Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (Oct. 1992) 454-70.
Copyright © 1992 by
Part 2 (of 2 parts):
Gehenna in the Synoptics
The first article in this series discussed the development of the
concept of Gehenna in the Old Testament and the intertestamental
period.1 It was observed that this concept is rooted in the literature
of intertestamental Judaism, specifically within the more narrowly
defined subject of apocalyptic eschatology, and that several ideas
were associated with the concept. In contrast to this variety, the
New Testament presents Gehenna as the final eschatological pun-
ishment for the wicked. The aim of this study is to confirm and am-
plify this latter idea based on New Testament texts and vocabulary.
Warnings about Personal Destiny
Matthew 5:21-22 contains the thesis and antithesis of a saying
1 Hans Scharen, "Gehenna in the Synoptics, Part 1," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (July–
September 1992): 304-15.
2 The Greek text of this verse has no variant readings deserving serious discussion,
though form-critical as well as tradition-historical considerations have generated a con-
siderable amount of discussion among New Testament scholars. As Metzger notes, the
reading with ei]kh is widespread after the second century. But there seems to be good
reason to believe that it represents a scribal gloss so as to "soften the rigor of the precept"
M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the
Greek New Testament [
United Bible Societies, 19711, 13).
Opinions vary regarding the verse's integrity. There appears to be a consensus
among many scholars that one or more of the three clauses of 5:22 are secondary,
though there are some dissenting opinions, among them that of Guelich, who, after a
survey of these discussions concluded that "there is no valid reason why Mt 5:22 could
not have been an authentic whole rather than a composite unit" (Robert A. Guelich,
"Mt 5:22: Its Meaning and Integrity," Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 64
: 4749). Luz also opts for its unity and says it is a genuine saying of Jesus (Ulrich
Luz, Das Evangelium nach Mattaus, Evangelischer Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen
[EKKNT] I/1 [
Gehenna in the Synoptics 455
of Jesus that discusses the relationship between brothers (a]delfoi>)
within the kingdom of heaven. It follows the exhortation of Jesus in
verse 20, that entrance into (=belonging to) this kingdom requires a
better righteousness than that taught and displayed by the religious
leaders (scribes and Pharisees) of the day. The thesis in verse 21 is
introduced by the words, "You have heard . . ." and the antithesis is
introduced in verse 22 by the words "but I say unto you. . . ."3 The
thesis contains the Mosaic injunction against murder and the conse-
quent liability to court proceedings of anyone committing this crime.
In the antithesis (v. 22) Jesus refuted a superficial interpretation of
the sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17), such as could be
practiced by mere perfunctory adherence to a legal ordinance de-
signed to regulate human relationships. The "I say unto you" nulli-
fies any claim of righteousness attained in that perfunctory way.
The true intent of the command against murder is more radical in its
demand. It is concerned with the disposition of the heart, not mere
The difficulty of interpreting the triadic structure of the an-
tithesis has created much scholarly discussion.5 The main point rel-
evant to determining the meaning of Gehenna in this text is the in-
congruity between the crimes listed and the severity of their respec-
tive punishments. The order of these punishments displays an obvi-
ous ascendence in severity: court (court proceeding), Sanhedrin, Ge-
henna of fire. "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his
brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his
brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and who-
ever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery
hell [Gehenna]." Thus one would expect a corresponding ascendence
in severity of infractions of legal ordinances. But this correspondence
3 As noted in the previous article in this series, this formula indicates a departure and
contrast from the teaching of the Old Testament, the contrast involving transcendence
rather than contradiction, as indicated by Jesus' statement in Matthew that He did not
come to abolish "the Law or the Prophets" but "to fulfill" (plhro<w) in the sense of bring-
ing or revealing their full, definitive meaning in His person and work as the Messiah
(Scharen, "Gehenna in the Synoptics," 331).
4 This notion was in essence taught by Moses in his stress that obedience to God must
come from the heart (see, e.g., Deut. 11:13; 13:3; cf. Lev. 19:17-18), but it was missed by
the Jewish religious leadership in Jesus' day.
5 See, for example, W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commen-
tary on the Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1: Matthew I-VII, International Critical Commentary
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 515-16, for a brief, recent documentation of the vari-
ous interpretive approaches. Cf. Guelich, "Mt 5:22: Its Meaning and Integrity," 39-52,
for a fuller discussion of the lexical and structural problems with their respective
interpretations. The former center mainly around the exact meanings of kri<sei, r[aka,
and mwre<; the latter focus mainly on the parallelism between the individual members
of the triad (triple response) as it relates to the apparent incongruity of the judgments.
456 Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992
does not occur. In the first part of the verse the infraction is anger,
which makes a person liable to general court proceedings (v. 22a); in
the second section the infraction is calling someone "numbskull"
(r[aka<), which makes a person liable to proceedings by the Sanhedrin
(v. 22b); a person who calls someone a "fool" (mwre<) as an invective is
condemned to Gehenna (v. 22c).6 Several scholars have attempted to
alleviate the tension created by the incongruity between crime and
punishment, either by emending the text, or by amplifying the slight
disparity between the listed crimes, or by attenuating the disparity
between the respective punishments.
The attempted attenuation consists in transferring the concept of
the Gehenna of fire from a figurative to a literal realm on earth.
Those who hold this view maintain that Gehenna refers to the lit-
site of the
depository of city offal with its perpetually burning fires), not to the
final judgment of God involving the destiny of the wicked or enemies
of God. It is argued that the burning of one's corpse at this site would
involve a greater condemnation than being judged and condemned by
the Sanhedrin and would represent the climax of the noted intensifi-
cation of the punishments described in the antithesis in 5:22. Thus
one would observe a closer correspondence between the crimes and
their respective punishments.7 The obvious question is whether this
literal interpretation of the "Gehenna of fire" is legitimate and rep-
resents Jesus' use of it. The absence of archaeological as well as liter-
evidence for such a site in the
earlier, argues against it.8
Guelich's interpretation requires no emendation of the text and
fits the context better in that it does justice to Jesus' antithetical
statement with its implied radical demand for a "better righteous-
ness," which, as in the case of His teaching on adultery, does not fo-
6 Lexical studies indicate that there is little difference between calling someone r[aka<
or mwre< despite attempts by some commentators to see a significant difference. The
former is an Aramaic derivative of an uncomplimentary nature, and the latter is a com-
mon Greek term of similar nuance.
7 This traditional interpretation is based on Rabbi David Kimchi's commentary on
Psalm 27. See, for example, Henry Burton Sharman, The Teaching of Jesus about the Future
according to the Synoptic Gospels (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1909), 257-58. He
opts for this interpretation which is representative of the older, critical commentators.
But this approach is not confined to the commentaries of an earlier era; it is still repre-
sented in recent discussions. For example Strawson states that Jesus had in mind the
fact of the
8 See Scharen, "Gehenna in the Synoptics," 328, n. 18. Cf. idem, “The Development
the Concept of Gehenna and its Use in the Synoptics” (ThD diss.,
Seminary, 1991), 176, n. 96.
Gehenna in the Synoptics 457
cus on the external act but on the inner attitude of the heart. The in-
ner emotion of anger and its often verbal expression in the use of in-
vectives against one's brother (or neighbor), both of which often lead
to murder, are judged alike. In the sight of God, intention and result
are viewed on the same plane and constitute a serious violation of
the apodictic injunction, "You shall not murder." Jesus' words in verse
22 transcend the Old Testament declaration of a right standing
before God on the basis of adherence to legal ordinances and demand
the satisfaction of the apodictic law which expresses God's true
intention in this respect. Therefore it is invalid to attempt to make
casuistic distinctions concerning degrees of punishment via legal
ordinances and assume that one has met God's true intention
(absolute demand) by meeting the demands of the ordinances. Jesus
shattered this legalistic conception of righteousness.
Guelich notes that Jesus' use of the same legal format—but filled
with "logic chopping" by the intentional incongruity between crime
and punishment—satirically comments on the fallacious reasoning of
scribal exegesis and suggests that these ordinances in 5:22 should not
be taken in a literal sense.9 This interpretation sees the "Gehenna of
fire" referring to the final eschatological judgment.10 Without this
meaning, the intended incongruity between crime and punishment
disappears along with Jesus' satirical thrust aimed at the scribal in-
terpretation of the law.
MATTHEW 10:28 (= LUKE 12:4-5)
This verse is part of Jesus' discourse in Matthew that deals with
the related topics of mission and martyrdom. Within this general
context Jesus exhorted the disciples to fearlessness in the face of op-
position and persecution. "And do not fear those who kill the body,
but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to de-
stroy both soul and body in hell ['Gehenna')." The parallel text in
Luke (12:4-5) follows a woe section (11:41-54) directed against the
lawyers (Pharisees and scribes) and is preceded immediately by Je-
9 Guelich, "Mt 5:22: Its Meaning and Integrity," 51. He states that these ordinances
are obviously not to be taken literally. "No one would ever attempt to take another to
trial for anger, nor to the Sanhedrin for using the common invective r[aka<, nor would
one be subject to eternal damnation for using the nearly synonymous mwre<." Zahn ob-
serves that the choice of form and content was deliberately satirical to demonstrate the
inadequacy of the Jewish understanding of the Law (Theodor Zahn, Das Evangelium des
Matthaus, 4th ed. [
difficulty of initiating court proceedings against someone on the basis of anger or the
use of invectives.
10 Guelich's words, "subject to eternal damnation," make this clear ("Mt 5:22: Its
Meaning and Integrity," 51). The majority of modern scholars opt for this interpretation
of "the Gehenna of fire" (e.g., Carson, Davies and Allison, Luz).
458 Bibliotheca Sacra / October—December 1992
sus' warning against their hypocrisy, which will not remain uncov-
ered (12:1-3).11 This warning is addressed to Jesus' disciples. As
not dissimilar, in that both sayings are addressed to the disciples
rather than to the crowds or Jesus' opponents, and both are set in the
immediate context of troubles impending for the disciples.12
Jesus' exhortations in Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:4-5 show an
antithesis between the fear of men and the fear of God. In Matthew,
Jesus contrasted the ability of man who can kill (a]poktenno<ntwn)
only the body with that of God who can destroy (a]pole<sai) both
body and soul in Gehenna.13 In Luke, on the other hand, the contrast
is between man who can kill (a]pokteino<ntwn) and God who both kills
(a]poktei?nai) and casts (e]mbalei?n) into Gehenna, after killing. The
fear of men, then, deals with the fear of death, which men are able
to inflict in that they are able to kill (a]poktenno<ntwn) the body
(sw?ma) but not the soul (th>n de> yuxh>n mh> duname<nwn a]poktei?nai).
The fear of God deals with God's ability to destroy both body and
soul in Gehenna (to>n duna<menon kai> yuxh>n kai> sw?ma a]pole<sai e]n
gee<nn^). Since both man and God are able to kill, the emphasis of
the saying lies on God's ability to destroy in or cast into Gehenna,.
This significant saying is one of the more explicit statements in
Scripture relating to judgment in the afterlife.14 One observes a
sw?ma/yuxh< dualism (dichotomy) in both parts of the Matthean say-
ing. Luke, however, did not make this distinction; he mentioned only
the body. This, however, should not be interpreted as a Lucan objec-
tion to such a distinction, since it occurs in his writings elsewhere
(Luke 12:19-23; Acts 20:10).15 This dualism, though, must not be
pressed too far in the direction of Hellenistic anthropology, which
saw the body and soul as distinct ontological parts of man with the
yuxh< ("soul") constituting the true human ego and possessing immor-
tality, the sw?ma ("body") being an obstacle or prison or at best an in-
different means of attaining the immortality of the yuxh< in a realm
11 The larger context is the extensive central section, usually referred to as the travel
account, in which Jesus uttered many sayings to His disciples and the crowds on His
from Galilee to
and body in hell' (Mt 10:28 R.S.V.)," Expository Times 81 (1969-70): 276.
13 Gundry observes the "neat parallelism" in Matthew's saying, which in his opinion is
a trademark of Matthew's style. "The antithetic parallels develop between killing and
not killing and between the body and the soul" (Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Com-
mentary on His Literary
and Theological Art
14 In the teaching of Jesus, only the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-
31) furnishes more details with regard to this subject.
Gehenna in the Synoptics 459
outside the material/sense world.16 A greater emphasis appears to
be placed on this dualism in the first part of the Matthean saying,
where man can kill only the sw?ma, but not the yuxh<. Here man seems
to stand at a distance from his sw?ma.17 Yuxh< should be understood as
the aspect of man that is destined for either eternal salvation or
eternal judgment (damnation/destruction) and must always be
viewed as being bound up with the resurrection body.18 The use and
development of these concepts should be viewed against a Semitic,
rather than a Hellenistic, background, though the latter's influence
on the former cannot be ignored, especially during the intertestamen-
tal period.19 In the first part of Matthew 10:28, then, death implies
separation of the body and soul, the former being vulnerable to kill-
ing by man in that physical life is bound up with the body. How-
ever, the soul is beyond man's reach. Therefore the disciples are not
to fear men, since their eternal destiny is beyond the reach of men.
In the second part of the Matthean saying, the "dualism"' seems
to conform more distinctly to the Semitic ideal, in that the two con-
cepts are complementary and refer to the totality of the human per-
son.20 Thus the disciples were commanded to fear the one who "has
the ability to "destroy" (a]pole<sai) both soul and body (kai> yuxh>n
kai> sw?ma), that is, the whole person, in Gehenna (e]n gee<nn^). The
majority of commentators agree that God is in view here, not Satan.
God alone has the power and authority to determine the destinies of
16 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "sw?ma," by Eduard Schweizer, 7:1024-
94, esp. 1060; cf. ibid., s.v. "yuxh," by Albert Dihle, 9:608-60, esp. 612-13, 645-46.
17 Schweizer, "sw?ma," 7:1058, n. 362. This distance, though, is not to be confused with
the Platonic distinction of body and soul where man is viewed as being endowed with
an incarnate soul. Rather man is an ensouled body, where both body and soul embrace
the whole man, though seen from different standpoints. In Hebrews 13:3, as
Schweizer observes, the formulation that man is in the body represents a similar
18 New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. "Soul," by Gunther
Harder, 3:686. The resurrection of the just as well as the unjust was a firmly established
concept by the first century A.D.
19 A discussion of the relationship between Semitic and Hellenistic, specifically Pla-
tonic, anthropology and the latter's influence on the former, especially during the in-
tertestamental period, is beyond the scope of this study. For a discussion of this topic
the reader is referred to the artides cited in notes 16 and 18. For extended discussions
of this topic, see Martin Hengel, Judentum and Hellenismus, 2d ed., Wissenschaftliche
Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 10 (Tubingen: Mohr, 1973); and Robert H.
Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series
29 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 87-160.
20 Schweizer observes that the body and soul (or living force) are complementary
and refer to man as a whole (Schweizer, "sw?ma," 7:1058). See
"Uncomfortable Words VI," 277, for a similar view.
460 Bibliotheca Sacra / October—December 1992
men.21 This is corroborated by the form of the similar saying in Mark
9:45, 47, where the use of the passive blhqh?nai) is a periphrasis for
the action of God.22 Furthermore nowhere in the New Testament are
believers commanded to fear Satan; instead they are told to resist
him (James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9).
What is meant by the verb "destroy" (a]po<llumi)? In the active
voice its most common meaning is "to destroy or ruin," which often oc-
curs as a mere synonym for a]poktei<nw ("to kill").23 In the middle
voice its counterpart is "to be destroyed or ruined," which is often
synonymous with a]poqnh<skw ("to die," or "to perish").24 Also a]pol-
lumi is often rendered in the middle voice, "to be lost," the literal
meaning being illustrated in the trilogy of parables in Luke 15.25
However, the crux interpretum of a]po<llumi and its cognate noun
a]pw<leia concerns their use as the vocabulary of "destruction" in rela-
tion to the final state of perdition. This use forms part of the argu-
ment of those holding to the doctrine of annihilation rather than an
eternal state of conscious suffering.26 An extended discussion of this
21 A recent dissenting opinion (i.e., that the devil and not God is in view here) is
voiced by Walter Grundmann, Das Evangelium nach Matthaus, Theologischer Hand-
zum Neuen Testament 1, 9th ed. (
1981), 297. Stendahl presents a similar view (Krister Stendahl, "Matthew," in Peake's
Commentary on the Bible, ed. Matthew Black and
H. H. Rowley [
son and Sons, 1962], 783). Niven offers yet a different interpretation, namely, that he
who has the power to cast into hell, or destroy in hell, is the power of evil (W. D. Niven,
"Luke 12:4," Expository Times 26 [1914-15]: 44-45). This interpretation rests upon a
defective view of the fear of God.
22 James 4:12 refers to God as the only Law-giver and Judge who is able to either save
(sw?sai) or destroy (a]pole<sai).
23 For example Matthew 2:13 reads, "For Herod is going to search for the Child to de-
stroy Him" (tou? a]pole<sai au]to<). And Luke 17:27, 29, referring to the generation of
24 For example Matthew 8:25, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing" (Ku<rie, sw?son, a]pol-
25 See Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon
of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed., rev. F. Wilbur Gingrich
and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 95 for a discus-
sion of the full semantic range of dmS,Uvpt and corresponding references.
26 See, for example, David L. Edwards with John Stott, Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical
Dialogue (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988), 315. In a recent dialogue between these
two theologians of different persuasions, that is, liberal and evangelical, respectively,
the latter (Stott) states the following regarding the question of everlasting suffering of
impenitent sinners. "In order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical
material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scrip-
ture points in the direction of annihilation, and that 'eternal conscious torment' is a
tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture." He then says there
are four major arguments that need to be reconsidered, namely, those relating to lan-
guage, imagery, justice, and universalism.
Gehenna in the Synoptics 461
doctrine is beyond the scope of this study, though in passing a few ob-
servations are in order. There is no lexicographical evidence for the
annihilationists' position that a]po<llumi means "to annihilate" or
"to pass into nonexistence." On the contrary, this Greek word refers
to "definitive destruction, not merely in the sense of physical exis-
tence, but rather of an eternal plunge into Hades and a hopeless des-
tiny of death."27 In Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:4-5 one might also
observe that whereas Matthew uses a]pole<sai e]n gee<nn^, the paral-
lel in Luke uses e]mbalei?n ei]j th>n ge<ennan, and the semantic range of
ba<llw cannot be extended to include the idea of annihilation without
undue strain and circular reasoning.28 And, as Gundry observes, liter-
ary considerations may have dictated Matthew's use of a]pole<sai in
that its meaning comes closer to the preceding a]poktei?nai.29
Another question concerns Gehenna itself. Scholars have noted
the differences between the two Gospels,30 and the presence of the
aforementioned body-soul dualism in Matthew and its lesser promi-
nence in Luke have led them to speculate that Luke is less dualistiic
in his anthropology than is Matthew.31 In their eschatologies, how-
ever, the opposite appears to be true, especially with respect to
Gehenna. Matthew presents Gehenna as the place of retribution for
27 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "a]po<llumi," by A. Oepke, 1:394-97,
esp. 396; cf. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. "Destroy, Perish,
Ruin," by H. C. Hahn, 1:462-65. Arndt and Gingrich have no category of "to annihilate"
or "to pass into nonexistence" under this term (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testa-
ment and Other Early Christian Literature, 95). Of further interest is Morey's note on
Thayer's lexicon, which defines a]po<llumi as "to be delivered up to eternal misery"
Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of
the New Testament [
can Book, 1886], 64). Morey states, "Since Thayer himself was a Unitarian who did not
believe in eternal punishment, his definition could only be the result of his knowledge
of the meaning of this Greek word" (Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife
their attempt to attach a different meaning to ai]w<nioj, "eternal," especially within the
same text where eternal punishment and eternal life are contrasted as, for example, in
Matthew 25:46. For a brief overview of the major arguments and the relevant texts of
both doctrines see Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the
New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 180-85.
28 "Circular reasoning" in this case means defining ba<llw contextually in terms of
Gehenna with the preconceived idea that the subjects of this infernal place will even-
tually be annihilated.
29 "Despite his liking ba<llw and e]kba<llw, Matthew replaces e]mbalei?n with another of
his favorites, a]pole<sai, because its meaning 'to destroy' comes closer to the preceding
'to kill"' (Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, 197). This
again weakens the force of the argument that a]po<llumi means "to annihilate" or 'to
cease to exist."
30 K. Hahnhart, The
31 Regarding this saying, Gundry notes that in Luke the duality is not so clear; the di-
chotomy between body and soul is less clearly expressed (Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theol-ogy, 114, n. 3).
462 Bibliotheca Sacra / October—December 1992
the total person, that is, for both body and soul, and thus it could
presumably refer to the final destiny of the wicked after the resur-
rection and the final judgment.32 Luke, on the other hand, can be seen
as envisioning reward and punishment immediately after death—
perhaps not so much on the basis of Luke 12:4-5 as on the basis of Luke
16:19-31, the story of Lazarus and the rich man, as well as Luke
23:43, the words of Jesus to the dying criminal, “Truly I say to you, to-
you shall be with Me in
be envisioned in a disembodied state immediately after death, and
consequently the soul could properly receive either reward or pun-
ishment. This would involve a dualistic view of man that seems to
be out of character with the understanding of man and death gener-
ally presented in Luke.33
On the basis of these eschatologically related differences be-
tween Matthew and Luke, Milikowsky suggests that the two evange-
lists use the term "Gehenna" to denote different notions of retribu-
tion.34 In Matthew the term denotes the eschatological corporeal
Gehenna where the impenitent sinner in his resurrection body re-
ceives divine retribution after his resurrection and judgment.35 In
32 Gundry states that when body and soul are explicitly said to be together in Ge-
henna, one might assume that this refers to a Gehenna that is postresurrection and
postjudgment (ibid., 114-15). Dautzenberg gives an extensive discussion of this saying
with special reference to its use of yuxh< and sw?ma (Gerhard Dautzenberg, Sein Leben
Bewahren: yuxh< in den Herrenworten der Evangelien, Studien zum Alten and Neuen Tes-
poses the Jewish understanding of an intermediate state on the basis of His use of yuxh<
alone (v. 28a), and the belief in a resurrection on the basis of kai> yuxh>n kai> sw?ma.
Dautzenberg says the judgment of God presupposes the totality of man (kai> yuxh>n kai>
sw?ma) since neither responsibility nor punishment can be divided between body and
soul. This totality or living unity (lebendige Einheit) of men is reestablished at the resur-
rection. God's judgment is to be feared because, unlike the temporal or earthly judg-
ment, which can deal only with the body, God's judgment extends to this resurrected
reconstituted totality of man, which God is able to destroy in Gehenna (ibid., 149). The
Gehenna envisioned on the basis of these observations is the eschatological, postresur-
rection, postjudgment Gehenna, that is, the final destiny of the wicked.
33 Ellis states, "It is true that some groups in first-century Judaism did view man dual-
istically, and Luke 16:19-31 appears to presuppose that kind of background" (E. Earle
Eschatology in Luke [
Lucan eschatology does not concern itself primarily with questions relating to anthro-
pology, but rather with the relationship of the duality of the ages (this present age and
the age to come) and the centrality of the function of Jesus' Person and mission in these
two ages. For Luke, the Person and mission of Jesus define "the nature of the continuity and
discontinuity between this age and the age to come" (ibid., 14). His ministry of healings and
other miracles as well as His own resurrection "point to the new age as a 'fulfillment,' a
deliverance of the present material creation from the death powers of this (present) age" (ibid).
34 Chaim Milikowsky, 'Which Gehenna? Retribution and Eschatology in the Synoptic
Gospels and in Early Jewish Texts," New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 238-49.
35 Ibid., 244. Milikowsky's scenario for the Matthean eschatology is as follows:
Matthew knew of a general day of judgment, a general resurrection, and a corporeal
Gehenna In the Synoptics 463
Luke, on the other hand, Gehenna denotes a postmortem, incorporeal
Gehenna or spiritual realm where the disembodied soul receives di-
vine retribution immediately after death.36 As a critique of Mi-
likowsky's view one might observe that an imposing superstructure
has been erected on a somewhat meager foundation. One must rely on
non-Synoptic material to work out such detailed eschatological
schemes in both Matthew and Luke. However, one must admit that
the Gospel of Luke refers more to immediate postmortem re-
ward/retribution than do the Gospels of Matthew or Mark.37
In summary the following observations may be made regarding
these sayings in Matthew and Luke. Within the context of persecu-
tion and opposition to the spread of the gospel, they contain ele-
ments of encouragement and warnings. They remind Christ's follow-
ers that man's ability to inflict punishment is limited and thus they
should be fearless in the face of such obstacles. Man's punitive power
enables him to kill only the body. In contrast the sayings counsel be-
lievers to fear God because His power extends beyond death, en-
abling Him to inflict final, irrevocable punishment on man by con-
demning the whole person to Gehenna. The nature and duration of
punishment are not elaborated as such in these sayings. However,
one is not amiss in interpreting Gehenna as the final eschatological
judgment, which involves the conscious suffering of man as a whole.
Jesus emphasized the threat of divine retribution with its implied
dreadfulness and terror, rather than fear of man's ability to kill.
The durative aspect of Gehenna, though, is not explicit in these say-
ings and must be derived by implication and on the basis of other
texts in connection with this term.
Gehenna. But no indication is given that he knew of either reward or punishment in
an intermediate state immediately after death. Thus Matthew refers first to the gen-
eral resurrection, then to the great day of judgment, after which Gehenna (with corpo-
real punishment) will receive the wicked for retribution. This is also the view of
Dautzenberg (Sein Leben Bewahren, 147-49).
36 Milikowsky, "Which Gehenna? Retribution and Eschatology in the Synoptic
Gospels and in Early Jewish Texts," 243-44. For the Lucan eschatology, Milikowsky sug-
gests the following: Luke knew of an immediate postmortem reward and punishment
and the resurrection of the just. The order of events is as follows: There is an immedi-
ate postmortem judgment, then the wicked are sent to hell (called either Hades or
in Luke), whereas the righteous enter
rected with Jesus at His second coming. The wicked are not resurrected, since Luke
did not mention their specific resurrection. He wrote of only a resurrection of the just
(Luke 14:14). Thus "Luke knows of no post-resurrection Gehenna into which the re-
united body and soul of the wicked are flung" (ibid., 243-44).
37 Dautzenberg, Sein Leben Bewahren, 138. He further observes that the Lucan version
of the saying suggests a Gehenna that blurs the usually held New Testament distinction
between Hades and Gehenna and aligns it with the post-New Testament Rabbinic
Gehenna, where it functions as an intermediate state, usually with purgatorial powers.
Luke, though, gives no indication whatever in his writings that Gehenna is purgatorial
464 Bibliotheca Sacra / October–December 1992
Warnings to the Scribes and Pharisees
In the two final passages in the Synoptics where the term
"Gehenna" occurs—Matthew 23:15, 33—the word is used in connec-
tion with the scribes and the Pharisees. In Jesus' final controversy in
the temple court He was challenged by the scribes, the Pharisees,
and the Sadducees (Matt. 21:23-22:46). This controversy was fol-
lowed by Jesus' pronouncement of a series of seven woes against these
opponents, each being introduced by the formula, "Woe to you, scribes
and Pharisees, hypocrites," and followed by a reason for the woe
A lament over
(vv. 37-39), followed by the Olivet Discourse (chaps. 24-25), which
in turn is followed by the final events of the passion week.
The woes containing the word "Gehenna" occur only in Matthew,
though a similar section of woes is also found in Luke 11:37-54.39 The
woe pronouncements scathingly indict the scribes and Pharisees, the
main point being their failure to understand the Scriptures properly,
especially with regard to Jesus' Person as the Messiah.40 The first
woe in which the word "Gehenna" occurs (Matt. 23:15) deals with
the missionary efforts of the scribes and Pharisees.41 Jesus' accusa-
tion centers around their eagerness to win converts (prosh<lutoi) for
their party, for which they were willing to travel about on land and
sea; they spared no efforts to win a single convert over to their cause
anywhere.42 The converts in view were not merely sympathizers
loosely connected with a synagogue as so-called God-fearers, but
were those who had been baptized, circumcised, and pledged to sub-
mit to the full rigors of the Jewish law, including the oral traditions
for which the Pharisees were so eager. Thus they became converts
not so much to Judaism as to the Pharisaic party.
38 The only exception is the second woe (Matt. 23:16-22) where, instead of being re-
ferred to as scribes and Pharisees, these groups are lumped together as "blind guides."
Thus the introductory formula reads, 'Woe to you, blind guides, who say."
39 For a discussion of the Synoptic relationship of these woes (source, priority, context,
authenticity), see I. Howard Marshall, The
Gospel of Luke (
mans, 1978), 491-93. Also see D. A. Carson, "Matthew," in The Expositor's Bible Commen-
tary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 8:476-77, and Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary
on His Literary and Theological Art, 459-70. For a discussion of Matthew's alleged anti-
Pharisaic stance compared with the other Synoptic Gospels see T. Francis Glasson's
"Anti-Pharisaism in St. Matthew," Jewish Quarterly Review 51 (1960-61): 316-20.
the seven woes in Matthew,
trality of rightly understanding the Scriptures—a theme that is reflected in all the pre-
ceding controversies and is no less related to Jesus' rejection of the claims of the teach-
ers of the law" ("Matthew," 8:477).
41 The verse is free of significant textual variants.
42 The only other occurrences of prosh<lutoj in the New Testament are found in Acts
Gehenna In the Synoptics 465
Jesus said such a convert had been made "twice as much a son of
as the Pharisees themselves.
this somewhat obscure phrase is helpful. He notes that "the Phar-
isees' interpretation and the rules deduced from Scripture became so
fully their converts' that they 'out-Phariseed' the Pharisees" and
thus became locked into a theological system that left no room for
acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, effectively barring their ever
dom" (13:38), these proselytes—like the Judaizers who later vehe-
mently opposed the Apostle Paul's missionary efforts and those of
the infant church in general44 —were "twice as much the sons of Ge-
henna" as the scribes and Pharisees themselves.45 The use of the
comparative with the descriptive genitive46 leaves no doubt that
their destination was Gehenna. They were bound up with all that is
implied in this term, namely, the irreversible destiny of the wicked,
which refers here specifically to the scribes and Pharisees. These
barred the people's entrance into the
through their teaching, at the center of which lay their obstinate
refusal to acknowledge Jesus as God's Messiah. If, then, the scribes
and Pharisees were bound up with a destiny in Gehenna, how much
more so their overzealous converts who were outdoing their teachers
in their antimessianic stance? It should be observed that an exact
meaning of Gehenna cannot be derived from this passage; a more ac-
curate meaning must be determined from its use in other more reveal-
ing contexts. However, its use by Jesus in this woe pronouncement
clearly implies a strongly negative judgmental connotation, harmo-
8:479. As noted by
servation, since converts or pupils of religious teachers often outdo their teachers in
44 Walter Grundmann, Das Evangelium nach Matthaus, Theologischer Handkommentar
zum Neuen Testament 1, 5th ed. (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1981), 490-91.
45 The words "son of” followed by a genitive is a commonly used Semitic idiom in
Matthew, "son" being often used in a metaphorical sense as in this case. See James H.
and W. F. Howard, A Grammar of New
Testament Greek (
Pharisees. For the use of this adverb of manner as a comparative, see F. Blass and A.
Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, trans. and rev. Robert W. Funk
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 33, para. 61 (2); 55, para. 102 (4).
46 Zerwick notes that a certain intimate relationship to a person or thing "is expressed
in a manner not exclusively Semitic, but in our literature certainly prevalently so, by
'son,' ui[o<j, followed by a genitive" (M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek, Scripta Pontificii Instituti
114, trans. Joseph Smith [
When ui[o<j is used with the genitive of the name of a thing or an abstract notion, the
relationship varies according to the subject matter. Thus a "son of Gehenna" is one
worthy of Gehenna in that he "shows this by the whole tenor of his life, just as in the
case of a 'son of light,' or the opposite a ‘son of darkness.’” In Luke 16:8 the sons of light
and darkness are contrasted.
466 Bibliotheca Sacra / October–December 1992
nizing well with its use elsewhere in the literature of the intertes-
tamental period and the New Testament.
The second occurrence of Gehenna in the woe section is in
Matthew 23:33. In the seventh woe (vv. 29-32) Jesus denounced the
religious leaders' seeming devotion to the former prophets and righ-
teous Israelites, a devotion exhibited in their building monuments to
the prophets and claiming that they would not have taken part in
killing the prophets. The superficiality of such pious activity is ev-
ident in that they were already plotting to kill Jesus to end His ac-
tivity (21:37-38, 45-46). In scathing irony Jesus told them to bring the
sin of their ancestors "to fruition by doing what they [the fathers]
left undone," namely, to fill up the measure of their fathers' guilt (v.
32)47 so as to unleash God's wrath on their generation (vv. 34-36).48
On the heels of this ironic command follows the rhetorical ques-
tion in verse 33, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you es-
cape the sentence of hell?" This question clearly echoes John the
Baptist's proclamation of judgment.49 Since the scribes and Phar-
isees filled up "the measure of the guilt of their forefathers," their
kri<sewj th?j gee<nnhj ("sentence of hell") was inevitable, unless they
had a radical change of heart (which, as history has shown, did not
occur). The meaning of this phrase may vary, depending on the cate-
gory of genitive chosen for gee<nnhj. The possibilities, though, are
limited to two or three options: an objective genitive, in which case a
possible translation would be "the judgment which condemns to Ge-
henna,"50 or a genitive of definition or apposition, which gives rise
to the attractive translation, "the judgment which is Gehenna."51
As already noticed in Matthew 23:15 regarding "son of Ge-
47 The imperative plhrw<sate in verse 32 particularly emphasizes the force of the
48 Cf. Eduard Schweizer, The Good News according to Matthew (Manta: John Knox,
1975), 443 and Carson, "Matthew," 8:483-84.
49 In Matthew 3:7 John the Baptist's rhetorical question of escape from judgment
with its derogatory introductory epithet Gennh<mata e]xidnw?n ("brood [offspring] of
vipers") was directed against the religious leadership, namely, the Pharisees and Sad-
ducees, whereas in Luke 3:7 it was used of the multitudes. Subsequent Matthean us-
age of this phrase on the lips of Jesus (12:34; 23:33 [in the latter it is preceded by duets,
"serpents"]), clearly shows that Jesus identified Himself with John the Baptist's view of
the Jewish religious leadership, who bore the brunt of the responsibility for Jesus' death
(cf. Grundmann, Das Evangelium each Matthaus, 94).
50 See for example, Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according
to Matthew (London: Robert Scott, 1915), 321. McNeile translates the phrase "fit of the
sentence of being cast into G(ehenna)" (Alan Hugh McNeile, The Gospel according to St.
51 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich define this phrase as "being punished in hell" (A Greek-
English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 452-53). This is
essentially equivalent to the above suggested translation.
Gehenna in the Synoptics 467
henna," the phrase "sentence of hell" by itself does not offer de-
tailed information about Gehenna's temporal or spatial aspects.
However, implied in the phrase and in conjunction with the similar
question posed to the religious leaders by John the Baptist earlier
(Matt. 3:7), several observations may be made. The phrase in ques-
tion in 3:7 is flight from th?j mellou<shj o]rgh?j ("the wrath to come").
This is clearly eschatologica152 and refers to the dreadful and un-
avoidable judgment of God in the "day of the Lord"53 at the end of
the age. However, this o]rgh< is not confined to the tribulation period
inaugurating the end of the age. The wrath extends to and includes
the final judgment and as such can refer to the judgment of Gehenna.54
Jesus' woe section in Matthew 23:13-36 includes one of His strongest
condemnations of the Jewish religious leaders, who through their
teaching, especially their antimessianic stance were barring people
Gehenna" whose destiny is inexorably bound up with all that is as-
sociated with and implied in this concept, namely, the dreadful, ir-
reversible, eternal judgment that God will execute at the end of this
age on all who oppose His will.
52 The future aspect of "the wrath to come" is undisputed by commentators. In fact,
as noted by Helmut Merklein, the future aspect of this judgment appears to be the one
thing of absolute certainty with the Baptist ("Die Umkehrpredigt bei Johannes dem
Taufer and Jesus von Nazaret," Biblische Zeitschrift 25 [19811: 33). He notes, "Was
kommt, ist der 'Zorn,' also ein furchtbares Strafgericht Gottes. Die Gerichtszukunft
scheint fur Johannes das einzig Sichere zu sein." Cf. Davies and Allison, Matthew I—VIl,
53 Commentators invariably notice the connection between this "wrath to come" and
the "day of the Lord" as depicted, for example, in Amos 5:18-20 and Zephaniah 1:14-18.
See for example Carl R. Kazmierski, "The Stones of Abraham: John the Baptist and the
End of Torah (Matt 3,7-10 par. Luke 3,7-9)," Biblica 68 (1987): 30; Carson, "Matthew,"
8:103; and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "o]rgh<," by Gustav Stahlin,
5:413-16, 419-47, esp. 431. Stahlin states, "Thus, in accordance with its predominant
characteristic, the Last Day is called h[ h[me<ra th?j o]rgh?j (Rom 2:5; Rev 6:17)."
54 Stahlin states, 'There are two points in the future where eschatological o]rgh< has a
place, first, in the tribulation before the end, then in the final judgment itself' (Stahlin,
"o]rgh<," 430-31). He further observes that in rabbinical literature this wrath is sometimes
equated with the judgment of Gehenna, in Pauline literature with the h[me<r% o]rgh?j
kai> a]pokalu<yewj dikaiokrisi<aj tou? qeou? ("the day of wrath and revelation of the
righteous judgment of God," Rom. 2:5), and in Revelation 11:18 with h[ o]rgh< sou kai> o[
kairo>j tw?n nekrw?n kriqh?nai ("Thy wrath, and the time for the dead to be judged").
Stahlin interprets the phrase "judgment of Gehenna" as an objective genitive. He ob-
serves that the wrath connected with this phrase "is not so much the righteous anger
of the Judge of the world as what He imposes . . . e]kdi<khsij (cf. Lk. 21:22 f.), the oppo-
site of dikai<wsij, the denial of salvation" (ibid., 431). Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich de-
fine h[me<rai e]kdikh<sewj in Luke 21:22 as "the Last Judgment" (A Greek-English Lexicon of
the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 238). The judgment of Gehenna,
then, refers to the final judgment of God in the eschaton before the beginning of the
468 Bibliotheca Sacra I October–December 1992
Gehenna in the Remainder of the New Testament
Outside the Synoptics the term "Gehenna" occurs in the New
Testament only in James 3:6. This verse is fraught with difficulties,
both linguistic and interpretive, because of its unusual syntax and
metaphorical language. Laws notes, "The general sense of the
statement is clear enough, but . . . it is made in a verse which is ex-
traordinarily difficult for the translator and exegete."55 These dif-
ficulties, though, need not hinder the understanding of the meaning
of Gehenna in this verse.56
Following his discussion of idle faith (2:14-26), James proceeded
to discuss idle speech (3:1-4:12)57 expanding on a subject raised ear-
lier in the epistle under the general rubric of what constitutes "true
religion" (1:26-27). The main thought of chapter 3 concerns the use of
the tongue and its effects. Though it is a small member of the body,
its double-minded use produces far-reaching consequences (3:5, 9-10),
with the individual who is able to control it being praised as a
te<leioj a]nh<r ("perfect man"), able to control his whole body (v. 2).
James laced his treatment heavily with metaphorical language, oc-
casionally interjecting an explanation. In 3:5a he interpreted the
metaphors: the tongue is a small part of the body, yet its uncon-
trolled use has far-reaching, harmful consequences.
In 3:5b the disproportion between the size of the tongue and its
effects continues, but it does so with a decidedly negative connota-
tion58 through using the metaphor of a small fire that is able to set
55 Sophie Laws, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, Harper's New Testament Com-
mentaries (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980), 148. Dibelius states, "To be sure, the
understanding of the metaphors still does not guarantee the understanding of v 6,
which in its present form is among the most controversial in the New Testament"
(Martin Dibelius, James, Hermeneia, rev. Heinrich Greeven, trans. Michael A. Williams
various English translations offered for this verse.
56 For a brief, lucid summary of its history of interpretation, including a listing of the
difficulties and their proposed solutions, the reader is referred to Peter Davids, The
Epistle of James, The New International
Greek Testament Commentary (
Eerdmans, 1982), 141-44. Cf. Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James: An Introduction and
Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985),
123-26; Ralph P. Martin, James, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1988),112-16.
For more discussion, especially with regard to background material relevant to New
Testament culture and literature, see Dibelius, James, 193-98.
57 See Davids, James, 27-28, for a possible outline of the epistle.
58 The first two metaphors, the bit in a horse's mouth and the rudder of a ship being
used for control and direction, appear to have a positive or at least: a neutral connota-
tion. With the metaphor of a little flame or spark igniting a forest fire, though, the
metaphor has a negative connotation. Verse 6, which states the destructive power of
the tongue, confirms this observation.
Gehenna in the Synoptics 469
ablaze a large forest, an unguarded fire spreading into a roaring in-
ferno. In verse 6a, James identified the metaphor of fire with the
tongue. In the rest of the verse, he elaborated on the tongue's poten-
tially destructive power, including a hint of its origin, namely, Ge-
henna. He achieved this elaboration through a series of "stock
phrases and expressions which, if taken unidiomatically, are a mix-
ture of metaphor and grammar," which pose the aforementioned
challenge to the exegete and translator today.59 Moo paraphrases
the verse as follows: "The tongue's fiery destructive power affects
all of human existence, from beginning to end, and in all circum-
stances," and the source of this "enormously destructive potential" is
The figure of fire in connection with Gehenna is familiar, but the
unique feature of this passage is that James traced the source of the
potential evil of the tongue beyond the desires or strong cravings
(e]piqumi<a) of the individual (as in James 1:14-15) to Gehenna. What
is meant by this statement about Gehenna? One view is that
Gehenna is the familiar place of punishment, the final abode and
destiny of the wicked. In this case, the sense of the phrase is that
"the tongue directs human life towards inevitable retribution, and
the course of life has about it already this doomed character."61 An-
other possibility attaches the same meaning to Gehenna, though by
metonymous extension and/or implication the great destructive po-
tential of the tongue is traced to the chief denizen of this infernal
place, Satan himself.62 The Apocalypse of Abraham, dated around
the turn of the first century A.D.,63 explicitly affirms the presence of
Satan (Azazel) in hell (=Gehenna).64 Thus toward the end of the
59 Davids, James, 144.
60 Moo, James, 124-26. His suggested translation is, "The tongue is a fire; the tongue
makes itself (kaqi<stati) the unrighteous world (o[ ko<smoj th?j a]diki<aj) in our mem-
bers, which stains the whole body and sets fire to the the course of human life (to>n
troxo>n th?j gene<sewj), and is set on fire by Gehenna.
61 Laws, James, 152.
62 Martin interprets this verse in relation to the body of belivers on the basis of 3:1
(there James urged caution with respect to the office of teacher within the body of
Christ, because teachers "shall incur a stricter judgment" [mei?zon kri<ma lhmyo<meqa]).
Martin says that "in short, v 6 pronounces the tongue as evil—quite capable of doing
deadly (i.e., Satanic) harm to the body of believers—because it emanates from the evil one"
(James, 116 [italics added]).
63 Rubinkiewicz, dates the work subsequent to the debacle of A.D. 70 to the late
first/early second century A.D. (R. Rubinkiewicz, "The Apocalypse of Abraham," in OId
Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:686-88).
64 "The Apocalypse of Abraham," 14:5; 31:3, 5. Dibelius points out that this is the earli-
est reference to state explicitly that Satan is an inhabitant of Gehenna (James, 198).
470 Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992
New Testament canonical era there is evidence that identifies Satan
as a present rather than merely a future inhabitant of Gehenna.65
The use of Gehenna in the Synoptics is parenetic in nature and
occurs in relation to the Person and work of Jesus Christ. As the Mes-
siah, He is the fulfillment of the Law. He transcends the Mosaic in-
junctions and fleshes out their divinely intended purpose, which the
Jewish religious leadership—scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees-
misunderstood. Their antimessianic stance inexorably tied their fi-
nal destiny to Gehenna. In the Synoptics Gehenna refers to the final,
irreversible, eschatological judgment, which will last forever and is
reserved for all who refuse to submit to Messiah's God-given author-
ity and rule. In James a further idea is added: Gehenna is the
dwelling place of Satan, the source of the evil of the tongue. Thus
the use of Gehenna in the New Testament harmonizes with the ear-
liest tradition of the intertestamental period, a period that served
as the developmental background of this concept.66
65 This interpretation is somewhat weakened, though, by the late New Testament
evidence of Revelation 20:7-10. There Satan's irrevocable confinement to "the lake of
fire and brimstone" is clearly future for it will occur after the millennium. Based on
Revelation 20:7-10, Foerster states that the seat of the devil before his confinement in
"the lake of fire and brimstone" is not hell (cf. Rev. 12:9, 12) (Theological Dictionary of the
New Testament, s.v. dia<bolj, by Werner Foerster, 2:71-81, esp. 80, n. 49). CI. Adolf
Schlatter, Der Brief des Jakobus (Stuttgart: Calwer Vereinsbuchhandlung, 1956), 224, for
a similar view. But Dibelius contests these observations. He states that "a decision re-
garding James 3:6 must not be made upon the basis of the statements in Revelation
mentioned by Foerster" (James, 199). His point is well taken, especially in view of the
highly figurative language used in Revelation, which in turn, calls for caution in its in-
terpretation. A case in point is the account of Revelation 9:1-11, where an infernal host
of dreadful looking creatures (some kind of locust, see vv. 7-10) are released from the
smoking, bottomless pit. Their king is the "angel of the abyss" or "Apollyon," who is Sa-
tan. Admittedly, it is not clear whether he resides in this pit, but if not, he seems to
have access to it as the ruling authority in this evil place, which could possibly be iden-
tified with "the lake of fire and brimstone" in Revelation 20:10 and thus perhaps with
Gehenna. At any rate, Dibelius' comment must be given due weight, and one would
not be amiss in assuming that the presence of Satan in Gehenna was an accepted idea
by the time the New Testament was written during the latter half of the first century
66 The New Testament uses other terms that further describe this final judment with
its intense suffering for the wicked. These include "flames" in Hades (Luke 16:23-24),
"the furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:42, 50), "the eternal fire" (Matt. 25:41), "the lake of fire"
(Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8), and "weeping and gnashng of teeth" and "outer dark-
ness" (phrases that occur together in Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30) and "weeping and
gnashing of teeth" (which occurs by itself in Matt. 13:42, 50; 24:51; Luke 13:28). For a
study of these terms see the author's work, "The Development of the Concept of Ge-
henna and Its Use in the Synoptics," 229-42.
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