The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1


II. Origin of “Gehenna” (Ge Hinnom) Symbol of Final Destruction

The Old Testament origins of New Testament expressions are significantly illustrated by the term Gehenna, frequently employed by Christ Himself, but involving definitive allusions and backgrounds rooted in the history of ancient Israel, as for example in Isaiah 66:23, 24. CFF1 165.3


Historically, the Valley of Hinnom (or Ge Hinnom) was a narrow glen sweeping down from the southwestern wall of Jerusalem, and watered by the brook Kidron. Under the earlier Hebrew kings it was laid out in the form of pleasant gardens, groves, and pools. Here the wealthy had their summer homes. And at the southeastern extremity was the famed garden of Solomon with its Tophet, royal music grove, and its singers. But Hinnom came to be polluted by idolatrous shrines and “high places” in which the cruel and licentious rites of Egypt and Phoenicia were introduced, such as worship of the fire-gods by Ahaz (seventh century B.C.). 6 CFF1 165.4

But there is yet another and related angle that needs to be noted: CFF1 166.1

“And he [Manasseh] caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger” (2 Chronicles 33:6). CFF1 166.2

Thus the heathen fires of Molech were associated with an upsurge of necromancy, witchcraft, and wizardry. 8 They all went together. And their later destruction, under Josiah, became a symbol of the final and utter destruction of all perversions—including the false teachings and practices of alleged communication with the living spirits of the dead, under the simulating deceptions of evil angels. CFF1 167.1


In the sixth century B.C., when Josiah came to the throne, as part of his religious reformation the groves were burned down, the pleasant gardens laid waste, and the idolatrous shrines ground to powder. To render the valley forever unclean the bones of the dead were strewn over its surface. Thenceforth it became a vast refuse pit, into which the offal of the city was cast, and the carcasses of animals, along with the dead bodies of criminals so wicked as to be adjudged unworthy of burial. Here worms preyed upon their putrefying flesh, and fires were kept burning to consume the corruption. It was the place where refuse was burned up. CFF1 167.2

Whatever was worthless was cast into the Gehenna fires, there to be utterly consumed. And in case any part remained unburned it was devoured by worms. So there was nothing left. Thus Isaiah wrote prophetically: “For Tophet is ordained of old; ... the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it” (Isaiah 30:33). CFF1 167.3

By New Testament times the idolatry had ceased and the ancient human sacrifices were no longer offered. But the fires were still burning continually for the destruction of the refuse of Jerusalem. Hence the Greek term Gehenna (transliteration of the Hebrew Ge Hinnom) was used by Christ to designate the final fires of the destructive judgments of God. The dread word Gehenna occurs twelve times in the New Testament, 9 eleven of which issued from the lips of Jesus Himself in solemn warning of the consequences of sin. Gehenna is synonymous with the coming “lake of fire” of Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10, 14, 15. CFF1 167.4


Thus it was that the symbolism of the fires of the valley came to portray the final destruction of the wicked in the quenchless fires of Gehenna. Hence Isaiah prophesied of the devouring worm and fire: CFF1 168.1

“And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24). CFF1 168.2

The dead bodies of the wicked lie in the valley, unburied and rotting, slowly burning amid the heaps of Jerusalem’s refuse, devoured by the undying worm and quenchless flame until the whole is consumed. But the worm consumes only dead flesh—thus excluding the idea of sensibility and unending torment. And the fire precludes the concurrent presence of the worm. CFF1 168.3

But the two together symbolize complete destruction of the being that has ceased to live. And the work of the worm and fire is eternal—not in their duration but in their eternal results. The sight was an awful warning to all beholders, signifying an end, a dissolution, a disintegration, and a final disappearance—the doom of the wicked dead! CFF1 168.4