Part 1: Gehenna in the Synoptics -- By: Hans Scharen

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 149:595 (Jul 1992)
Article: Part 1: Gehenna in the Synoptics
Author: Hans Scharen

Part 1:
Gehenna in the Synoptics

Hans Scharen

Associate Pastor, Midlothian Bible Church
Midlothian, Texas

According to a Newsweek report, belief in an afterlife is alive and well in the United States. Apparently over 70 percent of Americans believe there is a heaven and think they have a good chance of getting there. Slightly over half the people surveyed believe there is a hell, but only 6 percent think “they have a good or excellent chance of getting there.”1 This latter observation appears to contradict the contemporary liberal Protestant theologians’ view on the subject of hell. The same Newsweek report quotes the American church historian Martin Marty, who observes, “Hell disappeared. And no one noticed.”2 Indeed, the article continues, “Today, hell is theology’s H-word, a subject too trite for serious scholarship.”3 These observations indicate that while the experts have all but jettisoned the idea, over half the United States population still believes in the reality of hell, though few anticipate a destiny there.4

Among evangelical theologians discussion centers around a different issue. Here the discussion is concerned not so much with the

reality of the concept as with one of its specific aspects, namely, its duration. In a Christianity Today report several prominent evangelicals voiced their opinions on the everlasting destiny of the unsaved.5 Some of these opinions differ with the traditional conservative doctrine of hell (everlasting conscious suffering in hell for all those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior), mainly because it is too awful a destiny to consider or because it does not harmonize with the idea of an all-loving, merciful God. Some hold to universalism (all will be saved eventually, including the devil),6 while others hold to annihilationism (eventual total extinction or annihilation of all the unsaved).7 In view of these observations it seems appropriate to look once again at the concept of hell.

The Background of Gehenna

One of the more striking differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament concerns the idea of retribution in the afterlife. Relevant Old Testament texts point toward a virtual absence of postmortem retribution, yet in the New Testament, especially the Synoptic Gospels, a fully developed th...

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