The Greek word Gehenna is one of the words used in the New Testament to describe Hell. This is defined as a place “originally in the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction. What are we to make of this? Often, the original Greek and its representation of a garbage dump are misused to soften the concept of punishment and the stark reality of the place Jesus called hell. Of the 23 times the word “hell” is used in the New Testament. 12 times it is used in relation to fire or hell-fire. In studying Christ total message on this subject it becomes clear that this was not just a reference to a city garbage dump but a depiction of what this place of punishment would really be like. This depiction was an appropriate one to give those Jerusalem dwellers an everyday picture they could relate to and understand. It was done with purpose. Consider: it was a place where items that were no longer of use were destroyed; there was constant burning, heat and smoke rising up. It was a practical description designed to convey the concept of a reality. We know Jesus often used analogies to teach. Here, he does the same.
Rob Bell a rising star on the evangelical stage is interviewed below and has been rightly criticized for watering down the Gospel.
No Rob, Hell is not a place to be laughed at and shooed away as a myth. Jesus taught the reality of the place of punishment and separation from God. Whenever doctrine is taught, scripture cannot be taken out of its context. It is not only misleading to confine the significance of Hell to a city garbage dump, it is a perversion of Christ’s teaching.
What are we to do when Jesus said in Matthew 23:33 ”...how shall ye escape the damnation of hell”. Here the word Gehenna is used, but in combination with the word “damnation”. “Damnation of a garbage dump” doesn’t quite fit, does it? The Amplified bible translates damnation (kriðsiov, transliterated as Kresis) as “penalty”. This Greek word means a sentence of condemnation, a judgment. Here we see not only the concept, but an actual word describing hell as the ultimate punishment for mankind’s sins. When we take in the totality of Jesus’ teaching on Hell, Luke 16 teaches that hell includes consciousness, feelings of pain, memory, torment, heat, regret, having the ability to see those in a better place. Jesus taught of servants being placed in outer darkness for their wickedness. 2 Peter uses a word for Hell that describes a deep abyss. All this points to a place not to be taken lightly. Teaching the old path, which is Christ’s way, includes teaching and warning about the punishment of Hell.