Is hell an important Christian doctrine? Part 1: Jesus’ teaching in Matthew

Jun 4, 13 • Jesus, Matthew, Theology9 CommentsRead More »

People like “old time religion”, “Give them more hellfire and damnation pastor!” the elders plead (somehow it is always “them” not “us” in this case), churches were full when preachers really put the fear of God into their audiences!

But is ‘hell’ an important Christian doctrine, should every preacher touch on torment every month or two?

On the importance of hell in Scripture I suggest a close look at the Bible (which we’ll begin here, with Gehenna in Matthew). On preaching I suspect it’s a case of WDJP or you’d better have one hell of a good reason 😉

9 Responses to Is hell an important Christian doctrine? Part 1: Jesus’ teaching in Matthew

  1. May be I feel more than we focus on Hell it is better to focus on Jesus Christ. There are so many doctrines and even hell sounds recorded but I believe fear of hell should not bring someone to Jesus but instead love for God should bring them to Jesus.

  2. Howard says:

    You are joking right? The reason the word Gehenna does not appear in the Old Testament is the same reason the word Christ does not appear in the Old Testament. Because Christ is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. The same as Gehenna is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Valley of Hinnom. The deep, narrow Valley of Hinnom, later known by its Greek name Gehenna, lay to the S and SW of ancient Jerusalem and is the modern-day Wadi er-Rababi (Ge Ben Hinnom). (Jos 15:8; 18:16; Jer 19:2, 6.

    And just for fun, lets see what God has to say about Gehenna.

    (Jeremiah 7:31) “. . .And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom (Gehenna), in order to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart.”

    • tim says:

      Howard, perhaps you are not aware that we have Greek texts (presumably translations or in some cases adaptations of lost Hebrew copies) of the OT that predate our earliest Hebrew copies for most books of the OT. It is therefore quite reasonable to ask if they use the word ‘geenna’
      They do not, actually the valley of the son of Hinnom (in Hebrew ben-hinnom) is rendered in the LXX as huiou hennom NOT geenna
      So the NT is using a different word (for what reason we are not told, but I assume such a difference is significant in some way.

      The passage in Jeremiah you refer to clearly talks about the practice of child sacrifice in this valley, and understandably God condemns it. Jeremiah seems to have no thought here of some eternal punishment (however much we might think it appropriate to people who committed such acts).

      As a sideline note that Jeremiah also says that the valley will be renamed pharagex ton aneremenon (Jer 7:32 ) “the valley of the slaughtered”.

  3. Howard says:


    I am well aware of the Greek Septuagint and the pre-Christian Greek texts. However, if we look a little closer, you will notice that the phrase “The valley of the son of Hinnom” has an abbreviated form of “the valley of Hinnom.” This abbreviated form is used 3 times in the Hebrew Bible at Josh 15:8, 18:16, and Ne 11:30. For Ne 11:30, the LXX omits any reference to the valley of Hinnom. Josh 15:8 renders it as pharaggos Ennom, and Josh 18:16 transliterates it as Gaienna. So it turns out that the LXX does in fact use this Greek form for the abbreviated phrase. Here they are again.

    Josh 15:8 – pharaggos Ennom

    Josh 18:16 – Gaienna

    Ne 11:30 – omit

    Now the reason the form used in Josh 18:16 is not identical to the form used in the NT, is because it looks like the “Gai” is a direct transliteration of the Hebrew “gay” valley. And sometimes the Yod is transliterated with an “i” instead of a “y”. The form in the NT is a transliteration of the Aramaic form, which begins with “geh”.

    Hebrew Transliteration – Gai-enna – Gaienna
    Aramaic Transliteration – Geh-enna – Geenna (Greek doesn’t use “H’s” in the middle of words)

    Now why it would translate/transliterate differently from Josh 15:8 to Josh 18:16 for the abbreviated phrase is not clear. But it is pretty clear that the LXX did in fact use a form of Greek Geenna in the OT for the vally of Hinnom, therefore, it is not a different word used in the NT.

    You seem to have missed my point with Jeremiah. I was not advocating eternal punishment, just the opposite. Look at God’s reaction to what the Israelites were doing, they were burning children alive with fire. In other words torturing people with fire. But God says, doing something like this (torturing with fire, even temporarily) never entered his heart (mind). So did God take this idea from these apostate Jews and create a Hell of fire, or does Gehenna maybe mean something else?

  4. tim says:

    Hi, Howard, I am sorry for the misunderstandings, the problem of lack of context often makes communication in comments a bit more open to such misunderstandings 🙁

    The usage in Josh 18:16 is really interesting, and I’m sorry I missed it till you pointed it out.

    I will try to respond more fully to your points later, today I am preparing to leave for Auckland for conference over the next few days, so that may take a day or three – I’m sorry, I’ll be quicker if I can…

  5. Howard says:


    Don’t worry about the misunderstanding. I went and looked at all the other uses of the phrase in the LXX, so I thought I would fill you in on what I found so far.

    2 Kings 23:10, and Jeremiah 7:31,32; 32:35 translates, rather than transliterate the Hebrew valley and son into Greek as Pharaggi huiou Ennom. I don’t see any rough breathing marks on any of the Greek renderings of Hinnom, so I would imagine the rendering is meant to be Ennom and not Hennom. Jeremiah 19:6 is the same as above except it omits the word valley. Joshua 15:8 also translates both occurrences of valley as pharaggi, and omits the word son in one occurrence, and in the second occurrence, the Hebrew does not use the word son, so neither does the LXX. However, Joshua 15:8 renders Hinnom as Onom.

    The first occurrence in Joshua 18:16 omits everything but Hinnom, and renders it as Onnam. Now the interesting part is the second occurrence of Joshua 18:16, along with 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6, transliterate the Hebrew instead of translating it to Greek. The LXX renders them as the following.

    Joshua 18:16…………..Gai – enna

    2 Chronicles 28:3…….Gai – ben – enom

    2 Chronicles 33:6……..Gai – banai – ennom

    The various Greek spellings are probably due to the understanding or misunderstanding of the Hebrew vowel system in use at the time of the various translations of the Greek texts. Obviously, the written vowel points attached to the MT were not in use yet to aid the translators or redactors of the LXX or Old Greek texts. What they would have had to work with was the consonantal text. Below are the consonants for valley of Hinnom and Valley of the son of Hinnom.


    To transliterate these into Greek …

    GI-ENM or GI-BN-ENM with vowels added GaI-ENoM or GaI-BeN-ENoM

    And some that used the idea of the dagesh on the N of Enom produce:

    GaI-ENNoM or GaI-BeN-ENNoM

    The only form that does not end in “M” is Joshua 18:16. I checked and could not find any pre-Christian Greek or Hebrew texts, including the DSS, that cover this or any Hinnom verses to locate any variants or anomalies. So we are left to wonder why this one occurrence seems to follow the Aramaic spelling of Hinnom, but transliterates the first part, valley from Hebrew.

  6. […] We have all heard various understandings of Gehenna in the Hebrew Bible. See this post on Hell and Stuff at Faith Seeking Understanding. Similarly, see Tim Bulkely’s part 1 of “is Hell an Important Christian Doctrine?” […]

  7. jack jones says:

    Why try to debunk the existence of hell? Why spend so much time trying to argue that hell does not exist when Christ talks of it. semantics are well and good but in context Christ uses the term as a warning of where one could end up. The people he speaks to are not linguists that then go away and argue the ‘context’ of what he said.

    Hell exists or it does not. Personally I believe strongly it does and the fear of God balanced with the love of God are both parts of my faith. A child that does not respect their father and knows that there is no punishment nor discipline for any wrong doing is a child that will grow up without any moral boundaries. As a worker with drug addicts and street kids I see this clearly.

    Anyway no point arguing, does not achieve much. Just raising my own synopsis that Hell is real and an eternal place of punishment one would not want to enter, better to lose a hand or an eyeball infact than go there complete. I might listen to Jesus and leave semantics to the highly educated.

    Praise you father in heaven, hidden these things from the wise yet revealed them to little children

    • tim says:


      Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting how people experience things differently. I would not say that I had spent so much time trying to argue that hell does not exist, rather trying to begin working out what Jesus and some of the Bible writers mean. But I agree that there is little point in arguments. So I’ll just really respond to one point you make. You wrote: ” A child that does not respect their father and knows that there is no punishment nor discipline for any wrong doing is a child that will grow up without any moral boundaries. As a worker with drug addicts and street kids I see this clearly.” I grew up at a time when fathers routinely smacked their sons (and less often often daughters) and schools also used the cane. My father and mother never ever smacked me (dad was almost a conscientious objector in WW2, he worked in the anbulances so as not to fight, yet most people would say I have developed strong moral boundaries. I think it is the parents’ example rather than the fear of their discipline that motivates and shapes children. In a similar way (in my case at least) the fear of the Lord comes from the thought of God knowing all my sin, rather than a fear of hell (from which whether it “exists” or not Jesus has surely saved me!)