We have all heard that Jesus spoke more about Hell than anywhere else in the NT. I just want to provide a comparison between a quote by James about Gehenna and then compare his words to the words of Jesus Christ in his ministry, particularly the book of Matthew, where much of the preaching about Hell supposedly exists.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of Gehenna.
With regard to an interpretation of Gehenna, and it's intended meaning by Christ, I think James is giving us some pure GOLD here. He is using the fire of Gehenna as a metaphor for the destructiveness of sin. Fire erodes and destroys things. And, James is using that metaphor in connection to the body, how that a small part of the body, like the tongue, is a fire, and can create a larger forest fire.
After all, one moment you are gossiping about someone, and the next you could be plotting his murder. It can happen that way. Here are a few comparisons to Christ's ministry:
29And 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. 30And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, 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 Gehenna.
If I compare James 3:6 to Matthew 5:29-30, I find that they are saying the exact same thing, with slightly different words. Jesus is warning of DANGER, just like James did. Why is it profitable to cut out a body part (metaphorically)? According to James, "the tongue is a fire."
If a body part is on fire, what do you do? You cut it off before the fire spreads. Then, you throw it out into Gehenna Valley (metaphorically) to burn away until it's gone, then you enter life blind to sin.
This is much more profitable than if the tongue fire spreads to the whole body, and you find your whole body alflame in sin, from your feet to your hands and so forth. It's better to stop the offending limb from guiding you into a bigger problem with sin.
22But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry 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 Gehenna fire.
Is Jesus threatening people with eternal Hellfire for simply saying "thou fool?" Of course not. In Matthew 23:17, he calls the Pharisees "blind fools!" Is Jesus putting himself in danger of God throwing him into Hell? No.
But, if we go back to James 3:6, Jesus is warning about how their own tongues can lead to a greater fire and is set on fire of Gehenna. He is warning them about what their own sinful desires can lead to if they start with "you fool!" Jesus had no sin, so when he refers to them as "blind fools" (Gk moros - or morons), he was in no danger because he was saying it from a perspective of truth and love, not hate, and so his tongue could never lead him into sin.
The danger is not that God will throw them into a pit of literal fire for saying one word. They are a danger to themselves.
33 (to the Pharisees) Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation (Gk - judgment) of Gehenna?
I used to always think that this meant that the Pharisees were destined to go to hell after they died. And certainly, I believe the judgment of Gehenna is reserved for a future time also, where God will use this concept to judge some people. In Romans 1 it talks about how the wrath of God was expressed through turning people over to their own wickedness "to receive in themselves the due recompense for their error."
But I believe that the Pharisees were also currently in a state of judgment too. The Pharisees STARTED to persecute Jesus by spreading doubt about the source of his power. Then…they plotted to kill him. Their tongues led them into more sin, full bodied fire of Gehenna, where they engaged not just their tongues, but everything else to make sure he was dead. I think about how Jesus said that those who do not believe are "judged already" because they have not believed.
If belief leads to the Promise of Abraham, the Spirit, then the Spirit can break the bond of sin causing the Pharisees to do what they did. Without believing in Christ, they have no knowledge of him, and how can they escape the the judgment of Gehenna, not only that they will experience, but that they were experiencing at that very moment?