Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (Jan.-Mar. 1998) 324-37.

          Copyright © 1998 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




                                                  Part 1 (of 2 parts):



                         Gehenna in the Synoptics



                                                      Hans Scharen

                                Associate Pastor, Midlothian Bible Church

                                                   Midlothian, Texas



            According to a Newsweek report, belief in an afterlife is alive

and well in the United States. Apparently over 70 percent of Ameri-

cans believe there is a heaven and think they have a good chance of

getting there. Slightly over half the people surveyed believe there

is a hell, but only 6 percent think "they have a good or excellent

chance of getting there."1 This latter observation appears to contra-

dict the contemporary liberal Protestant theologians' view on the

subject of hell. The same Newsweek report quotes the American

church historian Martin Marty, who observes, "Hell disappeared.

And no one noticed."2 Indeed, the article continues, "Today, hell is

theology's H-word, a subject too trite for serious scholarship."3

These observations indicate that while the experts have all but jet-

tisoned the idea, over half the United States population still be-

lieves in the reality of hell, though few anticipate a destiny there.4

            Among evangelical theologians discussion centers around a dif-

ferent issue. Here the discussion is concerned not so much with the


1 Kenneth L. Woodward, "Heaven: This Is the Season to Search for New Meaning in

Old Familiar Places," Newsweek, March 27, 1989, 53.

2 Ibid., 54.

3 Ibid., 54-55. The article also quotes Gordon Kaufman of Harvard Divinity School,

who "traces four centuries of decline in the concepts of heaven and hell; what is left is

intellectually empty baggage. 'It seems to me [Kaufman] we've gone through irre-

versible changes.... I don't think there can be any future for heaven and hell."'

4 For a corroboration of these statistics, see the poll on the subject of a belief in hell

in "Hell's Sober Comeback," U.S. News & World Report, March 25, 1991, 56-57. The

statistical evidence of this report indicates that this belief among the U.S. popula-

tion increased rather than decreased over the last few years.




                 Gehenna in the Synoptics                             325


reality of the concept as with one of its specific aspects, namely, its

duration. In a Christianity Today report several prominent evangel-

icals voiced their opinions on the everlasting destiny of the un-

saved.5 Some of these opinions differ with the traditional conserva-

tive doctrine of hell (everlasting conscious suffering in hell for all

those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior),

mainly because it is too awful a destiny to consider or because it does

not harmonize with the idea of an all-loving, merciful God. Some

hold to universalism (all will be saved eventually, including the

devil),6 while others hold to annihilationism (eventual total extinc-

tion or annihilation of all the unsaved).7 In view of these observa-

tions it seems appropriate to look once again at the concept of hell.


                                    The Background of Gehenna


            One of the more striking differences between the Old Testament

and the New Testament concerns the idea of retribution in the after-

life. Relevant Old Testament texts point toward a virtual absence of

postmortem retribution, yet in the New Testament, especially the

Synoptic Gospels, a fully developed theology of this concept is recog-

nized. The obvious explanation for this difference is that this de-

velopment must have occurred during the intertestamental period as

reflected in its literature. These works evidence a transformation of

the Old Testament concept of Sheol (the realm of the dead) to its

New Testament counterpart with its distinctives.

            In the Old Testament, Sheol is viewed as a vast underworld ex-

panse beneath the surface of the earth but not beyond Yahweh's

reach. Cosmologically opposite heaven, it is a place of gloom and

darkness, of silence and oblivion where memories have faded. In all

respects it is the opposite of the land of Yahweh's blessing. In the

overwhelming majority of texts in 'which they occur, "sheol" and its

semantic equivalents convey negative overtones and are unquestion-

ably linked with the premature or evil death of the wicked.8 Thus

the idea of judgment looms large in these contexts, bringing into focus


5 "Universalism: Will Everyone Be Saved?" Christianity Today, March 20, 1987,


6 Ibid., 43-44. Neal Punt argues for "qualified" or "biblical universalism," which

differs from universalism proper (in which all, including the devil, will be saved) in

that he sees those lost "whom the Scripture expressly declares will be finally lost."

Among the latter "are those and only those, who in addition to their sin in Adam, fi-

nally persist in refusing to have God in their knowledge."

7 Ibid., 40-41. Clark Pinnock argues for this position.

8 For a list of passages in support of this observation see Desmond Alexander, "The

Old Testament View of Life after Death," Themelios 11 (1986): 44.


326                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1992


the primary aspect of Sheol, namely, its condition and power by

which it attempts to bring its victims within its domain at Yah-

weh's bidding and under His sovereign control. But the judgment

stops at the point of death. Once a person is consigned to Sheol, the

Old Testament is silent with regard to his or her fate, and retribu-

tion within Sheol is foreign to its pages. Only toward the end of its

literary period does one perceive the dawn of a new era when the

idea of retribution after death was faintly hinted at.9 This idea

forms a definite and integral part of intertestamerital literature.

            The noncanonical literature that tells of Judaism up to and in-

cluding New Testament times is extensive, considerably larger than

the New Testament.10 It is traditionally divided into five cate-

gories: the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea or Qum-

ran Scrolls, the writings of Philo of Alexandria, and the writings of

Flavius Josephus.11  In this literature, an indication is given of how

through the interpretation, change, and creation of new traditions

various groups and individuals wrestled and sought to make sense of

the bewildering events and circumstances that touched their lives.

These theological responses represent the theoretical undergirdings

of the Jews during the turbulent times of the intertestamental period.

            Recurrent themes within this literary corpus are apocalyptic

speculations about (a) help from the heavenly sphere in the struggle


9 Two such passages are Daniel 12:2 and Isaiah 66:24. A generally held view that

Old Testament Sheol is merely a neutral concept is disputed by the more recent re-

search in this field. See Ruth Rosenberg, "The Concept of Biblical Sheol within the

Context of Ancient Near Eastern Beliefs" (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1981), 246-

51, esp. 251. Cf. Hans Scharer, "The Development of the Concept of Gehenna and Its

Use in the Synoptics" (ThD diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1991), 116-19, esp.

118-19, where the author argues for a dichotomy in that a few texts imply Sheol to be

the destination of all men (Ps. 89:48; Eccles. 9:10), whereas, in the majority of passages

in which the term occurs it is unquestionably linked with the evil or premature death

of the wicked.

10 The period is usually referred to as the "intertestamental period," which in its

strict signification defines the time between the Old and New Testaments, or the ap-

proximately "400 silent years" between the Book of Malachi and the writings of the

New Testament. The literary evidence, though, of this period encompasses a shorter

span of time, namely, from the late third century B.C. to the early second century A.D.

11 See, for example, George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible

and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress,

1981), 5-6. To this could be added some rabbinic material, though much of it, with its

elaborate descriptive details of Gehenna and its associated punishment dates later

than the first century A.D. and must be used with caution. Anyone acquainted with

this literature is aware of the difficulties in dating it. Regarding this latter point,

Philip S. Alexander states that some of the dates assigned to early rabbinic texts are

highly questionable and are often reached on very subjective grounds ("Rabbinic Ju-

daism and the New Testament," Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft

83 [1974]: 240). He points out that rabbinic literature is made up of school texts con-

taining the deposit of a tradition that grew up over several centuries, and as such is

extremely difficult to date. In many cases the margin of error could be up to 200 years.

                   Gehenna in the Synoptics                             327


against God's enemies, (b) the hope and expectation for a human

helper, that is, a messiah, in this struggle, and (c) speculations about

God's justice in a world that seemed full of injustice.12 However, the

reader looks in vain for an orderly arrangement of these concepts

that would allow him to see a logical, consistent development of

them. Instead he is confronted with a disarray of thought that is

impulsive and often contradictory, yet true to life, in that it repre-

sents the outpourings of impassioned writers who vent their feelings

of anger and ecstasy through their writings. This is particularly true

in relation to eschatological predictions about the enemies of God's

people and their ultimate fate. Regarding the final state of the

wicked during early intertestamental Judaism, Glasson states, "As

for the final fate of the wicked, there is no consistent teaching."13 In

view of this, how is one to tackle the problem of showing the signifi-

cant changes that occurred during this period in Jewish beliefs con-

cerning the underworld, namely, Sheol (= Hades)?14

            The answer to this question lies in a method of presentation that

pays attention to the recognizable stages of conceptual changes about

the underworld. These can be treated in three groups: the continua-

tion of the "traditional" Old Testament view of Sheol; Sheol as an

intermediate state; and Sheol, Gehenna, and Tartarus as places of

final punishment. To summarize briefly, the findings in relation to

this latter group indicate Gehenna, Tartarus, and Sheol to be places

of final punishment, with Tartarus being reserved for the place of

punishment for rebel angels.15 In some places the descriptive details

of Sheol are similar to those of Gehenna, in which case these con-


12 See Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford Uni-

versity Press, 1957), 155-56, for this point on the Apocrypha. Cf. James H.

Charlesworth, "Introduction," in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H.

Charlesworth (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 1:xxix-xxxiv, where he notes that

frequently found theological concerns in the Pseudepigrapha are sin, evil, and the

problem of theodicy; transcendence of God; messianism; resurrection and paradise.

13 T. Francis Glasson, "Apocalyptic Ideas of Judaism Contemporary with Our Lord,"

London Quarterly & Holborn Review 29 (1960): 168. James Thayer Addison observes

that "no two writers give quite the same picture" (Life beyond Death in the Beliefs of

Mankind [London: George Allen and Unwin, 1933], 201).

14 That these changes were significant is easily recognized by the fact that in the Ju-

daism of the first century A.D., including the New Testament, the Old Testament con-

cept of Sheol has all but disappeared and given way to the specific concepts of Hades,

Gehenna, and Tartarus. Metzger states, "The doctrine which underwent perhaps the

greatest development during the intertestamental period was that which pertains to

the after-life" (An Introduction to the Apocrypha, 156). He further notes that the in-

tervening stages of the growth of this doctrine with its many ramifications are re-

flected particularly in the Wisdom of Solomon and 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha,

and the Psalms of Solomon and 1 Enoch in the Pseudepigrapha.

15 See Scharen, “The Development of the Concept of Gehenna and Its Use in the Syn-

optics,” 160-74, for support of and a fuller discussion of these findings.


328     Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1992


cepts coalesce. Gehenna is clearly identified as a place of punish-

ment for the wicked. However, apart from its identification as a

place of judgment for the wicked and the frequent mention of fire,

darkness, and dread, inconsistencies regarding its location and vari-

ous descriptive details are common. Earlier accounts locate it on

earth and identify it with the literal Valley of Hinnom16 south of

Jerusalem.17  Others locate it in heaven in juxtaposition to Paradise,

the place of delight and reward for the righteous, one of their de-

lights being the spectacle of punishment of the wicked in Gehenna.

            This valley acquired an evil reputation because of the idola-

trous practice of child sacrifices offered to Moloch there during the

days of Ahaz and Manasseh, two of the most notorious kings to ever

lead Judah, the southern part of the divided monarchy (2 Kings 16:3;

21:6). Later, during the reign of Josiah, this faithful king had the

valley desecrated in order to prevent a reccurrence of this abom-

inable practice (2 Kings 23:10). Still later the Prophet Jeremiah an-

nounced that this valley would become a place of God's future judg-

ment, where the Lord would recompense the kings of Judah and the

people of Jerusalem for their abominable deeds. Hence the valley

would no longer be called the "Valley of Ben Hinnom," but the

"Valley of Slaughter"' (Jer. 7:30-34; 19:1-11).18 This historical

sketch and the negative characteristics associated with this valley,

as well as its designation as a site for a future judgment for the ene-


16 The term "Gehenna" appears abruptly in the apocalyptic literature of Judaism of

the second century B.C. Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries relate its origin to "the

Valley of Hinnom," which in the Hebrew Bible is variously referred to as "the Val-

ley of the Son of Hinnom," "the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom," or simply as "the Val-

ley of Hinnom." Transliteration of the last of these Hebrew forms, Mno.hi-xyGa, led to

gai<enna in the Septuagint or ge<ena in the New Testament, where it is anglicized as

the familiar "Gehenna."

17 The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom

south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to

Rabbi David Kimhi's commentary on Psalm 27:13 (ca. A.D. 1200). He maintained that

in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and

cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither

archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier in-

tertestamental or the later rabbinic sources (Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck,

Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. [Munich: Beck,

1922-56], 4:2:1030). Also a more recent author holds a similar view (Lloyd R. Bailey,

"Gehenna: The Topography of Hell," Biblical Archeologist 49 [1986]: 189.

18 Another name for this valley was "Tophet," a term used by Isaiah when he de-

scribed the forthcoming destruction of the Assyrians by fire in the valley near

Jerusalem, where the Lord would have a fiery furnace ready to devour the Assyrian

princes and king (Isa. 30:31-33; 31:9). The same valley is probably in view in Isaiah

66:24, which speaks of a climactic slaughter of the wicked in the future in such close

proximity to the south of Jerusalem that the whole ghastly spectacle would be wit-

nessed by the righteous of that city. They would be witnesses to the judgment of God's

enemies, whose "worm shall not die" and whose "fire shall not be quenched."

                                    Gehenna in the Synoptics                             329


mies of God, lent themselves as an ideal literal basis for the meta-

phorical expression of an eschatological place of judgment and final

abode for the wicked.19

            Apart from these differing descriptive details, the concept of

Gehenna underwent significant changes with regard to its domain. It

was first conceived as a place of final punishment, later as an inter-

mediate place, and finally as a purgatory, the latest stage of devel-

opment being confined to rabbinic literature. In its earliest mention it

is reserved for apostate Jews only but is gradually expanded to in-

clude all the wicked, Jews and Gentiles alike. The existence in Ge-

henna is depicted predominantly as for one's whole being (body and

soul) rather than merely the soul.20 All these ideas about Gehenna

exist side by side in this literature.

            This brief survey of the background of views on Gehenna demon-

strates the advance the intertestamental literature, specifically

apocalyptic eschatology, makes on the traditional Old Testament

theology of Sheol. The latter makes no distinction between the

wicked and the righteous, and the idea of postmortem retribution is

absent apart from a few faint hints. However, within apocalyptic

eschatology the different fates of the wicked and righteous become

increasingly emphasized and their respective dwelling places be-

come more absolutely differentiated. Within this development, the

sudden appearance of Gehenna and its inseparable connection with

the destiny of the wicked take on a prominent role.


                                    Gehenna in the New Testament


            The lack of precision in the use of terms relating to the neth-

erworid in intertestamental Judaism makes it difficult to define them

exactly in the New Testament. Strawson notes, "It must be admitted

at the outset that we are considering one of the most intractable prob-


19 The difficulty for the exegete of the literature of the intertestamental period

consists in distinguishing between the literal and figurative (metaphorical) uses of

the term, in view of the fact that these writers lacked consistency and often blurred or

telescoped eschatological events. Thus it is difficult to determine whether a certain

writer viewed Gehenna as the valley south of Jerusalem in this age, or in a future aeon

with a renewed earth, or as an otherworldly entity, that is, the final eschatological

place or state of the wicked.

20 Cf. H. C. C. Cavallin, Life after Death: Paul's Argument for the Resurrection of

the Dead in I Cor 15, Coniectanea Biblica, New Testament Series 7:1 (Lund: Gleerup,

1974), 212. His conclusion regarding the anthropology reflected in the works of in-

tertestamental Judaism is that "no common view on the relationship between the body

and soul has been found in these texts.... In the same writings, and even the same pas-

sages, concepts and symbols from widely differing anthropologies are used in order to

express the hope of personal survival of death." However, there is one common de-

nominator among these variously expressed anthropologies, namely, "the conviction

that the personality survives death in that which constitutes the personal identity."

330     Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1992


lems of New Testament study, in trying to determine what Jesus him-

self said about hell, and how his words are now to be interpreted."21

            The word ge<enna occurs 12 times in the New Testament with 11

of the occurrences in the Synoptic Gospels (all spoken by Jesus) and

with one reference being James 3:6. The 11 references may be seen in

three groups: (a) warnings addressed to the disciples concerning

stumbling blocks (Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48); (b) warnings

addressed to the disciples in relation to their personal destiny

(Matt. 5:22; 10:28; Luke 12:4-5); and (c) condemnation of the scribes

and Pharisees (Matt. 23:15, 33). The first group of verses is discussed

in this article, and the other two categories will be discussed in an

article in the next issue.


                        Warnings about Stumbling Blocks


            In several passages Jesus gave extraordinarily severe warnings

to His disciples about the need to fulfill certain conditions, namely,

suffering loss of a valued member of one's body in order to gain life

(zwh>n) to avoid being cast bodily into Gehenna (Matt 5:29-30; 18:8-9;

Mark 9:43-48). Neither textual nor form-critical considerations are

able to question seriously the authenticity of these sayings.22 The

slight variations among them may be because they were repeated on

more than one occasion.23 Thus the question of which Gospel was

written first24 does not seriously affect the present discussion.

            The larger framework of Matthew 5:29-30 is the Sermon on the

Mount (Matt. 5-7), whose unifying theme is the kingdom of heaven

(=kingdom of God),25 and in whose teaching Jesus gave a glimpse of


21 William Strawson, Jesus and the Future Life: A Study in the Synoptic Gospels

(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 143.

22 No variant readings are indicated in the Matthean passages, whereas the Marcan

pericope contains several variants, though not to the extent that the reading is called

into question. The United Bible Society Greek New Testament III is accepted, includ-

ing the omission of Mark 9:44 and 46. These are lacking in important early witnesses

and may well be explained as a gloss by copyists who attempted to further qualify

ytev av after verses 43 and 45 on the basis of verse 48. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual

Commentary on the Greek New Testament: A Companion Volume to the UBS Greek

New Testament, 3d ed., corrected (New York: United Bible Society [UBS], 1975), 102.

23 Cf. Donald A. Carson, "Matthew," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 8:151, for a similar view.

24 For a defense of Marcan priority, see Christopher M. Tuckett, The Revival of the

Griesbach Hypothesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). For a defense

of the priority of the Gospel of Matthew, see William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Prob-

lem: A Critical Analysis (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1976).

25 Carson, "Matthew," 8:127-28. In Carson's view, the establishment of this theme

rests not so much on the frequency of occurrence of this expression, but on its occurrence

at certain strategic points. "It envelopes the Beatitudes (5:3, 10) and appears in 5:17-

20, which details the relation between the OT and the kingdom, a subject that leads


                 Gehenna in the Synoptics                             331


kingdom life through its ethical guidelines. Mere external adher-

ence to the Law demanded by the Old Testament and amplified by

the religious leaders of His day, whose teaching is reflected primar-

ily in contemporary (with Jesus) rabbinics, was not sufficient for be-

longing to this kingdom. This point is aptly demonstrated in the

beatitudes and the repeated saying, "You have heard that it was

said . . . , but I say unto you. . . . " These indicate a departure and con-

trast from the teaching of the Old Testament, the contrast involving

not so much contradiction as transcendence,26 as indicated by Jesus'

statement that He did not come to abolish "the law and the

prophets" but to fulfill (plhro<w), in the sense of bringing or revealing

its full, definitive meaning in His Person and work as the Messiah.27

            The immediate context of Matthew 5:29-30 is the pericope deal-

ing with the Lord's teaching on the two closely related subjects of

adultery and divorce (vv. 27-32), with verses 29 and 30 pointing to

the radical sacrifice demanded for the purpose of avoiding occasions

to commit sin or create stumbling blocks. The pericope begins with

the above mentioned "You have heard ... but I say to you . . . " (vv.

27-28), indicating Jesus' transcendence of the Mosaic injunction

against adultery (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18) and divorce (Deut. 24:1-

4).28 Many commentators note the connection between Jesus' saying

about the "eye" in verse 29 and His mention in verse 28 of the lustful

gaze involving the eye when adultery is committed.29 In Matthew


to another literary envelope around the body of the sermon (5:17; 7:12). It returns at

the heart of the Lord's prayer (6:10), climaxes the section on kingdom perspectives

(6:33), and is presented as what finally must be entered (7:21-23)."

26 The viability of transcendence is well within the lexical boundaries of the parti-

cle de<, since unlike the particle a]lla<, it does not always indicate a strong antithesis or

contrast in Matthew (W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical

Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, 3 vols., International Critical

Commentary [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 19881, 1:506-7).

27 For a helpful overview of the issues related to the numerous interpretations of

plhro<w, see Davies and Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel

according to Saint Matthew, 482-87, esp., 485-86, and Carson, "Matthew," 141-45.

28 Jesus' saying on divorce in Matthew 5:31-32 is a summary of the procedure outlined

in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The transcendence of Jesus' teaching on the subject is plain, in

that He focused on the original, divine intent of marriage. For a full discussion of Je-

sus' teaching on divorce, including the various possible interpretations, see William

A. Heth and Gordon J. Wenham, Jesus and Divorce (Nashville: Nelson, 1984).

29 The citation of the sixth commandment, as well as the meaning of moixeu<w, indi-

cates that gunh< in verse 28 refers to a married woman, rather than just any woman

(Ulrich Luz, Das Evangelium nach Mattaus, Evangelischer Katholischer Kommentar

Neues Testament I/1 [Zurich: Benziger, 19851, 1:264). However, this restriction of gunh<

does not open the door to the possibility of lusting after unmarried women, since this

would be committing adultery against one's own wife. Furthermore this would deafly

involve a violation of the intent of Jesus' saying, which was to encourage sexual



332     Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1992


18:8-9 and Mark 9:43-47 the sayings are reversed and occur within

the context of being a stumbling block to one of the least of those who

believe and its dreadful consequences.

            The basic intent of Matthew 5:28 is clear. Without negating the

Mosaic injunction against the physical act of committing adultery,

Jesus went beyond that to the very heart of the matter, pronouncing

any man guilty of having already committed adultery in his heart

when looking at a woman with a view to lust (e]piqume<w) after her.30

Jesus, then, judged intention as deed, tracing evil deeds to their ori-

gin, namely, an individual's thought or inner life.31

            Verses 29 and 30 record Jesus' serious view of the breaking of the

marital bond and show that Jesus called for a radical commitment to

obedience.32 These Matthean verses are in the grammatical form of

first-class conditions beginning with ei] and thus assume the reality

of the protasis.33  Lusting is no mere hypothetical matter, it is a real-

ity; and since all sin, including sexual sin, begins with the imagina-

tion, it must be dealt with radically. So if one's eye causes him to

sin, he should tear it out and throw it from him. A similar radical

treatment is required of the hand; it also is to be cut off and thrown

away.34 The sayings are repeated in Matthew 18:8a, 9a and Mark


30 Through combining two of the 10 commandments, namely, Exodus 20:17, "You shall

not covet [e]piqumh<seij] . . . your neighbor's wife" with 20:14, "You shall not commit

adultery," Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:28 brings into focus the Creator's intent in

these injunctions.

31 James 1:14-15 describes the process of committing an evil deed.  It originates in

one's own evil passions and desires, which if given free reign, produce the act (sin),

which in turn leads to death. This process well illustrates Jesus' Transcendence of the

Mosaic injunction, the latter focusing, at least on the surface, on the final outcome

rather than on the initial stage and process of committing sin.

32 Luz observes that the addition of verse 29 does not merely concern itself with being

a mirror of the soul which reveals one's own sin. It indicates the radical nature of the

obedience required (Das Evangelium nach Mattaus, 266).

33 Matthew 18:9 has the same grammatical form. But Mark 9:43, 45, and 47 are

third-class condition sentences, in which the reality of the protasis is not necessarily

assumed. Regarding this difference, Blass and Debrunner note that "encroachment of

el on the sphere of e]a<n appears to have taken place sporadically" (F. Blass and A.

Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Liter-

ature, trans. and rev. Robert W. Funk [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961],

189-90, par. 372[3]). As examples they cite the references under consideration. Thus

the usually sharp distinction between these protases is blurred in these texts.  The dif-

ference between the Matthean and Marcan use may thus be stylistically influenced.

34 Carson notes that the use of "hand" may be a euphemism for the male sexual organ

("Matthew," 151). Though not the most obvious interpretation, on the basis of Isaiah

57:8, which perhaps uses the same figure, and within the context of adultery in this

pericope, his observation should be given consideration. See Samuel Tobias Laths,

"Some Textual Observations on the Sermon on the Mount," Jewish Quarterly Review

69 (1978): 108-9, for a similar interpretation. However, the use of decio>j (in Matthew

5:29-30 and not in the parallels) militates against this interpretation and favors the

more traditional interpretation that "right hand" refers to the more important of the

                Gehenna in the Synoptics                             338


9:43a, 47a with some minor lexical variations and mention of the fool:

as a member of the body that can cause stumbling and that therefore

needs to be cut off and thrown away.

            The second part of Matthew 5:29 and of 5:30 explains why radi-

cal obedience is required: It is better to be maimed physically than

to experience absolute spiritual loss.35  However, there are some

minor variations within the explanatory parts of these sayings that

are significant in relation to the New Testament concept of the

afterlife taught by Jesus and thus pertinent to our discussion. The

phrase ei]selqei?n ei]j th>n zwh>n ("enter life") in Matthew 18:8b, 9b

and Mark 9:43b, 45b is not included in Matthew 5:29b, 30b.36 Without

this positive mitigating factor, the emphasis focuses relentlessly on

the judgment of Gehenna.37  In Matthew 18 and Mark 9, however, the

additional presence of the opposite concept, namely, entrance into

life or into the kingdom of God, does not detract from the severity of

the warning of these sayings. On the contrary, it allows Jesus' main

concern to come more clearly into focus, which is not His listeners'

consignment to Gehenna, but His urging and encouragement of people

to take drastic steps to avoid at all costs such a dreaded destiny38

            The manner of entrance into Gehenna is depicted differently in

these verses. First, entrance into this dreaded place is with one's

body. This is made explicit in Matthew 5:29-30, which have people

entering with "the whole body" (o!lon to> sw?ma<), and is implied in

the other passages by the use of synecdoches, "two eyes" (Matt. 18:9;

Mark 9:47), "two hands" (Matt. 18:8; Mark 9:43), and "two feet"

(Matt. 18:8; Mark 9:45). This mention of a body in connection with

Gehenna no doubt assumes an intervening resurrection between death

and committal to this place.39 Jesus clearly affirmed such a resurrec-


pair, thereby emphasizing the radical nature of the obedience required by Jesus. In

the quest for eternal well-being no cost or sacrifice is to be spared (cf. Theological Dic-

tionary of the New Testament, s.v. "(de<zioj," by W. Grundmann, 2:38-39).

35 Matthew 5:29 and 30 carry an explanatory postpositive ga<r plus sumfe<rei. In the

other references ga<r is lacking. The clauses begin with kalo<n soi< e]stin (Matt. 18:8b,

9b), or kalo<n e]stin se (Mark 9:43b, 45b), and kalo<n soi< e]stin (9:47b).

36 Mark 9:47b reads ei]j th>n basilei<an tou? qeou?.

37 Cf. Davies and Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel ac-

cording to Saint Matthew, 523. Lohmeyer sees rabbinic influence ("Das Wort ist

sozusagen rabbinisiert worden") in Matthew's omission of the contrast between "life"

and "Gehenna" in that the verse mentions only the avoidance of destruction in Ge-

henna (Ernst Lohmeyer, Das Evangelium des Matthaus, 2d ed. [Gottingen: Vanden-

hoed( & Rupprecht, 1958], 128). The saying does not contrast this with entrance into

life as in the parallel texts, where entrance into life represents the focus and goal of

the sayings.

38 Strawson, Jesus and the Future Life, 145.

39 As noted earlier (n. 20) the anthropological considerations of Jewish apocalyptic

in relation to the afterlife were not consistent. There was considerable overlap of ter-

334     Bibliotheca Sacra / July-September 1992


tion, as in, for example, John 5:28-29, where those with good deeds,

that is, the just, shall come forth to a resurrection of life (ei]j

a]na<stasin zwh?j), and those with evil deeds to a resurrection of

judgment (ei]j a]na<stasin kri<sewj).

            The idea of a resurrection from the dead was an accepted concept

in postbiblical Judaism by Jesus' time,40 though it was rejected by the

Sadducees, who engaged Jesus in vigorous discussions on the subject,

attempting to make this doctrine appear ridiculous (Matt. 22:23-33;

Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40). However, it is doubtful that Jesus was

making the point that the body will be raised in exactly the same

condition as it was at the time of death. If a body was missing a cer-

tain limb at death, Jesus did not indicate that the body would be res-

urrected without that limb, through some intertestarnental and rab-

binic texts imply that view.41

            Second, different verbs describe the manner of going to Gehenna.

In five verses—Matthew 5:29; 18:8-9; Mark 9:45, 47—Jesus used a

form of the aorist passive of ba<llw, with the meaning "to be cast or

thrown." In two verses Jesus used the aorist of a]pe<rxomai, with the

meaning "to go off or to depart" (Matt. 5:30; Mark. 9:43). In the five

verses the passive focuses on God's activity of retributive justice,

whereas the use of the active voice in the other two verses shifts the

focus more on individual moral responsibility (as indicated in the

words "to enter into life" [ei]selqei?n ei]j th>n zwh>n, Matt. 18:8-9;

Mark 9:43, 45] and "to enter the kingdom of God" [ei]selqei?n ei]j th>n


minology between the terms "soul" and "spirit," which did not necessarily refer to a

disembodied entity or the immaterial aspect of man, but could also refer to a person as

a whole, body included, in line with the Semitic concept of man, which sees man as a

unity and not dichotomized. However, the more systematized treatments of eschatol-

ogy, such as those in 4 Ezra or 2 Baruch, could conceive of the idea of a disembodied be-

ing in an intermediate place/state waiting for the resurrection of the body.

40 For a brief discussion of the development of this doctrine from its early beginnings

within the history of Judaism, see the conclusion of Ohyun Kwon's dissertation, "The

Formation and Development of Resurrection Faith in Early Judaism" (PhD diss., New

York University, 1984), 373-79. Cf. Leonard Greenspoon, "The Origin of the Idea of

Resurrection," in Traditions and Transformation: Turning Points in Biblical Faith, ed.

Baruch Halpern and Jon D. Levenson (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1981), 247-321.

Greenspoon rejects much of the commonly accepted view that sees extensive foreign in-

fluence and stimulus—such as Mesopotamian and Canaanite myths and rituals, as

well as Zoroastrian beliefs regarding the reconstitution of the body—at work during

the early stages of development of this belief in Israel.

41 E.g., "God himself will again fashion the bones and ashes of men, and he will

raise up mortals again as they were before" (Syb. Or. 4.181-82 [italics added]). For

some later rabbinic texts, see George F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the

Christian Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927-30), 2:380-81. Cf. Gunther

Stemberger, Der Leib der Auferstehung: Studien zur Anthropologie and Eschatologie

des palastinischen Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (ca. 170 v. Cr.-100 n.

Chr.), Analecta Biblica 56 (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1972), 23. He notes that bodily

                                    Gehenna in the Synoptics                                         334


basalei<an tou? qeou?, Mark 9:47]).42 However, since some minor tex-

tual variants are indicated, this point of difference should not be stressed unduly.43

            Third, another difference among these texts is the qualifiers at-

tached to the term Gehenna. In Matthew 5:29-30 and Mark 9:45.

ge<ennan occurs without any further description. In the other pas-

sages, however, it is variously characterized as "hell of fire," th>n

ge<ennan tou? puro<j (Matt. 18:9); "into hell, into the unquenchable

fire," th>n ge<ennan, ei]j to> pu?r to> a@sbeston (Mark 9:43); and "hell,

where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched," th>n

ge<ennan, o!pou o[ skw<lhc au]tw?n ou] teleut%? kai> to> pu?r ou] sbe<nnu-

tai (Mark 9:47-48). Matthew 18:8 has "the eternal fire," to> pu?r to>

ai]w<nion, with no reference to Gehenna. However, the context and

close proximity of Gehenna in Matthew 18:9 make it unmistakably

clear that the same destiny is in view in both verses.44

            The fire metaphor associated with Gehenna may be traced to

Old Testament traditions such as Sodom and Gomorrah, Sinai, and

the flame of fire in the burning bush. Combined, these give the im-

pression of a divine visitation. In addition there is the common use

of fire in connection with torture and persecution. These observations

indicate that this metaphor associated with Gehenna signifies the

divinely decreed suffering associated with the eschatological judg-

ment, an observation corroborated particularly by the phrase

"weeping and gnashing of teeth" in such contexts.

            The phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" is confined to the

Gospel of Matthew and one occurrence in Luke. In Matthew 24:51 and

Luke 13:28 the phrase stands alone, but it occurs three times in con-

junction with "outer darkness" (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30) and twice in

conjunction with "furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:42, 50). These five refer-

ences, each spoken by Jesus, refer to the experience of those rejected

from the kingdom of God who will suffer eschatological judgment.45


resurrection is emphasized and nothing more. Such passages with reference to indi-
vidual body parts merely affirm the fact of the resurrection, not its manner.

42 Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:4-5 state explicitly that God casts into Gehenna. Go-

ing to Gehenna is described as a twofold process involving being killed or dying and

facing the subsequent judgment. When going into Gehenna is viewed as a one-step

process, human responsibility is more evident.

43 These variants, listed in the Nestle-Aland 26 Greek text, indicate an overlap and

distribution of the verbs among the passages. No variants are listed in the apparati of UBS III.

44 Dalman notes that one is "the obvious equivalent" of the other (Gustav Dalman,

The Words of Jesus: Considered in the Light of Post-Biblical Jewish Writings and the

Aramaic Language, trans. D. M. Kay [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1909], 156).

45 New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. "bru<xw," by

Thomas McKomiskey, 2:421, and "klai<w," by Hermann Haarbeck, 2:417. McKomiskey

notes that there are no parallels to the expression o[ klauqmo>j kai> o[ brugmo>j tw?n o[-

do<ntwn in either secular Greek or Jewish literature. Thus its meaning must be derived

contextually from the specific New Testament occurrences. He further observes,

336     Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1992


            The irreversible finality of this eschatological state is ad-

dressed by the several qualifiers of Gehenna and of fire, such as

"eternal fire" (Matt. 18:8), "the unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:43), or

"where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark

9:48). Those who willfully disregard Jesus' warning will suffer spiri-

tual loss. The use of ai]wn<ioj, though subject to a variety of meanings,

supports such an interpretation.46 There is little doubt that contex-

tually ai]w<nion means "eternal," "endless," or "forever," since the

state contemplated in Gehenna in the sayings of Jesus is contrasted

with "entrance into life," or being in the kingdom of God, which

shall endure forever, or eternally. The New Testament views

"entrance into life" or the kingdom of God as entering "the age to

come" (ai]w<n me<llon), the new and everlasting creation representing

the final order of things.47 Thus a strong case can be rnade in support

of the view that suffering in Gehenna will be endless or everlasting.


"While it is true that in many instances the usage of bru<xw in the expression 'to gnash

the teeth' connotes anger, the association of the word with klauqmo>j (weeping), and

the figure of torment that accompanies the term in Matt. 13:42, 50 seem to indicate

that the gnashing of the teeth is not an indication of rage but of extreme suffering and

remorse." Rengstorf notes that Jesus referred to the "weeping and gnashing of teeth"

and "outer darkness" to describe "the state of those who are excluded from the

basilei<a, even though they were called to it," an obvious reference to the Jews, who

were the rightful heirs to the kingdom of God, and yet who stubbornly refused to enter

the kingdom through their rejection of Jesus Christ, God's Messiah (Theological Dic-

tionary of the New Testament, s.v. "bru<xw," by Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, 1:641).

46 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich list several meanings of ai]w<n: (a) "a very long time,"

time gone by or time to come, that is, "eternity" when no end of time is involved, (b) a

segment of time, or an age, such as the present age, (c) the age to come, namely, the

Messianic period, (d) the Aeon as a person. The adjective and cognate noun are nearly

identical in meaning (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], 27).

47 Sasse notes that the New Testament in its two-aeon view essentially agrees with

first-century apocalyptic, except for the latter's clear distinction between the present

age and the age to come (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "ai]w<n,"

by Hermann Sasse, 1:197-209, esp. 207). In the New Testament this distinction is

blurred in that believers are already redeemed from the "present evil age" (ai]w<n, Gal. 1:4) and

"have tasted ... the powers of the age [alaiv] to come" (Heb. 6:5). The transition has already

begun "in and with the resurrection of Christ, inasmuch as this is the beginning of the general

resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20, 23)," though as yet, the dawning of this new aeon is concealed

from the eyes of men. In Jewish and early Christian eschatology, the resurrection represents the

transition point from one aeon to the other and the beginning of the new and eternal creation.

            In the Gospel of John entrance into the life of God (=entrance into the kingdom of

God) is equated with the kind of life received at regeneration. This is the quality of

life believers receive and possess now and in the age to come "without end or interrup-

tion," and both ai]w<n and ai]w<nioj are used of this kind of life (John 10:28; 3:36; 5:24;

6:47, 54; cf. 1 John 5:11-13). The believers, then, possess a never-ending or eternal life,

and therefore Christ could claim that those who possess this eternal life shall never

die (see, e.g., John 6:51, 58; 8:51-52; 11:26).

                                    Gehenna In the Synoptics                             337




            What conclusions may be drawn from these observations about

Gehenna in these sayings of Jesus? Apart from Matthew 5:29-30,

where the emphasis is solely on the judgment of Gehenna, one can

hardly ignore the contrast between entrance into life (or into the

kingdom of God) and departure to Gehenna (or being thrown into Ge-

henna). Entrance into life or God's kingdom is of such importance

that anything obstructing this goal must be dealt with in the most

radical manner. No illustration could more forcefully support this

point than Jesus' demand for removal of even the most important and

prized members of one's body, namely, the right hand, eye, or foot.

            Conversely, a destiny in Gehenna is to be avoided at all costs,

since it involves great suffering and an irreversible finality. The suf-

fering is indicated by the "fire," a descriptive detail that occurs

from the earliest appearances of this concept in the intertestamental

literature. The irreversible finality of one's destiny in Gehenna is

indicated by the several qualifiers of Gehenna and of fire, espe-

cially the word ai]w<nioj. In contrast to the considerable variety of

ideas about Gehenna in the literature of the intertestamental pe-

riod, the New Testament presents Gehenna as the final eschatologi-

cal punishment for all the wicked.




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