Home‎ > ‎

“Hell” or “Gehenna” in Matthew 5:22 et al.?

"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matthew 5:22, KJV)

Some critics claim that “Gehenna” does not mean “hell,” but refer only to the burning landfill in the Valley of Hinnom in the suburbs of Jerusalem. “Gehenna” is indeed derived from the Hebrew words “גי” and “הנם,” which mean “Valley of Hinnom.” The Old Testament writers who referred to Gehenna clearly had the physical Valley of Hinnom in mind. However, by the time of the New Testament the word had become synonymous with “hell.” In Matthew 10:28, the Lord says, “And 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].” If Gehenna is merely a physical burning landfill, then how is it able to destroy the soul? One might argue that the word for “soul” (ψυχή) should mean “physical life,” but such a translation is inconsistent with the context. The Lord’s statement, “them which kill the body” indicates that things other than Gehenna are able to destroy one’s life. Gehenna is distinguished not because it can destroy the physical life, but because it can destroy the soul. Thus, “soul” in this context must refer to the life that exists into eternity. Scripture interprets scripture. In the case of “Gehenna,” scripture indicates that the New Testament Gehenna is hell – a place that could destroy both body and soul. Since doctrines such as that of hell developed progressively as God provided revelation, a proper noun for the “lake of fire” (which the Apostle John fully revealed in Revelation) did not exist in the early Hebrew vocabulary. Thus, the Jews applied the name “Gehenna” to hell.