The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Able to destroy body and soul

Matthew 10:28:
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

I would like some thoughts on this text please. Also do you see ‘soul’ different from ‘spirit’ and how? For those who believe Gehenna was simply that rubbish tip outside of Jerusalem, what do you make of this text?

All thoughts appreciated.

I see “soul” as speaking of the essence of who and what we are – our being. Men may kill the body, but cannot cause us to go out of existence. That power belongs only to God.


Love this. Jesus tells the disciples not to fear men, but God. Then he tells them not to fear God.

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

When my kids get scared at night, I ask them “What’s the biggest, scariest thing in this house?”. “You are, Dad.”
"That’s right. "

Jesus here echoes the words of Isaiah chapter 8:

" 12 Say ye not, A conspiracy, concerning all whereof this people shall say, A conspiracy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be in dread thereof.13 Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he shall be for a sanctuary;"

We were all enemies of Christ, all loathsome vessels of wrath whose very souls, whose “Sauls” were destroyed. This second death can come willingly through our humility, and then God is a Sanctuary, above. Or it can come unwillingly through our humiliation (as it did for Saul), and God is a Snare, as the passage in Isaiah continues:

“but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem”.

Simon came willingly to the Sanctuary, (though he too had his moments in hell). Saul was blinded, trapped in the Snare. But God who knows the very hairs on their heads will have His Peter and His Paul. Those souls that were vessels of wrath were destroyed, to create the vessels of mercy they were designed and created to be.

15 And many shall stumble thereon, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.

I don’t see any difficulty in understanding Jesus to be referring to the casting of a slain Israelite into Hinnom Valley by a Roman soldier during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Jesus is likely using the words “body” (soma) and “soul” (psuche) as he does in Mt. 6:25, with the former referring to a person’s outward, physical frame (which can be clothed and stripped naked) and the latter referring to a person’s natural life (which must be sustained by food and water). When killing the soma is contrasted with killing the psuche, the latter means to take a person’s life (cf. Mt 2:10), while the former means to inflict harm upon a person’s body without mortally wounding them. Understood in the larger context of Matthew 10:16-23, Jesus’ words “kill the body” probably refers to what the Jewish persecutors of the early Christian church were allowed to do (i.e., scourge people in the synagogues, without actually taking their lives - cf. John 18:31), while “kill the soul” refers to what those with the authority to execute a person could do.

The expression “destroy both soul and body” was evidently a proverbial saying or figure of speech expressing the visible destruction or wasting away of whatever is in view, whether it be a human being or a king’s forest (see Isaiah 10:18). So for a person to be destroyed “both soul and body” was to undergo the greatest visible destruction that a person could undergo in this world. And would those slain Israelites cast into Hinnom Valley have undergone such fearful, visible destruction? Undoubtedly; left unburied in this valley, they would have wasted away and been consumed by the fires that one would reasonably expect to have been lit by the Romans to deal with the inevitable stench of rotting corpses, while those not yet destroyed by the fires would have provided food for the maggots (or “undying worms”) until nothing resembling the slain individuals remained.

While countless Jews were slaughtered by the Roman army when the nation of Israel was overthrown, Christ’s faithful and watchful followers escaped this fearful calamity by heeding his words to flee the city of Jerusalem when God gave them the opportunity (Matt 24:15-20; cf. Luke 21:20-21). In this way, God protected the early Christians from being destroyed “both body and soul” when he brought judgment upon the corrupt nation of Israel through the instrumentality of the Roman army.

It may be objected that this interpretation of Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:4-5 demands that the word “kill” (apokteino) be understood in a limited sense. But such an objection is, I believe, invalid. It is evident that soma is being used in a limited sense in Matt 6:25, which is, notably, the only other verse where Christ distinguishes between soma and psuche. Now, if Christ was employing the word soma in Matt 6:25 to embrace every aspect of a person’s self from a physical, biological standpoint, then that which Christ says is sustained by food and drink (the psuche) in Matt 6:25 would necessarily be included in this general, inclusive meaning - for food and drink is necessary to keep our bodies (in the fullest sense of the word) alive. That is, soma, when used in a general sense, necessarily includes that aspect of us which Christ implies is sustained by food and drink, as well as that aspect of us which may be clothed or stripped naked. But because Christ distinguishes between the words soma and psuche by limiting soma to that which may be clothed and stripped naked, and excluding from the meaning of the word that aspect of us which is sustained by food and drink, soma must be understood in a limited sense. Thus, it is not so much apokteino (“kill”) that is to be understood as denoting less than its usual meaning, but soma. In this context, it refers to the outward frame of a person’s body (i.e., that which is clothed), not the body in its entirety.

Moreover, the very fact that soma and psuche are distinguished by Christ in Matt 10:28 (and by implication, in Luke 12:4-5, which is undoubtedly a parallel account) makes it an exception to how the words are used throughout Scripture. The only other place in the NT where psuche is distinguished from soma is in 1 Thess 5:23. But here, pnuema (“spirit”) is distinguished from both soma and psuche - a fact which renders problematic any argument that psuche, when distinguished from soma, denotes some aspect of man’s nature that continues to exist in a disembodied state after death. And Matthew 10:28 (and again, Luke 12:4-5 by implication) is also the only example in the NT where soma is spoken of as being able to be killed or destroyed apart from psuche (or life) necessarily being killed or destroyed as well. This, too, forces us to understand Christ’s use of psuche and apokteino in Matt 10:28 as being exceptions to how the terms are used throughout the NT.

The fact that there is only one other example in all of Scripture in which “body and soul” are spoken of as being “destroyed” (Isaiah 10:16-18), is reason enough for this example to be taken into consideration when seeking to interpret Matthew 10:28 and its parallel in Luke 12. And when we do that, it becomes clear that for body and soul to be “destroyed” is equivalent to what happens when “a sick man wastes away.” Thus, any objection to the word “kill” being understood in a limited sense in Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:4-5 on the grounds that it would be an exception to the rule overlooks the following facts: 1) that soma is clearly being used in a limited sense in Matthew just a few chapters back, 2) that Christ’s distinguishing between soma and psuche is itself an exception to how the words are used throughout Scripture, 3) that psuche is being used by Christ as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew nephash, which is often used in the OT to refer to any creature created with a capacity for respiration and sentient existence (Gen 1:20-21, 24-25; 2:7), or to the natural life/vitality of a living, breathing creature (Gen 1:20, 30; 19:17; 35:18; Ex 4:19; 21:23; Lev 17:11-14; 1Sam 22:23; Job 12:10; Esther 7:7; Prov 12:10; Jonah 4:3) and 4) that the only other example in Scripture where “body and soul” are said to be “destroyed” is in Isaiah 10:16-18, which provides no support for the traditional understanding of Matt 10:28.

The first question is WHO “is able to destroy body and soul in hell” Matt 10:28. I think it is talking about Satan. I always thought it was. It surprised me when I realized that most Christians think its talking about God and I have considered that but it doesn’t sit right…

I think the “hell” is here on earth where Satan has power to bring death to people’s souls (psyches) and bodies.
(WITH God’s authorization)

Soul is psuche from which we get the English word psyche. Think about what happens to people when they live in captivity to sin and/or when others sin against them. Satan destroys people’s psuche/psyche’s (and bodies) and puts them into “hell on earth” where they suffer, weep, gnash teeth (BTDT). A person has body, soul, and spirit (1 Thes 5:23; Heb 4:12). Satan has power to destroy body and soul, but not spirit.

I think hell is a present day reality on earth and Satan still has the same job description in this age.

The Pharisees had a debate concerning what would happen to the most wicked of people, annihilation or indefinitely long suffering in Gehenna. The Pharisees believed that when a person died, his soul went to either Ga Eden/Paradise/Abraham’s bosom or he went to Gehenna which was primarily a place of purification, though for the completely wicked they debated whether or not the person would continue to suffer their indefinitely long or be annihilated after 12 months of suffering. Mt.10.28 could allude to this, and Matthew does focus much of his Gospel on Jesus countering the teachings, attitudes, and practices of the Pharisees. So Jesus “could” be alluding to this debate and affirming that the most serious thing that God would consider doing as punishment for evil would be annihilation. But there is nothing in the literary context that indicates that Jesus is addressing this issue.

Of course, the Pharisees and Sadducees and the common people would have known that Gehenna was a place of judgment of Israel, where dead bodies were cast when Jerusalem was destroyed. So this could be an allusion to that also, but again, the literary context is not about that.

In its literary context, Jesus is warning the apostles that they will likely suffer terrible persecution, and encouraging them that they should not fear what man can do to them. Rather they should keep in mind two things. 1) God is ultimately the one that is in control of who lives and who dies. If they are going to “fear” anything, it is God that they should fear, not man. And 2) they should be filled with faith knowing that God loves and cares for them! To extrapolate this passage and make it say more than this is not warranted, imo. And to then take this passage and use it to “prove” or affirm “Hell” is misusing this scripture.

Hi Sonia
So do you think this text suggest annihilationism?

Hi Nottirbd
That’s an interesting post. Thank you. Can you clarify what you take ‘soul’ to mean then? Is it ‘personality’? ie that Saul was given a new personality? Or character? Or something else? But not one’s life-force?

Interesting post Aaron. Thank you.
One puzzling thing about your interpretation is that it does not take into account the change from plural (those who destroy the body) to singular (he who is able to destroy also the soul).
Doesn’t your interpretation refer (in both cases) to earthly men and wouldn’t two plurals be the more likely writing if the author had your idea in mind?

Hi Gem
It’s certainly a big difference - some thinking God, some Satan.

SO it means:
Do not fear people who (only) destroy the body but fear Satan who can put us in a ‘hell on earth’?

I’m not sure that people are incapable of putting others in a ‘hell on earth’. In which case, why shouldn’t we fear people as much as fear Satan?

Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood your post.

… because God can, not only kill us, but also destroy our souls in Gehenna?

So Gehenna is being used figuratively (ie as Hell) and God can destroy us in Hell?

It is interesting that further down in the same passage Jesus says:
Mat 10:39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

The word translated twice in that verse as “life” should actually be “soul.” It’s the exact same word as used above.


Not “figuratively” or “literally” but “hyperbolically”, as in over-statement. “God brought you into this world and He can certainly take you out.” Statements concerning punishment are often worse-case scenarios, even worse than reality scenarios, meant to drive the point home. Note how often Jesus is quoted warning of Gehenna in the context of the hyperbole of cutting off one’s hands or plucking out one’s eyes. Of course, cutting off one’s hands or plucking out one’s eyes is not meant to be taken literally, but understood as an overstatement, a hyperbole. So it makes sense to me that warning of destruction in Gehenna could, even should, be understood along the same lines, as hyperbole, overstatement, and with Gehenna possibly vaguely alluding to both the historical destruction of Jerusalem and/or the Pharisee’s use of Gehenna as a place of purification and destruction of the soul in the afterlife.

The passage isn’t meant to teach on Gehenna, but to encourage one to not fear man, but fear God who is the one who is really in charge of life and death. To assume a specific teaching on Gehenna from this passage is getting more from the passage than is warrant, imo.

  • And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. *

There are many killers here on earth who may threaten us with death. Often these people carry our their threats. Many early Christians were put to death by burning them at stake, or by throwing them to the lions, or subjecting them to gladiators. In the middle ages, even the religious leaders put many to death among those who disagreed with them.

When “the body” is killed, the person is gone, seemingly never to return again. But our Lord assures his listeners that these murdered persons are not gone forever! As stated three times in John 6, Christ will raise them up again at the last day. So their very essence, their “soul” is not permanently wiped out by death. They cannot “kill the soul”. The whole person will be raised to life on the last day.

*Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. *

It is important to recognize that some scriptures use “destroy” in a different way from that which the modern person thinks of it. We think of destruction as annihilation, or we think of it as smashing something in such a way that it is rendered useless. It’s original form has been altered. Sometimes “destroy” is used in the New Testament in the sense of refining something, so that the original form is altered to a purified form. Consider the following passage from I Peter 1:3-6 ESV and verse 7, in another translation:

*Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials… *

Verse 7
… in order that the proving of your faith, much more valuable than gold that is being destoyed through fire and being proved , may be found for praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for “destroyed” here is the same word as the one in Matthew 10:28. Some translations translated the word here as “perishes”.

Notice it is the proving of your faith which is much more valuable than the proving of gold. Peter speaks of “gold that is being destroyed through fire”. Now we know that gold is not annihilated or even destroyed in the sense of being rendered useless (such as a toy that is destroyed by smashing it). Rather the original form of the gold, the ore, is destroyed and the impurities removed so that after the refining process is complete, only the pure gold remains.
So it is with the proving of our faith through various trials. We are refined, impurities removed until we come forth as “pure gold”.

So fear God who is able to destroy a person’s original character in Gehenna, by refining that character, and thus altering it. Why should we fear God lest we are required to be so refined? Because it is a very painful process ---- much better that we should coöperate with the enabling grace of God for purification now, so that we won’t have to undergo that severe process. Even now, we may have to endure hardships which will help us to submit to present purification as the text indicates.

I always love your posts, Paidion…

Not necessarily. The “him” who “can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (Hinnom Valley)” could refer to the Roman General Titus, who laid siege to and destroyed the city and Temple of Jerusalem. It was Titus who had the authority and who gave the orders, so I think he may be a likely candidate. Of course, as was the case with Pilate (John 19:11), Titus couldn’t have had any authority over the Jewish people unless it had been given to him “from above.” But that was just as much the case for those Jews who were able to flog Jesus’ disciples in their synagogues (Mt. 10:17).

“Hi Nottirbd
That’s an interesting post. Thank you. Can you clarify what you take ‘soul’ to mean then? Is it ‘personality’? ie that Saul was given a new personality? Or character? Or something else? But not one’s life-force?”

I can’t say it any better than Paidion said it above. Sometimes something is so completely transformed that we can describe it’s prior form as “destroyed”. The formation of a chick destroys the white and yolk inside the egg. The fresh green shoot destroys the seed. We can look back at our own selves and say “I’m not the same person” even though our personality may be much the same.

I guess the simplest answer is “character”. Our sufferings destroy our weak fleshly character and produce a more godly character. Paul in Romans 5 describes this mechanism with which we are all painfully personally familiar:

"1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Hi Aaron
I’m not sure why Christ would be concerned to say “Don’t worry about those who just torture/inflict pain - worry about those who kill you” (my crude interpretation) after all, doesn’t your theology mean they get a short-cut to heaven? Neither am I convinced by the extra-ordinary use of terms required for your analysis despite your stunning defence. But thanks for your thoughts.
(You have probably missed my post in ‘Please help me thread’ because I was late replying - but I have written to you over there)

Personally, (Like Nottirbrd?) I find myself (not for the first time) most sympathetic to Paidon’s view.
Thanks to all. It’s obviously not an easy text to discern and I remain open to further thoughts.
Perhaps it’s the only text in the entire bible where some think the object is Satan and others God!

God bless

According to your view, weren’t Jewish believers who were alive when Jerusalem began to be surrounded by armies in 70 AD more likely to sooner enjoy post-mortem happiness than the unbelieving Jews who perished during the siege? And yet Jesus exhorted his faithful followers to depart from the city and flee to the mountains to save their lives rather than hang around and get slaughtered (Mt. 24:9-13, 15-18; cf. Lk. 21:19-22). Apparently, Jesus considered it worthwhile for his 1st century Jewish followers to do what was necessary to avoid being killed during this judgment upon the Jewish nation. For Jesus, perishing in this judgment was something for them to “worry about” (as you say) even though it was true that their next conscious experience after death would most likely (according to your view, I think) be an enjoyable one .

Yes - I agree with Paidion. We “fear” God (hold him in awe, respect him above all, tremble at his holiness and glory) but we don’t “fear” Him in the sense we believe him to be nefarious or malicious.

“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.”
So neither do we fear the second death. Though we suffer (as our Master did), we understand that perseverence brings (new, holy) character, and that character brings hope. Those who, as Paideon said, don’t cooperate with this process have much to fear (because they are so invested and attached to their flesh.)

“Thou shalt break them! Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron! Thou shalt dash them in pieces, like a potters vessel.”