrow of their nation in 70 AD were cast by the Romans into Gehenna (and there is good reason to believe that the dead bodies cast there would have been consumed and destroyed by maggots and fire). Thus, Christ’s use of the term “Gehenna” and the expression “cast into Gehenna” (etc.) was both an allusion back to Jeremiah 19 (and 7:32-34ff) as well as a specific and literal foretelling of where many of the unbelieving Jews of his generation were going to end up unless they repented and embraced him as the Messiah.

As far as what the word actually meant when Jesus used it, it really doesn’t matter what the Jews to whom he spoke understood by it, since they could have been entirely mistaken in their understanding, and the meaning which Christ assigned to the word would have been just as correct. Since they were a people whom God had blessed and privileged with inspired writings (writings in which “the Valley of Hinnom” is spoken of), what matters is how they ought to have understood it. And if it’s true that Gehenna is never used in the OT as an emblem or metaphor, then they should have understood it in its literal sense, for that would be the only sense that we can be sure was given divine sanction. But seeing as there is inspired precedent for associating the Valley of Hinnom with a national judgment upon Israel (at which time this valley was filled with the dead bodies of those who perished in the judgment), it is completely reasonable to believe that the first-century Jews to whom Christ spoke should have understood it in this way when Christ spoke of it as he did. And seeing as there was, in fact, “another coming destruction of Jerusalem” in Christ’s day, I’d have to say this position seems even more likely.

And (as noted earlier), while I believe the language Christ used when he referred to Gehenna expressed more than the casting of bodies into this valley, it didn’t mean less than this. Consequently, we may understand Jesus’ language about being “cast into Gehenna” in a literal sense when he was warning individuals of this fate - and there is good reason to expect the Jews to whom he spoke to have likewise understood it. However, I don’t think you can say the same for your position. If “Gehenna” was not being employed by Christ in a completely figurative or metaphoric way, then your view is most certainly false - unless, of course, you believe that disembodied souls and/or resurrected persons are going to be purified for 11 months (or for however long) in this literal valley before being granted entrance into heaven!

You have yet to show that this Jewish metaphor was either “common” in the 1st century or was even 1st century at all. All that I think you’ve shown thus far (and which I never disputed) is that it was a view held by some Jews at some point during which the Talmudic sources you refer to were being composed.

And even if you could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were Jews prior to Christ’s day who spoke of Gehenna as a place of remedial punishment in the “after-life,” you have no evidence that he sanctioned their views when he employed the word himself. All you can do is assume it.

First (and as acknowledged earlier) it was inaccurate for me to have said that Jesus used “Gehenna” as a “metaphor” (although, again, it is necessary to your position that he used it as such). Instead, it would be more accurate to refer to it as a shorthand way of conveying similar imagery as that described in Jeremiah 7 and 19. Second, you’re once again assuming that a national judgment cannot be referred to in such a way that the emphasis is placed on the individual persons whose lives would be affected by the judgment. But I have yet to see you argue why this assumption is valid. Any judgment that involves persons is necessarily “personal” for them - especially when the personal decisions they made prior to the judgment determined whether or not they would be among those slain in the judgment and cast into Gehenna to be consumed by maggots and fire. And considering Jesus’ words in vv. 35-36 (as well as all that follows), I think it’s even more unlikely that Jesus was speaking of Gehenna as a metaphor for some kind of remedial, post-mortem punishment. And I have serious doubts as to whether the first-century generation of which Christ speaks had even been exposed to (let alone indoctrinated with) the uninspired views of Gehenna that are found in the Talmudic literature. And if there were first-century Jewish works (or earlier) in which such views on Gehenna were taught, they should have been no more authoritative for the Jews to whom Christ spoke than the “Book of Mormon” is to us. So if they did in fact misunderstand Jesus (although I have yet to see any reason form you why they would have), it was their own fault for allowing their uninspired traditions to usurp the authority of Scripture.

That’s an unsubstantiated assertion, Sherman. You’re assuming that individual repentance from sin had nothing to do with whether or not an individual perished in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Did individual persons either perish in or escape the destruction of Jerusalem, Sherman?

Also, you underlined “anyone” (pas) above as if the word is to be understood as embracing individuals in every age and in every place. But that’s simply not true. It is the context which determines who is embraced by the word, and in this context it is evidently the Jewish people of Christ’s generation who are specifically in view. Or do you believe that individuals in every age and in every place might potentially have to answer to the Sanhedrin?

Well since God knows each of us personally and treats each one of us as his beloved child, then he would have been very much concerned with whether or not the individual persons who constituted that first-century generation in which Christ lived and preached, either perished or escaped the judgment that was coming upon them as a people.

I’m afraid that’s another unsubstantiated assertion. Would you care to elaborate on how I’ve disregarded the literary and cultural context of these passages when it’s my view that the Gospels are historical accounts of events that took place in first century Israel? Certainly the Gospels were written for the benefit of people living in subsequent generations, but that in no way means that everything said by Jesus is equally applicable to all people in the same sense that it was applicable to the first-century Jews to whom he spoke. I don’t see any reason to understand Jesus’ words concerning Gehenna as being any more universally applicable than his words in, say, Luke 21:20-21.

It did not escape my notice that “Gehenna is not mentioned” in Luke 13:1-5. The reason I quoted this passage is because it is an example of Jesus warning individuals to repent so as to avoid a this-world calamity, for he said that those who didn’t repent would “likewise perish” - i.e., perish like those died in the massacre, or when the tower fell. In other words, Jesus was warning individual Jews to repent so as to avoid a calamity that very much fits the description of the one that took place in 70 AD, in which countless individual Jews perished, and were disgracefully cast “body and soul” into Gehenna where they were consumed by maggots and fire.

And of course “God is not only concerned with groups of people, but is concerned with individuals.” That’s why individual Jews were exhorted to repent and embrace Jesus as the Messiah so as to avoid being among those who would perish in that first-century judgment that claimed countless Jewish lives.

And as also noted before, it is not at all necessary to interpret Jesus’ words in the other passages referred to as being a warning of a judgment that “every person will face.” You’re reading this universality into the text. But when Jesus spoke those words he was addressing Jews in the first century, not Gentiles (and especially not every person from Adam on!).

Agreed! :smiley:


I wrote:

I just wanted to emphasize that the codification of the Talmud took place in the 5th century, and also add that we have no certainty that anything said about Gehenna that is attributed to either Shammai or Hillel in the Babylonian Talmud ( was actually said by them. It could have been said by one of the students of their respective schools and later came to be attributed to the rabbis themselves. Or, the quotes as they appear in the Talmud could have undergone some editing over time, and glosses could have been added. For example, it could easily be the case that Sheol was the term originally used to refer to the place of future punishment in Jewish thought, but that over time this place came to be referred to as Gehenna, and so alterations in the Talmud were made to reflect the current 5th century belief. But the fact is that we simply cannot have the same kind of certainty about anything said in the Talmuds as we can about the Bible. And even assuming that everything said in the Talmuds is accurate (in the sense of all the quotes being accurately attributed, and no alterations being made over time), we have no reason to think that Christ would have sanctioned as true anything said in it concerning Gehenna.


Actually the Mishnah was written down around 200 A.D. It was written an a rabbinic scentence outline form. Each statement was meant to be reminder of the fuller oral commentary on that subject. The statements from Shammai and Hillel are in the Mishnah. Also, one should understand and respect the diligence that the Pharisees took in communicating their Oral Traditions of the Fathers from generation to generation. They were so diligent in this that they were very reticent to write down these Oral Traditions, and did not do so until the Romans made a focused effort on killing the Rabbis. The only reason they recorded these Traditions is because they were afraid that the Romans would kill so many Rabbis that the integrity of these Traditions might be compromised. So the scentence outline (Mishnah) was first written around 200 A.D. and then both the Jerusalem (written in Israel, but not Jerusalem because it was destroyed in 70 A.D.) and the Babylonian Talmuds were written recording more of the material based on the Mishnah outline. So we, or at least I, can be very confident that the Mishnah and Talmuds do reflect the teachings of Shammai and Hillel accurately.

Concerning Jesus “sanctioning” the teachings of the Pharisees, He actually specifically countered many of the teachings of the Pharisees. This is especially evident in Matthew who often uses the idiomatic phrase “you have heard it said” to reference the teachings of the Pharisees concerning a specific verse or topic. Note how many times this phrase, “you have heard it said” is used in the Sermon on the Mount. Each time this phrase is used it was a means of referencing all the Oral Traditions of the Pharisees concerning that verse or topic. And what Jesus said countered those teachings/traditions.

For example, Mt.5:33-36

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

The Pharisees had a whole system of “Oaths” that were meant to empower a person to decieve others. For example, they taught that one could swear by the Temple, and not fulfill the oath and yet one would not be sinning against God. Jesus countered this teaching, these traditions, teaching that any form of deception is a sin against God and is rooted in evil.

Concerning Gehenna, both Shammai and Hillel taught that some people could be so righteous as to avoid any need for further purification. Jesus apparently disagreed with this pointing out in the context of speaking about the terribleness of Gehenna in Mk.9.42-48, and then saying in 9:49 that “everyone shall be salted by fire”. Through this Jesus was countering the Pharisees’ pride and self-righteousness thinking that they could be so righteous as to not need the purifying fire of God. And yes, I believe that we shall all face the fire of Truth and it will deliver us from evil for we are all a much bigger mess than we realize!

Jesus also countered the teachings of the Pharisees that prosperity were a sign of righteousness and poverty was a sign of sin in a person’s life. The story of the rich man and lazarus counters this.

So Jesus invested much of his ministry in countering the prevailing twisted religious attitudes, concepts, and practices of the day. Concerning Gehenna though, what He said seems to me to indicate that He affirmed that we shall all face the remedial punishment of the Lord, the fire of Truth that will burn the Hell out of us, bringing us to a place of repentance (weeping) and remorse (gnashing of teeth)! If we do not embrace such fire in this life, we’ll certainly embrace it in the perfection of the life to come.

And for me there is nothing that has worked in me repentance (weeping) and remorse (gnashing of teeth) as greatly as the revelation of the Lamb, the revelation of the sacrifice of Christ. The truth of Him dying for me has burnt the Hell out of me, it has purged me and brought me to repentance and remorse that I had no idea that I needed. When we face the truth of how selfish we are in the light of how selfless Jesus is, we are undone and we realize that salvation, LIFE in and Relationship with God is completely by grace! And this is the Life we are called to and that God has planned for us all! He is truly the Good Shepherd that saves 100%, not just 99%!


So assuming that what is attributed to Shammai and Hillel regarding Gehenna is accurate, I can’t help but wonder, “Where did they get their beliefs from?” What are your thoughts on this?

Yes, I am well aware of the fact that Jesus made it a point to counter many of the teachings of the Pharisees. From this I think it can be inferred that he didn’t care much at all for their Oral Traditions, as he continually warned his disciples to be weary of them. And assuming that the beliefs you think were personally held by Shammai and Hillel concerning Gehenna were a part of the Jewish Oral Tradition at the time, I don’t see how anything they said about it would have been considered an exception by Jesus.

You’re still assuming that Jesus was in fundamental agreement with Shammai and Hillel that such a place in the “afterlife” even existed, and that he merely disagreed with who would go there and for how long one’s stay would be. But I deny that Jesus agreed with anything Shammai and Hillel taught about Gehenna as being a post-mortem punishment (purgatorial or otherwise). Why would he? Nothing they said about it was derived from the inspired writings of the OT. Why assume that there was any truth at all in what they said about it? There is nothing in what Jesus says about the Valley of Hinnom that warrants the belief that he even had the views of Shammai and Hillel in mind.

Concerning Jesus’ words, “everyone shall be salted by fire,” it is evident that the “fire” of which Christ spoke is the fire that would be consuming the people thrown into the Valley of Hinnom. But if the word “everyone” (pas) is to be understood in a universal sense then you would have Christ in one breath exhorting his disciples to do everything necessary to avoid the fate expressed in the terms “cast into Gehenna” (vv. 43-48) and then immediately going on to declare that this was going to be the fate of everyone from Adam on. I find such an interpretation of Christ’s words far too absurd to take seriously. There is simply no reason to understand Christ’s words in this chapter about being “cast into Gehenna” and being consumed by worms and fire as being anything more than a reference to the fate of those who were to be slain in the judgment coming upon the Jewish nation. It was these whose dead bodies were cast into this valley to be burned by fire and eaten by maggots. You are forced to understand his language in a way that is utterly foreign to the OT, whereas I can take it at face value as an allusion to the same kind of judgment described in Jeremiah 7 and 19 (as well as in Isaiah 66:24). Moreover, there is very strong Biblical precedent for understanding “fire” as a figure for God’s wrath manifested in temporal judgments upon people or nations (Deut 29:23-24; 32:22; 2 Sam 22:9, 13; Job 18:15; Psalm 11:6; 21:9; 29:7; 50:3; 68:2; 78:21; 79:5; 83:13-15; 89:46; 97:3; Isaiah 9:19; 10:17; 30:27-33; 34:9-10; 42:24-25; 47:14; 66:15-16, 24; Jer 4:4; 17:4, 27; 21:10-12; 48:45; Lam 2:3-4; 4:11; Ezekiel 5:1-4; 21:31; 22:17-22, 31; 38:22; Amos 1:4, 7, 10, 12, 14; 2:2, 5; 5:6; Obadiah 1:18; Nahum 1:6; Zeph 3:8; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2). But I’m not aware of any verse in which “fire” is used as a metaphor for God’s truth “burning the hell out of us.”

You repeatedly refer to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as meaning “repentance and remorse,” but I don’t know of a single verse in which that idea is being expressed; you seem to be merely assuming it because it fits with your understanding of Gehenna. I found this article to be a much more accurate explanation of the phrase: … teeth.html

See also Job 16:9; Ps 35:16; 37:12; 112:10; Lam 2:16.


Sorry Aaron, I missed this post and saw you’re following post and addressed it first. So I’ll work through this one now.

Hillel lived 110 B.C to 10 A.D. Shammai lived 50 B.C. to 30 A.D. And the Mishnah which records their quotes was written around 220 A.D. As noted in my other post, the Pharisees were very religious, even legalistic when it came to memorizing their Oral Traditions. So for me, I’m quite confident that the quotes in the Mishnah and the Talmud concerning Shammai and Hillel are accurate. So for me, there is more than enough evidence to support the concept that Gehenna was understood as post-mortem punishment, primarily remedial post-mortem punishment. Of course, others choose to reject this information as invalid for one reason or another and interpret Gehenna otherwise.

I’ve never claimed, nor do I believe that the Pharisees beliefs were inspired. I research their writings simply to understand how common words were used. In like manner, people study Greek literature in order to better understand scripture that was written in Greek. To the 1st Century Jew, when Jesus warned of Gehenna, what would they have assumed it to mean? Just like today, when I use the word “Hell”, people assume that I’m speaking of either endless post-mortem punishment, or terrible problems in this life, or possibly “evil” in general. For example: “I’m going through Hell” does not mean that I’ve died and am in Hell, but that I am currently going through some terrible, even torturous things. Or, “It burnt the Hell out of me!” does not mean that I’ve died and am in CET; when I say that, I mean that what happened to me, burnt evil from me, purging me as by fire. And of course many use the word Hell simply as an explicative.

In order to understand what Jesus meant by Gehenna, it’s important to understand how that word was used in that culture and in that day. And it is important to understand the literary context. If either of these is missing, it’s very easy to misunderstand what is meant by what is written.

I’m curious, do you have any evidence that suggests from Jewish literature of that day that indicates that Gehenna was used as a metaphor to speak of the destruction of Jerusalem? Of course, the passages in Jeremiah and Isaiah are not from that day, and Gehenna was not used in them as a metaphor to speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, but was spoken of literally (not metaphorically), saying that the valley of Hinnom would come to be desecrated and known as the valley of slaughter. And as you know, that prophecy was fulfilled

Hillel lived immediately prior to the time of Jesus and served as the Head of the Sanhedrin. His teachings and disagreements with Shammai are historic and a vital part of understanding the Judaism of the day of Christ. Concerning “divinely sanctioned” - I’m not saying they were. I’m only saying that Jesus spoke of the theological metaphor Gehenna and it had a commonly understood meaning - that of post-mortem punishment (primarily remedial, potentially for some annihilation or indefinitely long torture).

The word Sheol is Hebrew and as you know the OT where it was used was written well before the Pharisees came into existance and started using Gehenna as a metaphor to speak of post-mortem punishment. Sheol in the OT simply means grave or realm of the dead; but in Jewish writings since the OT, Sheol could have picked up or been used to have the same meaning as Gehenna.

Concerning “time” needed in punishment, I believe that the punishment of God and purification of God that comes through judgment is not time-bound, but transcends time. In fact, the spiritual realm of God transcends time; it is eternal. It’s a different dimension and how it works I know not. In other words, in eternity time is irrelevant.

Yes, I explained that in my other post.

This site might think that, but even Jesus speaks of rewards in the after-life for Lazarus. The focus of the Jews likely shifted from talking about the restoration of the earthly kingdom of Israel, to focusing on the rewards of the after-life, but the concept of Ga Eden, paradise was well known and spoken of before 70 AD. As I said, even Jesus spoke of such.

Oh well, brother, if you don’t see it in what I showed you, then there is little I can do. As I’ve said, all I can do is share what I believe and why I believe it. If the evidence I’ve provided is not enough for you, ok. I’m not here to try and change your mind, to change what you’ve already come to believe.

The reason that I put phrases like “it seems to me” in my writings is because I recognize that I could be wrong. Maybe you do not recognize that you could be wrong, I don’t know. You’re more than welcome to, as you have, share what you believe and why you believe it.

As to them being “divinely sanctioned”, I don’t know why you keep saying that because that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m simply seeking to understand what Jesus said based on its context - it’s literary and cultural context.

Oh well. That’s your choice.

It seems to me brother that you are reading into these passages (eisegesis) an interpretation that doesn’t come from those passages (exegesis), but that’s my opinion. And you’re welcome to your own opinion of course.

Concerning their scriptures being “closed”, such closing of their sciptures did not happen until some time after Christ. I’d have to research it to get an exact day. But during the time of Christ their scriptures were still relatively “open”. Though of course, they did view scripture differently than we do. The books of Moses and the prophets were considered most authoritative for doctrine and living, and the other writings were considered more inspirational and not as authoritative.

As to how Hillel and Shammai and others came to believe in post-mortem punishment, I’ve read some on that, but little. They often do reference scripture and tend to eisegete the scriptures instead of exigete the scriptures. On one hand that read much more into the scripture than is actually there, and on the other they tend to ignore what it actually says. Their traditions blind them to what scripture actually says. Of course, I recognize that we all have this same problem. Our traditions keep us from fully understanding scripture.

For me, finding that the Jews duding the time of Christ understood (right or wrong) Gehenna as a place of primarily remedial punishment helped me to understand Jesus’ warnings concerning sin. But if you understand it differently, oh well.

Well, thanks for sharing, but I don’t see it that way. Maybe they should have understood it that way, but that is not how they understood it, nor is it how they used that word in the time of Jesus. And scripture does not say that Gehenna is or should be an emblem of national judgement.

This we completely disagree upon. I believe that Jesus communicated to the people in a language that they could understand. His point was to bring understanding to them, to free them from the religious deception of the Pharisees and Saducees. And thus, if He disagreed with the commonly held understanding of Gehenna, He would have taught differently, especially when He was speaking with average people.

Oh well, brother. It seems we’ll just continue to disagree on the meaning of Gehenna. I don’t think there is any need to respond to the rest of your post. We’ve covered our differences adequately, I think. Thanks for sharing.



I was reading through this post and thought I’d respond to it because you make some interesting comments.

Much of the Traditions of the Pharisees were developed when the Jews were in Babylonian Captivity. They had to develope a way of continuing their religious traditions and keeping their cultural distinctiveness though they no longer lived in Israel or could participate in worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus they moved from interpreting some of scripture literally, to interpreting scripture spiritually. It was during this time that hope in the after-life was expanded for all they knew in this life was bondage, though belief in the after-life was likely always assumed. Jewish focus was and is primarily about how one lives life today, not about just what happens in the afterlife.

As noted before, I believe that it’s best to understand how the word Gehenna was used in 1st Century Jewish Culture, and I “assume” that Jesus used that word to mean the same thing it was commonly understood to mean. I believe that if He had meant otherwise, He would have specified such.

I assume that Jesus used Gehenna knowing full well what it meant to the average person - a place/event of punishment in the after-life. I do not assume that Jesus agreed with Shammai and Hillel; actually, I assume that He intended to correct some of the theology. And thus I examine the passages where He speaks of Gehenna to find how what He actually said differed from what they taught - trying not to read into it more than what is actually stated.

Jesus pointing out that none of us are perfect and that we all have issues that we need to repent of is not absurd. Warning of punishment for sin in one scentence and then recognizing that we all sin in the next is not contradictory of absurb; it’s reality. We all need to have a sense of humility about us, recognizing that none of us are perfect and we’ll all likely do a lot of repenting on that Day. Scripture does not say in vain that God will dry every tear. There is a reconning coming, a day when we will see the absolute truth concerning our lives. We’ll see how badly we’ve treated others, how many opportunities we’ve missed, how many times we’ve disobeyed the voice of the Lord, how many times we’ve resisted the leading of the Spirit. We’ll see clearly just how much pride, self-rightness, arrogance that we’ve lived in. And we’ll weep before the Lord, repent and receive the loving forgiveness that He’s had for us all along.

God himself is a consuming fire. Paul speaks of our lives being tested by fire; that which is lasting is purified and that which is worthless is consumed. It is even said of Jesus that He would baptize with fire and the Spirit. And of course, Isaiah had a burning coal from the altar placed to his lips and he was purified and even empowered to be a spokesman for God.

Throughout scripture, weeping is seen as a sign of repentance. Those in sin are encouraged to weep and repent from their sins. Weep, rend your hearts for…

Concerning gnashing of teeth, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been filled with self-loathing, an angry remorse and anguish when I’ve come to realize that my actions have hurt others whom I love. As I’ve shared, I’ve experienced aionian krisis (judgment) and aionian kolasis (punishment) and it is terrible. It worked in me tremendous good, but it was terrible and I did a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth. I’ve heard the Lord say to me, “That’s the way you are.” when reading of the judgment against the man with one talent (Mt.25.26). He judged me, laid bare the truth of my life thus far and I saw just how wicked and lazy I had been up until that point. Thankfully though, in His voice their was only love and mercy, though there was sterness and even a hint of anger. It was the sterness and anger that a loving father has towards His children when He must discipline them.

And I heard the Lord say to me “That’s the way you are.” when I had finished reading Mt.23 and the 7 Woes against the Pharisees. And the Lord peeled back my self-deception, showing me just how much of a hypocrite I really was. It was ugly; and again I cried for several weeks. The ugliness of my own soul was overwhelming and I would have died or went crazy but for the understanding of His acceptance and love that also came with His stern, even angry words to me. I experienced terrible weeping and gnashing of teeth, self-loathing, anger and remorse; it was terrible but good for me ultimately working in me a deeper love for God, a humility that is growing, and a love and acceptance of others though they be as evil and twisted as I was.

And I trust that there is more of such aionion judgment to come, whether in this life or the one to come - for me and for everyone else! I readily admit that these experiences have influenced my understanding of scripture, even my understanding of “gnashing of teeth.”

What is an acceptable heart before God? One that is broken and contrite!


Hi Sherman,

Sorry for the somewhat delayed response!

Now, toward the end of the next to last post on this thread, you wrote:

And in the following post, you wrote:

I’d like to briefly examine the above assumption, as it seems pretty essential to your view on this subject. So allow me to ask: Is it in fact true that it was Christ’s intent during his earthly ministry to speak to the Jewish people about Gehenna in such a way that they would have easily comprehended what he was talking about, regardless of whether their presupposed understanding of the word was derived from their inspired Scriptures or not? If that were the case, then it would have made no difference to Jesus whether their views were correct or not, as long as they understood what he was talking about. I doubt you’d affirm this. But you seem to think that, if Christ ascribed a different meaning to “Gehenna” than was ascribed to it by the majority of Jews or by the rabbis in that day, then he would have clarified what he meant when he spoke to the Jewish people about it, so as to be understood by them. But is this a valid assumption? When Christ addressed the Jewish people during his earthly ministry, was it his goal to be understood by the Jewish people so that they would immediately “get” what he was talking about as soon as he uttered a word or phrase? I’m not so sure that this was the case.

From what I can tell, it seems that Jesus did not expect or even intend to be immediately or fully understood by the majority of Jews to whom he spoke. For instance, we’re told that Jesus spoke almost exclusively in parables when speaking to the multitudes (Matt 13:34) and only explained himself to his disciples in a private setting after they sought clarification from him (Matt 13:36; 15:15; Mark 4:10-13, 34). And I think the reason that Christ gives for speaking to the Jewish people in a way that was not easily understood by them is significant. It was to fulfill the following prophetic words found in Isaiah: “Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.” By this I take it to mean that it was a part of God’s purpose that this generation be judged, and so Christ spoke to them in such a way that, as a people, they wouldn’t understand what he was saying and subsequently “turn, and their sins be forgiven.” In general, it does not seem that Christ went out of his way to assure that the people to whom he spoke understood what he was saying (Matt 13:10-11). We are told that not even his disciples fully understood everything he said when he said it (Mark 9:32; John 12:16; 16:25). Even when Christ spoke to his own disciples in a pretty straightforward way about his death and resurrection, they didn’t understand what he meant until a later time (Luke 9:44-45; Luke 18:31-34; John 12:16; Luke 24:44-45). And when Jesus’ disciples ask him a question about a man blind from birth that presupposes a belief in reincarnation/transmigration (which was apparently a common belief in that day among the Jews, especially the Pharisees), Jesus doesn’t even bother to explain to them that this belief (which was obviously heathen in origin and foreign to the teaching of the OT) was completely erroneous and unworthy of acceptance by God’s people.

So based on what we know about Christ’s rather counter-intuitive approach to teaching, what might the implications be regarding how we are to understand what Christ meant when he referred to Gehenna during his earthly ministry? Well, I believe it means that when he referred to it in the hearing of the crowds and when addressing the Pharisees (e.g., in Matt 5:22, 29, 30; 23:15, 33), we need not expect him to have explained himself even if he thought their understanding of it was deficient as a result of their having embraced uninspired views on the subject. It simply wasn’t a part of Jesus’ mission to make sure the Jewish crowds to whom he spoke had a correct understanding of what he taught - and this would have especially been true when their lack of understanding was due to an embracing of uninspired opinions about things that the Law and Prophets revealed nothing about.

But what about Jesus’ disciples? Well, even if we assume that Christ would have corrected any misunderstandings they may have had concerning what he meant by Gehenna, we need not expect him to have corrected them on this point immediately. Perhaps it just wasn’t that necessary for them to be corrected on that particular point yet, as it was the general principle being taught that mattered most at the time (e.g., that one’s spiritual character matters a great deal, and that being a follower of Christ, while ultimately worthwhile, requires a life of obedience without compromise). Or perhaps Jesus realized that they would eventually be able to figure out that his views on the subject were quite different from that of the Pharisees (which, of all the sects, likely had the most influence on the beliefs of the average Jew in Jesus’ day). But whatever the reason, it is not difficult to imagine Jesus permitting his disciples to remain in error on some of the things he said during his earthly ministry (at least, for a season), including what he said about Gehenna. And we know that there is much that was explained to the disciples later (e.g., during the 40 days prior to Jesus’ ascension, as well as after his ascension when the “Spirit of truth” came and began to guide them into “all truth”).

So while I do believe that Christ most likely would have made sure his disciples understood what he meant when he spoke of the judgment expressed by the word “Gehenna” before he sent them out on their apostolic mission, they need not have had a right understanding of what Christ meant by it immediately after he spoke of it. So assuming that what Jesus meant by “Gehenna” during his earthly ministry was different than what his disciples understood him to mean by “Gehenna” (and this may not have even been the case) we need not expect Jesus to have corrected them on this point until a later time. This especially holds true if, during his earthly ministry, Jesus made sure to use different language to explain to them what he understood was implied by his use of the word “Gehenna” in a way that they would have been more likely to understand (i.e., when he spoke more explicitly about the overthrow of Jerusalem and how his followers could escape this coming judgment). In other words, assuming the disciples (but not Christ) held to what you have argued were the prevailing opinions concerning Gehenna in that day, I believe that Christ still gave his disciples adequate instruction on how one could avoid suffering the fate implied by what I believe he meant by the word (see, for example, Matt 24:1-28; Luke 17:22-33; 21:5-36).

Of course, the above comments assume that, during Christ’s earthly ministry, his disciples didn’t figure out on their own - or at some point have explained to them - what Christ meant when he spoke of Gehenna if what he meant was different from their presupposed opinions on it. But I don’t see why this is a necessary assumption. Perhaps the disciples were able to figure out that the meaning Jesus ascribed to the word was not the same as the figurative meaning ascribed to it by the Pharisees of his day. Is it really all that unlikely that these Jewish men would have given some thought as to whether their own inspired Scriptures (which their Teacher held in such high regard) said anything at all about Gehenna in association with a judgment from God? Or if it didn’t occur to them to reflect on Jesus’ words in light of what the OT said concerning Gehenna, is it not possible that Christ at some point did explain to them what he meant by it during the three years he was with them? If this is the case, then the only thing we need infer is that the Gospel writers simply didn’t see the need to include this information in their historical narratives.

I noted earlier that my previous use of the word “metaphor” was inaccurate and that “emblem” would have been more precise. But I have become more and more convinced since first posting on this thread that Christ never used the word to denote something other than the literal valley south of Jerusalem. That is, I am inclined to understand the word “Gehenna” as employed by Jesus to refer to the same literal valley spoken of in Jeremiah and elsewhere in the OT. So when, for example, Christ referred to people being “cast into Gehenna,” I believe he meant just that - i.e., that they would actually be cast into this literal valley. Now, if when Christ used the word Gehenna he had in mind the literal valley, then I think you will affirm that Christ would have been using the word in the only sense that the Law and the Prophets gives us any reason to understand as its meaning.

But notice what would have been implied by Jesus’ reference to the literal Gehenna as a place into which some could be deserving (or in danger) of being cast. It would have implied that God was going to bring judgment upon the nation of Israel just as he did in Jeremiah’s day. For as you know, the casting of slain Israelites into this valley was prophesied in Jeremiah in connection with the devastating judgment God was going to bring upon their nation, and was literally fulfilled during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. Thus, the implication in Jesus’ prophetic language about people being cast into Gehenna was that, just as in Jeremiah’s day, this valley was once again going to be used as the dumping ground for the corpses of those Jews slain in the terrible judgment upon their nation. The horrifying image of carcases piling up in this valley as food for the birds and the beasts following the slaughter of those dwelling in Jerusalem would not have been foreign to any Jew in Christ’s day, as the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the slaughter that took place at this time was undoubtedly considered to be one of the most tragic events in their entire history as a nation. So when Christ spoke of being “cast into Gehenna,” a literal understanding of the word would have conveyed to his listener exactly what I’ve been arguing for in the course of our discussion. And I submit that such a meaning would likely have produced a far more visceral response in his listeners than any other meaning had the potential to do.

So assuming that the views concerning Gehenna that are attributed to the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai (who, as you know, were both Pharisees) were part of the oral tradition in Christ’s day, I think you would agree that the meaning which they ascribed to the word “Gehenna” was by no means the exclusive meaning of the word among the Jews in Christ’s day. So even if the majority of Jews of Christ’s day were not only familiar with the views of the Pharisees but accepted what they taught by default, it still remains true that the figurative meaning ascribed to Gehenna was not the only sense in which the Jews of that first century generation could have understood it. The figurative meaning that had at some point been attached to Gehenna would not have done away with the word’s primary, literal meaning. So then we have two possible meanings in which Gehenna could have been understood when Christ employed the word. So, assuming that the disciples were familiar with a secondary, figurative meaning that their teachers of the law attached to the word “Gehenna,” it would only mean that they would have had two options from which to choose when deciding what Jesus meant here, for the literal meaning of “Gehenna” would have been just as well-known to them as the secondary, figurative meaning that you think was so common and well-known by that time (and again, I’m not saying it wasn’t). Moreover, if the disciples had simply ascribed to the word its literal meaning when Christ employed it, I submit that the meaning of Christ’s words would not have been lost on them - especially when we consider the fact that both Jesus and his prophetic forerunner, John the Baptist, warned of a judgment coming upon the people of Israel that was imminent in their day.

As far as Jewish literature goes, I believe the only Jewish literature that was binding on the Jews as authoritative in the first century was that contained in what Christ called the “Law and the Prophets” and “the word of God.” Christ spoke as if the books that comprise our Old Testament Scriptures had been completed by his day, and ought to have been considered inspired canon to the Jewish people. I believe that for Jesus (as should be the case for us), this collection of inspired writings was the standard of truth by which all Jewish beliefs and practice was to be measured. And so, as I’ve noted previously, I see it as irrelevant what the views expressed in the Jewish literature or oral tradition of that day were if they did not have their origin in the writings that Jesus understood to be inspired. If the views held by the Jews of Christ’s day concerning the meaning of “Gehenna” were derived from an uninspired source (and I’m unaware of a single inspired prophet in Israel’s history from the death of Malachi to the birth of John the Baptist), then I don’t think it’s either very reasonable or very honoring to Jesus to say he would have subscribed to them. And again, if it was because of a departure from the Scriptural meaning of the word, then they had themselves to blame for not understanding Christ when he ascribed to it the meaning which they should have understood in light of what was revealed (and was not revealed) by inspiration. If they failed to understand his warning of being “cast into Gehenna” because of a preference for their oral traditions over the sacred Scriptures (which Christ said “could not be broken”), then I believe they placed themselves in a precarious position and exposed themselves to the very judgment of which Christ spoke.

You wrote:

But if the meaning which the Jews in Christ’s day ascribed to the word “Gehenna” was erroneous, then it would not be true that an understanding of their view would help us understand what Jesus meant by it (unless we are to believe that Jesus taught as true that which is false). And if there was a sense in which they ought to have understood the word Gehenna (i.e., the sense given in their inspired Scriptures), as well as a sense in which they ought not to have understood it (i.e., as a figure for a place of punishment not revealed in their inspired Scripture but originating in pagan belief), then it would have been their fault for not understanding Jesus when he used it in the correct and true sense.

If the eschatological opinions of these two rabbis concerning Gehenna and its secondary and figurative meaning weren’t sanctioned by God, then I deny that Christ would have held to such views. Again, I think it’s irrelevant what the “commonly understood meaning” of this word was if it wasn’t a meaning revealed and sanctioned by God. The popularity of any view does not make it true, and certainly would not have made it more worthy of acceptance by Christ. Whether or not a view is true or false can only be determined by how consistent it is with reality (i.e., if such a place as is described in extra-biblical Jewish literature doesn’t actually exist, then the fact of its being the prevailing opinion in Christ’s day would not have made it any less false). And while you seem to disagree, I believe it is of great importance whether or not the commonly-held understanding of Gehenna was sanctioned by God as a revealed truth to be believed by man, for I believe that if it wasn’t sanctioned by him then it would have been rejected by Jesus along with all the other unbiblical traditions and uninspired opinions that were inconsistent with revealed truth. So, assuming it was a common view among first-century Pharisees and all influenced by their beliefs to understand “Gehenna” to denote not only the literal valley south of Jerusalem but also as a figurative or metaphorical term to denote a subterranean place of post-mortem punishment (or wherever it was thought to be), this would in no way be evidence that such a view was in any way true. Whether or not we should believe the Rabbinical opinions were consistent with reality (and accepted by Christ as such) must be determined on other grounds. So the question by which we can determine the truth of what “Gehenna” means in the Gospels is not, “How would the majority of Jews in Jesus’ day have understood it?” but rather, “How did Jesus understand it?” And unless Jesus’ beliefs were determined by whatever the majority of Jews happened to believe in his day, the answer to the latter question cannot be dependent on the answer to the former.

Now, if your understanding is correct, then it means that, in order for them to have understood what Christ meant by “Gehenna,” Christ’s disciples would have had to reject the literal meaning of “Gehenna” (i.e., the only meaning attached to the word by inspiration) in favour of the figurative meaning taught by the schools of Hillel and Shammai (which is nowhere to be found in the Law and the Prophets). But what exactly did the schools of Hillel and Shammai believe about Gehenna? Well as you know, neither of them believed that the place signified by this word was a place of purgatorial punishment that every human being from Adam on would enter into with the result being universal salvation. The position of the school of Shammai was that those who were neither “thoroughly righteous” nor “thoroughly wicked” would spend a limited time in Gehenna and then be released from their torment. And the more liberal position of the school of Hillel was that this intermediate group would get to bypass Gehenna altogether and go straight to Paradise. That is, for Hillel, Gehenna was a place that the “thoroughly righteous” and those who weren’t “thoroughly wicked” (i.e., those whose sins didn’t outweigh their good deeds) would avoid completely. Evidently, the school of Hillel didn’t see Gehenna as a place of remedial punishment in which people’s sins were purged from them, for if he did it is unlikely he would have exempted from it those who were not yet “thoroughly righteous.” It was the position of the school of Shammai that Gehenna was a place of only limited punishment for those who were somewhat less evil than they were good. But in neither view is anything said about those whose sins outweighed their good deeds leaving Gehenna after being sent there. But this leaves at least some people doomed to either endless punishment or annihilation. That either endless punishment or annihilation for the wicked was the prevailing Rabbinic view is evident from what is said in the Babylonian Talmud following the statement that gives the position of Beth Shammai. So when you say that

I can’t help but see this as a misrepresentation of the facts. As far as I can tell, the place of punishment signified by the word “Gehenna” in extra-biblical Jewish literature was not understood to be “a place of primarily remedial punishment.” This was not even true of the position of the (less popular) school of Shammai, let alone the common view. I should also add that the quote you have attributed to Rabbi Shammai regarding Gehenna is not actually a quote by the Rabbi himself, but rather was the known position of the students of the school he founded (“Beth Shammai”) at the time. That is, by the time the statement expressing the position of his school appeared in the Babylonian Talmud, this was the known consensus of the students of the school, and not necessarily a direct quote from Shammai himself or even a reflection of his personal opinion while he was alive. So the quote from “Beth Shammai” as it appears in the Babylonian Talmud is actually no evidence that the place of post-mortem torment which at some point came to be associated with Gehenna by certain Jews was, during the time of Christ, believed to be a place from which some would escape. Even assuming that Gehenna was employed by some rabbis in Christ’s day as a metaphor for the place of punishment that the Jews learned about from the heathen (and again, I don’t deny the possibility of this, especially considering the allusion to Gehenna as the place of final judgment for the wicked in the Book of Enoch), the quote from “Beth Shammai” is no conclusive evidence that this place was believed to be in any way “remedial” at this time. Again, this is likely a later development in Rabbinic thought.

The account of the death of Johanan ben Zakkai (who was apparently Hillel’s youngest pupil and also largely responsible for the inclusion and preservation of the teachings of both Hillel and Shammai in the Mishnah) is, I think, pretty significant, as it reveals that, in the first century, the place of punishment signified by the word Gehenna was something greatly feared by even those who held to the more “liberal” school of thought in that day:

If this was the prevailing view of Gehenna among first century Jews (which I’ve become increasingly convinced was the case), and if it was this view of Gehenna that Jesus was intending to correct and teach a modified view of during his public ministry, then I believe Jesus certainly had his work cut out for him!

Perhaps you are aware of some, but I am not familiar with any rabbi who lived prior to or during Christ’s day who taught that all mankind would be saved, or who taught that Gehenna was a post-mortem punishment in which all people would either be purged from sin, or from which all sent to it would be delivered. So, if your view is correct, Christ would have to have held to a very modified version of the prevailing rabbinic opinions of Gehenna - so modified, in fact, that it would bear little resemblance to the prevailing first century Rabbinic opinions concerning it. If Christ’s goal was to teach his disciples only a modified version of the rabbinical opinions concerning the place they figuratively referred to by the name Gehenna, then he would have had to correct the opinion that some sinners would not have to go there (i.e., those not “thoroughly wicked”), as well correct the opinion that the “thoroughly wicked” who were sent there would be either permanently confined to a hellish prison, or ultimately annihilated. But is there anything that Christ is recorded as saying in the Gospel accounts concerning Gehenna that would have indicated to his listeners that he held to only a modified view of either of these rabbinic opinions on Gehenna? I don’t see anything that would suggest that he did.

The only verse that you have quoted in support of the idea that Christ taught a modified version of the common understanding of Gehenna (which, again, was entirely inconsistent with the doctrine of universal salvation) is Mark 9:49. But as you know, this is one of the most notoriously difficult verses in all of Mark’s Gospel, if not in the entire NT. On this verse Dr. Albert Barnes observes, “Perhaps no passage in the New Testament has given more perplexity to commentators than this, and it may be impossible now to fix its precise meaning.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown declare in their commentary: “A difficult verse, on which much has been written – some of it to little purpose.” Dr. Charles Ellicott has written, “The verse presents considerable difficulties, both as regards the reading and the interpretation.” Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll states, “Vs. 49 is a crux interpretum, and has given rise to great diversity of interpretations.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary we read, “This is admittedly one of the most difficult verses in Mark. Over a dozen different interpretations are found in the various commentaries.” And The Pulpit Commentary states, “These verses have been the subject of much controversy. They are obscure and difficult.” Based on the scholarly consensus regarding the difficulty of this verse (both its reading and its interpretation), I don’t think it is the best foundation on which to base one’s argument that Christ sought to teach a more universalist-friendly version of the common Rabbinical view of post-mortem punishment.

One of the difficulties in interpreting this verse is that it is unclear who exactly is included in the “everyone” (pas) who is to be salted with fire. Since in the previous verses “fire” is associated with the fate of the wicked cast into Gehenna, it is likely that Christ meant “everyone who is to be cast into Gehenna” (which Christ’s disciples were just exhorted to take extreme measures to avoid at all cost). If this is the case, then the “salting with fire” could very well convey the idea of the wicked being “laid waste” or being made utterly destitute by the judgment of God, as both salt and fire are frequently associated with utter destruction, desolation and barrenness in the OT (Gen 19:26; Deut 29:23; Judge 9:45; 2 Sam 8:13; 1 Chron 18:12; Job 39:6; Psalm 107:34; Jer 17:6; Eze 47:11; Zeph 2:9). The expression would consequently convey the idea of the wicked being brought to utter ruin with no hope of temporal recovery, and would be equivalent in meaning to what we read in Malachi 4, where the prophet declares, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up and leave them neither root nor branch. But you who fear my name…shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet.”

Another possible interpretation is that the “salt” refers to the salt of the Mosaic Covenant, with which every sacrifice was to be offered (Lev. 2:13), and which was symbolic of the perpetuity or inviolability of this covenant relation with YHWH (see Num 18:19; cf. 2 Chron 13:5). Inseparable from this covenant relation with the Jewish people were the blessings that were promised for keeping covenant with YHWH and the curses threatened for breaking covenant with him. Those cast into the valley of Hinnom during the siege of Jerusalem would have been understood as receiving the full proof of the perpetuity/inviolability of this covenant, which, in their case, asserted itself as a covenant of wrath upon the generation of covenant-breakers who had their own Messiah crucified.

So I believe it is by no means obvious that Christ, by this single statement in Mark 9, was seeking to teach only a modified view of the common Rabbinical position concerning the fate of the wicked in “Gehenna,” and it is even less likely that his disciples would have clearly understood him to be doing this. Rather, if the disciples were inclined to understand “Gehenna” as referring to the place of post-mortem torment for the “thoroughly wicked” which was so feared by Johanan ben Zakkai, then it would not have been at all difficult to understand this verse in a way that is consistent with such a view. In fact, some Christians understand the verse in just this way. They reason that, because salt preserves meat from corruption, and can be symbolic of inviolability and permanence (Num 18:19), it can be inferred that all who are cast into Gehenna will never be fully destroyed but will be kept alive in perpetual torment. Being a universalist I reject such a view of course, but that’s because I am not in any way inclined to understand Gehenna as being the metaphorical name for a place of torment for wicked souls or resurrected persons in a future state of existence. But if the disciples were, then I think it would have required far more than what is said in this enigmatic verse to correct their erroneous views and present them with an understanding of “Gehenna” that is more consistent with the truth of Jesus’ victory over sin and death that would soon be brought to light. Your position seems to suggest that those to whom Christ spoke about Gehenna would have understood Jesus to be unambiguously countering the partialist dogma that prevailed among the Jewish people and seeking to illuminate their minds with the inspiring teaching that Gehenna was but a less comfortable path to ultimate reconciliation to God. But I would argue that if the majority of Jews held to a belief regarding the fate of the wicked similar to that held by the Pharisees in general, then they would have been in need of a radical paradigm shift in order for them to understand Gehenna in a way that is at all compatible with the good news of UR to which you and I hold.

I believe that the simplest way Christ’s listeners could have understood Jesus’ views on Gehenna in a sense that was most consistent with everything else he taught (and especially with the truth of universal salvation which I believe was brought to light after Jesus’ resurrection) and not merely a modified version of the prevailing Rabbinic opinions concerning it (which was essentially pagan mythology masked in Jewish words and expressions) would be if they understood Jesus, either at the time or sometime afterwards, to have been employing the word in a sense that was radically different from that of the Pharisees and rabbis - i.e., in the sense that it was used in the OT (which, as noted earlier, would have implied that another national judgment upon Israel during that generation was inevitable). And I believe that it is possible that Jesus disciples would have sought to understand the views of their Lord in a way that was different from those of the Pharisees, since throughout his ministry Jesus pronounced his unqualified condemnation of all their unbiblical traditions and opinions. To Jesus, the religious leaders of that day were “blind leaders of the blind” who “taught for doctrines the commandments of men.” It is possible that Jesus’ disciples, after realizing how little Jesus cared for the views of the religious leaders of that day, would have been inclined to understand Jesus in a way that would not have implied his agreement with the religious leaders on the doctrines they taught which were foreign to the Scriptures for which Christ had such high regard (Matt 4:4; 12:3, 5; 21:16; 21:42; 22:29; Luke 10:26; John 5:46; 10:35) and which he regularly utilized as his source for solving theological dis¬putes (Matt 19;1-4; 22:31; Mark 10:1-3). At the very least, there is good reason to believe that Jesus’ disciples would have viewed their Teacher as superseding the authority of every religious teacher who had come before him, and consequently would have allowed Jesus to use the word “Gehenna” as he saw fit, and affixing to it a meaning that he believed was accurate.

Now, let’s consider a few passages in which Gehenna appears in the Gospels and see if a literal sense of the word makes just as good (or better) sense as the meaning you ascribe to it.

Was there a “judgment” at that time to which a Jew in Christ’s day could become subject? Yes, there was. What about the “Sanhedrin” (or "council)? Was there a literal Sanhedrin to which a Jew in Christ’s day could be answerable? Yes, of course. But what about “the fire of Gehenna?” Was there a literal, physical valley called “Gehenna” with which the Jews in that day were familiar, and into which one’s “whole body” could, hypothetically, be thrown? Yes, there most certainly was. And were any Jews in danger of being thrown into this valley before that generation passed away? Yes, they were. But according to your view, after declaring that he who is angry with his brother will be “subject to judgment,” and he who says to his brother ‘Raca’ will be “answerable to the Sanhedrin,” Jesus then declares that anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of…well, in danger of whatever the common opinion was regarding the word in that day - which means the person of whom Christ speaks would have been in danger of being punished in some subterranean realm in the netherworld either:

  1. For a limited time before being released from their torment (assuming they weren’t “thoroughly wicked,” of course)
  2. Forever
  3. Until they were annihilated

Christ certainly doesn’t say anything in the above passages that would have indicated to his listeners which of the above fates would have been more likely, so I suppose it was up to them to figure it out for themselves (perhaps they could have gone and talked to students of both the schools of Hillel and Shammai to see who had the more compelling arguments). Of course, the first option is not very likely, since those guilty of the sins of which Christ spoke which placed them in danger of Gehenna would probably not have been considered less than “thoroughly wicked.” Christ’s point was that those who committed adultery in their heart (vv. 27-28) were just as guilty as those who engaged in the physical act - and of all the sins that made one worthy of endless punishment or annihilation according to Rabbinic thought, adultery was thought to be one of the greatest. So assuming the Jews to whom he spoke didn’t understand Jesus to be speaking literally, there is little reason to think they would have understood “Gehenna” to mean anything close to what you think Jesus meant by it - especially if you believe Jesus would have clearly specified if he meant something other than the common view so as to correct any possible misunderstanding his listeners may have had.


So is it your view that no one has entered, or will enter, the kingdom of God without first being sent to the post-mortem place of limited punishment that you think is signified by the word “Gehenna” in the NT?

I fully agree that we all need to have a humble awareness of our broken condition and our need for further healing and spiritual maturity. As long as we’re alive in this world, I don’t think any of us are fit for heaven. I just don’t think “Gehenna” signifies a place to which we must all go (or an experience we must all have) that makes us fit for heaven.

As far as the expression “he will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isa 25:8), I understand it to simply mean that God will remove all pain and sorrow from human experience at the time of the resurrection of the dead. I do believe that all people will at this time come to the knowledge of the truth, and that we will have no more desire or inclination to treat others badly, disobey the voice of the Lord, resist the leading of the Spirit, or be prideful, self-righteous and arrogant. But I deny that this radical and universal change that humanity will undergo when the dead are raised will occur in the place of punishment referred to in extra-biblical Jewish literature as “Gehenna.”

First (and as I’m sure you will agree) it is not true that God is literally a “consuming fire.” This is a figure of speech, and refers to the consuming fire of God’s jealousy which manifests itself as judgment against those who forsake their covenant with YHWH by their idolatry (Deut 4:23-24). Moreover, it is only those whose hardened hearts have made them deserving of God’s wrath who experience him as a “consuming fire.” But I see nothing in Scripture which reveals that any individual will be in need of experiencing the fire of God’s wrath after they have been made alive in Christ. Why would they, after death, the last enemy, has been abolished and all have been made immortal subjects of God’s kingdom?

I don’t think Paul is speaking of all people past, present and future in 1Cor 3:13. Nor do I think he’s talking about a post-mortem punishment in which “disembodied souls” or resurrected persons will be purged of their sins. He’s talking about living, mortal believers in that generation, and the “day” that would disclose people’s works is “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” that he referred to back in chapter 1, vv. 7-8. Notice that this was a “day” that this generation of Corinthians were both “waiting” for as well as a day that Paul expected they would live to see (for Paul expresses his confidence that they would be found “blameless” when the day arrived). Compare with Heb 10:25, where this “day” is spoken of as something that the people living in that generation could “see drawing near.” The “fire” that would test the works of these first century leaders in the church was the severe circumstances that tried their work, not a purgatorial fire meant to purify their souls and make them fit for heaven. It was the fire of persecution and tribulation which preceded the overthrow of the Jewish nation, which Peter calls a “fiery trial” (1 Pet 4:12). This time of great difficulty and distress (the “day of the Lord”) exposed the counsel and motives of people’s hearts (see 1 Cor 4:5; cf. Luke 2:34-36; Rom 2:12, 16). Those who remained faithful to the end (either to their deaths or to the time of Jerusalem’s overthrow) were vindicated, while those who fell away were put to shame. The salvation of those Christian labourers whose works were “burned” likely consisted of their being able to enter into the enjoyment of Christ’s kingdom at its establishment in the world in 70 AD, in spite of much of their time and labor prior to this time having been uselessly employed and spent.

While you evidently see a connection between the unquenchable fire with which Christ was going to “baptize” people (i.e., the “generation of vipers” to whom John the Baptist spoke), and the burning coal in the vision from Isaiah 6, I do not. The “burning coal” likely represents the word of prophecy put in Isaiah’s mouth, which implied that God had accepted Isaiah and considered him worthy to proclaim the message of judgment against his people.


Nope. I believe that the kingdom of God is a present reality, that we can enter the kingdom of God now, and we enter through the fire of truth, through embracing the truth concerning ourselves and allowing it to burn the evil from us and embracing the love and forgiveness of God. Judgement is a present reality, one that we will fully enter when we die. God’s perfect judgment burns up that which is evil and worthless, and reveals what is good and valuable in us.

Though we are Christians, if we give ourselves over to sin, there are negative consequences of such in this life and the life to come. Our father will punish us as is needed to bring us to complete repentance, if not in this life, the life to come. Gehenna was a warning of such punishment.

On the other hand, the Lord takes into consideration how much trouble we face in this life the parable/story of the rich man and Lazarus indicates. Lazarus had suffered much in this life, apparently much more than he deserved and thus went straight to Ga Eden (Paradise). God loves us and understands what we need to be able to enter into the fullness of his Kingdom!

That’s fine, my respect for and appreciation of you is not contingent upon us agreeing upon any of this. And I trust and hope you share the same attitude. We view things from different perspectives and I enjoy discussing it with you.

I suppose it depends on what they do with their lives. Jesus’ use of Gehenna was a stern warning of judgment for the children of God. Though we are children of God, trust in the salvation of Christ, there is still negative ramifications for sin. God will not be mocked. What a man sows so shall he reap.

Concerning God being a consuming fire, and people needing to experience the wrath of God. I don’t know about you, but if my children choose to walk in disobedience and progressively increase in rebellion, they will experience my wrath (which is rooted in my love for them). My wrath is meant to bring them to repentance and it is fiery.

Actually, in the immediate literary context of 1 Cor.3.13, Paul is warning ministers of the Gospel, those who are building upon the foundation of Christ. He’s warning them of coming judgment of their work, their ministry. If you want to limit that scripture as applying only to the letter’s specific audience and not apply to us, I suppose that’s your option. I believe that it was not only meant to be a letter for the believers in Corinth, but is for us today also.

“the Day” in 1 Cor. 3:13 speaks of the day of Judgment when the Lord reveals everything. On that day, the work that we’ve done as ministers will be revealed for what it is. And if the work or our lives is worthless, then we’ll suffer loss.

Heb. 10:23-31
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

“the Day” again speaks of the judgment day, and those of us who are privaledged to have received the knowledge of the truth are held accountable for such. It’s one thing to walk in evil being ignorant, it’s another thing to be evil having had a revelation of the truth.

Of course, you’re welcome to read that into those passages, but I don’t think that is how the original audience would have understood it. It do not believe that they would have understood it to be a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. They did recognize that faith in Christ did bring them into persecution. Such is still true today in both individual’s lives and in groups of believers in various countries and cultures. I myself have undergone some terrible false accusations against me and some heart-breaking rejection from people whom I love, simply because I’ve come to have faith in Christ not only for my salvation but for the ultimate salvation of all humanity.

Actually, in Is.6, the burning coal was what purified him; it wasn’t the message. It prepared and enabled him to carry the message.

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

  “ Behold, this has touched your lips; 
  Your iniquity is taken away, 
  And your sin purged.” 

It wasn’t until after this cleansing that Isaiah received the message from God to his people. The fire of God’s presence does burn, purge evil from us, whether in this life or the life to come. I’ve experienced the fire of truth, the fire of God’s judgment purging me from evil. It was terrible, but it worked a tremendous good in me. And the fire was Truth delivering me from deception, especially self-deception, thinking more highly of myself than was warrant.

I suppose I just do not see everything in scripture pointing towards the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus prophecied it, but it was not a major consideration or foundation aspect of theology, especially for the believers that did not live in Jerusalem.


Well then it seems we are in fundamental agreement regarding the kingdom of God being a present reality that can be entered into now! :smiley: In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only time God’s kingdom is spoken of in the NT in reference to our post-mortem existence is in 1 Cor 15:24, 50.

And if by “judgment” you mean a corrective process for sinners or some form of divine retribution (i.e., the rewarding of people according to their works), I believe this is only a present reality, and is not something that extends beyond this mortal lifetime. But obviously we disagree on this!

I was agreeing with you until you added “and the life to come!” :confused: I just don’t see it taught that we will suffer in another life the consequences of sin that we commit in this life. I believe we “reap” in the same state of existence in which we “sow” (mainly because I don’t see Scripture as revealing otherwise).

I don’t see any reason to believe that Jesus was providing us with historical information in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man. But I whole-heartedly agree with the last statement!

Yes, I definitely share the same attitude. :slight_smile: And I too enjoy discussing subjects with people who see things differently. I usually look at discussions like this one as an opportunity to have my arguments challenged and sharpened, or my views modified to more closely reflect the facts.

But why would what we “do with our lives” have anything to do with what Christ wants to do to and for us when he comes to raise the dead and transform the living so that God may be “all in all?”

I think I believe just as strongly as you in the paternal disposition that God has for each and every individual, and as far as I know, I’ve never argued that God’s wrath is not ultimately an expression of his love for those who must experience it.

Actually, it’s not my view that Paul’s letter to the believers at Corinth has no relevance or application to us. Even though I understand much of Scripture to have direct application and relevance to the original audience and not to modern readers, I don’t believe that this in any way minimizes its importance and benefit to us. I believe every word in Scripture was preserved for the edification of future generations. For instance, even though I don’t believe anyone alive today is in danger of “the condemnation of Gehenna” (Matt 23:33) or will have to make the life-or-death decision to escape to the mountains of Judea for safety (Matt 24:15-18), I still believe God judges people today just like he did 2,000 years ago, and that the warnings and exhortations Jesus gave his first century Jewish disciples can, in one sense, be understood as warnings and exhortations to all who would ever choose to follow him. While I am in no danger of perishing in the overthrow of first-century Israel and of being cast into Gehenna, I am still in danger of reaping the devastating consequences of sinful thoughts and actions - not after I die, but during this lifetime.

Moreover, you’re assuming that Paul’s words in 1 Cor 3 have the same direct and primary relevance and application to every minister of the Gospel who has ever lived and ever will live, as they do to the ministers of the Gospel who lived in that day (i.e., prior to Christ’s first-century coming in judgment at the end of the age). But for me, that’s like saying that what we read in Acts 1:8 applies to every believer of every generation in the same way that it applied to Jesus’ first-century followers (who alone experienced the miraculous events that took place on the Day of Pentecost, which can never directly refer to any believer in subsequent generations). And perhaps you believe otherwise, but I don’t think any ministers of the Gospel except those who lived during that first-century generation could declare with Paul that the “end of the ages” had come upon them (1Cor 10:11; cf. 1 Pet 4:7).

I disagree that “the Day” of which Paul speaks is in our future, and am curious to know what your evidence is for this.

Where in Scripture do you think it is indicated that people living in ages after those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written will be judged on “the Day” referred to in this letter?

Just because it has always been true that no believer is exempt from trial and tribulation in this world doesn’t mean Paul had in mind every trial and tribulation that believers would undergo throughout history when he wrote this passage in 1 Corinthians 3. You’re assuming that “the Day” of which Paul speaks is something that people before and after that first-century generation had reason to expect to see. But why assume this?

Moreover, it is not my position that the trials and tribulations signified by the image of “fire” in 1Cor 3 were confined to those endured by the predominantly Jewish believers in the land of Israel. I believe Christ’s first-century parousia was an event that encompassed all the political and social upheaval within the entire Roman Empire that attended the “end of the ages” of which Paul wrote - especially those tumultuous events that took place from June, AD 68 through December, AD 69, which would have directly or indirectly affected all the fledgling churches scattered throughout the empire. I believe it was this period of general turmoil throughout the Roman Empire to which Christ referred in Rev 3:10, where we read of the “hour of trial” that was “coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” (The word translated “world” here is oikoumene, and need not denote the entire inhabited planet, but simply the domain and territory of the Roman Empire; see Luke 2:1; Acts 24:5; Rom 1:8 and Col. 1:6, 23; cf. Rom 10:18)

This was most likely a symbolic vision depicting in figurative imagery Isaiah’s being commissioned by God to deliver the message of judgment. I don’t think Isaiah was literally in the throne room of heaven, and I certainly don’t think the “coal” that touched Isaiah’s lips was a literal burning coal (as I’m pretty sure you’d agree). I understand Isaiah’s receiving the “live coal” upon his lips as being symbolic of Isaiah receiving from YHWH the word of prophecy to deliver to the people, which he would have thought himself unworthy to do until he was actually given the task. Understood in this way, Isaiah’s receiving from YHWH the message he was to speak is what gave him the assurance that he was considered “worthy” by God for such a task (apparently Isaiah, in his great humility, could not have foreseen himself doing such a thing). This is what I think is meant when the seraphim tells Isaiah that his “iniquity” has been “taken away” and his “sin purged” - not that Isaiah, just prior to being given his message, literally went from being as sinful as most of his contemporaries to becoming righteous. But regardless of whether this interpretation is correct or not (and I’m fully aware that I could be mistaken), that which is associated with “fire” in this passage is a far cry from the image of fire as a symbol for God’s judgments upon a people or nation. The “live coal” is represented as preparing a humble man to deliver a prophecy of judgment upon the wicked, while elsewhere fire is employed as a figure for the very judgment of which the wicked are deserving. And the fact that all judgments, no matter how severe, are consistent with God’s fatherly disposition toward mankind, does not mean that all or even most judgements are “remedial” in the sense of being inflicted for the direct purpose of leading people to repentance. God’s “wrath” could still be perfectly consistent with a person’s ultimate well-being without necessarily being the means by which they become less sinful. Or do you disagree?

Where are we taught that “the fire of God’s judgment” will purge evil from people in a post-mortem state of existence?

Well of course I don’t either. But it’s understandable that one would find the kind of emphasis that I think is placed on this event in the NT rather perplexing when it is viewed in isolation from the deeper meaning and significance that I believe it had to the earliest Jewish and Gentile believers (and which I believe it should have to believers today). While it is true that most Christians today and throughout history have been inclined to minimize the importance of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, and have tended to underemphasize the significance this historical event would have had to the first century Jewish and Gentile believer (and especially any significance it may have for believers living in subsequent generations), I believe that, like the death of Christ (which has much greater meaning and significance than the mere fact that a Jewish man was executed on a Roman cross just outside of Jerusalem), the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple was an event which had universal implications and profound meaning for that first century generation of believers. So when you say that “it was not a major consideration or foundation aspect of theology, especially for the believers that did not live in Jerusalem” I must respectfully disagree. If you’re interested in knowing more about the great significance I and others attach to this event, perhaps we could start a new thread on it.


Hi Aaron,

The previous couple of posts of ours have branched off into several related but different topics. Let’s look at starting other threads on those topics specifically like the significance of the destruction of Jerusalem and how it might influence interpretation of scripture.

And as noted in the other thread on Gehenna, because of you and Craig questioning how well developed was the Jewish concept of Gehenna being like Purgatory, and your suggestion that maybe the Lord meant it more literally, I’ve started considering that maybe the Lord meant it metaphorically as a warning as to how one’s life will turn out in this life. In fact, the more I think on it, the more it seems to fit the literary context of where Jesus warns of Gehenna. A contemporary interpretation would be “Man, if you live like that, you’ll be trashed” or “your life will end up in the trash!” For example:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment (krisis, punishment, condemnation, etc.). Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ (worthless, empty-headed) is answerable to the Sanhedrin (civil punishment). But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna (being trashed!).

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."

If one calls someone an “empty head” or “worthless” are they really in danger of being sued or put in jail? Of course not. Jesus is using a common teaching technique - hyperbole, overstatement - to drive home his point that what leads to murder is being selfish and not seeing value in others, and being angry at others for no cause. Such negative attitudes and actions lead to destruction in our lives, our lives being trashed!

Another factor that is moving me away from thinking of Gehenna as Purgatory is that if such was an emphasis of Jesus’ ministry, it seems that Paul would have at least noted such in his writings, and even potentially explained such a concept better using Greek terminology, but of course he doesn’t.


Well, in my own going research concerning UR, I read something yesterday concerning Gehenna that makes tremendous sence to me, particularly as it is used in Mt. 5:21-22.

21 "You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged.’ 22 But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be judged. If you say bad things to a brother or sister, you will be judged by the council. And if you call someone a fool, you will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.

What the guy noted yesterday was that in Israel, the Romans were the only ones who could inflict the death penalty, and that criminals whom Rome especially wanted to shame were crucified, left hanging on the tree, and eventually cast into Gehenna with the rest of the trash. And to the Jew be not buried was especially taboo, the ultimate in degredation. The Law even commanded that the Jews must even bury their enemies. So in this passage, Gehenna likely refers to being executed by the Romans and shamed by being cast into Gehenna.

Note the progression in the passage from 1) being angry, 2) calling someone “stupid” (raca), and 3) calling someone the ultimate insult of “fool”. In like manner there is a progression in the penalties these might ultimately lead to from 1) judgment of the local city council, 2) judgment by the Sanhedrin, Jewish Supreme Court, and 3) judgment by the Romans with the possibility of the death sentence and having one’s corpse being desecrated, even burned or eaten by animals and reduced to dung! So it is a progression in potential penalty for sin, with the death sentence and having one’s corpse desecrated being the ultimate civil penalty for sin!

Of course, Jesus in teaching often used hyperbole, overstatement to make his point. And such is the case here. His point is to be careful in our attitudes and actions towards one another, to not be angry without cause, and to not give into that anger.

Considering the social context, the literary context, and even Jesus’ teaching style, this interpretation of this passage makes a lot of sense to me.


Sherman, I’ve read a similar explanation somewhere and this leads me to the understanding that Gehenna was the literal place that their bodies would be thrown. Isaiah talks about those who walked by their corpses. Total humiliation to the Jews. Nothing worse could have happened. Thanks for bringing this up.


I’ve also found that not only is there an apparent progression in possible penalty for sin in Mt.5.22 from local civil courts, to the Jewish Supreme Court, and ultimately to possibly face the Roman penalty of death and the ultimate degredation of the body being cast into the trash to be consumed by wild animals, fire, and maggots; but there is also a clear progression in evil. This is clear if one notes that μωρέ, “Fool,” could also be a transliteration of the Aramaic word מורא, môrā, or the Hebrew word* מורה, môreh*, “rebel”. Of course, μωρέ is not the only “transliteration” in this scentence, “Raca” and “Gehenna” are also “transliterations”, not “translations”, Aramaic/Hebrew words that are spelt in Greek, but not translated into Greek. And the Roman penalty for a rebel was crucifixion and being cast into Gehenna, the trash dump. Forbidding proper burial of the body and allowing the body to be consumed by wild animals, maggots, and fire was considered the ultimate degredation of the person, especially to the Jew.

So the more I study this passage, the more clearly it seems to me that Gehenna, in this passage, speaks of the literal Roman punishment of Rebels, crucifixion and the body being cast into the trash dump and not given a proper burial. This was very shameful for the Jew for the Law even commanded the Jews to bury their enemies. The Jews do not even allow for an open casket funeral for they believe that the deceased is shamed if one of their enemies sees them in that state.


My problem with the whole idea of Gehenna being something metaphorical is that it seems that the Bible would have been clearer about it being Hell. I’ve been told that the idea of Gehenna becoming Hell happened in the period between the OT and NT yet no one has been able to point it out in anyone’s writings. If you read it as it is with the knowledge of what happened in 70AD it makes perfect sense. To me anyway :mrgreen:

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An interesting article. My questions : Wouldn’t Jesus have warned the Jews? I don’t think anyone would argue that He did. And what do you suppose the Romans did with all those bodies?