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It is unfortunate that many of the older versions of the English Bible use the one word ‘hell’ to translate several words in the original languages. In the minds of most English-speaking people, hell is a place of terrible torment where the wicked dead are sent for final punishment. Although this idea of hell may be true for the word gehenna, it is not true for other biblical words translated ‘hell’. The Hebrew sheol and its Greek equivalent hades mean simply the place of the dead or the state of the dead.

Gehenna was the name Jesus used for the place of final punishment of the wicked. The word appears in the New Testament as a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew ‘Valley of Hinnom’.

The Valley of Hinnom was a place just outside the wall of Jerusalem where, in times of apostacy, the people of Israel burnt their children in sacrifice to the god Molech (Jeremiah 7:31). In the place where the people committed this wickedness, God punished them with terrible slaughter (Jeremiah 7:32-34). Broken pottery was dumped in this valley, and the place became a public garbage dump where fires burnt continually (Jeremiah 19:1-13). Because of this association with judgment and burning, ‘gehenna’ became a fitting word to indicate the place or state of eternal punishment (Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:33; Mark 9:43-48; cf. James 3:6).

According to the New Testament, the punishment of hell (gehenna) is one of eternal torment. It is likened to eternal burning (Matthew 13:42; Matthew 18:8-9; Revelation 20:10), eternal darkness (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; 2 Peter 2:4; 2 Peter 2:17), eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13; Philippians 1:28; 2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:10) and eternal separation from God and his blessings (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

Another symbolic picture of eternal punishment is that of a lake of fire prepared for the enemies of God (Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10; cf. Matthew 25:41). Into this lake God throws his great enemy, Death (Revelation 20:14; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26), along with all whose names are not written in the book of life (Revelation 20:15). Just as heaven is something far better than the material symbols used to picture it, so hell is something far worse than the material symbols used to picture it. (See also JUDGMENT; PUNISHMENT.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Hell'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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