The Hell of the Bible
Having examined the word sheol, the only word in the Old Testament rendered "hell," and the word hades, most frequently in the New Testament rendered "hell,"' we now notice every remaining instance in Scripture of the English word "hell." In the New Testament two other words are rendered "hell"—gehenna and tartaroo, which we will consider in the order named.
This word occurs in the following passages—in all twelve times:—Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:5; Jas. 3:6. It is the Grecian mode of spelling the Hebrew words which are translated "Valley of Hinnom." This valley lay just outside the city of Jerusalem and served the purpose of sewer and garbage burner to that city. The offal, garbage, etc., were emptied there, and fires were kept continually burning to consume utterly all things deposited therein, brimstone being added to assist combustion and insure complete destruction. But no living thing was ever permitted to be cast into Gehenna. The Jews were not allowed to torture any creature.
When we consider that in the people of Israel God was giving us object lessons illustrating His dealings and plans, present and future, we should expect that this Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, would also play its part in illustrating things future. We know that Israel's priesthood and temple illustrated the Royal Priesthood, the Christian Church as it will be, the true temple of God; and we know that their chief city was a figure of the New Jerusalem, the seat of Kingdom power and center of authority—the city (Government) of the Great King, Immanuel. We remember, too, that Christ's Government is represented in the book of Revelation (Rev. 21:10-27) under the figure of a city—the New Jerusalem. There, after describing the class permitted to enter the privileges and blessings of that Kingdom—the honorable and glorious, and all who have right to the trees of life—we find it also declared that there shall not enter into it anything that defileth, or that worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but only such as the Lamb shall write as worthy of life. This city, which thus will represent the entire saved world in the end of the Millennium, was typified in the earthly city, Jerusalem; and the defiling, the abominable, etc., the class unworthy of life everlasting, who do not enter in, were represented by the refuse and the filthy, lifeless carcasses cast into Gehenna outside the city, whose utter destruction was thus symbolized—the Second Death. Accordingly, we find it stated that those not found worthy of life are to be cast into the "lake of fire" (Rev. 20:15)—fire here, as everywhere, being used as a symbol of destruction, and the symbol, lake of fire, being drawn from this same Gehenna, or Valley of Hinnom.
Therefore, while Gehenna served a useful purpose to the city of Jerusalem as a place for garbage burning, it, like the city itself, was typical, and illustrated the future dealings of God in refusing and committing to destruction all the impure elements, thus preventing them from defiling the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, after the trial of the Millennial Age of judgment shall have fully proved them and separated with unerring accuracy the "sheep" from the "goats."
So, then, Gehenna was the type or illustration of the Second Death—final and complete destruction, from which there can be no recovery; for after that, "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins," but only "fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries."—Heb. 10:26.
Let us remember that Israel, for the purpose of being used as types of God's future dealing with the race, was typically treated as though the Ransom had been given before they left Egypt, though only a typical lamb had been slain. When Jerusalem was built, and the Temple—representative of the true Temple, the Church and the true Kingdom as it will be established by Christ in the Millennium—that people typified the world in the Millennial Age. Their priests represented the glorified Royal Priesthood, and their Law and its demands of perfect obedience represented the Law and Conditions under the New Covenant, to be brought into operation for the blessing of all the obedient and the condemnation of all who, when granted fullest opportunity, will not heartily submit to the righteous ruling and laws of the Great King.
Seeing then, that Israel's polity, condition, etc., pre-figured those of the world in the coming age, how appropriate that we should find the valley or abyss, Gehenna, a figure of the Second Death, the utter destruction in the coming age of all that is unworthy of preservation; and how aptly, too, is the symbol, "lake of lire burning with brimstone" (Rev. 19:20), drawn from this same Gehenna, or Valley of Hinnom, burning continually with brimstone. The expression, "burning with brimstone," adds force to the symbol, "fire," to express the utter and irrevocable destructiveness of the Second Death; for burning brimstone is the most deadly agent known. How reasonable, too, to expect that Israel would have courts and judges resembling or prefiguring the judgments of the next Age; and that the sentence of those (figurative) courts of that (figurative) people under those (figurative) laws to that (figurative) abyss, outside that (figurative) city, would largely correspond to the (real) sentences of the (real) court and judges in the next Age. If these points are kept in mind, they will greatly assist us in understanding the words of our Lord in reference to Gehenna; for though the literal valley just at hand was named and referred to, yet His words carry with them lessons concerning the future Age and the antitypical Gehenna — the Second Death.
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, 'Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be amenable to the judges'; but I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall [future—under the regulations of the real Kingdom] be amenable to the judges; and whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca [villain]' shall be in danger of the high council; but whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell [Gehenna] fire."—Matt. 5:21, 22.
To understand these references to council and judges and Gehenna, all should know something of Jewish regulations. The "Court of Judges" consisted of seven men (or twenty-three—the number is in dispute), who had power to judge some classes of crimes. The High Council, or Sanhedrin, consisted of seventy-one men of recognized learning and ability. This constituted the highest court of the Jews, and its supervision was over the gravest offenses. The most serious sentence was death; but certain very obnoxious criminals were subjected to an indignity after death, being refused burial and cast with the carcasses of dogs, the city refuse, etc., into Gehenna, there to be consumed. The object of this burning in Gehenna was to make the crime and the criminal detestable in the eyes of the people, and signified that the culprit was a hopeless case. It must be remembered that Israel hoped for a resurrection from the tomb, and hence they were particular in caring for the corpses of their dead. Not realizing fully God's power, they apparently thought He needed their assistance to that extent. (Exod. 13:19; Heb. 11:22; Acts 7:15, 16.) Hence the destruction of the body in Gehenna after death (figuratively) implied the loss of hope of future life by a resurrection. Thus to such Gehenna represented the Second Death in the same figurative way that they as a people illustrated a future order of things under the New Covenant.
Notice that our Lord, in the above words, pointed out to them that their construction of the Law, severe though it was, was far below the real import of that Law, as it shall be interpreted under the real Kingdom and Judges, which theirs only typified. He shows that the command of their Law, "Thou shalt not kill," reached much farther than they supposed; that malicious anger and vituperation "shall be" considered a violation of God's Law, under the New Covenant; and that such as, under the favorable conditions of that new Age, will not reform so thoroughly as to fully observe God's Law will be counted worthy of that which the Gehenna near them typified—the Second Death. However, the strict severity of that Law will be enforced only in proportion as the discipline, advantages and assistance of that Age, enabling each to comply with its laws, shall be disregarded.
The same thought is continued in Matt. 5:22-30: "Ye have heard," etc., "but I say unto you … it is better for thee to lose one of thy members, than that thy whole body should be cast into Gehenna."
Here again the operation of God's Law under the New Covenant is contrasted with its operation under the Old or Jewish Covenant, and the lesson of self-control is urged by the statement that it is far more profitable that men should refuse to gratify depraved desires (though they be dear to them as a right eye, and apparently indispensable as a right hand) than that they should gratify these, and lose, in the Second Death, the future life provided through the atonement for all who will return to perfection, holiness and God.
These expressions of our Lord not only serve to show the perfection (Rom. 7:12) of God's Law, and how fully it will be defined and enforced in the Millennium, but they served as a lesson to the Jews also, who previously saw through Moses' commands only the crude exterior of the Law of God. Since they found it difficult in their fallen state to keep inviolate even the surface significance of the Law, they must now see the impossibility of their keeping the finer meaning of the Law revealed by Christ. Had they understood and received His teaching fully, they would have cried out, Alas! if God judges us thus, by the very thoughts and intents of the heart, we are all unclean, all undone, and can hope for naught but condemnation to Gehenna (to utter destruction, as brute beasts). They would have cried, "Show us a greater priesthood than that of Aaron, a High Priest and Teacher able fully to appreciate the Law, and able fully to appreciate and sympathize with our fallen state and inherited weaknesses, and let Him offer for us 'better sacrifices,' and apply to us the needed greater forgiveness of sin, and let Him as a Great Physician heal us and restore us, so that we can obey the perfect Law of God from our hearts." Then they would have found Christ.
But this lesson they did not learn, for the ears of their understanding were "dull of hearing"; hence they knew not that God had already prepared the very Priest and Sacrifice and Teacher and Physician they needed, who in due time redeemed those under the typical Law, as well as all not under it, and who also "in due time," shortly, will begin His restoring work—restoring sight to the blind eyes of their understanding, and hearing to their deaf ears. Then the "vail shall be taken away"—the vail of ignorance, pride and human wisdom which Satan now uses to blind the world to God's Law and Plan of Salvation.
And not only did our Lord's teaching here show the Law of the New Covenant, and teach the Jew a lesson, but it is of benefit to the Gospel Church also. In proportion as we learn the exactness of God's Law, and what would constitute perfection under its requirements, we see that our Redeemer was perfect, and that we, totally unable to commend ourselves to God as keepers of that Law, can find acceptance with the Father only in the merit of our Redeemer, while none can be of that "Body," covered by the robe of His righteousness, except the consecrated who endeavor to do only those things well pleasing to God, which includes the avoidance of sin to the extent of ability. Yet their acceptability with God rests not in their perfection, but upon the perfection of Christ, so long as they abide in Him. These, nevertheless, are benefited by a clear insight into the perfect Law of God, even though they are not dependent on the perfect keeping of it. They delight to do God's will to the extent of their ability, and the better they know His perfect Law, the better they are able to rule themselves and to conform to it. So to us also the Lord's words have a lesson of value.
The point, however, to be specially noticed here is that Gehenna, which the Jews knew, and of which our Lord spoke to them, was not a lake of fire to be kept burning to all eternity, into which all would be cast who get "angry with a brother" and call him a "fool." No; the Jews gathered no such extreme idea from the Lord's words. The eternal torment theory was unknown to them. It had no place in their theology, as will be shown. It is a comparatively modern invention, coming down, as we have shown, from Papacy—the great apostasy. The point is that Gehenna symbolizes the Second Death—utter, complete and everlasting destruction. This is clearly shown by its being contrasted with life as its opposite. "It is better for thee to enter into life halt, or maimed, than otherwise to be cast into Gehenna." It is better that you should deny yourselves sinful gratifications than that you should lose all future life, and perish in the Second Death.
"Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]." (Matt. 10:28.) See also another account of the same discourse by Luke—12:4, 5.
Here our Lord pointed out to His followers the great cause they had for courage and bravery under the most trying circumstances. They were to expect persecution, and to have all manner of evil spoken against them falsely, for His sake, and for the sake of the "Good Tidings" of which He made them the ministers and heralds; yea, the time would come, that whosoever would kill them would think that he did God a service. Their consolation or reward for this was to be received, not in the present life, but in the life to come. They were assured, and they believed, that He had come to give His life a Ransom for many, and that all in their graves must in consequence, in due time, hear the Deliverer's voice and come forth, either to reward (if their trial had been passed in this life successfully), or future trial or judgment, as must be the case with the great majority who do not, in this present life, come to the necessary knowledge and opportunity essential to a complete trial.
Under present conditions men are able to kill our bodies, but nothing that they can do will affect our future being (soul), which God has promised shall be revived or restored by His power in the Resurrection Day—the Millennial Age. Our revived souls will have new bodies (spiritual or natural—"to each 'seed' his own [kind of] body"), and these none will have liberty to kill. God alone has power to destroy utterly—soul and body. He alone, therefore, should be feared, and the opposition of men even to the death is not to be feared, if thereby we gain Divine approval. Our Lord's bidding then is, Fear not them which can terminate the present (dying) life in these poor, dying bodies. Care little for it, its food, its clothing, its pleasures, in comparison with that future existence or being which God has provided for you, and which, if secured, may be your portion forever. Fear not the threats, or looks, or acts of men, whose power can extend no farther than the present existence; who can harm and kill these bodies, but can do no more. Rather have respect and deference to God, with whom are the issues of life everlasting — fear Him who is able to destroy in Gehenna, the Second Death, both the present dying existence and all future hope.
Here it is conclusively shown that Gehenna as a figure represented the Second Death—the utter destruction which must ensue in the case of all who, after having fully received the opportunities of a future being or existence through our Lord's sacrifice, prove themselves unworthy of God's gift, and refuse to accept it, by refusing obedience to His just requirements. For it does not say that God will preserve soul or body in Gehenna, but that in it He can and will "destroy" both. Thus we are taught that any who are condemned to the Second Death are hopelessly and forever blotted out of existence.—Matt. 18:8, 9; Mark 9:43-48.
[Since these two passages refer to the same discourse, we quote from St. Mark—remarking that verses 44 and 46, and part of 45, are not found in the oldest Greek MSS., though verse 48, which reads the same, is in all Manuscripts. We quote the text as found in these ancient and reliable MSS.] "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Gehenna, into the fire that never shall be quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into Gehenna. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into Gehenna, where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched."
After reading the above, all must agree with the Prophet that our Lord opened His mouth in figures and obscure sayings. (Psa. 78:2; Matt. 13:35.) No one for a moment supposes that our Lord advised the people to mutilate their bodies by cutting off their limbs, or gouging out their eyes. Nor does He mean us to understand that the injuries and disfigurements of the present life will continue beyond the grave, when we shall "enter into life." The Jews, whom the Lord addressed, having no conception of a place of everlasting torment, and who knew the word Gehenna to refer to the valley outside their city, which was not a place of torment, nor a place where any living thing was cast, but a place for the utter destruction of whatever might be cast into it, recognizing the Lord's expression regarding limbs and eyes to be figurative, knew that Gehenna also was used in the same figurative sense to symbolize utter destruction.
The Lord meant simply this: The future life, which God has provided for redeemed man, is of inestimable value, and it will richly pay you to make any sacrifice to receive and enjoy that life. Should it even cost an eye, a hand or a foot, so that to all eternity you would be obliged to endure the loss of these, yet life would be cheap at even such a cost. That would be better far than to retain your members and lose all in Gehenna. Doubtless, too, the hearers drew the lesson as applicable to all the affairs of life, and understood the Master to mean that it would richly repay them to deny themselves many comforts, pleasures and tastes, dear to them as a right hand, precious as an eye, and serviceable as a foot, rather than by gratification to forfeit the life to come and be destroyed in Gehenna — the Second Death.
But what about the undying worms and the unquenchable fire?
We answer, in the literal Gehenna, which is the basis of our Lord's illustration, the bodies of animals, etc., frequently fell upon ledges of rocks and not into the fire kept burning below. Thus exposed, these would breed worms and be destroyed by them, as completely and as surely as those which burned. No one was allowed to disturb the contents of this valley; hence the worm and the fire together completed the work of destruction — the fire was not quenched and the worms died not. This would not imply a never-ending fire, nor everlasting worms. The thought is that the worms did not die off and leave the carcasses there, but continued and completed the work of destruction. So with the fire: it was not quenched, it burned on until all was consumed. Just so if a house were ablaze and the fire could not be controlled or quenched, but burned until the building was destroyed, we might properly call such an "unquenchable fire."
Our Lord wished to impress the thought of the completeness and finality of the Second Death, symbolized in Gehenna. All who go into the Second Death will be thoroughly and completely and forever destroyed; no ransom will ever again be given for any (Rom. 6:9); for none worthy of life will be cast into the Second Death, or lake of fire, but only those who love unrighteousness after coming to the knowledge of the truth.
Not only in the above instances is the Second Death pointedly illustrated by Gehenna, but it is evident that the same Teacher used the same figure to represent the same thing in the symbols of Revelation, though there it is not called Gehenna, but a "lake of fire."
The same valley was once before used as a basis of a discourse by the Prophet Isaiah. (Isa. 66:24.) Though he gives it no name, he describes it; and all should notice that he speaks, not as some with false ideas might expect, of billions alive in flames and torture, but of the carcasses of those who transgressed against the Lord, who are thus represented as utterly destroyed in the Second Death.
The two preceding verses show the time when this prophecy will be fulfilled, and it is in perfect harmony with the symbols of Revelation: it appertains to the New Dispensation, the Millennium, the "new heavens and new earth" condition of things. Then all the righteous will see the justice as well as the wisdom of the utter destruction of the incorrigible, wilful enemies of righteousness: "They shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."
The class addressed in Matt. 23:15, 33 was not the heathen who had no knowledge of the truth, nor the lowest and most ignorant of the Jewish nation, but the Scribes and Pharisees, outwardly the most religious, and the leaders and teachers of the people. To these our Lord said, "How can ye escape the judgment of Gehenna?" These men were hypocritical; they were not true to their convictions. Abundant testimony of the truth had been borne to them, but they refused to accept it, and endeavored to counteract its influence and to discourage the people from accepting it. And in thus resisting the Holy Spirit of light and truth, they were hardening their hearts against the very agency which God designed for their blessing. Hence they were wickedly resisting His grace, and such a course, if pursued, must eventually end in condemnation to the Second Death, Gehenna. Every step in the direction of wilful blindness and opposition to the truth makes return more difficult, and makes the wrong-doer more and more of the character which God abhors, and which the Second Death is intended to utterly destroy. The Scribes and Pharisees were progressing rapidly in that course: hence the warning inquiry of our Lord, "How can ye escape?" etc. The sense is this: Although you boast of your piety, you will surely be destroyed in Gehenna, unless you change your course.
"So [important] is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and [or when] it is set on fire of Gehenna. (Jas. 3:6.) Here, in strong, symbolic language, the Apostle points out the great and bad influence of an evil tongue—a tongue set on fire (figuratively) by Gehenna (figuratively). For a tongue to be set on fire of Gehenna signifies that it is set going in evil by a perverse disposition, self-willed, selfish, hateful, malicious, the sort of disposition which, in spite of knowledge and opportunity, unless controlled and reformed, will be counted worthy to be destroyed — the class for whom the "Second Death," the real "lake of fire," the real Gehenna, is intended. One in that attitude may by his tongue kindle a great fire, a destructive disturbance, which, wherever it has contact, will work evil in the entire course of nature. A few malicious words often arouse all the evil passions of the speaker, engender the same in others and react upon the first. And continuance in such an evil course finally corrupts the entire man, and brings him under the sentence of death.
The Greek word tartaroo occurs but once in the Scriptures, and is translated hell. It is found in 2 Pet. 2:4, which reads:
"God spared not the angels who sinned, but cast [them] down to hell [tartaroo], and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment."
Having examined all other words rendered "hell," in the Bible, and all the texts in which they occur, we conclude the examination with this text, which is the only one in which the word tartaroo occurs. In the above quotation, all the words shown in Italic type are translated from the one Greek word tartaroo. Evidently the translators were at a loss to know how to translate the word, but concluded they knew where the evil angels ought to be, and so they made bold to put them into "hell," though it took six words to twist the idea into the shape they had pre-determined it must take.
The word tartaroo, used by St. Peter, very closely resembles tartarus, a word used in Grecian mythology as the name for a dark abyss or prison. But tartaroo seems to refer more to an act than to a place. The fall of the angels who sinned was from honor and dignity, into dishonor and condemnation, and the thought seems to be—"God spared not the angels who sinned, but degraded them, and delivered them into chains of darkness."
This certainly agrees with the facts known to us through other Scriptures: for these fallen spirits frequented the earth in the days of our Lord and the Apostles. Hence they were not down in some place, but "down" in the sense of being degraded from former honor and liberty, and restrained under darkness, as by a chain. Whenever these fallen spirits, in spiritualistic seances, manifested their powers through mediums, pretending to be certain dead human beings, they always had to do their work in the dark, because darkness is the chain by which they were bound until the great Millennial Day of Judgment. Whether this implies that in the immediate future they will be able to materialize more freely in daylight is hard to say. If so, it would greatly increase Satan's power to blind and deceive for a short season—until the Sun of Righteousness has fully risen and Satan is fully bound.
Thus we close our investigation of the Bible use of the word "hell." Thank God, we find no such place of everlasting torture as the creeds and hymn-books, and many pulpits erroneously teach. Yet we have found a "hell," sheol, hades, to which all our race were condemned on account of Adam's sin, and from which all are redeemed by our Lord's death; and that "hell" is the tomb—the death condition. And we find another "hell" (Gehenna — the Second Death — utter destruction) brought to our attention as the final penalty upon all who, after being redeemed and brought to the full knowledge of the truth and to full ability to obey it, shall yet choose death by choosing a course of opposition to God and righteousness. And our hearts say, Amen! True and righteous are thy ways, thou King of nations! Who shall not venerate Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou art entirely holy. And all nations shall come and worship before Thee, because Thy righteous dealings are made manifest.—Rev. 15:3, 4.
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