Of the four words that are often translated “hell,” Gehenna is the only term used in our Scriptures to describe the final fate of the wicked.1 It is used primarily by Jesus in the gospels, once by James and is entirely absent in the writings of Paul. The purpose of this paper is to examine the origin, history and development of Gehenna from the Old Testament (OT) to New Testament (NT), comparing the external evidence seen in the historical rabbinical ideas of Gehenna with the internal evidence seen in exclusively biblical development.

The following questions will be considered: Is there any biblical or historical warrant for accepting the popular idea of Gehenna as a “garbage dump” just south of Jerusalem, into which the city garbage, and dead bodies of animals and criminals, were thrown to be incinerated? Is Gehenna primarily a geographical term giving rise to eschatology cast in spatial language, or is there development that takes us beyond the basic geographical meaning? What this paper hopes to accomplish is to give clarity to the meaning of Gehenna in its historical context, which will help us discern its overall usage throughout the NT. Continue reading

  1. See also: OT Sheol (63x), NT Hades (11x) and Tartarus (1x). It is important to note that all men (wicked and righteous) go to Sheol and Hades upon death, but only the wicked are finally destroyed in Gehenna after the final Resurrection. []
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As we enter 2018, my sense is that God has been growing the Rethinking Hell movement at an encouraging pace. I don’t have statistics to prove it, but my feeling is that belief in Conditional Immortality is on the rise. This is something to thank God for.

There’s still a lot of work to do. On the one hand, the belief that God will torture the unrighteous forever is still very widespread and is still the dominant belief in most Christian churches and institutions. This error is deeply rooted. On the other hand, as more and more people become skeptical of eternal conscious torment, by no means are all of them embracing Conditional Immortality. The error of Universalism seems to be on the rise.

God has called many of you who are reading this to work to help others understand what the Bible truly teaches about Hell and the final fate of the unrighteous. How should we think of this work?  It is a labor of love. It is a teaching ministry. And, like all of God’s work and like every ministry, there is an aspect of spiritual warfare involved.

We are in a spiritual struggle.  In a sense, all of life involves spiritual warfare.  Our efforts to correct a very longstanding, broad, and deeply rooted misunderstanding of the Bible involves us in one aspect of the good fight we are called to fight.
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Rethinking Hell contributors Daniel Sinclair and Graham Ware join Chris Date for the seventh of a series of episodes reviewing Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson. This seventh episode in the series reviews chapter 8, “Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved?” by J. I. Packer.

 

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Today in Protestant circles we still hear a lot about the immortality of the soul, despite this doctrine being passionately rejected by Martin Luther 500 years ago.1 But we rarely hear of the immortality of the body, an important feature of resurrection, nor do we even hear that much about resurrection in general!2 Will all rise physically from the dead, like Jesus did—or only the saved? And if all rise in physical bodies, will the bodies of all be fitted with immortality, never to die again—or only those of the saved?

These kinds of questions are essential for assessing any doctrine of salvation and damnation, and yet they are often absent from the hell debate, and from broader discussion. Both heaven and hell are widely seen as ethereal destinations, to be arrived at immediately upon dying. But this truncated version of the biblical schedule of events renders resurrection and final judgment superfluous, even incoherent. Why were the unsaved sent straight to hell before Judgment Day, the very point at which they will be sentenced to hell? And if the saved and the unsaved already reside in the place where they’ll spend eternity, why bring them out? If they are brought out in resurrection, only to be shortly sent back there but this time in a physical form, how can those realms be suited to both physical and nonphysical habitation?

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  1. Martin Luther, “Assertio Omnium Articulorum M. Lutheri per Bullam Leonis X. Novissimam Damnatorum,” article 27, Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 7, pp. 131,132. []
  2. For example, the otherwise commendable Reforming Catholic Confession fails to include the resurrection of the unsaved, and only alludes to a resurrection of the saved by mentioning “glorified bodies” (even this much requires additional understanding to link the two concepts). []
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Writer and filmmaker Brian Godawa joins Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date to discuss his biblical fiction series, Chronicles of the Apocalypse, and how orthodox preterism can inform the debate between the doctrines of conditional immortality and eternal torment.

 

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