Mark 9:47-48 English Standard Version (ESV)

47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Mark 9:47-48 Good News Translation (GNT)

47 And if your eye makes you lose your faith, take it out! It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into hell.48 There ‘the worms that eat them never die, and the fire that burns them is never put out.’

Mark 9:47-48 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

47 And if your eye makes you stumble, throw it out, it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna,[1] 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

About one year later, Nisan 11th 33 C.E. on the Mount of Olives, Jesus spoke prophetically of a future time when he would say to the wicked,

Matthew 25:41, 46 English Standard Version (ESV)

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41, 46 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

If we were to take Jesus’ words in the above in isolation without looking at the Bible backgrounds or any of the original language words, it might seem like Jesus was teaching a hellfire doctrine of eternal torment. However, this would contradict other parts of Scripture that clearly teaches the punishment of eternal destruction.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:9, ESV.

What did Jesus mean in the above text when he said people would be ‘thrown into hell?’ How are we to understand “the eternal fire” that Jesus warned us about, is it literal or symbolic? The original Greek word translated “hell” at Mark 9:47 is Geenna.

Gehenna Hebrew Ge’ Hinnom, literally, valley of Hinnom appears 12 times in the Greek New Testament books, and many translators render it by the word “hell.” Most translations have chosen poorly not to use a transliteration, Gehenna or Geenna, as opposed to the English hell, ASV, AT, RSV, ESV, LEB, HCSB, and NASB. There is little doubt that the New Testament writers and Jesus used “Gehenna” to speak of the place of final punishment. What was Gehenna?

According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 632), Gehenna or the Valley of Hinnom was “the valley south of Jerusalem now called the Wadi er-Rababi (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) became the place of child sacrifice to foreign gods. The Jews later used the valley for the dumping of refuse, the dead bodies of animals, and executed criminals.”[2] We would disagree with the other comments by the Holman Illustrated Dictionary, “The continuing fires in the valley (to consume the refuse and dead bodies) apparently led the people to transfer the name to the place where the wicked dead suffer.” This just is not the case.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites did burn sons in the fires as part of a sacrifice to false gods, but not for the purpose of punishment or torture. By the time of the New Testament period, hundreds of years later, the only thing thrown in Gehenna was trash and the dead bodies of executed criminals. For what purpose were these thrown into Gehenna? It was used as an incinerator, a furnace for destroying things by burning them. Notice that any bodies thrown in Gehenna during the New Testament period were already dead. Thus, if anything, these people saw Gehenna as a place where they destroyed their trash and the bodies of dead criminals. Thus, if Jesus used this to illustrate as the place of the wicked, it would have represented destruction as the punishment.

The Valley of Slaughter

Jeremiah 7:30-34 English Standard Version (ESV)

30 “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it.31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind32 Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. 33 And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. 34 And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.

This valley of Hinnom was on the outskirts of ancient Jerusalem. As we can see from the above text in Jeremiah, it was used for the practice of child sacrifice, a sickening and abhorrent practice that God condemned. God had said the idea of burning someone alive, ‘did even come into his mind,’ and he would execute such ones, not even torture these wicked ones. Therefore, God foretold that the Valley of Hinnom would become a place for the destruction of dead bodies, not to torture live victims.

Jesus reference to ‘the worms that eat them never die, and the fire that burns them is never put out,’ he was alluding to Isaiah 66:24. (See cross-reference NASB) Regarding “the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against [God],” Isaiah says that “their worm will not die And their fire will not be quenched.” (NASB) Those listening to Jesus would have been very familiar with the book of Isaiah, knowing his reference was to the treatment of “the corpses of the men,” who did not deserve to be buried.

Thus, it is all too clear that Jesus was using the Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, as a symbol of eternal destruction for those who would never receive a resurrection. He made this, even more, clear when he said, “fear [God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gr Gehenna].” (Matt. 10:28, NASB) Therefore, Gehenna is a symbol of eternal death, not eternal torment in some eternal hellfire.

What about Jesus mention of “the eternal fire,” is it literal or symbolic? (Matt 25:41) If we look at the whole verse, we can see that this eternal fire is “prepared for the devil and his angels.” Is it possible for literal fire to burn spirit persons? Clearly, Jesus was using symbolism here, as we also consider the fact that the mention of “the sheep” and “the goats” mentioned in the same section of verses are not literal. The sheep and the goats are word pictures used to symbolize two groups of peoples. (Matt. 25:32-33) The “eternal fire” that Jesus spoke of is used as a symbol for the burning up of the wicked in a figurative sense.

Well, some might ask, what about the wicked, who “will go away into eternal punishment”? First, eternal punishment does not automatically equate into eternal torment by eternal fire.

The basic meaning of the Greek word kolasin “akin to kolazoo,”[3] “means ‘to cut short,’ ‘to lop,’ ‘to trim,’ and figuratively a. ‘to impede,’ ‘restrain,’ and b. ‘to punish,’ and in the passive ‘to suffer loss.’[4] The first part of the sentence is only in harmony with the second part of the sentence, if the eternal punishment is eternal death. The wicked receive eternal death and the righteous eternal life. We might at that Matthews Gospel was primarily for the Jewish Christians, and under the Mosaic Law, God would punish those who violated the law, saying they “shall be cut off [penalty of death] from Israel.” (Ex 12:15; Lev 20:2-3) We need further to consider,

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

Notice that Paul says too that the punishment for the wicked is “eternal destruction.” Many times in talking with those that support the position of eternal torment in some hellfire, they will add a word to Matthew 25:46 in their paraphrase of the verse, ‘conscious eternal punishment.’ However, Jesus does not tell us what the eternal punishment is, just that it is a punishment and it is eternal. Therefore, those who support eternal conscious fiery torment will read the verse to mean just that, while those, who hold the position of eternal destruction, will take Matthew 25:46 to mean that. Considering that Jesus does not define what the eternal punishment is, this verse is not a proof text for either side of the argument.

Therefore, Jesus did not teach that God was going to torture the wicked in some eternal hellfire forever. Rather, Jesus said, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB) Implied in this verse is if we think we will receive eternal life, if we do not, we will not, which means we will die. If Jesus meant that, the wicked received eternal life of another kind, suffering torment in a fiery hell, why not state so here. Rather, he says, if ‘we do not believe, we will perish.’ Let us look at verse 36, which informs us what the believer and the unbeliever will receive, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” If we refuse to accept Jesus, then we will not receive life. One has to be alive to receive eternal torment in some hellfire.

Short History of Hell as Eternal Torment

Greek Mythology (900 – 500 B.C.E.)

The Encarta Encyclopedia says, “Hades, in Greek mythology, god of the dead. He was the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea and the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. When the three brothers divided up the universe after they had deposed their father, Cronus, Hades was awarded the underworld. There, with his queen, Persephone, whom he had abducted from the world above, he ruled the kingdom of the dead. Although he was a grim and pitiless god, unappeased by either prayer or sacrifice, he was not evil. In fact, he was known also as Pluto, lord of riches, because both crops and precious metals were believed to come from his kingdom below ground.”

“The underworld itself was often called Hades. It was divided into two regions: Erebus, where the dead pass as soon as they die, and Tartarus, the deeper region, where the Titans had been imprisoned. It was a dim and unhappy place, inhabited by vague forms and shadows and guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed, dragon-tailed dog. Sinister rivers separated the underworld from the world above, and the aged boatman Charon ferried the souls of the dead across these waters. Somewhere in the darkness of the underworld Hades’ palace was located. It was represented as a many-gated, dark and gloomy place, thronged with guests, and set in the midst of shadowy fields and an apparition-haunted landscape. In later legends the underworld is described as the place where the good are rewarded and the wicked punished.”

“Eurydice, in Greek mythology, a beautiful nymph, and wife of Orpheus, the master musician. Shortly after their marriage Eurydice was bitten in the foot by a snake and died. Grief-stricken, Orpheus descended into the underworld to seek his wife. Accompanying his song with the strains of his lyre, he begged Hades, god of the dead, to relinquish Eurydice. His music so touched Hades that Orpheus was permitted to take his wife back with him on the condition that he would not turn around to look at her until they had reached the upper air. They had almost completed their ascent when Orpheus, overwhelmed by love and anxiety, looked back to see if Eurydice was following him. The promise broken, Eurydice vanished forever to the regions of the dead.”

“Tartarus, in Greek mythology, the lowest region of the underworld. According to Hesiod and Virgil, Tartarus is as far below Hades as the earth is below the heavens and is closed in by iron gates. In some accounts Zeus, the father of the gods, after leading the gods to victory over the Titans, banished his father, Cronus, and the other Titans to Tartarus. The name Tartarus was later employed sometimes as a synonym for Hades, or the underworld in general, but more frequently for the place of damnation where the wicked were punished after death. Such legendary sinners as Ixion, king of the Lapiths, Sisyphus, king of Corinth, and Tantalus, a mortal son of Zeus, were placed in Tartarus.”

Scandinavian Mythology (450 B.C.E. – 100 C.E.

The Encarta Encyclopedia says, “Many ancient mythological heroes, some of whom may have been derived from real persons, were believed to be descendants of the gods; among them were Sigurd the Dragon-slayer; Helgi Thrice-Born, Harald Wartooth, Hadding, Starkad, and the Valkyries. The Valkyries, a band of warrior-maidens that included Svava and Brunhild, served Odin as choosers of slain warriors, who were taken to reside in Valhalla. There the warriors would spend their days fighting and nights feasting until Ragnarok, the day of the final world battle, in which the old gods would perish and a new reign of peace and love would be instituted. Ordinary individuals were received after death by the goddess Hel in a cheerless underground world.”

Zoroastrianism Mythology (650 – 330 B.C.E.

The Encarta Encyclopedia says, “Zoroastrianism, religion that arose from the teachings of the devotional poet Zoroaster, known as Zarathushtra to ancient Iranians, who is regarded as the faith’s founding prophet. Scholars believe that Zoroaster lived sometime between 1750 and 1500 BC or 1400 and 1200 BC. The Zoroastrian scripture, called the Avesta, includes poems attributed to Zoroaster. The religion continues to be practiced today by Zoroastrian communities in India, Iran, the United States, Canada, and other countries.”

“Zoroastrians believe that Ahura Mazda created humans as allies in the cosmic struggle against evil and that humanity will be resurrected and granted immortality once evil has been defeated. They further view the material world as a trap into which evil has been lured and in which evil will undergo defeat by divinities and humans working together. Zoroastrianism preaches that when someone dies his or her soul undergoes individual judgment based on actions while alive. If the soul’s good deeds are greater than its evil deeds, it enters paradise. If the soul’s evil deeds outweigh the good done while alive, it is cast into hell to await the day of universal judgment. In cases where a soul’s good deeds equal its evil deeds, it is consigned to limbo.”

“Close to the end of time a savior will resurrect the dead, Zoroastrianism claims. Ahura Mazda will descend to earth with the other good spirits. Each sinner, having already suffered in hell or limbo after death, will be purified. Thereafter, immortality will be granted to all humans. Ahura Mazda, the holy immortals, and other divine beings will annihilate the demons and force Angra Mainyu to scuttle back into hell, which will then be sealed.”

“The Zoroastrian doctrine of heaven, hell, and limbo influenced other faiths. Islam absorbed not only the ideas of heaven, hell, and limbo, but also the scheme of individual judgment at a celestial bridge and the notion of final, universal judgment. Christianity further assimilated the Zoroastrian belief of the soul’s afterlife and the appearance of a savior, resurrection, and eternal life at the end of the world. “[5]

Learning the Truth About Hell

Church leaders who teach that hell is is a place of some fiery torment where the wicked burn for eternity are supporting a gross distortion of God and his qualities. True enough, the Bible does say that God will destroy the wicked. (2 Thess. 1:6-9) Nevertheless, God’s righteous indignation is not such, that it becomes unjust, out of balance with his other qualities.

God is not hateful, spiteful or bitter. He asks, “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” (Eze. 18:23, NASB) Think it through, if God has no please in the death of the wick, how are we to believe he would find justice, joy, happiness, and delight in an eternity of horrific torture? God’s outstanding quality is love. (1 John 4:8) He has even commanded us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44), i.e., be willing to share the gospel with them if their heart condition should change. This mindset seems completely out of place with the idea of eternal torment.

Being Released from Hell?

Much confusion and misunderstanding has been caused through some Bible translations like the King James Version, which renders all of our original language words as hell: Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus. If we have a correct understanding of Gehenna and Hades, we will discover a truth that we never knew before. Gehenna is pictorial of a place where the dead go, who receive total destruction, with no hope of a resurrection, as Gehenna was an incinerator. Hades, on the other hand, is the grave, where there is the hope of a future resurrection.

After Jesus died and was resurrected, the apostle Peter stated the following about Jesus,

Acts 2:27 English Standard Version (ESV)

27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades [hell KJV],
or let your Holy One see corruption.

Acts 2:31-32 English Standard Version (ESV)

31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades [hell KJV], nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.

Peter was quoting Psalm 16:10 in verse 31 of Acts 2, where he clearly stated Jesus was resurrected from hades,

Psalm 16:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol [hell KJV],
or let your holy one see corruption.

As we can see the transliteration of original language word, in Psalm is Sheol and in Acts, it is Hades, which is rendered by just one word in the King James Version. The King James Version renders Sheol as “hell,” “the grave,” and “the pit;” Hades is therein rendered both “hell” and “grave;” Gehenna is also translated “hell;” and Tartarus is rendered as “hell.” When Jesus was in Hades for three days, he was not in some fiery place of torment. Hades [hell KJV] was the grave from which Jesus received a resurrection. Moreover, Jesus is not the only person who will receive a resurrection from Hades [hell KJV].

  In connection with the resurrection, the Bible says, “Death and Hades [hell KJV] gave up the dead who were in them.” (Rev. 20:13, 14, ESV) Here we see God emptying Hades, i.e., hell, which will mean that those who are worthy will be restored to life in a resurrection. (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) This is the great hope that should be in every Christian heart and mind, seeing those that we loved return from Hades [hell, KJV], namely, the grave! The God of infinite love will carry this out.

[1] geenna 12x pr. the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, once celebrated for the horrid worship of Moloch, and afterwards polluted with every species of filth, as well as the carcasses of animals, and dead bodies of malefactors; to consume which, in order to avert the pestilence which such a mass of corruption would occasion, constant fires were kept burning. – MCEDONTW

[2] Chad Brand, Charles Draper, et al., eds., “Gehenna,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 631.

[3] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 498.

[4] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 451.

[5] Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.