Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna

I have long wanted to do a little work to debunk the endlessly repeated myth that the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) was a perpetually burning trash dump.  There simply is no evidence to support the idea, but because it seems a reasonable explanation for the origin of the Hinnom Valley as “hell,” writers and preachers accept and propagate the story.

Yesterday Louis McBride raised the issue (HT: BibleX).  He writes:

I consulted over a dozen study Bibles on Matthew 5:22 and no less than eight of them made a reference to the rubbish heap. Almost every major commentary on Matthew that mentions Gehenna also spoke of the garbage dump.  I’ve always thought that this was an established fact.

Then he quotes Peter Head, G. R. Beasley-Murray, and Lloyd Bailey in tracing the origin of this notion to Rabbi David Kimchi in AD 1200.  Specifically, Bailey states:

[Kimchi] maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources.

As with the legend about the rope around the high priest’s ankle, this popular myth seems to have originated in Jewish circles in the Middle Ages.  McBride has more details and the sources in his post.

The explanation for the “fire of Gehenna” lies not in a burning trash dump, but in the burning of sacrificed children.  Jeremiah is explicit that such occurred here:

Jeremiah 7:31–32 (ESV) — And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in 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 mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere.

Isaiah had already envisioned Topheth as the fiery destiny of an enemy of God.

Isaiah 30:33 (HCSB) — Indeed! Topheth has been ready for the king for a long time now. His funeral pyre is deep and wide, with plenty of fire and wood. The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, kindles it.

Thus already in Old Testament times, the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked.  That the valley was just outside the city of Jerusalem made it an appropriate symbol for those excluded from divine blessing. Isaiah closes his book with these words:

Isaiah 66:24 (ESV) — “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

It is not difficult to see, from these and other texts (e.g., 2 Kgs 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3, 33:6; Jer 32:35), why Jesus and his contemporaries used the word Gehenna (“valley of Hinnom”) as synonymous with the place of everlasting fiery torment.  Indeed, there is no reason to search further for ancient burning piles of discarded newspapers, product packaging, and junk mail.

UPDATE (4/29): The views of various scholars on the matter is presented in a new post.

Hinnom Valley with Sultan's Pool from south, db6607262508

Hinnom Valley from south, 1966.
Photo by David Bivin.

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40 Comments:

  • Thanks for the article! It is amazing how many things we take as "established fact" that simply are not true.

    By Blogger NikonAddict, at Thu Apr 07, 10:01:00 AM  

  • Concerning this valley, I've heard that the blood of sacrificed Passover lambs ran down this hillside. Can you confirm whether this was traditional practice?

    By Blogger Living the Biblios, at Thu Apr 07, 10:31:00 AM  

  • Thanks for the article, I have always wanted to see some evidence for calling associating Gehenna with a burning trash heap. Now I know why I never found any. I had no idea that the Old Testament provides ample evidence for why the New Testament associates Gehenna with the abode of the damned.

    By Blogger David Clark, at Thu Apr 07, 11:19:00 AM  

  • True enough. Still, a city the size of Jerusalem needed a dump. Certainly they produced less waste than a modern city. That little valley is a likely spot. If not there, where?

    The case may have been overstated, but may not be completely wrong.

    Lambs? I thought the Passover lambs were all sacrificed on the Temple Mount. Perhaps waste products from the lambs were thrown there or pethaps some lambs were slain outside the city walls, but I had never heard this.

    By Blogger Al Sandalow, at Thu Apr 07, 12:12:00 PM  

  • Thank you for this article.

    This article is more additional proof against the doctrine of eternal torment. There was not a trash pile perpetually burning. But when the burning occured in such a valley, it left "dead bodies" for which the worms feasted on after the fire has destroyed them.

    By Anonymous Marcos, at Thu Apr 07, 12:26:00 PM  

  • Thanks for posting. I just got done reading Rob Bell's new book, and he relies heavily on this garbage myth as evidence that Jesus' teachings on hell are metaphorical.

    By Anonymous Dan, at Thu Apr 07, 12:33:00 PM  

  • Marcos - you're welcome to reject the doctrine of eternal torment, but don't pretend that this blogpost or the Bible gives any support to your view. It was Jesus who said, "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt 25:46).

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Thu Apr 07, 01:18:00 PM  

  • Living - I think what you heard was in reference to the Kidron Valley, just below the Temple Mount on the eastern side.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Thu Apr 07, 01:19:00 PM  

  • Everlasting is only aionios in Greek, so that everlasting hell becomes only age-during garbage dump, the age being not 2011 but just AD 70. Fears becalmed. Don't stress about any of the Bible's judgment language happening at any time after the first century!

    By Anonymous Linda, at Tue Apr 12, 05:39:00 PM  

  • Jesus actually never talked about eternal torment. Explore the mistranslations and actual meanings of eternal and hell (aion, gehenna/hades/tartaroo/sheol). Jesus actually talked of kolasis aionian - temporary correction/discipline. God is not a torturer. His judgments result in righteousness, and the end of the Lord is mercy. He does not cast off forever.

    By Blogger jabcat, at Wed Apr 13, 03:35:00 AM  

  • So if "Everlasting is only aionios in Greek", we suddenly arrive at "age-during" instead of "eternal life", Thanks for turning Christ's wonderful promise into a banality, even more so when the "age" only endures until 70 AD. What a waste of time this would mean.

    It is a widespread misconception by twisting around this or that word in the bible, you suddenly can change the content of the Christian faith.

    PS. The version I read was that after human sacrifice in the Hinnom valley ceased, it was then used as a rubbish dump.

    By Blogger Resident, at Thu Apr 14, 04:46:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Resident, at Thu Apr 14, 04:47:00 AM  

  • "Everlasting is only aionios in Greek, so that everlasting hell becomes only age-during garbage dump"

    Uhh... no. Check out Matt 25:46. By your rationale, the "everlasting life" Jesus promised really only meant life until AD 70.

    By Blogger CGrim, at Fri Apr 29, 12:50:00 PM  

  • Not only that, if there were any doubt, Jesus is further clarifying what was already mentioned in Daniel 12:2... eternal is an appropriate word for the English translation. That's why Jerome translated it aeternam in Latin as well, because he knew what was implied by the Greek.

    By Blogger jerry62, at Mon May 09, 10:56:00 AM  

  • Two different thoughts on the Matthew verse. One is that the age-during is modified by what it refers to. In the case of life age-during, that life is with God, who is eternal. The chastisement is in reference to the Second Death, which can't be eternal if we are to take any of the passages about death itself being destroyed literally.

    OR, the age-during life with Christ could be just that, since in 1 Corinthians it talks about Christ giving up his kingdom to the Father at the end of time.

    And, Christ's wonderful promise into banality? The wonderful promise that is "You lot will experience everlasting happiness while the rest of the world suffers unimaginable torment for eternity"?

    That is not a wonderful promise, that is a concept more horrific and disturbing than anything any horror writer could come up with.

    By Anonymous J, at Tue May 31, 11:20:00 AM  

  • Yes, wonderful promise. If you don't like it, go and take something else but don't put your thoughts into Christ's mouth.

    "age-during" isn't a word but if you are insisting on such literalist readings, you should be consistent and take things literally. And then "the age" is either eternal both times or it is temporal.

    Saying "God is eternal" is chickening out. One can have a temporal stay with the eternal God.

    The rest of the world will not "suffers unimaginable torment for eternity" - the world will be with God, whose judgement is just, even in regard to the damned.

    But you are faking compassion - you don't want the damned to suffer but have no problem with seeing them dead.

    By Blogger Resident, at Tue May 31, 12:55:00 PM  

  • Jerome also used the phrase "en aeturnum et ultra" ("in eternity and beyond") in his commantary on Collosians. If 'aeturnum' always means 'eternal' then Jerome put his foot in his mouth when he wrote this. What can be beyond eternity?

    One of the strange things about all of the talk about whether punishment is eternal or not is the fact that if the Lord had wanted to communicate the idea that punishment would be eternal, there are several ways to do this in Greek and make it crystal clear. That did not happen. Instead we have bibles that translate 'aion' and 'aionion' in several different ways. If it was consistently translated as 'eternal' people would see how ridiculous that idea is.
    It is also very instructive to study the writings of the early church fathers and church history to see how prevalent a belief universal salvation was, and then compare the conditions that surrounded the second council at Constantinople where they decided that a confession of belief in an eternal hell was one of the conditions for being accepted into "the church". The first post-apostolic council at Nicea was chaired by Gregory Nazianzen who was a universalist. Gregory of Nyssa, another prominent teacher of universalism, drafted the part of the Nicean creed dealing with the trinity. If eternal hell doctrine is so clearly taught in scripture as we have been told, where was the protest over these men even being allowed to attend the council, much less play major roles? If you look at the political and religious power struggles going on at Constantinople it is apparent that the doctrine of eternal hell was used to scare people and get them to submit to those who had control of the church, so they could hold their kingdom together.

    The objection that "eternal punishment" and "eternal life" are used in parallel in Matthew 25:46, and therefore aionian must means eternal is based on a false presumption that the "aionian life" which is spoken of would have to come to an end at the same time that the "aionian" punishment does. The thing is, that as the "aion" during which the punishment takes place is coming to an end,DEATH WILL BE SWALLOWED UP BY LIFE! THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DESTROYED IS DEATH! So at that point there will be no more "aionian" life, it will be the same life as was lived in the "aion", but now it will continue outside of time. It will not end, it will just no longer pertain to an 'aion' or time period. There is no corresponding situation for punishment having it's opposite destroyed thus allowing it to continue outside of time.
    As for Isaiah 66:24, it cannot be referring to eternity, as v.23 which is in the same context states that "from one new moon to another and from one sabbath to another all flesh shall to worship before Me, says the Lord." (Actually it says "from one new moon to IT'S next", meaning the same new moon one year later)Time is clearly still in view in this context. I also don't think we will be taking field trips out to look at burning and worm eaten bodies in eternity.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 31, 09:03:00 PM  

  • I cannot vouch for Jerome, his meaning or his wording. Words can indeed mean different things at different times, with different context and different people. Jerome is one, Christ may be another.

    And Christ spoke (e.g. Matthew 25) of the "blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" and of the "cursed ... into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels ... these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

    The verses are clearly parallel, so that eternal MUST mean the same for the blessed and the cursed.

    Also, to pin this on one word is a common folly. There are quite a few verses in the gospel expressing the same idea in different words, e.g. "the worm never dies" - how do you turn never into "sometime in the future"?

    Add to that the teaching of the church since the earliest days. But of course, some know-it-all flippig through pages will know it better! Your idea about "universal salvation" among church fathers is wrongheaded. There were some that believed in such things but they all went into trouble with it. Most did not.

    So your attitude "If the Lord had wanted to communicate this" is not only arrogant towards him (he chose his words as he saw fit, not you) but also false: he did clearly communicate this.

    You are also disrespectful towards the damned - it is one thing, as God does, to give them their just deserts, but quite another to simply blot them out from existence and pretend everything's fine.

    Finally, you are also mistaken about time and the eternal life. Eternal life doesn't mean that there is no time just as it doesn't mean there is no space. The New Jerusalem will contain people body and soul living in space in time, with God in happiness for all eternity.

    And that's probably what Jerome is after, distinguishing between this end-less but not time-less eternity and the God's eternity without such constraints, wihtout beginning or end.

    By Blogger Resident, at Wed Jun 01, 04:21:00 AM  

  • Blot them out of existence? I don't believe that and I don't believe the last commenter does either. When death is destroyed the only thing left is life. All will be reconciled with God in the fullness of time, at the end of the ages.

    Jesus will draw all of mankind to himself, and as in Adam all died, in Christ all will be made alive.


    There are plenty of parallel verses that teach the salvation of all that must be explained away if you want to cling to a doctrine of eternal torture.

    Romans 11:32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

    Romans 5:18-21 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased,grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.


    I find it much easier to explain passages such as Matthew 25:46 in light of the above verses. If ALL will be made alive than any passage referring to future punishment MUST be viewed in light of that fact.

    By Anonymous J, at Wed Jun 01, 02:14:00 PM  

  • Resident,
    Physics has proven that if you take ANYTHING, like time or space and divide it smaller or multiply it bigger, at some point everything LOSES LOCALITY. Everything is all tied together in one. So "time" as we know it is not eternal.

    As for Mark 9:44, if you look at Isaiah 66:24 you will see it is bodies that are being eaten by 'worms' and fire. I find it interesting that people use the ideas they have been taught about 'hell' being eternal and transfer that to a symbolic statement that Jesus made about worms and fire. They ignore the nature of both worms and fire to protect their doctrine of an eternal hell. "Worms" in Isaiah 66:24 is towlah, and Gesenius notes that this word is especially used to denote worms that feed on FLESH, although it is also used to talk about worms in bread and the worm that killed Jonah's shade plant. But no matter what they eat, do not die, THEY LEAVE WHAT THEY ARE EATING TO BECOME A FLY OR MOTH. When the food source dries up, these moths have nowhere to lay their eggs! The moth does die.

    Same with fire. It says it is "not quenched". When a fire is not quenched it burns UNTIL IT RUNS OUT OF FUEL. It does not need to be quenched.

    People also ignore the context of what Jesus is talking about. He just told his audience that if there is part of your body that causes you to stumble, cut it off. He is not being literal here, He is speaking about cutting off or getting rid of something of the carnal man. The 'flesh' is also the context of what Isaiah 66:24 is dealing with. Paul turned a Christian over to satan for the DESTRUCTION OF THE FLESH.

    You talk of the teaching of the "church" from the earliest days. What church are you talking about? Rome? Out of six major "seminaries" in the early church, four taught universal salvation, one taught annihilation (Ephesus)and one taught eternal punishment (Rome). Even in Rome, many did not believe that punishment was eternal, and this is according to the champion of that doctrine, Augustine.

    What early church fathers "got into trouble" with universal salvation? Are you referring to Origen? He got into trouble with a lot of people over many things, but one area of his teaching was never assailed by any church council and that was his teaching on universal salvation. You would think this would have been addressed early on if the case was clear cut and universal salvation was heresy. Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa, both staunch universalists, recognized by the eastern and western churchs as 'saints', played prominent roles at the council of Nicea. Why were heretics (if you believe that universal salvation is heresy)allowed to do this? Why consider them 'saints'? Where is the record of an uproar over them?

    As for giving the 'damned' (an English word that has changed in meaning since being put in English bibles) their 'just desserts', in Jesus' day there were two common words for what we think of as "punishment". One is kolasin, the other timoria. Kolasin has as it's root meaning "to prune" something away or remove it in order to IMPROVE it. The punishment is given with the goal of improving the one punished. Jesus used this term. The Pharisees commonly used the phrase 'endless timoria', which has nothing to do with bettering the victim, but the punishment only has the satisfaction and honor of the offended party in mind. It is retributive and vindictive. It is never used by Jesus, and is only found in three places in the new testament, Acts 22:5 and 26:11 where Paul is talking about his 'punishment' of Christians before his conversion, and in Hebrews 10:29 where the context again is between those who adhere to the old covenant in opposition to the new, only this time the tables are turned. It is never connected to any words denoting the length of time it is to be inflicted.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jun 03, 08:17:00 AM  

  • J,

    So you don't want to "blot them out", you want to "reconcile all" - but again this is just utter disrespect to human beings and their free will, which in turn is a denial of the opportunity to love.

    If all men could be saved, it would be great, but we are long past this (let alone all creatures). And nowhere did either Christ or any Apostle ever teach that. You simply over-reading certain passages.

    must be explained away if you want to cling to a doctrine of eternal torture.

    Romans 11: "mercy to all" doesn't mean all accept it.

    Romans 5 speaks of "condemnation to all men" but of "the many will be made righteous" - not "all will made righteous"

    1 Corinthians 15 - you overreading again. All who accept it.

    Paul is not only full of your verses but also full of admonition that salvation through grace doesn't mean a free ride for everybody. You are simply ignoring these.

    By Blogger Resident, at Sat Jun 04, 09:55:00 AM  

  • Anon,

    oh my. Spare us your pseudo-physics which can teach us nothing about the afterlife in the New Jerusalem.

    Worms and fire normally die and go out (no need for nitpicking about how going out is not being quenched) - this is why Jesus raises the point that these worms and this fire (which is obviously figurative language) do NOT DIE and do NOT GO OUT.

    It is not "people" who ingore context but you who are grasping at straws of literal nitpicking to justify your beliefs in the light of what Christ or others as recorded in Scripture clearly taught.

    "if there is part of your body that causes you to stumble, cut it off. He is not being literal here"

    Indeed.

    "He is speaking about cutting off or getting rid of something of the carnal man."

    Not necessarily. He is talking about things that detrimental to us, if you want to say so, "the flesh". We should rather shun them than let them damage our salvation.

    But "the flesh" has nothing to dod with worms and fire.

    "You talk of the teaching of the "church" from the earliest days. What church are you talking about? Rome? Out of six major "seminaries" ..."

    I am talking about the entire early Church, which did not adhere to your universal salvation theology. "Six seminaries" did not exist.

    "Are you referring to Origen? He got into trouble with a lot of people over many things, but one area of his teaching was never assailed by any church council and that was his teaching on universal salvation."

    En contraire. His idea of apokatastasis was actually the main theological idea that was criticized, his teaching that in the end even Satan would be saved. Of course you must look towards anti-Origenists to find out about that, not admirers of the man who swept his errors (with which they didn't agree) under the carpet like Eusebius or Rufinus. Much less towards others with "universalist" leanings. "Saint" doesn't mean infallible, you know! Oh, and neither Gregory played any part at "Nicea", Nazianzen played a short role at Constantinople in 381.

    You are confusing the matters under discussion at the time whith what others wrote at other times. Marcellus was important at Nicea (325) and still condemned a heretic later, with even one line in the Creed directed against him.

    You cannot base yourself on the supposed "true" meaning of a word Jesus used while at the same time ignoring that he also spoke of eternal punishment. If it were "eternal pruning" and this doesn't make sense to you, your problem is with Christ. But this doesn't give you the right to twist his words.

    There are a dozen parables by Christ talking about salvation and punishment - I can't think of one which has one first being shut out and then being admitted after all - not the foolish virgins with their lamps, not the Rich Man begging poor Lazarus, not the one being thrown out because of his not wearing a wedding garment etc.

    If that seems unfair in your eyes, so be it ...

    By Blogger Resident, at Sat Jun 04, 10:12:00 AM  

  • [Worms and fire normally die and go out (no need for nitpicking about how going out is not being quenched) - this is why Jesus raises the point that these worms and this fire (which is obviously figurative language) do NOT DIE and do NOT GO OUT.

    It is not "people" who ingore context but you who are grasping at straws of literal nitpicking to justify your beliefs in the light of what Christ or others as recorded in Scripture clearly taught.]

    If it was clearly taught in scripture, why was no council convened to condemn the heresy of universal salvation as soon as it came on the scene? There were people in Rome long after universalism was known in the church, whom Augustine called Christians, who believed in universal salvation, and still no decree from any council stating that a belief in an "eternal hell" was necessary to sound faith. That wouldn't happen until the 6th century. I also find it hard to be confident in any council since they often allow someone to have a leading role who would be declared a heretic a short time later, like the case of Marcellus you brought up.There seemed to be a lot of see-sawing going on.

    And speaking of context, you are ignoring the context that Jesus is alluding to in this passage, and that is Isaiah 66:23-24. Are there going to be new moons and sabbaths in eternity? (v.23) Who is it that is going to go out of the city and look at the worm-eaten, burning bodies? (v.24) In Matt 5:22 there is a similar passage where three offenses are mentioned and three punishments that result. The three offenses are being angry without a cause, calling someone 'raca', and calling someone 'fool'. The first results in being in danger of the "judgement". The second results in being in danger of the council, and the third results in danger of the fire of Gehenna. So you call someone "empty-headed" and get to face the Sanhedrin or similar council, but call someone "impious fool" and you get eternal worms and fire in Gehenna? Seems a little disproportionate to me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 05, 11:14:00 PM  

  • My last post was too long so here's the rest -

    You are right about Origen's apocatastasis getting him in trouble. I went to a website and read the list of anathemas directed against his teachings and found out that he goes farther than the final restoration of all of mankind and goes as far as saying the devil would one day be repentant and saved. There is a lot of other stuff about fallen spirits changing form, etc., that makes it understandable how he would get into trouble. The websites I had read did not mention all of this, it seems that they were trying to say that it wasn't his teaching on the final salvation of all men that got him in trouble, it was all the stuff that Origen tacked on to that. You are right about the two Gregory's too. I confused the council of Nicea with the Nicene Creed that came out of the council at Constantinople later on. In any case, Gregory Naziznen was allowed to preside over that council.

    The three parables you mention also do not say how long the consequences for failure last or whether there is anything else to take place afterward. In the other dozen or so, to get the idea of "eternal" you have to read it into the words "aion" and "aionian". These words can be used to describe something that is eternal, but this meaning has to be derived from the object they are used in conjunction with. Even if they are used to describe God as "the aionian God" they do not have to mean eternal. "The God of the Eons" is a statement of fact, not of limitation. Same with "aionian life".

    One question to ask about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus - Why the need for a gulf to keep those in Abraham's bosom from going to the other side where there was torment? If this parable is supposed to teach anything about punishment in the afterlife, you would think that this gulf would not be necessary. Who in their right mind would want to cross over? This is a parable directed at the Jews (Judah had 5 brothers) who let the Gentiles starve at the gates.(the only other times 'dogs' 'tables' and 'crumbs of bread' are mentioned is in the context of a gentile asking Jesus for help. Most bibles that have copious cross-references for other verses with similarities like this strangely do not have any for this one.)

    I doubt I will convince you of anything and I don't have time to continue a running debate, but every time I go through this process, I learn something so it has been worth it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 05, 11:25:00 PM  

  • >>And speaking of context, you are ignoring the context that Jesus is alluding to in this passage, and that is Isaiah 66:23-24. Are there going to be new moons and sabbaths in eternity? (v.23)

    Who is ignoring the context? The quotation begins in verse 22.

    Isa 66:22–24 — “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Mon Jun 06, 08:56:00 AM  

  • "If it was clearly taught in scripture, why was no council convened to condemn the heresy of universal salvation ..."

    If it was not condemned, it was because it wasn't widespread and there were more pressing issues. But I doubt that it was "never condemned", it certainly was in Origen's case. I haven't memorised all the conciliar canons and anathemata but I think neither have you.

    "whom Augustine called Christians"

    What has that got to do with it. A Christian in error is still a Christian.

    And speaking of context, you are ignoring the context that Jesus is alluding to in this passage, and that is Isaiah 66:23-24. Are there going to be new moons and sabbaths in eternity? (v.23)

    "Who is it that is going to go out of the city and look at the worm-eaten, burning bodies?"

    No one. Why should anyone want to go out when God and all his people and everything good is inside. And again, the worms and fire are figurative - the real "punishment" (actually not so much a punishment but the consquence of one's decision) is having missed the last opportunity to be part of God's kingdom.

    "Seems a little disproportionate to me."

    First, you still seem to think you are in a position to lecture Christ on how to conduct his affairs. Second, the whole passage is disproportionate - that is the point: that Christ rejects a minimal, just-barely-pass morality but rather sets a very high standard to his followers.

    By Blogger Resident, at Tue Jun 07, 02:48:00 AM  

  • In v.15-16 it seems pretty clear the context of this passage is a universal judgment on all flesh. The rest of the chapter goes on to reassure Israel that they will not all be killed in this judgment. Will those who survive not be able to believe that they are really safe until they go out and look at the corpses of those who persecuted them and cast them out? (66:5) If these bodies in Gehenna are meant to typify being in "hell" why would anyone want to go look at them? In Mark 9 is Jesus taking a literal prophecy in Isaiah and using it as a parable of something "eternal"?

    It is amazing how putting on the legalistic "glasses" that came into the church from the Latin converts can blind people to verses that out to stop them in their tracks and make them wonder "What is going on here?". (the Romans emphasized justice and were very PROUD of their legal system) I had heard sermons for 40 years, had read the bible cover to cover several times, went to bible studies, listened to countless teaching tapes, and in all that time no one, myself included, noticed any contradiction between Jude 1:7 and Ezekiel 16:55. We seem to just read right past those verses.

    Jude 1:7 - "Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the VENGEANCE OF ETERNAL FIRE."

    Ezekiel 16:55 - "When thy sisters, SODOM AND HER DAUGHTERS SHALL RETURN TO THEIR FORMER ESTATE, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate."

    I'm sure there will come forth a brilliant solution to this apparent contradiction that will make it disappear. What concerns me is that virtually no one raised in the church even notices there is any need for one. Jude says Sodom and Gomorrah undergo vengeance in "eternal fire", and Ezekiel says that Sodom and her daughters will one day be restored to their former estate. How does this work?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 07, 07:52:00 AM  

  • [What has that got to do with it. A Christian in error is still a Christian.]

    At least until a council comes along decades later and says that anyone not confessing a belief in an "eternal hell" is not a Christian? Is that decree retroactive?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 07, 08:14:00 AM  

  • "At least until a council comes along decades later and says that anyone not confessing a belief in an "eternal hell" is not a Christian? Is that decree retroactive?"

    No council ever did that! No council ever decreed whether someone was a "Christian".

    Councils made positive definition of faith (e.g. the creed), negative condemnations ("Whosover says .... be anathema!) and rules called canons.

    Regarding individuals, councils excommunicated those that refused to accept a definition reached (or for crimes i.e. activies, not statements of faith). In order to do that, the person must be either present or at least given the opportunity. He must be alive. Arius was, Nestorius was, Eutyches was.

    The only exception was the 5th Ecumenical Council (around 550), which posthumously condemned not just (some or all) teachings of Theodorus and of Origen but condemned them personally. But that was the exception and in violation of the principles.

    You see, there is a difference between "material" heresy and "formal" heresy - the former is error in contents, which might as well be unwitting, the latter is the obstinate insistance on such an error. Only the latter is grounds for personal condemnation.

    may condemn them for

    By Blogger Resident, at Wed Jun 08, 02:13:00 AM  

  • Anon,

    I have no clue what v.15 you are talking about so you can spare us that.

    If it is Isaiah, then you cannot take this prophet to invalidate what Christ himself taught.

    You can also spare us quasi-racist ideas like >>legalistic "glasses" that came into the church from the Latin converts<<

    As for your neet contradiction:

    Jude 1:7 "In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire."

    Ezekiel 16:55 "And your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to what they were before; and you and your daughters will return to what you were before."

    Jude uses the fate of Sodom as recounted in Genesis as a type of divine punishment. He does not say say that Sodom underwent "punishment of eternal fire" but that Sodom is an example for those that will.

    Ezekiel indeed prophesies that Sodom, Samaria and Juda would return to their former state. But note that Sodom has not returned to its former state, so I doubt your literalist reading is correct. But if they happened to return next week, would that mean that sinners from Sodom would not be punished for their sins?

    Neither says anything about eternal punishment being only temporary.

    "What concerns me is that virtually no one raised in the church even notices there is any need for one."

    Because the church is not a "club for solving real and apparent biblical contradictions", it is not a "bible study club".

    By Blogger Resident, at Wed Jun 08, 02:25:00 AM  

  • For some reason this comment got swallowed up yesterday:

    "You are right about Origen's apocatastasis getting him in trouble. ... goes as far as saying the devil would one day be repentant and saved."

    Yes, that Origen took the idea of universal salvation to its extreme (though it is unclear how far he actually believed this to be factual or whether he was simply engaging in an experiment of thought) and it was this extreme form that was shocking to many Christians. But that doesn't meant that only the "devil gets saved in the end" was condemned.

    "In any case, Gregory Naziznen was allowed to preside over that council."

    Though only for a while, but of course his being rejected is not related to any universalist teaching (if he held such, which is not undisputed), which were not the issue in 381.

    "The three parables you mention also do not say how long the consequences for failure last or whether there is anything else to take place afterward."

    Are you serious? The parables all imply that the judgement is final, because "the door was locked" - it is an unfounded assumption on your part that it would be opened again. And why should it? The doors were certainly locked as long as the wedding feast endures. And it is obviously contradicting the parable to consider what could happen after the feast for if the kingdom is like that feast and there would be an afterwards, it would no longer be eternal. Which brings us back to our starting point: it is eternal for good and bad or age-enduring for both, not this for one and that for another.

    "In the other dozen or so ..."

    You will forgive me that I will not go and read through all the parables but if I have immediately three springing to mind that teach a final, unchangeable judgement than I don't need to have dozens others agree with that or read anything into them. They might as well say nothing on this issue.

    You however are reading things into the words "aion" and "aionian". Their meaning cannot be derived from the "object" (which means you assumption that salvation can be eternal but punishment cannot) but from the context - and the context in the passage referred above is a parallel structure.

    "Why the need for a gulf to keep those in Abraham's bosom from going to the other side where there was torment?"

    Where are you getting this? The gulf represents the uncrossable separation - it is not meant to keep the saved from going over there because they have no reason to do so, as they are with God and His people. Again, the torment is the separation.

    "I doubt I will convince you of anything and I don't have time to continue a running debate, but every time I go through this process, I learn something so it has been worth it."

    My time, unfortunately, is limited too. Even if I couldn't convince you, I am glad that you got something out of it.

    Though I vehemently disagree with you, I do not think your view stems from bad motives.

    At the same time, I hope you will believe me that the vast majority of Christians you believe in things like eternal salvation and damnation are not motivated by any joy in seeing other people suffer but by respect for Christ's teaching, Christ's judgement and for other people's freedom of choice.

    By Blogger Resident, at Wed Jun 08, 08:04:00 AM  

  • Actually, looking at the verses in Ezekiel again, some translation give it like this (Ezekiel 16:53-59, emphasis added by capitals):

    "WHEN I bring back their captives, the captives of Sodom and her daughters, and the captives of Samaria and her daughters, then I will also bring back the captives of your captivity among them,
    "that you may bear your own shame and be disgraced by all that you did when hyou comforted them.
    "WHEN your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters return to their former state, then you and your daughters will return to your former state. "For your sister Sodom was not a byword in your mouth in the days of your pride,
    "before your wickedness was uncovered. It was like the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria and all those around her, and of jthe daughters of the Philistines, who despise you everywhere.
    "You have paid for your lewdness and your abominations,” says the Lord.
    "For thus says the Lord God: “I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant."

    Note the WHEN ...

    And can we actualle be cartain about the identity of Sodom and her daughters? After all, Samaria did not return either but found successors that, though unconneceted with the northern kingdom, called themselves Samaritans.

    By Blogger Resident, at Wed Jun 08, 08:10:00 AM  

  • [Jude uses the fate of Sodom as recounted in Genesis as a type of divine punishment. He does not say say that Sodom underwent "punishment of eternal fire" but that Sodom is an example for those that will.]

    Jude is not using Sodom and Gommorah as examples of those who WILL be punished, the "suffering of eternal fire" in that verse is in the PRESENT TENSE. He claims they are already undergoing it. This is then used as an example of a future judgment.

    Sodom and Gommorah were famous cities, and distinct in their time. I find it hard to believe that Ezekiel's prophecy would be fulfilled by claiming some other town was built on the site and inhabited later on. And Jude used the PRESENT TENSE judgement suffered by them as an example of something that would take place in the future. The restoration of these cities is tied to the PEOPLE that lived there in 16:55. The "captivity". The Hebrew word is used in relation to people.

    [I have no clue what v.15 you are talking about so you can spare us that.]

    Isaiah 66:15-16 makes it pretty clear when the context of the rest of the chapter takes place.

    ["Who is it that is going to go out of the city and look at the worm-eaten, burning bodies?"

    No one. Why should anyone want to go out when God and all his people and everything good is inside.]

    Is. 66:24 says "The THEY SHALL GO FORTH...". Did Isaiah lie? You brought up a very good point. Why would anyone, especially people who are redeemed and survive the coming of the Lord to judge all flesh (v.16) want to go out to look at corpses full of worms and burning? I brought up a similar situation in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In Luke 16:26 Abraham explains why he can't send Lazarus to the rich man with a few drops of water. And he mentions those who would go from where he himself was to the other side where the torment was FIRST. Then he mentions the case of those who would cross from the place of suffering over to "Abraham's bosom". If this is supposed to be a literal story about the suffering of an eternal "hell", there would be no need to explain the gulf as being necessary to prevent people from going from Abraham's bosom to the other side where there is torment. That part of the verse could be left off and the last part of the verse would be sufficient to finish answering why the rich man's request could not be granted.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jun 10, 08:53:00 AM  

  • [Are you serious? The parables all imply that the judgement is final, because "the door was locked" - it is an unfounded assumption on your part that it would be opened again. And why should it? The doors were certainly locked as long as the wedding feast endures. And it is obviously contradicting the parable to consider what could happen after the feast for if the kingdom is like that feast and there would be an afterwards, it would no longer be eternal. Which brings us back to our starting point: it is eternal for good and bad or age-enduring for both, not this for one and that for another.]

    Salvation does not have to be eternal. There are a lot of things we need to be saved from at this point, but there will come a point when there will be nothing we need to be saved from. The "kingdom" of the Son will one day be turned over to the Father, and one of the epistles describes Jesus ruling it UNTIL all His enemies are put under His feet, so the parables about the kingdom and the wedding feast do not have to be describing the final state of "the Kingdom". Even when the term "aionian" is applied to God Himself, this does not mean it is describing Him as eternal. It is possible to use a word, like aionian, to make a statement of fact, without being forced to use it as a statement of limitation. Calling God "The God of the ages" (aions) is stating a fact, God is God over the ages. But that statement says nothing about God no longer being God after the ages. After the ages, there will be no need to describe Him to anyone because all will know Him fully, just as they also are known by Him now.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jun 10, 08:53:00 AM  

  • I thought, Anon, you didn't have time. I don't and hence I will make this a short one.

    You claim that Jude talks about Sodom suffering eternal fire but that's not the clear reading of the text. You first have to make the text fit your interpretation. What the text clearly says is that Sodom serves as an example linked to those suffering in eternal fire. Not necessarily TO those in the fire, possibly TO OTHERS ABOUT THOSE in the fire - if they are already in it, they don't need examples.

    But you making another mistake: so seem to think that if Jude and Ezekiel contradicted each other, such a contradiction could be solved by your screwed universalist theology. It can't. If they contradict e.o., they contradict e.o.

    There is no way shape or form that you can make Jude utter universalist theology.

    Ezekiel doesn't utter any either - and he doesn't even touch on anything linked to "eternal fire". A prophecy in his book that has thus far not come true should not be used to build doctrine on.

    By Blogger Resident, at Fri Jun 10, 09:25:00 AM  

  • Re. Isaiah 66:

    This passage appears to me about the situation immediately after God's victory, so it is surely not placed during a time when the New Jerusalem has already been established for a long time.

    I don't see why a citizen of God's city should go out, but if they did, they might well see that.

    Still, that's no basis for any claims about how eternal does not mean eternal or how undying fire/worms suddenly mean dying-only-later fire/worms.

    That's a whole different ballgame to the gap in the Lazarus parable, which actually talks about hell. (And note: it's a parable, a story with a lesson, not necessarily a description of actual conditions in the after-life, especially when you become too technical.)

    Besides:

    "And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us."

    Those who WOULD. It doesn't say whether anyone would do that.

    And he talks about those going this way because that is what the rich man asks for, for someone in heaven to come and alleviate his suffering. About the other direction he didn't ask. So no "this verse could be left out" reasoning.

    By Blogger Resident, at Fri Jun 10, 09:50:00 AM  

  • "Salvation does not have to be eternal."

    Why should it end? What is supposed to come after salvation?

    You clearly havened thought the whole matter through and would trade in salvation for 20th century sensibilities.

    There is BTW no clear verse saying that the kingdom would have an end, many things that speak against it. And does the father disinherit the son after the latter has conquered and toiled for him. Shouldn't then all be all in all?

    "Even when the term "aionian" is applied to God Himself, this does not mean it is describing Him as eternal. It is possible to use a word, like aionian, to make a statement of fact, without being forced to use it as a statement of limitation."

    Who said it was a statement of limitation - when did your "statement of fact" become a "statement of limitation"?


    "After the ages, there will be no need to describe Him to anyone because all will know Him fully, just as they also are known by Him now."

    Because talking about God is nothing more than information for the unknowing? This is getting silly!

    By Blogger Resident, at Fri Jun 10, 09:54:00 AM  

  • http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2012/featured-article/tracing-the-road-to-gehenna/ An article looking at Gehenna in the OT and why Jesus may have chosen to use this word.

    By Blogger Tarnya Burge, at Sun May 27, 07:04:00 PM  

  • It is a reasonable deduction that there would be a dump and also reasonable that sometimes it would be alite and bodies throw there for shame. One should also remember that archeology developers it's conclusions from the remains of history and of necessity because of the often small amount found makes wrong conclusions. We can trace the develope a transition of the place of the dead from a pit to a water filled pit and then to similar with fire. All in all it points to a figurative description rather than a literal.

    By Blogger Unknown, at Sat Mar 01, 06:59:00 PM  

  • Maybe you guys think you are as smart as our all knowing all seeing creator. It doesn't matter what we think! He is the creator that loves his creation so much that he gave his only Son who was the only sacrifice Holy enough for the sins of mankind who defeated death that we may have the hope of everlasting life!

    By Blogger Jesus1forus, at Mon Jun 30, 01:21:00 PM  

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