The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Beware the One Who Can Throw You Into Hell

Sharing here a post from my blog today:

Whenever you get into a discussion about hell Luke 12 will eventually get cited:

Who is this one whom we must fear because he, she or it “has authority to throw you into hell”?

Most people think this is a reference to God. Fear God because God can throw you into hell.

But might this be a reference to someone other than God?

That is N.T. Wright’s argument in Jesus and the Victory of God where Wright argues that this is a reference to Satan rather than God (pp. 454-455):

Good one Richard. Makes a lot of sense :slight_smile:

How could I have missed that? :confused: It’s so obvious, once you see it.

In CONTEXT, Jesus is specifically warning about the “leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocricy” 12:1. And the threat is not being cast into “Hell” but into “Hinnom Valley” which calls to the mind of the Jew the destruction of Jerusalem because of the gross sin of the people of Israel, sacrificing their children in the fires of their idol, Molech. The passage is meant to be a warning concerning hypocricy. “IF” the Pharisees used Hinnom Valley as a metaphor of non-specific punishment of sin in the afterlife, then Jesus is taking their power metaphor used to condemn and instill fear in the people and turning it around and using it on the Pharisees. “IF” Jesus is referencing the destruction of Jerusalem then He’s saying, get rid of hypocricy, respond to the love of God and truly repent; if not then such hypocricy leads to the destruction of all you love. “IF” Hinnom Valley was a trash dump, then Jesus is warning of sin and hypocricy that can lead to a person leading a worthless, good-for-nothing life, a trashed life! And “IF” He is referencing their sin bringing them to a place of sacrificing their children to their idol Molech, then Jesus is warning them of how sin will take you much further than you ever wanted to go, bringing you to a place where you’ll sacrifice your own children to the idols in your heart!

Like Real Estate’s mantra, “Location! Location! Location!”
Hermeneutic’s mantra is “Context! Context! Context!”

Frankly, I think Jesus’ warning concerning being metaphorically cast into Hinnom Valley meant all of that - a trashed life, so consumed by evil you’ll sacrifice all that you love to the idols of your heart, destruction of all that you love, and even potentially punishment of sin in the life to come (age-to-come chastisement from God). Hypocricy has the power to destroy your soul! So repent because God loves you and wants much better for you!

Both scenarios fit well together in Jerusalem’s Ad70 conflagrations at the hands of Rome, where due to the shortage of a necessary cross many a rebel was simply cast headlong into the valley below, to rot… hence Jesus’ reference elsewhere to “worms” i.e., maggots. Also keep in mind the not dissimilar historical reference following in Lk 13:3-5.

I keep missing it because I keep seeing authority to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.

I’m pretty sure Satan doesn’t have that authority, even on NT Wright’s theology, regardless of whether the body has been killed yet or not. Which of course doesn’t or didn’t at the time stop NTW from arguing this refers to Satan anyway. :unamused: But I’m reasonably sure I recall that he doesn’t account for annihilation being a result of Satan’s authority, and he certainly means annihilation by destruction of the soul in Gehenna.

Notably, despite being famous as a preterist, he regards this threat as being more than bodies being thrown in a pit of Hinnom Valley after the fall of Jerusalem. That’s because the details undermine a fully preteristic interpretation, too. Who is it we should fear who has authority not only to kill the body (but cannot do anything further to the person after the body is killed), but after the body is killed cast the soul into Gehenna? – and obviously the soul is being talked about here because there has to be something a person would fear being done to them after the body has been killed, contrasted to not being afraid of those who cannot do more after killing the body.

Matthew’s version (probably topically compiled from this incident into his scene of Jesus sending out the twelve on evangelical mission, although Jesus may have also just repeated His teaching two different times) at GosMatt 10:28 makes the reference to the soul explicit. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

Now, I can put those together with contexts and conclude that Jesus isn’t talking about an actually hopeless punishment (if God cares so much for mere flowers which are here today and tomorrow are thrown into the furnace, how much more so does He care for you, you of little faith!)

But the question of who should be feared has to be answered by who fits the criteria: he has authority to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna, not only the mere capability of killing the body and then after that can do nothing to the person (whatever else he might do to the body). That isn’t Satan, much less Titus or Vespasian. Nor do the Pharisees have authority to do any of that.

And whatever Gehenna means, it has to refer to a condition where this person who has authority can destroy both soul and body (whatever destroy means here), not only do something else to the body after killing the body. Satan does not have authority (or even the mere power!) to destroy the soul as well as the body, much less Pharisees or Romans; and Romans only killed the bodies at the fall of Jerusalem anyway.

yes, i totally have to agree with the above, and i have to note in good conscience that this is not an “easy” verse for Universalism.

i don’t even believe in an ontological entity called satan, so in my belief “he” definitely wouldn’t have power or authority to do this, and i really don’t think even the classic image of Satan i was taught about would have this authority…he is a “toothless” lion, and the keys to death and hell were nicked by our Lord, Sir Jesus Christ (sorry, that’s a Little Britain reference nobody will get, but just to lighten the mood for me i selfishly include it :sunglasses: )

Sherman’s idea of it meaning shame and destruction of all you loved (which would be one thing worse than simple death) has merit, so maybe there’s a way to unpack that a little.

Maybe also the key is to unpack “destroy” or “throw into Gehenna”…are these words accurately translated? i know that the ancient Hebrew concept of destruction = giving over to the Lord, which was “assumed” to mean destruction (but really wouldn’t, cause it’s God we’re talking about, who destroys and resurrects, who is angry for a bit, but favourable for life, and who DOES NOT CAST ASIDE TO THE AGE). So destroy and the rather hopeless use of “throw into Gehenna” would need to not contradict all that.

i also like Sherman’s idea of switching the victims of power metaphors.

I really think that the point of this passage is that sin (particularly hypocricy) will destroy your soul! Sin has the power (exousia) to go far beyond killing your body, it has the power to destroy your soul!

I think it would be better translated:
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear that which only kills the body, but beyond that can do nothing more. 5 But I warn you what to fear: fear that which beyond killing you has the power to cast into you into Hinnom Valley. Yes, I tell you, fear that!

The words translated personally can be just as well translated impersonal. It is sin, especially hypocricy, that destroys our soul! This was a message to the children of God, to his followers, warning them of the leaven of the Pharisees. Misinterpreting this passage to warn of going to “Hell” actully castrates, neuters this passage of it’s power to bring life. Believers say to themselves, “Hey, no worries for me. I’m good to go. I’m saved.” And unbelievers don’t care what it says. Jesus was warning His followers and those listening to Him to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees - hypocricy.

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There are several dozen occurrences of that term in the NT, and looking over them for a few minutes the only ones I can find that might arguably be referring to impersonal power are none of them. :wink: (Verrrry disputably as part of that group of spiritual opposition to Christ which Paul occasionally mentions, but even then the analogy would be from human authorities, and Paul sometimes treats the group as being personal powers in rebellion to and even reconciling to Christ, becoming “the head of every {exousia}” for example.) The term is even used for authority given to the apostles in the Matt 10 scene which contains the Matthean parallel of this saying.

So unless this is supposed to be the one and only example otherwise in the NT, or one of a super-minority example, I’m inclined to go with the majority meaning which is evidenced everywhere else. Unless there are strong contextual reasons to think otherwise.

Unless a personal ability reference like {exousia} is used. Which it is.

For what it’s worth, the Matt 10 version uses a generic term for capability there which could be impersonal. Also for what it’s worth, the pronouns could indeed be translated impersonally in either Gospel.

(Also, if you’re going to translated it impersonally, don’t forget the plural, found in both Matt and Luke versions: “Do not fear those things which only kill the body, but beyond that can do noting more.”)

The local preceding context doesn’t seem to bear out the threat being from an impersonal power however in either place. In Matt 10, Christ just got finished encouraging the apostles not to fear persecution and death from personal authorities: if they call the master Beelzeboul, how much rather those of his household, etc.! (Notably the Pharisees had done just that in the incident of the sin against the Holy Spirit, which I grant was certainly a case of their flagrant hypocrisy.) Christ follows up with a warning that He will (personally) disavow those in front of the Father who disavow Him before people. Warnings of personal distress from family persecution are included before end of that address and that chapter.

So the context of Matt 10 before and after verse 28 are repeatedly and strongly warning that those persons who can kill the body are going to do so, but keep on going and don’t fear them. I grant it’s likely Matthew ported the saying of warning and consolation from the Luke 12 address (which is a different scene) back here for topical convenience, but he dropped it into a context of personal threat to the body and encouragement not to fear those people who can harm the body but that’s all.

I’ll also grant that Luke (in my harmonization judgment) has a tendency to cluster teaching portions out of chronological order, and that this was most likely part of the teaching on the road during the final approach from Jericho to Jerusalem before Passover (which Luke spreads out as a central saying source throughout the central portion of his Gospel), whereas the dinner with the Pharisees back in chapter 11 most likely happened much earlier, maybe even more than a year earlier. But Luke has at least put them in close proximity for topical purposes, and while again I’ll grant that Luke has almost certainly spiced up the dispute with the lawyers and Pharisees at that dinner with sayings from the Greater Condemnation denouncement vs the Pharisees at the Temple on Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week (a scene he doesn’t otherwise include in his Gospel, so this is as good a place as any to thematically include them) nevertheless the point is that Jesus has thrown down hard against the Pharisees just recently in the narrative and so (11:53) the scribes and the Pharisees are beginning to hem Him in dreadfully and to be quizzing Him concerning more things, ambushing Him, seeking to pounce on something out of His mouth in order to accuse Him. And that’s personal persecution with intent to get the crowds in favor of killing Him.

That’s the context of the “leaven (sin) of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy”: personal persecution by religious authorities to the death. Be not afraid of the ones, therefore, that are killing the body and after this do not have anything more excessive they can do; be afraid of the one that after killing has authority to be casting into Gehenna.

Local context afterward includes a judgment warning (just like in GosMatt) that those who disavow Christ, which (like GosMatt) uses a term involving personal renunciation of Christ to other persons (disavowed before men, or avowed before men), shall be disavowed by Christ before the Father (or avowed).

(Also there’s another callback to the sin of hypocrisy of the Pharisees at the incident of the sin against the Holy Spirit, which Luke provides direct reference to here 12:10. He hadn’t included that point when relating the incident earlier, unlike Mark and Matt.)

What follows and ends this pericope? A warning that the disciples will be persecuted by human authorities, but encouragement that the Holy Spirit will help them defend themselves.

So again, in somewhat similar and somewhat different ways (including thematic connection to prominent Pharisee hypocrisy scenes in GosMatt which GosLuke happens not to otherwise report), the situational context locally before and after Luke 12:4-5, involves persecution by personal authorities. For whatever reason, he’s placed it into a context of personal threat to the body and encouragement not to fear those people who can harm the body but that’s all.

Possibly Jesus had in mind Isaiah 8:12-13, where YHWH is encouraging people not to fear the coming Assyrian punishment, even though it was going to result in death, but to fear and dread YHWH the holy ADNY of armies (Who was the one authoritatively sending the evildoers to destroy both houses of Israel). I don’t know of a verbal connection to those verses here, but thematically they not only fit the notion of fearing God instead of human persecutors, even if they persecute you to death, but also could be a preteristic connection if someone wanted to tease that out I guess. :slight_smile:

I should think neutering this passage of its power to encourage people to stand up for Christ against those who might kill you for doing so, since Christ will judge against you if you betray Him, reduces its power significantly; and more to the point, ignores many of the surrounding contexts. It’s explicitly a warning to people currently following Christ, and there are ways to ignore the surrounding contexts which would admittedly lead people already Christian to never mind about it. But I’m against those interpretations, too, for exactly the same reasons as above.

And I do agree that sin, especially hypocrisy, destroys our soul – and often our body, too! (Even though sin doesn’t have any real {exousia} to do so. :wink: ) I certainly don’t mean to deny that, even if I don’t think the immediate grammar and local contexts (fore and aft, on either Gospel account of this saying) add up to that.

Got to agree with James and Jason, here. No way is this a reference to ‘Satan’ (whoever ‘he’ may be - and I’m with James that ‘he’ is not an ontological entity).

Even if you believe Satan is indeed a ‘person’, since when did he have the authority - or even the ability - to “destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28, the synoptic parallel of Luke 12:5)?

And the context is pretty straightforward also - don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows etc.

Sorry, Richard, but this doesn’t fly at all for me.

Hi Jason, I tend not to “harmonize” the Gospels and instead seek to understand each passage based on it’s particular context. I was only looking at the context of Luke, and in Luke Jesus is warning of the leaven of the Pharisees, hypocricy. As you noted, Matthew is significantly different. I don’t see a need for similar passages to say the same thing. Matthew’s and Luke’s audience, passions, and style are very different from one another.

I understand what you’re saying about exousia. And you are correct that it is used to speak of authority/power and usually, if not always, personal. Sin/hypocricy being personified is not an issue to me though. Jesus/Luke is talking about the leaven of the Pharisees, hypocricy and how destructive it is. And Jesus immediately then highlighting the goodness of God fits well too, for it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance.

As you note though, He could be warning them to not fear the Pharisees who can only kill their body but cannot cast them into Hinnom Valley. Hmm, I see what you’re saying more clearly. I’ll have to reconsider the passage further.

Be very, very afraid of God, says Jesus, but don’t be afraid. :confused: This makes no sense.

How about this? Jesus was saying, “Repent, or you too will perish.” Rome had the authority not only to kill the individual, but to obliterate Israel (and fill Gehenna with corpses.) In this, the Romans would be acting as God’s agent. However, those who did repent had nothing to fear from God.

Of course, from the point of view of Israel, Rome would be the very devil.

How bout this paraphrase:

“Fear the one who loves you so much that he will throw you into Hell to save you from yourself.”


As I see it, he’s telling them not to fear men, who can do no permanent harm. The one to fear is God – yet we should not be afraid, knowing He loves us.


Wow…that is excellent. Nicely and concisely put! Why mention the sparrows after if He is trying to make us fear God in the negative way.

Again yes… thus “the satan” as NTW has it would equate with Rome, as Rome was the great power ‘opposing’ the people of God.

To have one’s very “soul” cast to Gehenna, as per Matt 10, for the Jew would be to plunge the very depths of shame, condemnation and contempt. This threat to the soul was poignant, to the very core of their covenant identity, as only the most vile of criminals by the hand of Rome were faced with this most shameful of ends.

Peter echoes Jesus’ saying.

“Cast all your anxiety on him… Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

Again, the enemy could be Rome: a great persecuting power, hungry for conquest.


When I commented on them, I acknowledged that the saying takes place at entirely different scenes, and examined the particular contexts of each scene in detail, showing both their similarities and differences.

The similarities, are that both scenes are talking about encouraging Christians to keep the faith under pressure from other people especially human authorities, since Christ will authoritatively disavow those who formally disavow Him to spare themselves the trial.

The differences, are that each scene presents those similarities in somewhat different ways, as well as presenting those similarities in exactly similar ways. :wink:

Nor me either in principle; but I see plenty of reason, in the surrounding local contexts of each occurrence of the saying, to be comparing personal authorities who are actually personal not mere personifications. The opponents of Christ are all personal, and in their own limited ways personally authoritative, in judging those who avow and disavow Christ; Christ and the Father are personal in authoritatively judging those who avow and disavow Christ. The opponents of Christ may have authority and capability to kill the body but nothing more; the Son and the Father certainly have authority and capability to do more than kill the body (regardless of whether They use that authority or to what extent They use it).

I see absolutely no reason, from the context, to introduce sin as a personalization having metaphorical authority to do what two personal authorities in the context of both sayings certainly have the authority and power to do (the Son and the Father), in judgment against a person, which judgment the context of both sayings indisputably mentions (disavowing those who disavow Christ to spare themselves from trial by human authorities).

An argument would have to be made from extended context somehow trumping the local surrounding context, and/or from theological principle (for example God has no power or authority to destroy the soul as well as the body, nor to send a person to Gehenna whatever that means.)

An argument from theological principle (metaphysics) and/or from extended context, that God won’t hopelessly destroy the soul in Gehenna (purga-u), or maybe won’t destroy the soul even a little in Gehenna (ultra-u), despite maybe disavowing those who disavow Christ to avoid trial, would not be an argument that we shouldn’t in principle fear God more than human authorities, if it comes to a question of acting or not acting from fear. More positively, our respect for God should be greater than our respect for creaturely authorities opposing God.

Yep, that’s super-important, too, because it clarifies that even if God must judge against someone authoritatively He doesn’t do so hatefully or hopelessly. :slight_smile: Nor can someone get around that reassurance about God’s intentions, by foisting the hopeless off on the Father, from Whom we are protected by the Son (somehow): because the Son Himself on one hand says He joins the Father in the judgment (so no division in intention there), and on the other hand says Himself that the Father (not merely the Son) values people more than flowers which are thrown into the firey furnace.

Still, I don’t want to deny that sin destroys one’s soul as well as body in various ways and to various degrees, no more than I would deny that Satan destroys one’s soul as well s body in various ways and to various degrees. I just deny that either one has authority (or even the capability) to send someone to Gehenna, or to destroy either body or soul in Gehenna. That puts Satan and/or sin in authoritative charge of Gehenna! That couldn’t possibly be good theology.

Even NT Wright knows better than that (elsewhere. :wink: )

Yes for the main part when it came to historic Israel of the day this was true, and yet when it comes closer to home “the adversary” of the Ad30-70 firstfruits church was the religious elite i.e., the Pharisees and Sadducees AND in particular the Judaisers Gal 2:4; Acts 15:1, 5, 24] – those believers who were falling back to law-righteousness, in many cases abandoning the faith and so shipwrecking the faith of others in the process, as per the likes of Hymenaeus, Philetus and Alexander 1Tim 1:19-20; 2Tim 2:17-18.

Paul tackles this problem of ‘reversion’ head-on, as in… Gal 3:1-3; 5:1-4; Col 2:20-23 et al.

Well said Sonia! As I’ve thought on this passage more, especially considering 1) the points Jason made about exousia/authority, and 2) that cast into Hinnom Valley speaks of God’s ultimate judgment of Israel/Jerusalem destruction by the Babylonians in the past and Romans to come, it seems that Jesus is encouraging His audience to realize that God is the only One we need to fear; and yet we should have faith in Him because He loves us. Being cast into Hinnom Valley was the most graphic, emotional, painful personal and corporaate Judgment God had ever inflicted upon the Jews, forever scaring their collective racial memories. It was judgment rooted in the love of God for His people; though terribly painful it was necessary to bring about God’s good plans for them.

And in the context of hypocricy this makes sense too, because hypocricy is rooted in the fear of man! We pretend to be something we are not to gain or maintain the approval of others! Such hypocricy was the “leaven of the Pharisees”.

As I think on Hinnom Valley being a scar on the racial memories of the Jews, it would be similar to the more recent scar of Auschwitz on the racial memories of the Jews today, except being cast into Hinnom Valley was understood to be the Judgment of God because of the sin of the people as is portrayed by the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah. I don’t think that Auschwitz carries that same connotation. Jesus used the most graphic example of God’s Judgment of His beloved, Israel, to call the people to repentance and freedom in God, freedom from the fear of man, which is the root of hypocricy, the leaven of the Pharisees!