Gehenna according to Strong's Concordance

geenna: Gehenna, a valley W. and South of Jer., also a symbolic name for the final place of punishment of the ungodly
Original Word: γέεννα, ης, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Transliteration: geenna
Phonetic Spelling: (gheh'-en-nah)
Definition: Gehenna, a valley west and South of Jerusalem, also a symbolic name for the final place of punishment of the ungodly
Usage: Gehenna, and originally the name of a valley or cavity near Jerusalem, a place underneath the earth, a place of punishment for evil.

Gehenna in the Gospels

The Gospels record multiple instances of Jesus warning very emphatically about the severe punishment that awaits those who would not repent from their sins and depart from their wicked ways. Their final destination will be Gehenna: the final place of punishment of the ungodly.

  • 22 but I -- I say to you, that every one who is angry at his brother without cause, shall be in danger of the judgment, and whoever may say to his brother, Empty fellow! shall be in danger of the sanhedrim, and whoever may say, Rebel! shall be in danger of the gehenna of the fire. [Matthew 5:22 YLT]
  • 29 `But, if thy right eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee, for it is good to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to gehenna. [Matthew 5:29 YLT]
  • 30 `And, if thy right hand doth cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast from thee, for it is good to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to gehenna. [Matthew 5:30 YLT]
  • 28 `And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna. [Matthew 10:28 YLT]
  • 9 `And if thine eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee; it is good for thee one-eyed to enter into the life, rather than having two eyes to be cast to the gehenna of the fire. [Matthew 18:9 YLT]
  • 15 `Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye go round the sea and the dry land to make one proselyte, and whenever it may happen -- ye make him a son of gehenna twofold more than yourselves. [Matthew 23:15 YLT]
  • 33 `Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? [Matthew 23:33 YLT]
  • 43 `And if thy hand may cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is better for thee maimed to enter into the life, than having the two hands, to go away to the gehenna, to the fire -- the unquenchable -- 44 where there worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched. 45 `And if thy foot may cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into the life lame, than having the two feet to be cast to the gehenna, to the fire -- the unquenchable -- 46 where there worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched. 47 And if thine eye may cause thee to stumble, cast it out; it is better for thee one-eyed to enter into the reign of God, than having two eyes, to be cast to the gehenna of the fire -- 48 where their worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched; 49 for every one with fire shall be salted, and every sacrifice with salt shall be salted. [Mark 9:43-49 YLT]
  • 5 but I will show to you, whom ye may fear; Fear him who, after the killing, is having authority to cast to the gehenna; yes, I say to you, Fear ye Him. [Luke 12:5 YLT]

James refers to Gehenna too:

  • 6 and the tongue [is] a fire, the world of the unrighteousness, so the tongue is set in our members, which is spotting our whole body, and is setting on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by the gehenna. [James 3:6 YLT]

The Lake of Fire in Revelation

The Book of Revelation offers similar descriptions of a Lake of Fire, where the Devil, his angels, and everyone who rebelled against God or died in unrepentant sin will be thrown into. The similarities are such that we can reasonably conclude that the Lake of Fire of Revelation and the Gehenna of Jesus are the same place.

  • 20 and the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet who did the signs before him, in which he led astray those who did receive the mark of the beast, and those who did bow before his image; living they were cast -- the two -- to the lake of the fire, that is burning with brimstone; [Revelation 19:20 YLT]
  • 10 and the Devil, who is leading them astray, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where [are] the beast and the false prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night -- to the ages of the ages. [Revelation 20:10 YLT]
  • 14 and the death and the hades were cast to the lake of the fire -- this [is] the second death; 15 and if any one was not found written in the scroll of the life, he was cast to the lake of the fire. [Revelation 20:14-15 YLT]
  • 8 and to fearful, and unstedfast, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all the liars, their part [is] in the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death.' [Revelation 21:8 YLT]

Tying this to the Early Church

As we can see, Gehenna is mentioned in most of the Gospels, which are among the earliest and most reliable Christian manuscripts in terms of authorship attribution (see this answer). Moreover, the concept of an end-times fiery place of punishment symbolized by Gehenna was reinforced even more with the release of the Book of Revelation by the Apostle John.

What does this mean? It means that the Early Church was surely aware from the very onset of Gehenna and the Apostolic teaching on the Second Death. They had to know. The subject was so important to Jesus that he brought it up in his preaching on numerous occasions, and early documents such as the Gospels & Revelation definitely contributed to the propagation of this teaching.


What did the Early Church (in the ante-Nicene period) believe about Gehenna and the Second Death?

To help guide the discussion, here are some specific questions that would be interesting to answer:

  • What did the Apostolic Fathers believe about Gehenna and the Second Death?
  • What did the Ante-Nicene Fathers believe about Gehenna and the Second Death?
  • What about other extra-biblical documents from this period on this topic?
  • Did the Early Church believe in eternal conscious torment?
  • Did the Early Church believe in eternal conscious separation?
  • Did the Early Church believe in Annihilationism?

Related questions

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 0:55
  • @MikeBorden No. I admit that it seems as though Revelation teaches eternal torment. And in a way, it does... Depending on one's definition of torment. There are many views on Revelation 20:10. Annihilationists have differing views on it. Some believe that "forever and ever" is hyperbole(or something like that. I'm not familiar with that view). Some believe that the phrase used there is meant to convey torment up until the end of the age, as the word in Greek for forever doesn't always mean until the literal end of time(just the end of A time. Or something like that. Not familiar with that too)
    – Rajesh
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 18:19
  • I, on the other hand, do believe that the wicked are tormented for eternity. Or should I say, I believe that the wicked are βασανισθήσονται for eternity. Never-ending βασανίζω. Yup. That's what I believe. The position I take on Rev. 20:10 is not common in Annihilationist circles, and by that I mean I've never heard of it in Annihilationist circles. But at least I get to say that I believe that the wicked are tormented for eternity. :-) You're probably confused. Don't worry. I'll probably write an answer on that soon.
    – Rajesh
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


The early church consistently understood Gehenna as the place of second death and eternal fire. The one outlier was Origen. (in quotes, emphasis mine)

Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of John, believed that Gehenna was the lake of fire, the second death, the eternal fire.

And he sets forth, too, the things connected with the general resurrection and the judgment, mentioning “the dead, great and small.” “The sea,” he says, “gave up the dead which it had in it, and death and hell delivered up the dead that they contained; and the books were opened. Moreover,” he says, “the book of life was opened, and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books, according to their works; and death and hell were sent into the lake of fire, the second death.”4775 Now this is what is called Gehenna, which the Lord styled eternal fire.4776 “And if any one,” it is said, “was not found written in the book of life, he was sent into the lake of fire.”4777 And after this, he says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth have passed away; also there was no more sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, as a bride adorned for her husband.” “And I heard,” it is said, “a great voice from the throne, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them; and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them as their God. -source-

Clement of Alexandria taught the immortal soul.

Punishments after death, on the other hand, and penal retribution by fire, were pilfered from the Barbarian philosophy both by all the poetic Muses and by the Hellenic philosophy. Plato, 466 accordingly, in the last book of the Republic, says in these express terms: “Then these men fierce and fiery to look on, standing by, and hearing the sound, seized and took some aside; and binding Aridæus and the rest hand, foot, and head, and throwing them down, and flaying them, dragged them along the way, tearing their flesh with thorns.” For the fiery men are meant to signify the angels, who seize and punish the wicked. “Who maketh,” it is said, “His angels spirits; His ministers flaming fire.”3110 It follows from this that the soul is immortal. For what is tortured or corrected being in a state of sensation lives, though said to suffer. Well! Did not Plato know of the rivers of fire and the depth of the earth, and Tartarus, called by the Barbarians Gehenna, naming, as he does prophetically,3111 Cocytus, and Acheron, and Pyriphlegethon, and introducing such corrective tortures for discipline? -source II-

Tertullian saw Gehenna as a fire also.

And if we threaten Gehenna, which is a reservoir of secret fire under the earth for purposes of punishment, we have in the same way derision heaped on us. -source III-

Origen, who is called a heretic, on the other hand, understood Gehenna as a type of what came to be called by the Catholic Church purgatory.

Now as we found that Gehenna was mentioned in the Gospel as a place of punishment, we searched to see whether it is mentioned anywhere in the ancient Scriptures, and especially because the Jews too use the word. And we ascertained that where the valley of the son of Ennom was named in Scripture in the Hebrew, instead of “valley,” with fundamentally the same meaning, it was termed both the valley of Ennom and also Geenna. And continuing our researches, we find that what was termed “Geenna,” or “the valley of Ennom,” was included in the lot of the tribe of Benjamin, in which Jerusalem also was situated. And seeking to ascertain what might be the inference from the heavenly Jerusalem belonging to the lot of Benjamin and the valley of Ennom, we find a certain confirmation of what is said regarding the place of punishment, intended for the purification of such souls as are to be purified by torments, agreeably to the saying: “The Lord cometh like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and of gold. -source IV-

Commodianus understood Gehenna as a fire.

Rather give assistance (what more seekest thou to abuse?) to the lowest pauper, and ye shall both be refreshed. If thou doest such things, thou extinguishest Gehenna for thyself. -source V-

This is not to say that you extinguish Gehenna for others.

Cyprian understood Gehenna as everlasting fire.

Believe Him who deceives not at all. Believe Him who foretold that all these things should come to pass. Believe Him who will give to all that believe the reward of eternal life. Believe Him who will call down on them that believe not, eternal punishments in the fires of Gehenna.

  1. What will then be the glory of faith? what the punishment of faithlessness? When the day of judgment shall come, what joy of believers, what sorrow of unbelievers; that they should have been unwilling to believe here, and now that they should be unable to return that they might believe! An ever-burning Gehenna will burn up the condemned, and a punishment devouring with living flames; nor will there be any source whence at any time they may have either respite or end to their torments. Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering. -source VI-

An interesting comment from Cyprian regarding Matthew 10:28

The Apostle Paul also says: “For if we die with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us.”3730 John too: “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father; he that acknowledgeth the Son, hath both the Son and the Father.”3731 Whence the Lord exhorts and strengthens us to contempt of death, saying: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him 500 which is able to kill soul and body in Gehenna.” -source-

  • Interesting. So not everyone viewed Gehenna as a place of torture, and it seems that those who did(believe it was a place of torture) didn't think that the torture lasted for eternity. Is this accurate?
    – Rajesh
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 18:13
  • @Rajesh Except for Origen, it appears they all thought of Gehenna, the lake of fire, as eternal conscious punishment. Except for Origen, I didn't find any early church father who taught otherwise.
    – SLM
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 20:22
  • Oh, I see. My bad. But, I don't think Irenaeus believed in eternal conscious torment. His use of "eternal fire" does not signify eternal conscious torment. See this answer: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/87249/… And the answer by Dottard here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/74467/… :-)
    – Rajesh
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 20:26
  • Reading purgatory into these patristic authors is anachronistic. Research apocatastasis, a type of universalism. See scribd.com/document/129064992/…
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 12:57
  • @Dan unfortunately your author starts with an error, so IMO his point is missed; but, thanks for the comment. CCC says 1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."
    – SLM
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 15:16

SLM provided an excellent review from Irenaeus to Nicea (see here), so I will focus on the earlier end of the spectrum, from the Apostolic Fathers to Irenaeus (I'll include Irenaeus too though because, with the possible exception of the Shepherd of Hermas, Irenaeus addressed the OP's questions more directly than any other early Patristic writer)


Lake of fire = Gehenna

It is argued in the OP & in other posts that the "lake of fire" in Revelation refers to the same thing as "Gehenna" in the Gospels. A side-by-side comparison of the passages shows this is a very straightforward interpretation.

Lest we have any doubt, however, Irenaeus of Lyons makes the equivalence explicit:

Moreover," he says, "the book of life was opened, and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books, according to their works; and death and hell were sent into the lake of fire, the second death." Now this is what is called Gehenna, which the Lord styled eternal fire (Against Heresies 5.35.2)


The errors are at the extremes

The early Patristic writings do not contain some of the more extreme notions of hellfire that are found in the 4th-century, such as:

  • Arnobius of Sicca--the earliest expositor of what is clearly annihilationism (source). Arnobius was harshly rejected by his contemporaries
  • Lactantius--preacher of the cartoonish view of hell often depicted in later artwork (seriously, imagine what hell looks like in a cartoon, that's a pretty good take on the ghastly portrayal given by Lactantius)


Eternal conscious separation

I've discussed the Biblical basis for death as separation elsewhere; this view was explicitly taught by Irenaeus:

And to as many as continue in their love towards God, does He grant communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light, and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God. He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness; and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits which He has in store. Those, therefore, who cast away by apostasy these forementioned things, being in fact destitute of all good, do experience every kind of punishment. God, however, does not punish them immediately of Himself, but that punishment falls upon them because they are destitute of all that is good. Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending. It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves, or have been blinded by others, are for ever deprived of the enjoyment of light (Against Heresies 5.27.2)

He that believeth in Me is not condemned," that is, is not separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God; "that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord (ibid)

The Shepherd of Hermas repeatedly refers to punishment/death/destruction as being cast out and separated/barred from the tower (heaven). In Vision 3 he spoke of the stones (people) that were cast away from the tower:

5 "But those whom they rejected and threw away, who are they?" "These have sinned, and desire to repent, therefore they were not cast to a great distance from the tower, because they will be useful for the building, if they repent. They then that shall repent, if they repent, will be strong in the faith, if they repent now while the tower is building. But if the building shall be finished, they have no more any place, but shall be castaways. This privilege only they have, that they lie near the tower.

1 But wouldst thou know about them that are broken in pieces, and cast away far from the tower? These are the sons of lawlessness. They received the faith in hypocrisy, and no wickedness was absent from them. Therefore they have not salvation, for they are not useful for building by reason of their wickednesses. Therefore they were broken up and thrown far away by reason of the wrath of the Lord, for they excited Him to wrath. (Vision 3, 5:5-6:1)

Lest we conclude that being broken up refers to annihilation, later in the same work Hermas parallels dying eternally with being cast out of the tower (heaven):

2 If then he that ought to do good committeth wickedness, does he not seem to do greater wickedness than the man that knoweth not God? Therefore they that have not known God, and commit wickedness, are condemned to death; but they that have known God and seen His mighty works, and yet commit wickedness, shall receive a double punishment, and shall die eternally. In this way therefore shall the Church of God be purified.

3 And as thou sawest the stones removed from the tower and delivered over to the evil spirits, they too shall be cast out; ...Thus shall it be with the Church of God also, after she hath been purified, and the wicked and hypocrites and blasphemers and double-minded and they that commit various kinds of wickedness have been cast out. (Similitude 9 18:2-3)

In chapter 22 of the same Similitude those who repent not are said to have an abode with the devils/tempters, suggesting they have been separated, but still exist; chapter 33 parallels living in eternity with living unto God, suggesting the absence of life means existence without God.

The same author spoke of death in terms of being turned away from God with no way of return:

I say to him, "Sir, I comprehend not what means "unto death," and what "unto corruption". "Listen," saith he; "the sheep which thou sawest gladsome and skipping about, these are they who have been turned asunder from God utterly, and have delivered themselves over to the lusts of this world. In these, therefore, there is not repentance unto life. For the Name of God is being blasphemed through them. The life of such persons is death. (Similitude 6 2:3)

The final clause indicates that death (or destruction) is not annihilation. See also Vision 1 1:8, which pairs death with captivity.

Similitude 8 of the same work relates life to being admitted into the tower (heaven), and death to being prohibited from entering the tower: "they lost their life" appears to be equivalent to losing their place in the tower.


Eternal fire/punishment/torment/destruction

There are exceedingly many Patristic quotes regarding eternal fire that are taken directly out of Matthew or Revelation. Most provide no more detail on the nature of the fire/torment/punishment/destruction than does the New Testament. Some of the earliest sources state quite baldly that sin leads to death, without defining what that death is (e.g. Barnabas, the Didache)

Often, however, the focus is on the unending nature of the fire itself:

And they found the fire of their inhuman torturers cold: for they set before their eyes the escape from the eternal fire which is never quenched (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3)

Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire (Igantius, Epistle to the Ephesians, ch. 16)

they are punished with grievous torments in unquenchable fire (2 Clement 17:7--note that although this epistle is early & attributed to Clement, we don't actually know who wrote it)

shall send those of the wicked...into everlasting fire (Justin, First Apology ch. 52)

When the Patristics speak of what will happen to the wicked, it is not unusual for them to refer to eternal punishment rather than eternal torment. Such statements allow ambiguity as to whether the punishment has eternal consequences or an infinite duration:

Thou threatenest that fire which burneth for a season and after a little while is quenched: for thou art ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal punishment (Martyrdom of Polycarp 11:2).

For among us the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan, and the devil, as you can learn by looking into our writings. And that he would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration (Justin, First Apology ch. 28)

1 Clement, notably, mentions both, but no timeframe:

He forsaketh not them which set their hope on Him, but appointeth unto punishment and torment them which swerve aside (1 Clement 11:1)

The Shepherd of Hermas mentions both as well:

they so suffer who are punished and tormented (Similitude 6 5:6)

The Epistle to Diognetus appears to cover all the bases, just to be sure:

thou shalt despise the apparent death which is here on earth, when thou shalt fear the real death, which is reserved for those that shall be condemned to the eternal fire that shall punish those delivered over to it unto the end (Diognetus 10:7)

The Shepherd of Hermas explicitly speaks of punishment that is temporary (this can be read as a description of Hades rather than Gehenna):

Yet they shall be fitted into another place much more humble, but not until they have undergone torments, and have fulfilled the days of their sins. And they shall be changed for this reason, because they participated in the Righteous Word; and then shall it befall them to be relieved from their torments (Vision 3 7:6)

the time of the punishment and torment is long (Similitude 6 3:4)

(Note that Similitude 6--if read in full--is consistent with the view that many will receive a severe but temporary punishment in Hades, whereas a subset will receive the second death in Gehenna)

Justin, ever the ambiguous philosopher, also provides some of the most explicit statements regarding unending punishment:

some are sent to be punished unceasingly into judgment and condemnation of fire (Dialogue with Trypho ch. 45)

He shall raise all men from the dead, and appoint some to be incorruptible, immortal, and free from sorrow in the everlasting and imperishable kingdom; but shall send others away to the everlasting punishment of fire (Dialogue with Trypho ch. 107)

we know from Isaiah that the members of those who have transgressed shall be consumed by the worm and unquenchable fire, remaining immortal (Dialogue with Trypho ch. 130)

Justin has sometimes been called a proponent of annihilationism; I suggest that he forecloses that possibility in his First Apology:

shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire (Justin, First Apology ch. 52)


Punishment by degrees

A number of the early writers acknowledge punishment for the wicked, but not equal punishment for all. Rather, punishment was thought of in gradations, depending on the severity of the wickedness.

From Irenaeus:

God, even Him who has prepared eternal fire for every kind of apostasy (Against Heresies 5.26.2)

The Shepherd of Hermas indicates that punishment is proportional to the wrong-doing:

1 I say unto him; "Sir, declare unto me this further matter...they that live in self-indulgence and are deceived undergo torments during the same length of time as they live in self-indulgence and are deceived." He saith to me, "They undergo torments for the same length of time. (Similitude 6 3:1)

This concept of punishment and greater punishment is also discussed by Hermas in the passage from Similitude 9 quoted earlier in this post; see also a more extended treatment by the same author in Vision 3 7:1-6.

The idea of gradations in blessings/punishments is also found in the later writings of Origen.


Was Origen a Heretic?

It is true that Origen was called a heretic, but context matters. Unlike some of the most notorious heretics (e.g. Marcion, Valentinus, Tatian, Arius), who were thoroughly and unmistakably denounced by their contemporaries, Origen was not declared a heretic by his contemporaries, he was considered the greatest scholar of his era.

Origen was declared a heretic almost 3 centuries after his death, because his views fell on the wrong side of a theologically-political (or politically-theological, if you like) debate. To use the modern parlance, Origen was "cancelled" for holding antiquated views that were not socially acceptable 300 years later.

Furthermore, the declaration that Origen was a heretic was made by...wait for it...Emperor Justinian I. It was only after the despotic emperor came down on Origen's teachings that some clergy anathematized some of Origen's teachings (source). Justinian had a way of getting people to say what he wanted them to say...or else.

(Pro-tip for surviving if you ever find yourself in the 6th century Byzantine Empire: if you disagree with Justinian, it's probably best to keep it to yourself)

All that to say not that Origen is inerrant (far from it), but that Origen's writings occupy a very significant place in Patristic authority. If we want to know what the church believed or what it was debating in the early 3rd century, ask Origen.



Did the Early Church believe in Annihilationism?

I see no clear evidence of annihilationism in Christianity prior to the 4th century.

Did the Early Church believe in eternal conscious torment?

Belief in conscious torment/punishment is ubiquitous. The timing/duration of that torment/punishment is not so unanimous. Justin emerges as one of the strongest voices for endless torment. Others suggest gradations in punishment and/or a non-infinite interval of torment.

Did the Early Church believe in eternal conscious separation?

Irenaeus taught this explicitly; the Shepherd of Hermas is heavy on the metaphors, but appears to support this as well.


There are many points of divergence in the views of the early church--I suggest that the matters relevant to the OP on which there is broad agreement are:

  • The lake of fire = Gehenna = second death
  • The fire is eternal
  • There will be conscious punishment for those who do not repent
  • Cessation of existence appears to be a foreign concept to these writers
  • 1
    Good answer. Very well researched. +1 :)
    – Rajesh
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 1:46

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