(Ge·henʹna) [Greek form of the Hebrew Geh Hin·nomʹ, Valley of Hinnom].
This name appears twelve times in the Christian Greek Scriptures and, whereas many translators take the liberty to translate it by the word “hell,” a number of modern translations transliterate the word from the Greek geʹen·na.—Matt. 5:22, Ro, Mo, ED, NW, BC (Spanish), NC (Spanish), JB (French version), also the footnotes of Da and RS.
The deep, narrow Valley of Hinnom, later known by this Greek name, lay to the S and SW of Jerusalem and is the modern-day Wadi er-Rababi. (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; Jer. 19:2, 6; see HINNOM, VALLEY OF.) Judean Kings Ahaz and Manasseh engaged in idolatrous worship there, including the making of human sacrifices by fire to Baal. (2 Chron. 28:1, 3; 33:1, 6; Jer. 7:31, 32; 32:35) Later, faithful King Josiah had the place of idolatrous worship polluted, particularly the section called Topheth, to prevent further such activities there.—2 Ki. 23:10.
NO SYMBOL OF EVERLASTING TORMENT
Jesus Christ associated fire with Gehenna (Matt. 5:22; 18:9; Mark 9:47, 48), as did the disciple James, the only Biblical writer besides Matthew, Mark and Luke to use the word. (Jas. 3:6) Some commentators endeavor to link such fiery characteristic of Gehenna with the burning of human sacrifices that were carried on prior to Josiah’s reign, and, on this basis, hold that Gehenna was used by Jesus as a symbol of everlasting torment. However, since Jehovah God expressed repugnance for such practice, saying that it was “a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart” (Jer. 7:31; 32:35), it seems most unlikely that God’s Son, in discussing divine judgment, would make such idolatrous practice the basis for the symbolic meaning of Gehenna. It may be noted that God prophetically decreed that the Valley of Hinnom would serve as a place for mass disposal of dead bodies rather than for the torture of live victims. (Jer. 7:32, 33; 19:2, 6, 7, 10, 11) Thus, at Jeremiah 31:40 the reference to the “low plain of the carcasses and of the fatty ashes” is generally accepted as designating the Valley of Hinnom, and a gate known as the “Gate of the Ash-heaps” evidently opened out onto the eastern extremity of the valley at its juncture with the ravine of the Kidron. (Neh. 3:13, 14) It seems obvious that such “carcasses” and “fatty ashes” are not related to the human sacrifices made there under Ahaz and Manasseh, since any bodies so offered would doubtless be viewed by the idolaters as “sacred” and would not be left lying in the valley.
Therefore, the Biblical evidence concerning Gehenna generally parallels the traditional view presented by rabbinical and other sources. That view is that the Valley of Hinnom was used as a place for the disposal of waste matter from the city of Jerusalem, including the bodies of animals and even of vile criminals not accorded a normal burial due to being thought unworthy of a resurrection. (At Matthew 5:30, The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Philips translates geʹen·na as “rubbish heap.”)
SYMBOLIC OF COMPLETE DESTRUCTION
It is, at any rate, clear that Jesus used Gehenna as representative of utter destruction resulting from adverse judgment by God, hence with no resurrection to life as a soul being possible. (Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4, 5) The scribes and Pharisees as a wicked class were denounced as ‘subjects for Gehenna.’ (Matt. 23:13-15, 33) So as to avoid such destruction, Jesus’ followers were to get rid of anything causing spiritual stumbling, the ‘cutting off of a hand or foot’ and the ‘tearing out of an eye’ figuratively representing the elimination of things that they prized or considered desirable and intimately close to them.—Matt. 18:9; Mark 9:43-47; compare Matthew 5:27-30.
Jesus also apparently alluded to Isaiah 66:24 in describing Gehenna as a place “where their maggot does not die and the fire is not put out.” (Mark 9:47, 48) That the symbolic picture here is not one of torture but, rather, of complete destruction is evident from the fact that the Isaiah text dealt, not with persons who were alive, but with the “carcasses of the men that were transgressing” against God. If, as the available evidence indicates, the Valley of Hinnom was a place for the disposal of garbage and carcasses, fire, perhaps increased in intensity by the addition of sulphur (compare Isaiah 30:33), would be the only suitable means to eliminate such refuse. Where the fire did not reach, worms or maggots would breed, consuming anything not destroyed by the fire. On this basis, Jesus’ words would mean that the destructive effect of God’s adverse judgment would not cease until complete destruction was attained.
The disciple James’ use of the word Gehenna shows that an unruly tongue can inflame a whole world of people and that one’s whole round of living can be affected by fiery words that defile the speaker’s body, inflaming it to destructive action. Such one’s tongue, “full of death-dealing poison” and denoting a bad heart condition, can cause the user to be sentenced by God to go to the symbolic Gehenna.—Jas. 3:6, 8; compare Matthew 12:37; Psalm 5:9; 140:3; Romans 3:13.
The Biblical use of Gehenna as a symbol corresponds to that of the “lake of fire” in the book of Revelation.—Rev. 20:14, 15; see LAKE OF FIRE.