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of the Jewish Fathers speak with high and conclusive authority; they shew us, they prove beyond contradiction the general sense put on the word Gehenna by the Jews of our Lord's time. Obviously they thought of Gehenna as the state in which the wicked would be reserved for judgment, as an intermediate, not the final, state. On the duration of that state of punishment, or discipline, they differed, as also on its ultimate issue. Some held that the torment of Gehenna would endure for twelve months; some, for a single day; some, only until the righteous should desire it to end —and that surely would not be very long. And, again, some held that the discipline of Gehenna would issue in the ultimate salvation of all who were exposed to it; while others held that it would issue in their destruction, the very souls of sinners being burned up and scattered by the wind. With these differences of opinion we are not at present concerned. All we have to mark is the general sense in which the word Gehenna was then used and understood; and I do not see how we are to escape the conclusion that among the Jews it was taken to denote a punishment, or discipline, which did not extend beyond a definite, and probably a very short, period of time. Christ was a Jew, and spoke to Jews; and in what but their Jewish sense can we fairly and reasonably interpret his words ?.
(3). Taking the word in this Jewish sense, as we are bound to do, let us briefly examine the Scriptures in which it occurs. The word Gehenna is used eleven times by our Lord, and once by his “brother” James., No other of the Apostles, or Apostolic men, uses it even once, mainly, no doubt, because they wrote to Gentile churches, to whom this Jewish word, this illustration taken from the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem, would have been strange and perplexing.
The first instance in which it is employed is St Matthew v. 22. Christ is comparing his laws, the laws of the kingdom of heaven, with the laws given of old time by Moses. Moses had said, “Thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But,” continues Christ, “I say unto you, Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother Raca (a mere expletive of disgust and contempt, like the odious expletives which we may hear every day in our own streets) shall be in danger of the Council : but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.” The general sense of the passage is that, whereas Moses condemned murder, Christ condemns the angry passions in which murder takes its rise. Even an angry emotion was henceforth to be regarded as incipient murder; and if that angry emotion found vent in angry and malicious words, words which smote and wounded a neighbour's heart, it was to be held a still heavier crime, worthy of a still severer punishment. This, confessedly, is the general sense of our Lord's saying ; but he casts his thought in a technical and figurative form which needs a little explanation.
In every Jewish city there were courts of justice which had the power of life and death ; but, though they could condemn criminals to death by the sword, they had no authority to inflict that death by stoning which was the most ignominious punishment known to the Hebrew code. Only the Sanhedrin, the supreme council at Jerusalem, could inflict that penalty. But the Sanhedrin, besides condemning a man to be stoned, could also ordain that, after death, his body should be cast into the valley of Hinnom, to become the prey of the worm or of the fire. We hold it a bitter disgrace to be denied Christian burial; but for a Jew to be denied burial in the family sepulchre, and thus not to be “ gathered to his fathers,” was far more shameful and terrible. Of these national customs and feelings our Lord avails Himself in the passage before us. He affirms that whoso is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of, shall put himself in the power of, those local courts of justice which sat in every city, wielding the power of life and death.
1 Deut. xvi. 18; and Josephus, Ant. iv. 8, 14; Wars, ii. 20, 3.
He affirms that whoso vents his spleen in the expletive “Raca” shall be in danger of the Sanhedrin, the metropolitan court, or “council,” which alone could condemn men to be stoned. And He also affirms that whoso vents his anger in the word “ Fool ” shall be liable to be condemned after death to “the Gehenna of fire,” i.e., to the valley of Hinnom, in which the fires were always at work on the refuse of the city."
This is the form in which the Lord Jesus cast that law of his kingdom which forbids causeless anger, and the contemptuous or malicious words in which it finds expression. But consider, first, how the word “hell” introduces a false tone and scale into the law of Christ. Here are three sins and three punishments. The three sins are anger, the anger that says Raca, and the anger that says Fool—a somewhat harsher and more contemptuous word, at least in Hebrew ears. And the three punishments are that of the local court, that of the metropolitan court, and that of hell-fire ! Now between the three sins there is a gradual descent,
1 All this is as well brought out probably as it can be by a mere translation in Mr M'Clellan's new Translation of the Gospels, which runs thus: 21. “Ye have heard that it was said unto them of old time,
Thou shalt do no murder : And whosoever shall do murder shall be liable to the judges.' 22. But I say unto you, Every one that is angry with his brother shall be liable to the judges: and whosoever shall say to his brother, “Tush !' shall be liable to the High Council : and whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool,' shall be liable for the Burning Valley of Fire.”
each is a little worse than the one which goes before it. But who does not feel that in the three punishments, instead of a correspondingly gradual descent, there is in the last interval a sudden plunge so vast, so profound, as to be out of all keeping. The disproportion strikes one in two ways. It is incredible that to call a man Fool should be so much worse a crime than to call him Raca that, whereas for the one offence men are to be brought before a court of justice, for the other they are to be damned to an everlasting torment. And it is equally incredible that any man should be doomed to all the horrors of hell if, in a moment of angry impulse, he let the word Fool, or any other word, slip from his lips. On the other hand, if for “hell-fire ” we read “ Gehenna of fire,” and understand that, while the first punishment is that which a local court may inflict-death, and the second that which only the metropolitan court can inflictdeath by stoning, the third is to be cast out, unburied, into the accursed valley of Hinnom, we at least restore something like scale and proportion to the sentence, though the punishments still look, if not far too heavy, far too material and external for the sins.
And, indeed, if any man really studies these words, he soon finds it quite impossible to take them in their literal sense. In that sense they are not true. No Jew, no Christian was ever brought before a local