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Matthew 5:22,29,30 – In Danger of the Fire of Gehenna


Matthew 5:22 But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.
Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and cast it from you. For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.
Matthew 5:30 If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not your whole body be cast into Gehenna. — World English

We find in the above scriptures the first instances of the Greek word gehenna. The word “gehenna” is a transliteration from the Aramaic form of the Hebrew ge-hinnom, meaning “valley of Hinnom.” The reference is to an actual valley that exists to this day mostly south of Jerusalem. It became notorious because of the idolatrous human sacrifices that were offered to the false God, Molech. (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:2-6) The WebBible Encyclopedia states:

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.

However, Jewish tradition began to associate Gehenna with the Hellenistic philosophies and mythology. Thus, the Jewish idea of sheol became similar to Hellenistic mythology, as having various compartments for the supposed spirits or souls of the departed. By the time Jesus came to the earth, this philosophy was especially taught by the Pharisees, as well as some other Jewish sects. Thus the Jewish Gehenna came to be thought of as having “seven compartments.”

The following is glenned from a website on “Hebrew Glossary”:

According to a tannaitic statement, the doors of Gehenna close behind apostates, informers, promoters of sin and tyrants, for many generations (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:5). According to the Zohar, sinners are punished in Gehenna for twelve months, half of the time in fire and half in snow. Among those who do not face Gehenna, a talmudic passage includes the very poor and the diseased. Some add, Any man who is afflicted with a shrew for a wife is likewise exempted from future Gehenna (Eruvin 41b).

Likewise, after the foretold apostasy, Christians adopted a similar Hellenistic viewpoint of Gehenna, and attributed such meanings to Jesus’ references to Gehenna. Falsely associating “gehenna” with the their traditions concerning hell as a place of eternal suffering, the word “gehenna” has thus been rendered as “hell” or “hell-fire” in many translations. But did Jesus actually say anything about any one suffering for eternity in Gehenna? A study of all the instances in which Jesus used this word indicates that he did not. Indeed, he used it as a symbol of destruction, not eternal suffering. — Matthew 10:28.

Although many translations confuse the matter by rendering Gehenna with some form of “hell”, it should be apparent that Jesus is not speaking of hades/sheol in Matthew 5:22,29,30, but that he is speaking symbolically of the fires in the valley of Hinnom. He says not one word about anyone suffering for all eternity. Nor is he speaking to the world in general, but rather he speaks to his disciples, who were being regenerated through their faith.

Jesus here speaks figuratively of the human body being thrown into the Valley of Hinnom to be burned up. Jewish tradition as well as Christian tradition claims that it is the spirit or the soul that goes to hell to roasted for all eternity, not the body. However, Jesus says nothing about the fires of this valley representing a place of torture or suffering after death. If he is speaking of suffering after death, the logical conclusion one would draw from what Jesus said would be that the present human body — not an alleged spirit or immortal soul — would be suffering after death.

So far as we know, no one claims that the human body of a sinner is cast into a place of eternal suffering when a person dies. The body returns to the dust, yet some try to use this passage to support their eternal suffering theory. These words of the Master should readily be recognized as highly symbolic. To make Jesus’ words concerning Gehenna applicable to the eternal roasting theory, some have distorted what Jesus says to make it seem apply to the final judgment, after the resurrection of the body, so that then the body is thrown into Gehenna.

Actually, Jesus is speaking figuratively of a possibility of his followers withdrawing themselves from him to such an extent through affection for other things that they might lose out on life itself. No one supposes that he had any intention of teaching that in order to escape eternal torture it would be necessary for one literally to pluck out an eye, or cut off a hand. Rather, he is using these as symbols of those things which might seem very precious to us as Christians; but, if they should stand in the way of our gaining eternal life in the kingdom, it would be better to give them up as mere temporal advantages in order to make sure of the eternal glories.

In the illustration, Jesus uses Gehenna as a symbol of the utter loss that would be experienced by those who, after tasting of “the good word of God,” and being “partakers of the Holy Spirit,” and of “the powers of the world to come,” should through unfaithfulness, do despite to the grace of God. (Hebrews 6:4,5; 10:29) But no suggestion of eternal suffering is in any way implied by the lesson.

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