© 2002 by David W. Daniels
Question: Gehenna is not hell, is it? It was a valley where outcasts, thieves and infected people where thrown when they died. The Bible refers to "Gehenna" as the place of death and pain. The word "hell", as you so often use, where eternal pain and fire awaits is actually "Gehenna". If you have read a bible written before 1400, you will notice a very important thing: "HELL" is missing. Instead it says "Gehenna". There is no fire breathing eternal pain demon hell!! In fact YOU are committing a sin here. Telling people, or lying to people about hell, when you should know about "Gehenna". There is no hell. Only the valley of "Gehenna". A graveyard!!
Answer: The word "Gehenna" is properly translated "hell" in the King James Bible. And actually, except for three known Bibles1, every Bible says "hell," not the untranslated word "Gehenna".
"Gehenna" originally referred to the Valley of Hinnom by Jerusalem. It was the place of horrible idolatry. So when the Hebrews finally came back to Jerusalem after 70 years of Babylonian Captivity (about 605-535/6 BC), they resolved never to use the Valley of Hinnom for idolatry again. Instead, they burned their trash there, and it became a burning valley of waste.
But we know that Jesus and the apostles didn't mean to refer to a garbage dump. Here's why. There are certain statements in the Bible that tell us clearly about "Gehenna", translated "hell" in the King James Bible. Notice these verses.
"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). No power on earth can destroy a soul. The soul is a part of a person that exists beyond physical death (Revelation 20:4). "Gehenna" has to be a place to destroy both the body and the soul.
"And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 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 12:4-5). It is no threat to throw a dead body into a grave, a junkyard or a furnace. But God has power to cast a person, whose body is dead, into "Gehenna." There is only one reason to fear the person that can throw you into Gehenna: you must be aware that you are cast there. So Gehenna is hell, the place where the unrighteous dead are cast.
"And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:" (Mark 9:43, 45). "Gehenna" is said to be a "fire that shall never be quenched". The earth and the works therein shall all be burned up (2 Peter 3:10), but they will be replaced with a new earth wherein righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). So "Gehenna" could not mean an earthly place, since all fires shall be quenched on earth. But hell's fire shall never be quenched. It is clear: Gehenna is hell, not a trash dump.
Even though the word "Gehenna" comes from the Valley of Hinnom, simply rendering it as "garbage dump" or "valley of waste disposal" or "burning garbage" could not be an accurate translations, because that's not what Jesus and the apostles meant when they used the word. It meant "the place where people go when they die." That's what we mean when we say "hell".
"If you have read a bible written before 1400. You will notice a very important thing, HELL is missing. Instead it says Gehenna."
You mentioned Bibles before 1400. The only known Bible in English from before then is the Wycliffe Bible of 1380. Does it use "hell" or "Gehenna"? Let's find out!
The term "Gehenna" is found in Greek in these verses of the Bible:
Matthew 5:22,29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Lu 12:5; Jas 3:6
Here they are in the Wycliffe version:
Matthew 5:22 But Y seie to you, that ech man that is wrooth to his brothir, schal be gilti to doom; and he that seith to his brother, Fy! schal be gilti to the counseil; but he that seith, Fool, schal be gilti to the fier of helle.
Matthew 5:29-30 That if thi riyt iye sclaundre thee, pulle hym out, and caste fro thee; for it spedith to thee, that oon of thi membris perische, than that al thi bodi go in to helle. And if thi riyt hond sclaundre thee, kitte hym aweye, and caste fro thee; for it spedith to thee that oon of thi membris perische, than that al thi bodi go in to helle.
Matthew 10:28 And nyle ye drede hem that sleen the bodi; for thei moun not sle the soule; but rather drede ye hym, that mai lese bothe soule and bodi in to helle.
Matthew 18:9 And if thin iye sclaundre thee, pulle it out, and caste awei fro thee. It is betere to thee with oon iye to entre in to lijf, thanne hauynge tweyn iyen to be sent in to the fier of helle.
Matthew 23:15 Wo to you, scribis and Farisees, ypocritis, that goon aboute the see and the loond, to make o prosilite; and whanne he is maad, ye maken hym a sone of helle, double more than ye ben.
Matthew 23:33 Ye eddris, and eddris briddis, hou schulen ye fle fro the doom of helle?
Mark 9:43 (9:42) And if thin hoond sclaundre thee, kitte it awey; it is betere to thee to entre feble in to lijf, than haue two hondis, and go in to helle, in to fier that neuer schal be quenchid,
Mark 9:45 (9:44) And if thi foote sclaundre thee, kitte it of; it is betere to thee to entre crokid in to euerlastynge lijf, than haue twei feet, and be sent in helle of fier, that neuer schal be quenchid,
Mark 9:47 (9:46) That if thin iye sclaundre thee, cast it out; it is betere to thee to entre gogil iyed in to the reume of God, than haue twey iyen, and be sent in to helle of fier, where the worme of hem dieth not,
Luke 12:5 But Y schal schewe to you, whom ye schulen drede; drede ye hym, that aftir he hath slayn, he hath power to sende in to helle. And so Y seie to you, drede ye hym.
James 3:6 And oure tunge is fier, the vniuersite of wickidnesse. The tunge is ordeyned in oure membris, which defoulith al the bodi; and it is enflawmed of helle, and enflawmeth the wheel of oure birthe.
So you see that "Gehenna" is not the term used in English at all! Not until Young's Literal Translation in the late 1800s, followed by the Catholic New American Bible of 1970 was the untranslated "Gehenna" put in. Look at foreign translations. The Spanish Reina-Valera of 1602-1989 rightly says "el infierno" and the Portuguese Corrigida Fiel says "do inferno", both of which mean "Hell" as we in English use the term. "Hell" is an understandable word. "Gehenna" is not.
And "hell" accurately translates the meaning of the word "Gehenna." "Gehenna" is not a translation; it is just a transliteration (translating letters, but not meaning). We find that first in the perverted Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate (400s AD), which was forced on the people of Europe as the only legal Bible for over a thousand years. Not until the Reformation of the 1500s were God's actual words translated into the language of the people. And every one of them was careful to translate "Gehenna" into an English word with the same meaning. All but two of the English Bibles, from at least 1380 onward (that's all I've checked on this so far), translate "Gehenna" into the understandable word "hell."2 That's what a good Bible should do.
You are welcome to read the article "Who Needs Hell?" It will show you why it is important to translate the word into a word that makes sense in English.
I hope this has helped you understand the King James Bible a little more, and why it is the preserved words of God in English.
May God bless you as you read and understand His words.
1Specifically, the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate (400s AD), Young's Literal Translation (1862 & 1898) and the Roman Catholic New American Bible (1970-1991)