Questions From Readers
▪ Why did Jesus say that a proselyte of the Pharisees was “a subject for Gehenna twice as much so” as the Pharisees?
Evidently, Gentiles who converted to the Pharisaic sect of Judaism were very reprehensible. Some of them may previously have had God’s disapproval, but on becoming Pharisees, they became doubly disapproved, certainly headed for destruction in Gehenna.
The Valley of Hinnom was south/southwest of Jerusalem’s walls. It had at times been used for idolatry and human sacrifices. (2 Chronicles 28:1-3; 33:1-6; Jeremiah 32:35) So it became a place for waste disposal, including bodies of criminals viewed as unfit for burial with the prospect of a resurrection.—Compare Matthew 5:22.
The New Bible Dictionary (edited by J. D. Douglas, 1962) says that the ‘valley of Hinnom was situated outside Jerusalem, where children had been sacrificed by fire to Molech. It became a prophetic symbol for judgment and later for final punishment.’ Jesuit John L. McKenzie, in his Dictionary of the Bible (1965), adds: “Because of this [cultic shrine for human sacrifice] Jeremiah cursed the place and predicted that it would be a place of death and corruption (Jer 7:32; 19:6 ff). This valley is referred to, not by name in Is[aiah] 66:24, as a place where the dead bodies of the rebels against Yahweh shall lie . . . In rabbinical literature, however, the eternal fire is not surely eternal punishment . . . [Gehenna] is a place where the wicked are destroyed body and soul, which perhaps echoes the idea of annihilation (Mt 10:28).”
When we read accounts such as Matthew 15:1-8; John 8:12-19, 31-41; 9:13-34; 11:45-53, we can understand why Jesus said that the Pharisees merited annihilation, symbolized by Gehenna. True, some might repent and win God’s approval, but as a class, they were worthy of permanent destruction. Christ said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you traverse sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one you make him a subject for Gehenna twice as much so as yourselves.”—Matthew 23:15.
So much for the Jewish Pharisees, but how would those who became proselytes be ‘subjects for Gehenna twice as much’ as the Pharisees? These proselytes were not Gentiles who were simply sympathetic toward the Jews or even those who converted and were circumcised. (Luke 7:2-10; Mark 7:24-30; Acts 8:26-34; 10:1, 2) No, Jesus was not speaking of proselytes to Judaism but of proselytes to hypocritical Pharisaism. What had their state become?
Some of these may formerly have been gross sinners or fanatical worshipers of demon gods, thus having God’s serious disapproval. Perhaps some were even in line for Gehenna because they had somehow sinned against God’s spirit. (Matthew 12:32) If their situation before Jehovah had not yet reached that stage, they took a step for the worse. They converted to follow the extremism of the Pharisees. These proselytes immersed themselves in hypocritical ritual and extreme views that overruled any moral goodness and truth that other converts to Judaism might have gained. Evidently, these proselyte Pharisees became more extreme than their condemned teachers. So if the Jewish Pharisees were ‘subjects for Gehenna,’ these proselytes were more so or, as Jesus expressed it, doubly so.
[Map/Picture on page 31]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
MAP OF FIRST-CENTURY JERUSALEM
VALLEY OF HINNOM
A portion of the Valley of Hinnom today
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.