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AN INQUIRY INTO THE WORD GEHENNA.
is different. But nothing of this kind is pretended here." We have attempted to decide the question, what is the meaning of the term Gehenna, by an appeal to Scripture usage of this word, and we must say it is our present opinion that it is not once used, either in the Old or New Testament, to express a place of endless misery for the wicked.
We conclude this section with two brief quotations from Mr. Stuart, in his letters to Mr. (now Dr.) Channing, which we wish were engraven on every man's heart, never to be effaced. In page 14. he says,"the claims of the Bible to be authoritative being once admitted, the simple question in respect to it, is, what does it teach in regard to any particular passage; what idea did the original writer mean to convey? When this is ascertained by the legitimate rules of interpretation, it is authoritative. This is orthodoxy in the highest and best sense of the word; and every thing which is opposed to it, which modifies it, which fritters its meaning away, is heterodoxy, is heresy; to whatever name or party it is attached." He adds, p. 109-" after all, it is a principle, by which, if I have any knowledge of my own heart, I desire forever to be guided, to call no man master, on earth.' I would place the decision of Scripture, fairly made out, IMMEASURABLY ABOVE all human opinions. I regard the one as the decision of an unerring God; the other as the opinions of fallible men."
ADDITIONAL FACTS STATED, PROVING THAT GEHENNA WAS NOT USED BY THE SACRED WRITERS TO EXPRESS A PLACE OF ENDLESS MISERY.
THE facts which have been stated in a preceding part of this investigation, are certainly very singular, if it indeed be true that Gehenna of the New Testament signifies a place of endless misery for the wicked. Those I am now to adduce, are to me also strange, upon such a view of this subject. Some of them have been slightly hinted at in the course of our remarks, but deserve a more distinct statement.
1st, If Gehenna means a place of endless misery for the wicked, it is a fact that the apostles never preached it, either to Jews or Gentiles. The history of the Acts of the apostles, contains an account of their preaching for thirty years, but not once is the subject of hell or Gehenna torments, mentioned by them. They were commanded to preach the gospel to every creature, and they did so, but to no creature under heaven, did they ever preach this doctrine. No living being did they ever threaten with such a punishment. They addressed the worst of characters, but to none of them did they ever say, "how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" They did threaten men sometimes with punishment, but never with eternal punishment in hell. Saul said to Elymas, the sorcerer-"O! full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease
to pervert the right ways of the Lord?" But does he threaten this man with the damnation of hell? No; he says, "and now behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season." Acts xiii. 10, 11. In the same chapter, verses 40, 41. he says, "beware, therefore, lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the prophets. Behold ye despisers, and wonder and perish." But did he on this, or any other occasion, ever threaten them with the punishment of hell? No; nothing like this is to be found. In this last text the word perish occurs, and perhaps some may think that eternal punishment is included in it. But it should be observed, that Paul was here addressing himself to Jews, and concerning them our Lord had said-"except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish," referring to the temporal destruction which was coming on the Jewish nation. May I then ask, how this fact is to be rationally accounted for, if the apostles did indeed believe hell to be a place of endless misery? Can any man suppose they believed this, yet in the course of thirty years' preaching, never mentioned it to their hearers? What would we say of a man in these days, who should preach thirty years, yet never say a word about bell to those whom he addressed? Would we not say he was a Universalist? He would be an outlaw from orthodoxy. If my veracity in this statement is doubted by any persons, let them read the book of the Acts of the apostles. In the whole of it, whether they preached to Jews or Gentiles, you will find that they are all alike silent on the subject of hell torments. If they believed such a doctrine, let others account for it why they never preached it. If preachers now took the apostles as their models, we should hear no more about hell from them. We would then, respectfully ask, from what source did preachers learn that they should preach Gehenna or
hell to us Gentiles, as a place of endless misery? To what chapter or verse, in any book of the New Testament, can they refer us, where an inspired apostle ever did so? Let every one who preaches this doctrine, consider, if he did not learn this from his catechism, when a child; from hooks he has read, and from the preaching he has heard since he became a man, and not from his Bible? Let him also consider, before he condemns my view, whether he has ever given this subject a thorough and impartial examination. We are all too prone to receive things in religion on such kind of authority, and too ready to condemn opinions contrary to our own, before we have duly considered the evidence brought in support of them.
To this we are aware that it may be objected"Gehenna was a Jewish figurative mode of speaking of future eternal punishment, and had it been used by the apostles in preaching to the Gentiles, they could not have been understood; for the Gentiles knew nothing about Gehenna, as a place of future punishment." To this I reply,
1st, That this objection would have some force, if it was found that the apostles, in preaching to the Gentiles, made use of their own modes of speaking about future eternal misery to them. Had they said to the wicked Gentiles, "how can ye escape the damnation of Hades, or Tartarus," we might suppose that this was the reason they avoided the use of the term Gehenna. But do we find this to be the true state of the case? We certainly do not. No such conclusion, we conceive, therefore, can be drawn that the apostles said nothing to the Gentiles concerning Gehenna, because it was a Jewish figure which they could not understand. But,
2d, Admitting that the term Gehenna was a mode of speaking of eternal misery the Gentiles did not un
derstand, they could have explained it to them, as they have done other things of seemingly less importance. Let any one read John's gospel, and he will see that he explains Jewish names and customs; some examples of which we have given in another place. But,
3d, The above objection takes it for granted that the Gentiles were unacquainted with the term Gehenna. But ought it to be so? Is there not as good reason to think that the heathen, in their intercourse with the Jews, should imbibe their notions of Gehenna, as that the Jews should imbibe the heathen notions concerning Hades or Tartarus, in their intercourse with them? Their mutual intercourse would produce a mutual interchange of opinions. This being the case, if the spirit of God recognized either the Jewish notions of Gehenna, or the Pagan notions of Hades, as truth, we might expect that the apostles would have preached this doctrine to both Jews and Gentiles. Had both been recognized, we might expect Hades and Gehenna to be used indiscriminately by the apostles, in speaking of future eternal misery. But this is not done by them, if we may judge of their preaching from what is contained in the New Testament. If they believed both to be true, they would have spoken at least of Gehenna to Jews, and of Hades to Gentiles, as a place of eternal punishment in a future state.
4th, But this objection takes it for granted, that the Jews in our Lord's day, did use the term Gehenna to signify a place of endless misery, and that this was its exclusive sense. That this could not be its exclusive sense we have proved; for in reading the Old Testament Scriptures, they could not understand it so; or, if they did, they must have perverted them to an extent I am unwilling to believe, even of the Jews. The objector must then prove, that the Jews, in our Lord's day, did use the term Gehenna, exclusively to express