Gehenna: The History, Development and Usage of a Common Image for Hell

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 “Gehenna: The History, Development and Usage of a Common Image for Hell”

  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. []