Home » HELL: Looking at a Woman with Lust: A Ticket to Géenna?

HELL: Looking at a Woman with Lust: A Ticket to Géenna?

by Dr. Eitan Bar
7 minutes read

When you hear the word “hell”, what imagery springs to mind? Perhaps you envision an immensely dark realm (Matthew 22:13), dominated by a vast lake of searing fire (Matthew 8:12), where souls are being tortured eternally. At a glance, there’s a seeming contradiction in such descriptions: how can a place be both shrouded in darkness and ablaze with fire, given that fire naturally emits light? But then again, are we even supposed to take these descriptions literally? Did Jesus not tell us that he “speaks to us parables” (Matthew 13:10-13; John 16:25)? But that’s not the only challenge we are facing.

English translations frequently employ the term “Hell” as a replacement for three distinct Hebrew/Greek words: “Géenna,” “Sheol,” and “Hades.” However, it’s crucial to note that these words are not interchangeable synonyms, and each carries its unique connotations and meanings. Let’s see an example.


For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (Psalm 16:10, KJV)


And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (Revelation 20:14, KJV)


And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

Clearly, the English translations of these three concepts do not do justice to their original meanings.

Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna/Géenna)

The Greek word Géenna comes from the Hebrew “Gey Ben Hinom,” a place outside Jerusalem.

The Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) historically encircles Ancient Jerusalem from the west and southwest. During the late First Temple period, it served as the site of the Tophet, where some kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire (Jeremiah 7:31). Subsequently, the prophet Jeremiah cursed this valley (Jeremiah 19:2–6). The Book of Isaiah refers to it as the “burning place” (Isaiah 30:33).

Isaiah 66:24 describes Jews who will come to restore Jerusalem witnessing “the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” This portrayal of the aftermath of God’s judgment on Israel can easily be juxtaposed with Jeremiah’s account of the dead cast into the Valley of the Son of Hinnom during the Babylonian siege.

Josephus, the 1st-century historian, recounts that during the Roman siege of Jerusalem, bodies were hurled over the city walls into the surrounding valleys, as there was no space left for burials within the city (Jos. War 5.12.3).

Rabbi David Kimhi, in his commentary on Psalms 27:13 from around 1200 AD, noted that in this dreaded valley, fires were perpetually maintained to consume the waste and corpses deposited there. The Talmud also links the location with fire and smoke (Erovin 19).

In Mark 9:43-48, Gehenna is depicted as a place of “unquenchable fire,” “the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Matthew’s reference to the “Gehenna of fire” seems to be a condensed rendition of this combined imagery.

Clearly, to first-century Jews, Gehenna was a tangible location outside Jerusalem, infamous for its disgustingness, repulsiveness and revulsion. It was emblematic of fire, refuse, and death.

To be thrown into Géenna

Let’s examine Matthew 5:27-29 as a case study: What did Jesus really mean when he said that men looking at a woman with lust will end up in Géenna?

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, the master of parables, 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.1

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 that had to do with that place called Geena. 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 in our heads are uncontrollable, why would God create us this way, to begin with, and give us impossible standards? How is that fair? Or maybe the interpretation that suggests Jesus spoke of eternal punishment is all one big misunderstanding?

Let’s take a step back. We already established that the Greek word Gehenna (“hell”) comes from the Hebrew GEHINNOM, meaning “the Valley of Hinnom.” This was a valley outside 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 the 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.2

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,3 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 Géenna” (Matthew 18:9). If you were caught committing adultery, you would become an outcast of society and 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.4

On a national level, Jesus’s message was extreme: Unless you’d turn 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 Jerusalem, leaving the people of Israel to starve in shame in ruins.5

Imagine being a Jewish person in a legalistic 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. Not only was your relationship severed, but you became an outcast as well.

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 the people— a religious society. God, on the other hand, desires that even sinners will live with dignity, be rebuilt, and become self-sufficient.

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). She did indeed sin. But Jesus did not condemn her. The legalists did.

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. 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.

This article was a copy-paste from my book: “Lost in Translation: 15 Hebrew Words to Transform Your Christian Faith.Order Here.

  1. F. W. Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary (Hendrickson, 1987). p. 152.
  2. Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 161-162.
  3. Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:8-9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.
  4. N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperOne, 2008. Pg. 176.
  5. In year 70 AD, following a brutal five-month siege, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist