Recently I was challenged by someone, whom I admire greatly, to reevaluate my stance on the biblical teaching on hell. Their claim is that the biblical word for hell is “gehenna.” They go on to state that gehenna was simply a place outside of the city walls of Jerusalem. This was a barren place where the bodies of criminals were burned. It was also where the sinning Israelites offered their children as sacrifices to the pagan god, Molech. Today, they claim it is a beautiful garden. Because of this shared name, they reason that this particular valley of Hinnon is the point of all the teaching regarding hell or gehenna.
With apologies to this person, who will remain unnamed in this article, I must differ with this interpretation. I suggest, rather, that this valley was named after the place of torment so often described in the scriptures. The very point that bodies, and children, were burned in this place give validity to the thesis that the valley was named after the spiritual place of torment. Contrasted with the idea that a fictitious spiritual hell was confused with this humble valley, the first idea makes much more sense. Why does it make sense that the valley would be named after the literal “hell” of traditional Jewish and Christian teaching? The answer is easy. The concept of a literal, burning hell is central to the teaching of the Bible. From the Old Testament:
Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
- Isaiah 5:14
Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.
- Isaiah 14:9
I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth. They also went down into hell with him unto them that be slain with the sword; and they that were his arm, that dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the heathen.
- Ezekiel 31:16–17
There are many, many, other references to hell in the Old Testament. There are also countless references to hell in the New Testament, many of which are the direct Words of our Lord.
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
- Matthew 5:22
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
- Matthew 5:29-30
But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
- Luke 12:5
Perhaps the most convincing proof of a literal hell from the scriptures is the story that Jesus told concerning the rich man and Lazurus. It is said that you can tell the difference between a parable and a factual account by Christ’s use of proper names when relating actual events. Consider the following passage from Luke 16:20-31
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
- Luke 16:20-31
In this passage we are told explicitly that hell is a place where the dead are in torment. It is a place that not only contains demons, but also reprobate men.
The title of this article is “The Glorious Doctrine of Eternal Damnation.” You may ask, “What’s so glorious about hell?” I’ll tell you. We all deserve this eternal torment. We have sinned against an almighty and an all powerful God. Were we to spend an eternity burning in hell, we could never repay the debt we owe. Yet God, in His infinite goodness and mercy, has elected some, out of His own good pleasure to rescue from such doom and destruction. He paid an enormous price to secure the souls of His elect. The precious blood of His own son was poured out on Calvary. To deny the existence of an actual, physical hell, is to declare that Jesus Christ died in vain! It is to say that the God of the Universe was foolish to send His son to die in order to save His own from a place that doesn’t exist!
To say that everyone will be saved and spend eternity in Heaven is equally appalling. If a man can die trusting in Baal, Allah, Molech, Buddha, or noone at all, and still have eternal life in Heaven, then again, Christ died in vain.
I plead with my friend not to forsake the doctrine of hell. Christ’s death was purposeful. He did save His elect from eternal destruction. The reprobate will spend eternity in flaming torment. To say otherwise is to deny the Word of God.