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reflecting mind. I will then finish this letter by requesting you to decide the question respecting future rewards before you proceed to my next communication.
My Dear Sir,
I have selected and arranged eight classes of passages which distinctly teach or plainly imply future punishishment. My limits will not permit me to give even a brief exposition of but one of the number. This I regret the less since my next communication will contain some other texts which inculcate the same doctrine. The question at issue is not to be decided by the number of times a future retribution is recognised in the scriptures. A few undoubted instances must be as satisfactory to every sincere believer as many hundreds. In my present article then I shall confine myself to that class of passages in which the greek word gehenna occurs. A few preliminary remarks seem necessary to illustrate the nature of my arguments.
In the first place, you probably know that gehenna is a word of exclusively hebrew origin. It is made up of two other words which signify when united the valley of Hinnom. This valley was originally a delightful spot. It was shady and well watered. It was situated on the
east of Jerusalem. At an early period the idolatrous Jews set up the brazen image of their god Moloch. To this deity they offered children in sacrifice. The name Tophet was afterwards given to the valley. This is also a hebrew word and signifies a drum, because the wicked priests beat drums to prevent the cries of the dying children from being heard. Josiah abolished this horrid practice. He caused the place to be polluted. All the filth of the city was deposited there, and a fire kept burning so that the air might not be rendered impure and unhealthy; worms also were generated in the offal, and hence arose the phrases of unquenchable fire, and undying worms.
So far there is no disagreement. Now the learned commentators of all denominations contend, that the name of this loathsome, and fiery, and wormy valley, was afterwards used as an emblem of the future punishment of the wicked. They contend that our Savior used gehenna to signify the torment which awaited the sinful in another existence. This opinion was generally received as true until one who is now a member of your body denied its correctness. He endeavored to show that no such change had taken place in the meaning of the word. He aimed to prove that gehenna must be taken in its literal sense, as a place of temporal punishment near Jerusalem. Unitarians considered the doctrine of future retribution firmly established- without a reference to this class of passages; they took little or no notice of the work, and
very of the denomination have perused it even to this day. Those who examined for themselves stated that the investigation of the subject was superficial, the reasoning inconclusive and many of the arguments irrelevant, and deemed it unworthy of any public notice. When I commenced my preparation for the present letters I did not think much space could be allotted to this part of
the discussion. On examination however I became convinced that your view of the word was altogether erroneous, and concluded to bring forward such evidence as seemed to settle this controversy beyond all doubt. The results of a thorough investigation will now be submitted to your candid consideration.
I. In the first place, I will state some of my reasons for rejecting your definition of the greek term gehenna. You know that this word was used eleven times by our Savior and once by the apostle James. All valuable commentators affirm that Jesus employed the word as an emblem of the spiritual punishment of the wicked both in this world and the next existence. This is the view I take of the subject and the one which I shall attempt to defend. You contend that gehenna was used to denote a place of literal punishment, in this world alone, out of the city of Jerusalem. Some of the arguments for rejecting your meaning of the word I will now mention.
1. I reject your definition of gehenna because it makes our blessed Savior utter nonsense and falsehood. Look at the several passages in which he employs the word. The following is the first instance. “Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment; but I
with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say thou fool, shall be in danger of the gehenna of fire.” Here you perceive that our Savior mentions three degrees of punishment, the judgment, the council, the gehenna. Now the question is simply this. Did our Savior mean literal and temporal punishment as you contend, or did he mean figurative and spiritual as I believe? He could not mean literal punishment. For
the Jews had no law for punishing a person for unreasonable anger; and I defy you or any other man to produce a single case in which such an offence was ever punished by the jewish tribunal called the judgment ; consequently no disciple was in any danger of a literal punishment by this court on account of anger. The Jews had no law for punishing a person for calling another raca; and I challenge you or any other individual to mention a single instance in which such a crime was ever punished by the jewish tribunal called the council; and consequently no hearer of our Savior was in the least danger of a literal punishment by this court for using such words. The Jews had no law for punishing a man for calling his brother fool; and I defy you to produce a single example in which they punished any breach of their laws by burning in the valley of Hinnom; and consequently no one of those our Savior addressed were in danger of being thus punished for any crime whatever. Now is it likely he was totally ignorant of the jurisprudence of his own nation? Is it not probable that his hearers would have ridiculed him to his face for manifesting such ignorance had they understood him to mean literal punishment.
Not only so. Your definition of gehenna makes our Savior contradict himself in the same sentence. He first avers that the Jews consider nothing to be murder but the outward act; and that this offence was condemned to no heavier penalty than what the judgment could inflict. Had he then declared that whoever cherished unreasonable anger would be exposed to the literal judgment, or literal council, or literal fire, would he not have contradicted his former assertion? But this is not all. You make our Savior threaten his hearers with punishments of which they were in no possible danger, and this must have been perfectly well understood by all present. Conse