Home » Looking at a Woman with Lust: A Ticket to Hell (Géenna)?

Looking at a Woman with Lust: A Ticket to Hell (Géenna)?

by Dr. Eitan Bar
7 minutes read

Men looking at a woman with lust will cause them to be thrown into hell? What was it that Jesus meant?

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into Géenna [hell]. (Matthew 5:27-29)

First, it’s hard to imagine that Jesus, who only a few verses earlier said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish Law or the Prophets” (5:17), would contradict both himself and Moses in saying something like: “Forget what the Law said! From now on, if you are about to lust, take a knife and cut your eye out, or else you will spend eternity in hell!” Clearly, Jesus was not telling people to literally dismember their bodies, or else we would all be blind. Besides, blind men can still “lust in their hearts.” Obviously, Jesus had to be speaking figuratively.

In his commentary on Matthew, Theologian Francis Wright Beare points to the challenges in giving a literal interpretation to these words of Jesus:

If this [Mt. 5:29-30] is to be taken as a ‘demand’ of Jesus, then it must be said that he is demanding the impossible, for it is the universal experience that the sexual impulses are uncontrollable.[i]

So, what could Jesus have meant? First, remember Jesus wasn’t talking to one person in particular. His audience was the Jews, the people of Israel. He was warning them of something. But of what?


When Jesus was teaching about adultery, he said that it’s better to lose one body part, like your eye, than to have your entire body end up in “Gehenna” (Matthew 5:27-29). Was Jesus truly saying that if you were turned on sexually by looking at another person and fantasizing about them, even momentarily, you’d end up in hell forever? Was Jesus teaching us to literally dismember body parts, like our eyes, to ensure our salvation? If so, doesn’t Jesus know that we don’t need eyes to imagine and fantasize? Also, since it is the universal experience that sexual impulses are uncontrollable, why would God create us this way to begin with and give us impossible standards? How is that fair? Or maybe this interpretation is all one big misunderstanding?

First, let’s take a step back. The Greek word géenna (“hell”) comes from the Hebrew GEHINNOM, meaning “the Valley of Hinnom.” This was a valley south of Jerusalem used as a dump. As with all city dumps, the poor, including lepers, often scavenged through the garbage. To eliminate waste and refuse, it was burned. Therefore, in the “valley of hell,” there were always flames of fire somewhere. Gehenna-hell was a real place full of disgusting waste burned in fire, not a spiritual place across the heavens:

The term conveyed a sense of total horror and disgust…Gehenna was a place of undying worm and irresistible fire, an abhorrent place where crawling maggots and smoldering heat raced each other to consume the putrefying fare served them each day.[ii]

If you had to scavenge in Gehenna, in hell, it meant you got to the lowest point in your life. A place of great shame.

When New Testament texts using gehenna are considered,[1] things become even more apparent. Jesus symbolically uses géenna-hell (Valley of Hinnom) to teach about great shame. It is what people who lived or scavenged through the valley felt. Constant shame and embarrassment. This is why living with one eye is better “than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:9). If you were caught in adultery, you would find yourself living in shame in a dumpster. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright explains:

When Jesus was warning his hearers about Gehenna, he was not, as a general rule, telling them that unless they repented in this life, they would burn in the next one. As with God’s kingdom, so with its opposite: it is on earth that things matter, not somewhere else. [iii]

On a national level, Jesus’s message was extreme: Unless you’d turned back from your wicked ways, you would find yourselves scavenging in the smoldering rubbish heap. When Jesus warned Israel, he was warning them of something very real. This is exactly what happened to Israel when Rome later destroyed it, leaving the people of Israel to starve in shame in ruins.[2]

Imagine being a Jewish person in a society that would not tolerate any form of sexual immorality and would show no grace or forgiveness for any of it. Instead, they would take everything away from you, leaving you to scavenge for leftovers in the trash thrown into the Valley of Hinnom. In that religious society, being caught in adultery meant being ostracized and literally “thrown to hell.”

This is why living with one eye is better “than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:9). If you were caught in adultery, you would find yourself living in constant shame in the city dump; hell.

And this is also why lusting in your mind could lead to hell, because your thoughts turn to actions, and some actions, especially in an unforgiving religious society, can result in that graceless society taking everything from you, throwing you to rot in hell.

For this reason, being able to control your thoughts is so crucial. But there is an even more important lesson here. It is not God who caused people to end up in the Valley of Hinnom; it was people— a religious society. God, on the other hand, desires for sinners to live with dignity, be rebuilt, and become self-sufficient. It is Satan who is the prince of shame, and shame is an emotional acid inside your heart, gradually burning your soul.

When God witnesses people committing adultery, he does not seek to shame or abandon them. He is not interested in casting them into hell. How do I know? Because when religious people brought a woman caught in adultery before Christ, Jesus did the very opposite of what the religious leaders hoped for. He forgave her: “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11).

Religious individuals may eagerly condemn to hell, but Jesus, rather than judging, showed grace. He understood that love is a far more powerful catalyst for the regeneration of the human heart and conscience than the punishment of hell.

Other possible interpretations are available.[3] But whatever Jesus meant, clearly, he did not teach salvation by self-torture. Christ was also not teaching Israel about eternal destruction and separation from God just for looking at a woman with lust. Paul the apostle, the master of theology, not once used the word géenna in reference to eternal separation from God.

Unfortunately, because of this misinterpretation of what Jesus said, sexuality became the worst sin for many in Christianity. The proof is evident. For example, the Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs, is a book in the Hebrew Bible that contains a collection of erotic love poetry. The book celebrates the beauty and joy of mutual love and sexuality in a romantic relationship. However, due to discomfort and embarrassment, many in both Judaism and Christianity have offered various allegorical interpretations to avoid its sexual meaning.

Another example is that many Christians have no problem watching movies on television with scenes of violence, murder, abuse, theft, etc. However, they freak out when there’s a scene with nudity and quickly switch channels or turn off the television. It sometimes feels as if in Christianity, theft, embezzlement, or murder are not considered as bad as sexual immorality, even if it’s consensual between two adults, like two college students. This overreaction is, of course, a result of the “purity culture.”

The damage caused by the purity culture is significant. Let me give you one example. Consider the irony: On the one hand, the church fights against abortion with all its power. But on the other hand, what happens in most cases where a young Christian woman gets pregnant outside of marriage? Christians judge her, everyone gossips, and she gets treated like a dangerous criminal, often being socially excommunicated. As one survey showed, “Many women believe church members are more likely to gossip about a woman considering an abortion than to help her understand her options.”[iv] So what do these girls end up doing instead? They secretly abort their babies. The result of the church’s judgmental and legalistic approach to sexuality ends up promoting the very thing it tries to fight against. That is why “7 in 10 women who have had an abortion identify as a Christian.”[v] Please don’t get me wrong, I do believe there is a place where people will spend eternity away from God (Hitler needs to continue somewhere…), and it will be people who consciously choose to be there. In that sense, we can say that hell is the absence of God. But I don’t believe “Géenna” is the word the Bible uses to refer to that place of eternal separation from God, nor do I believe it makes sense for God to burn two college students forever in hell just for having sex.

This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
free sample is available here.

[1] Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:8-9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.

[2] In year 70 AD, following a brutal five-month siege, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

[3] For example: Joseph C. Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings, chapters 56-59.

[i] F. W. Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary (Hendrickson, 1987). p. 152.

[ii] Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 161-162.

[iii] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperOne, 2008. Pg. 176.

[iv] https://www.focusonthefamily.com/pro-life/abortion/survey-women-go-silently-from-church-to-abortion-clinic

[v] https://research.lifeway.com/2021/12/03/7-in-10-women-who-have-had-an-abortion-identify-as-a-christian

You may also like:

Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist