Gehenna

Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary:

  • “The word Gehenna represents the nearest biblical approach to the developed doctrine of hell as the place of the damned.” – 478.
  • “The name comes from the Hebrew expressions gê hinnōm, gê ben-hinnōm, and gê benê-hinnōm, which mean respectively “valley of Hinnom,” “valley of the son of Hinnom,” and “valley of the sons of Hinnom.” All refer to a valley south of Jerusalem which became infamous for its sacrificial site called Topheth where children were offered to the god Molech during the reigns of such wicked kings of Judah as Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6). King Josiah defiled the site during his reforms so that children no longer would be sacrificed there (2 Kgs. 23:10), but the valley may have been used again for such practices after his time (Jer. 7:31–32; 19:2–6; 32:35). As punishment for this, Jeremiah proclaimed that in the future the valley of the son of Hinnom would be called the valley of slaughter since many would be slain there and, for lack of room elsewhere, the dead would be buried in Topheth (7:32; 19:6).” – 479.
  • “The image of Gehenna as the place of punishment for the wicked is also used in later Jewish writings (As. Mos. 10:19; 2 Esdr. 7:36; 2Apoc. Bar. 59:10; 1 En. 27:2–3; 48:9; 54:1; 90:26–27; 103:8), where it often has strong associations with darkness and burning fire.” – 479.
  • “Except for Jas. 3:6, it is used only in the Synoptic Gospels. Drawing heavily on Jewish apocalyptic literature, the Gospels characterize Gehenna as a place of “unquenchable fire” (Matt. 5:22; 18:9; Mark 9:43; Jas. 3:6; cf. Matt. 3:10, 12; 7:19; 18:8; 25:41; Luke 3:9, 17 where fire is mentioned without naming Gehenna), and as a valley or pit into which one’s body may be cast (Matt. 5:29–30; Mark 9:45, 47; Luke 12:5). It is probably safe to assume that the lake of fire of Rev. 20:14 is identical with Gehenna, into which Death and Hades are thrown.” – 479.
  • “The limited use of the Gehenna-fire imagery in the New Testament should be noted. Although it cannot be ignored, particularly since it appears primarily in the teachings of Jesus, its limited use and the nearly total lack of concrete imagery for hell in Paul’s writings suggest that this is not the only way to speak of the destiny of those who reject God.” – 479.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary:

  • “This valley afterwards became the common receptacle for all the refuse of the city. Here the dead bodies of animals and of criminals, and all kinds of filth, were cast and consumed by fire kept always burning. It thus in process of time became the image of the place of everlasting destruction. In this sense it is used by our Lord in Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5.”

Harper’s Bible Dictionary:

  • “Probably because of these associations with fiery destruction and judgment, the word ‘Gehenna’ came to be used metaphorically during the intertestamental period as a designation for hell or eternal damnation. In the NT, the word is used only in this way and never as a geographic place name. As such, Gehenna is to be distinguished from Hades, which is either the abode of all the dead in general (Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 20:13-14) or the place where the wicked await the final judgment.” – 335.

Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary:

  • “The valley south of Jerusalem now called the Wadi er-Rababi (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) became the place of child sacrifice to foreign gods. The Jews later used the valley for the dumping of refuse, the dead bodies of animals, and executed criminals.” – 631.
  • “Only God can commit people to Gehenna and so is the only One worthy of human fear (Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:5).” – 631.

Resources:

  • Kohler, Kaufmann and Ludwig Blau. “Gehenna.” The Jewish Encyclopedia. Note: Insightful in providing a Jewish background on Gehenna, unfortunately it includes many references but in a manner that is not easy to understand – making exploring many of the referred to works difficult.
  • Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans. Note: The article on Gehenna is quite short, but a longer discussion of Gehenna is including in the article on Hell.
  • Easton, M. (1996). Easton’s Bible dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. Note: Short articles on Gehenna, hell, and Hinnom.
  • Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, P., & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed.). San Francisco: Harper & Row. Note: Short articles on Gehenna and hell.
  • Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., Butler, T. C., & Latta, B. (2003). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers. Note: Article on Gehenna is useful but fairly short. Includes a contemporary photograph of the location.

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