Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon

Chapter Nine: A Study of Gehenna and the Words Destroy and Destruction


The word "Gehenna" is used in twelve passages of Holy Scripture. We can best study them by viewing all of them. In each instance the word 'hell" is the translation; only a student of the Bible in the original Greek could tell that the word here is "Gehenna." The word occurs nowhere else in the Bible.

Matt. 5:22, "shall be in danger of hell fire."

Matt. 5:29, "whole body shall be cast into hell."

Matt. 5:30, "whole body should be cast into hell."

Matt. 10:28, "to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Matt. 18:9, "rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire."

Matt. 23:15, "more the child of hell than yourselves."

Matt. 23:33, "can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

Mark 9:43 “having two hands to go into hell.”

Mark 9:45, "having two feet to be cast into hell."

Matt. 9:47, "having two eyes to be cast into hell fire."

Luke 12:5, "hath power to cast into hell."

Jas. 3:6, "and it is set on fire of hell."

The only way that any passage of Scripture can be properly expounded is to discover the time and place to which it refers. A passage of Scripture that belongs to one dispensation ought to be explained in reference to that particular dispensation. It is through failure to follow this principle that confusion is brought to many passages of Scripture.

The first three Gospels and the Gospel according to Matthew in particular, are anticipatory to our Lord's setting up a theocratic kingdom on the earth. In this way alone can the Sermon on the Mount be fully understood. This is not affirming that in these first Gospels there is no revelation that is appropriate for other dispensations, but it is saying that its truth especially belongs to that period. If Israel had repented (Acts 3:19, etc.), the Millennium would have begun and all the conditions and laws that have special reference to that time would have gone into effect. We have seen in the Chapter on "The Millennium" that certain sins will be immediately punished, even lying and slandering will be punished with death. The early portion of the Acts of the Apostles has some of the same characteristics: note the case of Ananias and Sapphira (see also Ps. 101:4,7,8). This certainly will be a new order of things.

Outside of Jerusalem, in the valley of Hinnom, there will be a place for the disposing and cremating of the bodies of certain wicked ones, and that is the meaning of "Gehenna." In fact, it seems that very many will be thus punished, having been smitten by some destroying angel, and their bodies will be burned. The last verses in the last Chapter of Isaiah refer to this same thing:

"And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, saith the Lord" (Isa. 66:23).

This refers to the Millennial time. Zech. 14:16-18 refers to the same period. All nations will have Jerusalem as their center of worship and will send their representatives there every year (Isa. 66:23).

The next verse adds: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." Notice that this whole scene is spoken of men in their bodies of flesh, who are alive on the earth. The criminals judicially die and their bodies are burned. The inhabitants of and visitors to Jerusalem may walk outside the city and see the great crematory. There evidently will be so many bodies that some will begin to decay and will breed worms before they can be burned. In other passages of Scripture when it says that the fire shall not be quenched, we will explain in another chapter that it indicates that the worm will not die and the fire will not be quenched till the work is done (see Jer. 17:4 and 17:27). The fire spoken of in these passages was to burn up Jerusalem completely at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, which it did: it was not quenched till it fully accomplished the judgment that was prophesied.

All these references to Gehenna do not mean "hell" at all, for they refer to natural fire and to natural bodies burned in the Valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem. There is a hell, but these passages are not referring to it. They should always be translated "Gehenna." The fire of Gehenna was natural fire; and the bodies were bodies of flesh; and the inhabitants that will see them will be alive on the earth. This passage has no reference to the Lake of Fire. We will study about the Lake of Fire later. It will take another kind of fire than natural fire to torment Satan and his associates. It will be a real fire but not an earthly one. Notice that the text in Mark 9:43,48 has the same words as Isa. 66:24, and refers to the same time and place.

Examine for a moment Matt. 5:22, "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother" ("without a cause" is not in the best manuscripts.  See the Revised Version.) "shall be in danger of the judgment and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca! (thou foolish fellow) shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool! (or reprobate) shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna." Any one who reads this verse can see that it does not refer to the present but to the judgments that are to be poured out just before and in the Millennium, when there will be the judgments of the destroying angels and the bodies will be burned in the fire in the valley of Hinnom. Every one of the passages quoted at the beginning of this Chapter has an easy and simple explanation when it is applied to the proper dispensation.

The passage in James 3:6 containing the word Gehenna. is thought by some to be used largely in a figurative sense; but, because the book of James refers to the same Millennial period as is referred to in the Gospels, it has a literal reference also. Many sins of the tongue are at that time to be punished by death and by the burning of the body in Gehenna (Ps. 101).

The passage in Matt. 10:28 has often been thought of as presenting the greatest difficulty because of their being told to "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.). From Isa. 10:18, we learn that the phrase "soul and body" (or flesh), is a figurative expression and signifies "completely," the same as if it had read, "root and branch." So Isa. 10:18, in plain English would read: "And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, completely, or utterly." For in this passage Isaiah is speaking of a forest and not of persons. So in Matt. 10:28, interpreting the words according to the time that immediately precedes the Millennium, i.e., the Great Tribulation, our Lord tells them not to fear the antichrist or the false prophet, who will slay all those who refuse to worship the antichrist, but rather fear to do wrong and to commit sin for a sorer punishment will follow, viz., the destroying angel will destroy the sinner in Gehenna. The wicked will be killed and their bodies burned in the valley of Hinnom, and their souls lost, for the Millennium.

The judgments that are to be poured out are to be similar to those poured out in the days of Moses on the Egyptians when, among other things, the first-born of man and beast was slain. So there will be terrible judgments executed upon the nations gathered against Jerusalem in that time. God or Moses did not directly inflict the Egyptian punishments, they were brought about entirely by their own sin. By their sin the Egyptians separated themselves from God and He could not help them as He could the Israelites. See Ps. 78:43,49: "How He had wrought His signs in Egypt, and His wonders in the field of Zoan. . . . He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them." It was evil angels who wrought the judgments. Such judgments can be attributed to God only in a governmental or permissive sense. (See Chapter on What Saith the Scripture.)

Notice Ex. 12:23: "For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you." Here the Lord is clearly seen as not being the destroyer, for He is represented as entering through the blood-sprinkled doorways of the Israelites and preventing the destroying angel from doing his work. Compare Matt. 13:49,50, and see the work of the destroying angels: "So shall it be at the end of the age (literal): the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Judicially and permissively the punishment of the Egyptians is attributed to the Lord; but really it is the consequence of their own rebellion; for had they done God's will, He could have protected them as well. Sin causes men to step beyond the place where God can for their good protect them. He can reach them only through judgments and punishment, which He makes work ultimate good.

This may be a. fitting place to study the word "destroy," which is used in connection with Gehenna in this same passage, Matt. 10:28. The root of the principal word "to destroy," in the New Testament, is ollumi joined to a preposition which strengthens its meaning. It means "destroy" and "perish," but not in the sense of "annihilation"; for it is the same word that is translated "lost" in Matt. 10:6, where the disciples were told to "go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It is the same word translated "lose" in Matt. 16:25, "whosoever will lose his life shall find it." It is translated "marred" in Mark 2:22, "The bottles will be marred." It is the same word translated "perish" in the great text, John 3:16;  and in Luke 19:10 it is again translated "lost," "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." The same root is in the word "destruction" as in 2Thes. 1:9, where also the word "everlasting" should be rendered "age-abiding."

These examples show us that the fundamental idea to be exprest in the words "destroy" and "destruction," is to reduce to ruins. A lost soul is one whose spiritual life is in ruins. It is that class of lost ones that our Lord came to save (Luke 19:10). This further explains Matt. 10:28 in which the believers are warned not to yield to the antichrist even if they were killed for their faith; otherwise they would suffer from the destroying angel and be completely reduced to ruins, physically, morally, and spiritually. If they lost their lives through fidelity to the Lord, that would be praiseworthy, but if they yielded to the temptation to sin in the Tribulation or the Millennium, then the judgment of God would be upon them, and for their sin they would be brought to ruins in Gehenna.

Gehenna is therefore seen to be principally the place of the burning of the corpses of certain transgressors. It seems also that some may be cast alive into Gehenna and burned as a special penalty; to such it would be a gateway to the Hadean state.

Go to Chapters: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26) (27) (28) (29) (30)

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