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A NUMBER OF FACTS STATED, SHOWING THAT GEHENNA WAS
NOT USED BY THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS TO EXPRESS
A PLACE OF ENDLESS MISERY.
BEFORE we proceed to consider the texts in which Gehenna occurs in the New Testament, there is a number of facts, of essential importance, which ought to be noticed. These facts have been altogether overlooked, or but little attended to, on this subject.
1st, Then, let it be kept in remembrance, that neither Gehenna, nor any other word, is used in the Old Testament to express a place of endless misery for the wicked. This we presume will be admitted, as established from the preceding part of our examination. It is evident from chap. i. that Sheol, Hades, and Tartarus, have no such meaning. Yea, it is contended by the authors quoted there, that Gehenna in the New Testament, is the word which is used to express the place of endless misery for all the finally impenitent. They contend for no other, and I know of no other word, which is even supposed to express this place of punishment. Indeed, I never heard that any
other words were ever alleged as expressing this place, by the inspired writers. The phrases, bottomless pit, and lake of fire and brimstone, it is true, have been thought to mean the same as Gehenna. We believe, how
ever, that this meaning of Gehenna is considered indisputable, and that in this sense it is uniformly used in the New Testament. If it fails, and refuge is taken in these two phrases, or any other, it will be then time enough to consider them.
Is it not then a curious fact, that Gehenna of the New Testament, should always, and indisputably mean a place of endless misery; that it should be taken from the Old Testament, where this is allowed never to be its meaning, and for this change of meaning we should be referred to the authors of the Targums and the apocrypha ? This fact ought at least to lead us to examine carefully if this indeed be the sense in which Gehenna is used in the New Testament. We ought not to take it for granted; but ought to be sure that we correctly understand the passages which speak of Gehenna. This is sufficient of itself to lead to a suspicion, that we may have mistaken their meaning. But has it not been common to believe Gehenna a place of endless misery, and that without any examination ?
2d, The word Gehenna occurs just twelve times in the New Testament, and is always translated hell in our English version. The following are all the places where this word is found. Matth. v. 22, 29, 30. and xviii. 9. Mark ix. 43–47. Luke xii. 5. Matth. X. 28. and xxiii. 15, 33. James iii. 6. I only refer to these texts now, because they shall all be particularly considered afterwards. The fact, that this word is only found twelve times in the New Testament, I notice for the following reasons.
It is contended by Dr. Campbell, and I believe is universally admitted, that Gehenna is the only word which signifies the place of endless punishment for the wicked. But do most Christians know, that the word hell, so much talked of, and preached about, is only
found twelve times in the scriptures? But a little reflection may convince any one, that, properly speaking, it was not used originally so often as twelve times. It occurs eleven times in the gospels written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and by comparing the places, it is easily seen, that these historians only relate some of the same discourses, in which our Lord used this word. Though it occurs then eleven times in the three histories given us by those evangelists, it is plain it was not so often used by him when he uttered his discourses. Viewing the matter in this light, and surely it is the true one, few words of such importance occur so seldom in the New Testament, as the word Gehenna. I do not view this fact of any great importance, further than to show the difference between the inspired writers and modern preachers, as to their frequent use of this word; and to confine them, if possible, in preaching about hell, to those texts, and those only, in which Gehenna occurs. To quote any others, is only to misquote the scriptures, and impose on their hearers. Whether they ought to quote the texts where Gehenna is used, or not, is the subject of our present investigation.
Admitting for the present, that it occurs twelve times, and in all these it is certainly used to express a place of eternal misery, it deserves notice, that this is not so often in the whole Bible, as it is used by many preachers in the course of a single sermon.
But I have noticed this fact, with a view also to undeceive the minds of some, who, seeing the word hell so often in their Bibles, conclude that the Holy Spirit has said a great deal on this subject. The fact is indisputable, that it is only used twelve times in the New Testament, and every other text in which the word hell occurs, quoted
to prove the doctrine of eternal misery, is worse than no proof; it is misquoting the scriptures.
I frankly admit, that, if in the texts in which Gehenna is used, it can be fairly made to appear that the sacred writers use this word as expressive of a place of eternal punishment, it is a truth we ought to receive without gainsaying. Common scripture usage of any word is an allowed just rule of interpretation. But it ought also, on the other hand, to be admitted, that if this word is used in the above texts to express temporal punishment, or in a similar way as by the prophet Jeremiah, Gehenna must be given up, as meaning a place of endless punishment for the wicked.
3d, Another fact is, that the word Gehenna or hell, is used by our Lord, and by James, but by no other person in the New Testament. This fact, every person who can read English, may satisfy himself about, in the course of a few minutes, by reading all the texts referred to above, where the word Gehenna is found. Is it not, then, somewhat surprising, that it should only be used twelve times in the New Testament, and still more surprising, that our Lord and James should be the only persons who say any thing about it? It is surely a very natural expectation, warranted by the frequency of similar important subjects, that hell should be often spoken of, and that all the New Testament writers should say less or more about it. The conduct of preachers in our day, judging from them, would lead us certainly to conclude, that the inspired writers would all reiterate this subject in the ears of their hearers. But no such thing is to be found. Most of them do not appear to have used the word Gehenna or hell in all their lifetime. John, though he wrote the history of our Lord, as well as Matthew, Mark and Luke, does not once name Gehenna, either in his gospel, or any
of his epistles. What is still more remarkable, Luke, though he mentions Gehenna in his gospel, names it not in his history of the acts of the apostles. Paul, Peter and Jude, are as silent about Gehenna, as if such a place had no existence in the universe of God. No person in the New Testament, our Lord excepted, ever threatened men with the punishment of Gehenna, or hell. He is the only person who ever spoke about such a punishment. No other person ever warned men against the punishment of Gehenna, which is very strange, if by it a place of eternal misery be intended. To say that any other ever did this, yet not be able to produce a single text in proof, is only begging the question, and will never satisfy the mind of a candid inquirer after truth. Now, let it be remembered, that the writings of those persons who have never mentioned Gehenna or hell, form two thirds of the New Testament. We think we may appeal to every candid man, if this fact ought not to strengthen the suspicion, that we may have misunderstood the passages in the New Testament which speak about Gehenna.
I am fully aware that it may be objected to all this, though these writers do not mention Gehenna, yet they have spoken of the same punishment in another way. If they have, we are willing to consider what they have said, and, we think, have considered it. All we wish observed here, is, that they have surely not spoken of it by the name Gehenna or hell. This cannot be disputed. Since this is a fact, an argument of some weight arises from it, that Gehenna was not used to express a place of endless misery. It is this. If our Lord taught this doctrine at all, it will be allowed that he taught it in those passages, in which he speaks of Gehenna or hell fire. Well, if the disciples did understand our Lord as teaching this doctrine in such passages, how came it to pass, that they