Kim Papaioannou. The Geography of Hell in the Teaching of Jesus: Gehenna, Hades, the Abyss, the Outer Darkness Where There is Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth. Eugene: Pickwick, 2013.*
Kim Papaioannou has appeared on our podcast in the past, and is a notable advocate of annihilationism. In this book, Papaioannou examines specifically the teachings of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels which give a specific location connected with the post-mortem fate of those who reject God’s salvation using a detailed historical approach (reading Biblical texts alongside other Jewish and Early Christian texts). This limits the discussion to a manageable set of texts and ideas. He notes that within the Synoptics, the locations identified, and the descriptions and functions of those locations vary, so the sections are broken up by the various terms employed by Jesus (I. Gehenna, II. Hades, III. Abyss/Tartarus, IV. Outer Darkness Where There is Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth) and each chapter focuses in on a particular text (or set of synoptic parallels) where these designated locations are used by Jesus.
The introduction sets out his methodology and important factors influencing the overall conversation. One interesting note he offers is that most or perhaps all of the non-biblical texts (e.g. 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Ascension of Isaiah, 3 Enoch, Apocalypse of Abraham, Sibylline Oracles) which locate the punishment of the lost in Gehenna, the valley south of Jerusalem, which is usually translated Hell, and most or all of the Jewish texts which speak of ongoing torment of the lost are written (or at least take their final form, as many are composite or redacted texts) after the composition of the New Testament. This means that the discussion of final punishment at the time of Jesus is far more unspecific than many would assume, and it may be that Jesus informs the future discussions rather than Jesus affirming the already existing beliefs, and also suggests that Jesus’ source material is almost exclusively the Old Testament (and most notably Isaiah and Jeremiah) which doesn’t appear to have been developed into a clear and systematic eschatalogical expectation prior to the post 70 ad period.
From that starting point, Papaioannou investigates Jesus’ teaching regarding Gehenna and concludes “it seems… that there is no evidence that Gehenna was part of the common eschatalogical judgment parlance at any time before the first century AD” (21, emphasis original). It seems that Jesus’ primary background was Jeremiah, Joel, and (which doesn’t specify a location, but which Jesus connects to Gehenna). These Old Testament prophesies, and the usage by Jesus in the Synoptics indicate not an ongoing torment in Gehenna, but of Gehenna as a disposal site for dead bodies, consumed by fire, and the imagery of unquenchable fire and undying worms “denotes the certainty and completeness” of the destruction, not ongoing agony. He shows that Jesus’ teaching in makes an explicit connection between Gehenna and destruction. The verb destroy, when used in the active voice (as it is in this verse), and have people as its subject, means “kill, destroy” (ie. ending life) not “ruin” or “loss” as it can mean when used in relation to inanimate objects. Papaioannou’s conclusion to part 1 is that all the Gehenna passages share 4 common elements: “emphasis on the body, judgement after resurrection, annihilation rather than torment, strong Old Testament influence” (81). The development of Gehenna as a place of ongoing suffering seems to be post-Jesus, and even post New Testament era, rather than something known to and assumed by Jesus and the Apostles, and the original Jewish hearers.
Second, Papaioannou covers the texts referring to Hades, spending most of his time on . He suggests that Hades is not to be equated with Hell/Gehenna as a final place of punishment, but strongly suggests a post-mortem image/location of all people between death and resurrection to judgement; “Hades is a synonym for the grave” (88). In , the rich man is in Hades, and his brothers are still alive, indicating his torment is neither eschatalogical nor unending. The parabolic nature should not lead us to read too much into this text in terms of specifics of the conditions of the afterlife. The obvious hyperbole (e.g. a single drop of water on a finger tip, carried across a chasm onto the rich man’s tongue is supposed to have a real impact on the man’s suffering?) leads Papaioannou to reject suggestions that this text is not a parable, or that it is a parable which provides specific and realistic depictions of the final state of the lost.
The third and fourth parts are less in depth, mainly because there are fewer texts to manage. The Abyss, he concludes is used only when depicted the imprisonment of demonic spirits. So, much like the use of Tartarus in 2 Peter, we cannot see any suggestion in the teaching of Jesus that these apply to humanity. The outer darkness, and weeping and gnashing of teeth imagery depicts not an ongoing place of torment, but an exclusion from the age to come. Surveying the biblical uses of weeping and gnashing of teeth, Papaioannou concludes, citing Edward Fudge, that these are not to be read as eternal torments, but as grief/sadness, and anger. He makes particular note of , and 112 which employ the image of teeth gnashing, and particularly , where the enemies of God gnash their teeth in anger as they waste away and perish.
The conclusions to which Papaioannou comes are solid enough. Though many might dispute his claims, the exegesis and historical evidence is entirely compelling. The use of these images by Jesus certainly do not seem consistent with a notion of an otherworldly place where the lost are tormented forever while the redeemed enjoy bliss in the presence of God forever. Instead, the Old Testament background, and the language of death and destruction fit much more comfortably with annihilationism. Of course, there is more to say in the discussion of the fate of the lost when we bring in more texts; those outside the Synoptic Gospels, and those which do not provide a specific place. But in terms of what the Gospel writers record regarding Jesus’ use of location designations and post-mortem punishments, the weight of the evidence favours Papaioannou’s argument.
This is not to say his work is not without some nitpicky problems. For example, in the introduction he argues that the duration of hell was set at the Council of Constantinople in 543 AD. This is problematic since Constantinople II was convened in 553, and made no specific decisions on the duration of hell, though it may have accepted a list of anathemas against Origen and some of his interpreters, which included a statement against the belief in a restoration (apokatastasis) of souls to their pre-existent, disembodied state. However, this was certainly not a definitive statement in favour of eternal torment. For more on this, see here.
The other minor issue comes on pages 90-93. In his section on Gehenna, Earlier, Papaiannou goes to great lengths to show that several key Jewish and early Christian texts should not be seen as influencing the teaching of Jesus, but the same texts he identifies as coming after the New Testament’s completion and thus not evidence of common parlance in Jesus’ day, he then includes as evidence regarding the notions of Hades in the time of Jesus.
Overall though, this is a very valuable resource, which carefully examines the historical formations of the notions of Hell, and exposes several unsubstantiated assumptions of many regarding how Jesus and his contemporaries spoke about the final punishment. Overwhelmingly, we see that Jesus adopts with only minor adjustments, the imagery of Joel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. The depictions of battles between God and his people against the nations, and the temporal judgements which would ensue are reframed around an eschatalogical vision. The weight of the evidence which is brought forward is immense, and compelling, and what we see here is such that we should expect the teaching of Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude to be consistent with the teachings of Jesus, which Papaioannou has demonstrated quite convincingly is completely inconsistent with the notion of eternal torment in an underground or otherworldly place. Instead we see a depiction of bodily resurrection, followed by judgement, and annihilation.
 

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*Rethinking Hell was provided a free reviewer’s copy by the publishers in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Pickwick/Wipf & Stock.

66:1 Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man;
he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood;
he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol.
These have chosen their own ways,
and their soul delights in their abominations;
I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and bring their fears upon them,
because when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, they did not listen;
but they did what was evil in my eyes
and chose that in which I did not delight.”

Hear the word of the Lord,
you who tremble at his word:
“Your brothers who hate you
and cast you out for my name’s sake
have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified,
that we may see your joy’;
but it is they who shall be put to shame.

“The sound of an uproar from the city!
A sound from the temple!
The sound of the Lord,
rendering recompense to his enemies!

“Before she was in labor
she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
she delivered a son.
Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?
For as soon as Zion was in labor
she brought forth her children.
Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?”
says the Lord;
“shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?”
says your God.

10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her;
11 that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious abundance.”

12 For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
and bounced upon her knees.
13 As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bones shall flourish like the grass;
and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants,
and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.

15 “For behold, the Lord will come in fire,
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment,
and by his sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the Lord shall be many.

17 “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the Lord.

18 “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.

22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall remain before me, says the Lord,
so shall your offspring and your name remain.
23 From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the Lord.

24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

28 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.

16:1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

16:1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

35:1 Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
“I am your salvation!”

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them!

For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!
And let the net that he hid ensnare him;
let him fall into it—to his destruction!

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord,
exulting in his salvation.
10 All my bones shall say,
“O Lord, who is like you,
delivering the poor
from him who is too strong for him,
the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

11 Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask me of things that I do not know.
12 They repay me evil for good;
my soul is bereft.
13 But I, when they were sick—
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
14 I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
I bowed down in mourning.

15 But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered;
they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know
tore at me without ceasing;
16 like profane mockers at a feast,
they gnash at me with their teeth.

17 How long, O Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their destruction,
my precious life from the lions!
18 I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you.

19 Let not those rejoice over me
who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye
who hate me without cause.
20 For they do not speak peace,
but against those who are quiet in the land
they devise words of deceit.
21 They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, “Aha, Aha!
Our eyes have seen it!”

22 You have seen, O Lord; be not silent!
O Lord, be not far from me!
23 Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
for my cause, my God and my Lord!
24 Vindicate me, O Lord, my God,
according to your righteousness,
and let them not rejoice over me!
25 Let them not say in their hearts,
“Aha, our heart’s desire!”
Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.”

26 Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
who magnify themselves against me!

27 Let those who delight in my righteousness
shout for joy and be glad
and say evermore,
“Great is the Lord,
who delights in the welfare of his servant!”
28 Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long.

Psalm 37

37:1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

16 Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance.

20 But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
but the righteous is generous and gives;
22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.

25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.

27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.

37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

10 The wicked man sees it and is angry;
he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
the desire of the wicked will perish!