Matt. 5:27-30 (Part 3)

5:29ff EDITOR'S NOTE: “Be cast into hell.” Hell is mentioned three times in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30). Translated as “hell” in these verses, Gehenna is one of three Greek words that are translated as “hell” in the KJV. The other two are Tartarus, found only in 2 Peter 2:4, and Hades, the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol in the Old Testament (cf. Ps 16:10; Acts 2:27, 31). However, these words would be better understood if they were not all translated “hell.” According to the early Christians, these were different places. Gehenna is the lake of fire, the place of eternal punishment after the resurrection, whereas Hades is an intermediate place where souls await the resurrection. Jesus also referred to Paradise (Luke 23:43) or Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22, 23) as a part of Hades. And Hades has also been translated “grave” (1 Corinthians 15:55; cf. Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; Acts 2:22-27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14). The following quotations reflect what the early Christians believed about Gehenna, translated “hell” in Matthew 5:22, 29, 30.

THE MARTYRDOM OF POLYCARP: But again the proconsul said to him, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing that you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.” But Polycarp said, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.” 1.41.

SECOND CLEMENT: And “their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched, and they shall be for a spectacle unto all flesh.” He speaks of that day of judgment, when they shall see those among us that have been ungodly and acted deceitfully with the commandments of Jesus Christ. But the righteous who have done well and endured torments and hated the enjoyments of the soul, when they shall behold those that have gone astray and denied Jesus through their words or through their works, how that they are punished with grievous torments in unquenchable fire, shall be giving glory to God, saying, “There will be hope for him that has served God with his whole heart.” 7.522.

JUSTIN MARTYR: And hell [Gehenna] is a place where those are to be punished who have lived wickedly, and who do not believe that those things which God has taught us by Christ will come to pass. The First Apology, 1.169.

IRENAEUS: “And death and hell were sent into the lake of fire, the second death.” Now this is what is called Gehenna, which the Lord called eternal fire. Against Heresies, 1.566.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: The eyes especially are to be sparingly used, since it is better to slip with the feet than with the eyes. Accordingly, the Lord very summarily cures this malady: “If your eye offends you, cut it out,” He says, dragging lust up from the foundation. But languishing looks, and ogling, which is to wink with the eyes, is nothing else than to commit adultery with the eyes, lust skirmishing through them.
The Instructor, 2.288.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: You may even go against wealth. Say, “Certainly Christ does not debar me from property. The Lord does not envy.” But do you see yourself overcome and overthrown by it? Leave it, throw it away, hate, renounce, flee. “Even if your right eye offends you,” quickly “cut it out.” Better is the kingdom of God to a man with one eye, than the fire to one who is unmutilated. Whether hand, or foot, or soul, hate it. For if it is destroyed here for Christ’s sake, it will be restored to life yonder. Who is the Rich Man that shall be Saved?, 2.598.

TERTULLIAN: 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. On Idolatry, 3.52.

TERTULLIAN: Consider in your heart the hell [Gehenna] . . . and imagine first the magnitude of the penalty, that you may not hesitate about the adoption of the remedy. What do we esteem that treasure-house of eternal fire to be, when small vent-holes of it rouse such blasts of flames that neighboring cities either are already no more, or are in daily expectation of the same fate? The haughtiest mountains start asunder in the birth-throes of their inwardly gendered fire; and — which proves to us the perpetuity of the judgment — though they start asunder, though they be devoured, yet they never come to an end. On Repentance, 3.665.

ORIGEN: 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 Hinnom was named in Scripture in the Hebrew, instead of “valley,” with fundamentally the same meaning, it was termed both the valley of Hinnom and also Geenna. And continuing our researches, we find that what was termed “Geenna,” or “the valley of Hinnom,” 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 Hinnom, 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 comes like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and of gold.”

It is in the precincts of Jerusalem, then, that punishments will be inflicted upon those who undergo the process of purification, who have received into the substance of their soul the elements of wickedness, which in a certain place is figuratively termed “lead,” and on that account iniquity is represented in Zechariah as sitting upon a “talent of lead.” But the remarks which might be made on this topic are neither to be made to all, nor to be uttered on the present occasion; for it is not unattended with danger to commit to writing the explanation of such subjects, seeing the multitude need no further instruction than that which relates to the punishment of sinners; while to ascend beyond this is not expedient, for the sake of those who are with difficulty restrained, even by fear of eternal punishment, from plunging into any degree of wickedness, and into the flood of evils which result from sin. Against Celsus, 4.584-585.

ORIGEN: And it is possible to apply these words also to our nearest kinsfolk, who are our members, as it were; being considered to be our members, because of the close relationship; whether by birth, or from any habitual friendship, so to speak; whom we must not spare if they are injuring our soul. For let us cut off from ourselves as a hand or a foot or an eye, a father or mother who wishes us to do that which is contrary to piety, and a son or daughter who, as far as in them lies, would have us revolt from the church of Christ and the love of Him. But even if the wife of our bosom, or a friend who is kindred in soul, become stumbling- blocks to us, let us not spare them, but let us cut them out from ourselves, and cast them outside of our soul, as not being truly our kindred but enemies of our salvation; for “whoever does not hate his father, and mother,”25 and the others subjoined, when it is the fitting season to hate them as enemies and assailants, that he may be able to win Christ, this man is not worthy of the Son of God. And in respect of these we may say, that from a critical position any lame one, so to speak, is saved, when he has lost a foot—say a brother—and alone obtains the inheritance of the kingdom of God; and a maimed one is saved, when his father is not saved, but they perish, while he is separated from them, that he alone may obtain the benedictions. And so also any one is saved with one eye, who has cut out the eye of his own house, his wife, if she commit fornication, lest having two eyes he may go away into the hell of fire [Gehenna]. Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 9.489.

ORIGEN: We cannot take literally the passage in the Gospel in which the right eye is said to cause one to stumble. For even granting the possibility of sight making any one to stumble, why, when the two eyes see, should we put the blame on the right eye. Would any man when he condemns himself for looking on a woman to lust after her, put the blame on the right eye only, and cast it from him? The Philocalia of Origen.

CYPRIAN: Believe Him who will call down on them that do not believe, eternal punishments in the fires of Gehenna. . . . An ever-burning Gehenna will burn up the condemned, and a punishment devouring with living flames; nor will there be any source from there at any time that they may have either respite or end to their torments. Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering. Thus the man will be for ever seen by us who here gazed upon us for a season; and the short joy of those cruel eyes in the persecutions that they made for us will be compensated by a perpetual spectacle, according to the truth of Holy Scripture, which says, “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be for a vision to all flesh” . . . . The pain of punishment will then be without the fruit of penitence; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late they will believe in eternal punishment who would not believe in eternal life. The Treatises of Cyprian, 5.464-465.

TREATISE ON THE GLORY OF MARTYRDOM: A horrible place, of which the name is Gehenna, with an awful murmuring and groaning of souls bewailing, and with flames belching forth through the horrid darkness of thick night, is always breathing out the raging fires of a smoking furnace, while the confined mass of flames is restrained or relaxed for the various purposes of punishment. Then there are very many degrees of its violence, as it gathers into itself whatever tortures the consuming fire of the emitted heat can supply. Those by whom the voice of the Lord has been rejected, and His control contemned, it punishes with different dooms; and in proportion to the different degree of deserving of the forfeited salvation it applies its power, while a portion assigns its due distinction to crime. 5.585.

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