Monday, August 18, 2008

Hell - Is it a literal place?

First off, there is confusion when it comes to the word "hell." The word geenna, or Gehenna, is translated as “hell” in our English Bibles. The word hell itself literally means “netherworld” and is used to describe various concepts of a world underground where the dead go. The equivalent Greek word would be hades. So there is a misconception about hell before one even attempts to discern what the Bible has to say about it.

Many Jews would have been familiar with the Greek hades and possibly the Zoroastrian hell of which elements seem to mirror the traditional Christian view of hell. So in determining what hell is an attempt has to be made to put aside all prejudices and preconceived ideas concerning it and look solely at the Bible to see what it has to say. On the other hand, we have to keep in mind what would have been familiar to those listening to Jesus’ teaching concerning the afterlife.

From this point on three separate words will be used in this discussion concerning hell. Gehenna will be used when referring to the Hinnom Valley where the burning of Jerusalem's garbage took place. Geenna will be used for the concept presented by Jesus, and hell for the traditional view of Christians.

There are twelve references to geenna all but one made by Jesus himself.

Matthew 5:22, 18:9 “fire of geenna”
Matthew 5:29, 30; Mark 9:45 “thrown into geenna” “go into geenna”
Matthew 10:28 “destroy both soul and body in geenna”
Matthew 23:15 “son of geenna”
Matt 23:33 “condemned to geenna” (or “judgment of geenna”)
Mark 9:43 “geenna, where the fire never goes out.” (or “inextinguishable fire”)
Mark 9:47-48 “thrown into geenna where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”
Luke 12:5 “after killing the body, has the power to throw you in geenna.”
James 3:6 “tongue…set on fire by geenna.”

There should be no doubt that Jesus taught geenna was/is a literal place different from Gehenna. Jesus used the imagery of Gehenna to describe that which is opposite heaven. Jesus treated geenna as a literal place whether it be physical or other-worldly. The question goes from “is hell a literal place” to “what exactly is hell?”

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