Redefining Hell - Part 7
In Part 1 of this series, we discovered that there are three particular Greek words translated as “hell” in the King James New Testament. The two most important are “Hades” and “Gehenna.” All total, there are only 23 occurrences of the word “hell” in the New Testament. The first appearance is in Matthew 5:22.
Matthew 5:21-22 (NKJV)
21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.
Here Jesus speaks of “hell fire.” The word “hell” is the transliteration “Gehenna.” Strong’s defines this as “the valley of (the son of) Hinnom, a valley of Jerusalem,” used in 12 of the 23 occurrences in the New Testament, leaving 12 as “Hades” and one in 2nd Peter 2:4 which doesn’t need to come into our consideration.
I find it interesting that Gehenna and Hades are equally split as 12 each, for twelve is the number of “governmental perfection and divine authority” (Jones). Since there are two of them, this denotes a “double witness” (2) of this “governmental perfection” (12; Jones). This view is supported by what Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 3:6-11, where the ministry of death and condemnation (hell) shows that both have their place and purpose in our lives.
According to Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, the phrase “hell fire” is rendered more accurately as “the hell of fire.” Vincent goes on to state that the “Valley of Hinnom” was “a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem, where, after the introduction of the worship of the fire-gods by Ahaz, the idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to Molech. Josiah formally desecrated it, ‘that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech’ (2 Kings 23:10). After this it became the common refuse-place of the city, into which the bodies of criminals, carcasses of animals, and all sorts of filth were cast.” I believe the key component in this definition is the fact that it became a “common refuse-place of the city,” in other words, a garbage dump. And what is the most outstanding characteristic of a garbage dump? Corruption, which aligns perfectly with 1st Corinthians 15:42 and Galatians 6:8. Remember, this word simply means “decay” or “ruin.” This is what Gehenna signifies.
In Matthew 5:22, our word “fire” is the transliteration “pyr,” meaning “fire,” whether literal or figurative. The Bible says that “God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29; KJV). And isn’t fire first and foremost light? It is, for John said “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1st John 1:5; KJV). This defines the “fire” in “the hell of fire.”
Since Gehenna is corruption and the fire is the all-consuming essence of our Creator’s light of life, we have a direct contrast between that which is temporary and destined for “decay” or “ruin,” and that which remains because it is eternal and incorruptible. No wonder Paul declares that the “resurrection of the dead” is “sown in corruption” but “raised in incorruption,” for once the consuming fire of God’s light and life finishes its course in each of our lives, we are raised from corruptibility into incorruptibility, “death is swallowed up in victory” (Isa. 25:8; 1st Cor. 3:13-15; 15:54; NKJV). How can this be? Because the final judgment in life for every soul was rendered through Christ and His death on the cross (2nd Cor. 5:19). This is why Christ is called “the last Adam.” Inasmuch as our death comes through the judgment of the “first man Adam” (1st Cor. 15:45), our life comes through the judgment of the last.
Following His statements in Matthew 5:21 and 22, Jesus refers to Gehenna two more times as follows:
Matthew 5:29-30 (NKJV)
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell (Gehenna). 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell (Gehenna).
Here Jesus refers to Gehenna apart from the “fire,” which I believe is to emphasize the idea of corruption. Note that He does not speak of just an “eye” or “hand” but of the “right” eye and hand. Strong’s defines the “right” hand as the “feminine hand, as that which usually takes,” in other words, that which receives from another source. Since the “eye” signifies knowledge and understanding, then the “hand” typifies the power and authority of this knowledge and understanding under which we choose to labor, be it the “wisdom of God” or the “wisdom of this world” (Eph. 1:18; Rom. 2:6; 1st Cor. 2:6-7).
As we learned, the cause of sin is the entrance of “pride” in our pursuit of the desires of the flesh and eyes (1st John 2:15-17). This turns sowing to the flesh evil, hence, when we awaken to the fact that our right eye and hand lead us deeper into corruption, it is “more profitable” to cut off the source (pride) lest our “whole body” or entire being is taken completely captive (Matt. 10:28). This is not only true in an individual sense, but in a collective sense as well. This condition manifests as one or many who will not consider any reasoning that conflicts with their present stance, no matter how sound and beneficial it might be.
The “hell of fire” is not some horrible place of torment located outside the realm of earth. Rather, it speaks of the presence of the corruptible (Gehenna) and the incorruptible (Fire) working in parallel on this earthly plane, just as it’s presented in Galatians 6:7-10. So Paul wrote, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature (corruptibility) is wasting away, our inner nature (incorruptibility) is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction (corruptibility) is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (incorruptibility) beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen (corruptible) but to the things that are unseen (incorruptible). For the things that are seen are transient (corruptible), but the things that are unseen are eternal (incorruptible)” (2nd Cor. 4:16-18; ESV).
In Mark, Chapter 9, Mark’s rendition of Matthew 5 reads a bit differently, but enhances our understanding. In Mark, Jesus refers to Gehenna as “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48; ESV). Strong’s defines “worm” as “a grub, maggot or earth-worm,” aligning perfectly with the idea of a garbage dump or corruption.
And the “fire” that is “not quenched”? No doubt, the fires in the valley of Hinnom were kept burning as a protective measure to prevent corruption from spreading, hence denoting that God’s light and life always remains in the midst of our own corruption. Just as the natural sun is constant through the entire cycle of sowing and reaping, so too God’s unquenchable fire of light and life remains until our process is complete (1st Cor. 15:22-26). Since God is love, it will not be otherwise. In keeping with the fact that we are both flesh and spirit, the divine principle of sowing and reaping can be illustrated as follows:
Galatians 6:8 (ESV)
8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption,
(Gehenna; where their worm does not die; death and its manifestation [hell])
but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
(Pyr; and the fire is not quenched; life and its manifestation [heaven]).