Which Gehenna was Jesus talking about?

Gehenna was the name of a valley near Jerusalem which, in the time of Jesus, was used as a garbage dump.  Even the bodies of convicted criminals were disposed of there.  A fire was continually burning to consume the trash.  Jesus spoke of Gehenna several times but the word is usually translated as “Hell.”  Did the translators make a mistake or was Jesus applying the name of the valley to a place of future punishment?  Many false teachers who deny the existence of Hell claim that Jesus was only talking about the valley.  The best way to answer this question is to look at what Jesus said about it.

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.
Matthew 5:22

This doesn’t provide a definite answer.  Jesus could be speaking of punishment of the soul or he could be saying that those who commit these acts will have their bodies thrown into the physical Gehenna after they die.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10:28

Here we do find the answer to our question.  Bodies could be destroyed in the Gehenna outside of Jerusalem but not souls.  And this confirms it.

And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Matthew 18:8-9

Gehenna is described as a place of eternal fire.  The fire that burned outside of Jerusalem wasn’t eternal but Jesus described a fire that is eternal.

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Matthew 25:41

The fire is the lake of fire described in Revelation.

The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Revelation 20:10

It is appropriate for the name Gehenna to be applied to the valley outside of Jerusalem and to the lake of fire because they both serve the same purpose.  The people of Jerusalem used the valley to dispose of their trash; God will use the lake of fire to dispose of the moral trash that is the result of sin entering his creation.

As far as we know no one is in this Hell now.  In fact, it might not even exist yet.  But unsaved people who die go to a place of punishment where they will wait for their final judgment.  This place is called Hades.  The translators of the King James Bible caused a lot of confusion and misunderstanding by using the word Hell to translate both Hades and Gehenna.  Here are two posts in which I have discussed Hades:

Our eternal destiny

Lazarus and the rich man – parable or actual event?

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Posted on April 6, 2016, in Bible study and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Which Gehenna was Jesus talking about?.

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