Question:

The word Hell like the word baptism is not really a proper translation is it? I looked up the word hell and it is Gehenna, and Gehenna is a place, Originally the Valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem (ISBE). So it would be helpful to use Gehenna instead of hell, just as I find it helpful to use the word immersion instead of baptism. Both words, hell and baptism give the wrong impression. The word baptism is not in the Bible and neither is the word hell.


Answer:

Translating literature between languages has always been a difficult task. Common phrases that have meaning in one culture become meaningless in another. Hence, if a translator gives the precise literal translation, the meaning may be lost. Yet, if things are translated too loosely, you run the risk that you are dealing with the translator's opinion and not what was meant by the author of the original material.

It is true that Gehenna can be a reference to the Valley of Hinnom, which is located near Jerusalem. "Gehenna" is not actually a Greek word, but it is a transliteration of a Hebrew word that literally means "Hinnom Valley." The transliterated word is found in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, but is not found in the common Greek literary works.

The Hinnom Valley was where apostate Israelites offered child sacrifices to the idol god Molech. "Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom" (II Chronicles 33:6). These idol worshipers had the perverse notion that gods would be more inclined to answer petitions if the worshipers gave up something valuable. Since the life of one's child is very valuable to a parent, this was considered to be the ultimate sacrifice. "And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" (Jeremiah 32:35).

Because of its strong association with disgusting practices, when Israel finally left their idolatrous practices, the valley became associated with God's just punishment for sins. "Therefore behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "when it will no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Tophet until there is no room" (Jeremiah 7:32, see also Jeremiah 19:6). Eventually, it became a representation of the punishment of the wicked, no longer referring to a physical place. ""For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me," says the LORD, "So shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me," says the LORD. And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."" (Isaiah 66:22-24).

When we move to the New Testament, we must determine whether the use of the word gehenna is referring to the physical valley near Jerusalem or to the broader idea of a place of punishment. If the translator uses the phrase "Valley of Hinnom" when the idea of a place of punishment was meant, it is likely that people in other cultures, not knowing the valley's horrible past, will only think of the physical location and not the concept it represents.

Gehenna only appears twelve times in the New Testament and is translated as hell in the following quotes:

"But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:22).

"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30).

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

"And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire" (Matthew 18:9).

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matthew 23:15).

"Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:33).

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched-- where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.' And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched-- where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.' And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire-- where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.'" (Mark 9:43-48).

"But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

"And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell" (James 3:6).

Eleven of the twelve references are made by Jesus and when we read through these references we conclude that each reference is toward the same place. However, the place is not the physical Hinnom Valley. Jesus said it was a place where only God had the power to cast a man (Luke 12:5). If this was the literal Hinnom Valley, anyone could put a person there. Jesus also said not to fear men who can only kill the body, but to fear God who could put both the body and soul into gehenna. Again, Jesus is not making a reference to a physical place because no physical place can contain a man's soul. Jesus also refers back to the passage in Isaiah 66:24 and states that gehenna is a place where the fire is not quenched and the decay never ends. The physical Valley of Hinnom is not eternal. Hence, we conclude that Jesus is not speaking of a physical place but using the term gehenna to refer to the place of eternal punishment. In English, this place is known by the name Hell.

Why was gehenna transliterated into the Greek instead of being translated? My guess is that the Greek culture did not have a word that referred to a place of eternal punishment, hence the Hebrew term was borrowed.


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November 23, 2010