This evening I was dwelling on hell. The word “hell” is used 54 times in the Bible. It is translated from several different words with different shades of meaning.
In the Old Testament: 31 times from the Hebrew “Sheol,” which means “the grave.”
In the New Testament: 10 times from the Greek “Hades,” which also means “the grave,” 12 times from the Greek “Gehenna,” which means “the burning garbage dump” and 1 time from the Greek “Tartarus,” which means “the bottomless pit.”
Here I want to draw attention to the 12 fiery “Gehenna” verses. Notice anything strange about them?
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22)
If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)
And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. (Matthew 18:9)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:15)
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:33)
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43)
And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:45)
And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell (Mark 9:47)
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:5)
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:6)
No, they’re not from hell, they’re mostly from Jesus. All but one in fact, and that one is from his brother. Surprising don’t you think? We expect the apostle Paul to be the fiery prophet but it’s actually Jesus.
What is more, a number of these fiery warnings are directed at the Pharisees, the religious gurus of that age, so, again surprisingly, it not about not being religious enough. It’s about not being honest enough. God’s going to burn away fakeness.
Challenging for me though, is that the bulk are in the form of lifestyle warnings for the crowds, to get their priorities straight, to keep their life struggles in perspective: fear God, not temporary discomforts; fear God, not the forces you think have power over you. It draws attention to the fears I submit to, the fears I let direct my decisions.