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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Is Gehenna?

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Don Stewart
Another Greek word that is translated hell is "Gehenna." This word is used twelve times in the New Testament with Jesus employing it eleven times. Gehenna is derived from the Hebrew ge hinnom or the "valley of Hinnom." Hinnom was probably the name of a person in ancient Israel. The valley of Hinnom is a deep narrow glen just outside of Jerusalem. It was also called Tophet, or the valley of dead bones. Jeremiah wrote.

The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the LORD. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished (Jeremiah 31:40).

Place Of Child Sacrifices

In Old Testament times this had been the scene of the practice of child-sacrifice under some of the godless kings of Israel. The prophet Jeremiah wrote.

And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart (Jeremiah 7:31).

To Molech

The children were sacrificed to the false god Molech. The image of Molech had the head of a bull with outstretched arms. A fire burned in the stomach of the idol while the child was placed in the arms and then sacrificed.


Speaking of the evil king Ahaz, the Bible says.

And he made offerings in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and made his sons pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel (2 Chronicles 28:3).

He made his own sons pass through this horrible place of human sacrifice.

Abominations Stopped By Josiah

During the reign of Josiah the sacrifices were stopped.

And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech (2 Kings 23:10).

Place Of Burning Refuse

The valley became the dumping ground for the sewage and refuse of the city. It was a place of crawling worms and maggots. By defiling this place with refuse, Josiah stopped the child sacrifices. Fires burned continually to destroy the garbage and impurities. Hence the name Gehenna came to be used as a symbol of punishment. The prophet Isaiah wrote:

And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the ones 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 66:24).

From this valley a terrible and putrid smoke arose continually.

Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze (Isaiah 30:33).

Jesus And Gehenna

Jesus used the symbolism of Gehenna to describe the place of everlasting punishment.

It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go to Gehenna into the fire that shall never be quenched (Mark 9:43).

Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into Gehenna (Luke 12:5).

He spoke concerning Gehenna, not only to warn people, but to condemn the hypocritical religious leaders. Jesus said.

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

Outside The City

The symbolism of Gehenna is also found in its location. Gehenna is a place outside the city of Jerusalem. The ultimate fate of the wicked is suffering outside of the gates of the New Jerusalem.

Comparison To Hades

Gehenna is not Hades. Hades is a temporary place of the dead where only their souls exist. In Gehenna, wicked dead exist in both body and soul. The suffering in Gehenna is eternal while the suffering in Hades is temporal.

Presently Unoccupied

Gehenna, or hell, is presently unoccupied. In the future, when God judges the wicked angels along with evil humanity, then hell, or Gehenna, will become inhabited.


Gehenna, or the valley of Hinnom, is an actual valley in the city of Jerusalem. In Israel's past, it was used as a place of child sacrifice. From the reign of Josiah onward, it was used as a garbage dump where the fires burned the refuse continuously. Jesus used it as an illustration of the final judgment of the wicked. Gehenna is the permanent place where both the body and the soul are reunited to spend eternity apart from God. It is located outside the new Jerusalem, the place where believers will be with the Lord.
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