JESUS DIDN’T USE THE WORD “HELL.” That’s an English word invented to help convey a Jewish idea about punishment for sin.
When we read in our English Bibles about Jesus saying “Hell,” he’s usually talking about a valley on the south side of Jerusalem. Gehenna Valley. The word is literally Gehenna, Aramaic for “Valley of Hinnom,”
Jews associated that valley with God’s punishment. It was, for a time, the constantly smoldering city dump.
But in Old Testament times, some Jews sacrificed to idols there. King Manasseh (reigned 696-642 BC), Hezekiah’s son, “sacrificed his own sons in the fire in Hinnom Valley” (2 Chronicles 33:6).
Later, in 586 BC, Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq arrived. They leveled the Jewish cities including Jerusalem and erased the Jewish nation from the world map. Some Jews considered that as God’s judgment on their nation’s lingering idolatry.
For the Jews, Hinnom Valley became a synonym for God’s judgment, much like 9/11, for Americans, refers to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York City.
English Bible translators created the word “hell” to express the idea that “Gehenna” means more than a valley, but that it points to God’s judgment.
Frankly, I struggled over how to paraphrase the word for the Casual English Bible.
What I opted to do is avoid the word “hell” because of all the imaginative and sometimes distorted teaching about it. And I add a footnote to try to explain what’s going on.
See what you think about the three approaches to Matthew 5:22.
“Hell” in New American Standard Bible
“Whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
“Hell” in New Living Translation
“If you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”
“Judgment” in Casual English Bible
“Anyone who addresses someone as ‘You fool!’ is going to get burned when it’s time to pass judgment.“
What do you think?
Steve, while I’ve not taught hell in Bible studies, the subject does come up. When I mention the Gehenna interpretation I get mostly blank stares, especially from the older ones (of whom I’m a part of) who have been taught the traditional view of hell. Very difficult for some to wrap their heads around.
Stephen M. Miller
I hear you. Try to tell them, too, that tithing is a Jewish law that’s as obsolete as circumcision, and you get the same response, or worse. People don’t like having to revisit and think through matters that they were told, sometimes incorrectly, are settled. Still, as writers and educators, I think we need to pass along what the scholars are saying so folks can make informed decisions on their own.
“Hell” is a tough topic for older folks who grew up hearing preachers and evangelists describe hell like an eyewitness would.
The older I get, the less I realize I know about heaven and hell…and the more I trust in God.
The word ‘burned’ is to tame for this verse.
The people that sold me the used radio said it worked but paying 5 dollars I got burnt because it doesn’t work.
See what I mean, burnt can mean nothing or third degree burns and months in the hospital.
Stephen M. Miller
It’s another way of saying that they’re going to be held accountable, and punished. Jesus is using figurative language, it seems, because the valley is a figurative way of talking about accountability and punishment.
I don’t like it (but I love you) — here is how you should translate it based on the context:
Greek word gehenna use the word gehenna in English!
If the word is Hades — use the word death or grave. In “Lazarus and the Rich Man” you can say: in the grave he was in torment of flames.
The NIV (2011) does not even footnote this anymore — they just use gehenna or hell when Jesus uses it as a figure of speech. The language is supposed to scare the hell out of us!!!!
The Scriptures do teach final judgement — whether it’s annihilation of eternal conscious torment is difficult to determine, but this way you can let the reader make their own determination.
Stephen M. Miller
Spoken like the growing scholar you’re becoming.
Using “gehenna” as the English word is doing what scholars prefer: lifting students to a new level of understanding. For what I do, I prefer to start where the readers are. And I don’t think most know anything about the gehenna/hell history. So I don’t want to impose a Greek word on them any more than I’d want to write to them in French. N’est-ce pas?
If you look at the Casual English Bible, especially the more recent books I’ve working on, like Matthew, Mark, and Romans, you’ll see lots of footnotes.