The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is Matthew 10:28 a problem for UR?

I was at my church house group last night. Out of the 9 people there, only myself and one other were at church the day before. The leader asked what the teaching at church had been about…what a great opportunity. :smiley: You see… on Sunday, the leader who gave the lesson finally broached the subject of UR. Several months ago, in another thread, I mentioned how I’d found a local church where two thirds of the leaders believed in UR but it hadn’t been disclosed to the congregation, as the timing had to be right, and preparatory ground work laid before hand. Well, finally that day arrived on Sunday. The leader was not too dogmatic, but explained how it is possible to have differences of understanding on this subject and still remain united. Anyway…I brought everyone up to speed with what was discussed and hence myself and my daughter boldly exclaimed how we agreed with this leader, and hence a heated exchange on ‘hell’ at the end of the meeting last night. Something one of the brothers said has been playing on my mind during the night. I woke several times with this verse on my mind:

‘‘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 (Gehenna).’’ Matt 10:28.

My daughter had explained to them that Jesus’ words regarding ‘hell’ or rather Gehenna were regarding judgmental language of the destruction that would come upon them literally in 70 AD. Some of them would literally be thrown into the local rubbish dump to be burned. I also mentioned how Jesus likens the coming judgment etc, to Sodom and Gomarrah, and how that was temporal and involved real fire. We then spoke about God being ‘Fire’ and so ‘fire’ can also symbolise God’s purifying power. He destroys the bad to create the new e.g Saul had an encounter with the ‘fire’ and was ‘killed’ and Paul was created in his place.

Anyway, the brother mentioned Matt 10:28 but in all the exuberance of people trying to get their word in, it wasn’t addressed, but I realised what he was getting at: if Jesus is merely talking of a literal punishment like that of 70AD, why does He contrast killing the body and destroying the ‘soul’ in Gehenna? This makes no sense if we are merely talking of killing someone physically as a punishment, like in the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus seems to be using the imagery of Gehenna in a similar way to how He used ‘hades’ with the Lazarus parable: this is more than physical destruction.

So, your thoughts on this would be most helpful as I will no doubt be discussing this with my friend next time. :wink:

In studying the verses where Jesus talks about people being thrown into Gehenna, are we agreed that the ‘Lake of Fire’ which is the second death is the same as Gehenna? I think it is, because of where Jesus says in Matt 25:41: ‘‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’’ We know that fire to be the ‘Lake of Fire’ as explained in Rev 20:10 ‘‘And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.’’

So every time Jesus warns about the judgment of Gehenna, He is referring to the Lake of Fire which is the second death.

Another point I’m always confused about, is why Jesus describes Hades (where the dead go) as being a place of flames? Why didn’t He use ‘gehenna’ here too? Very peculiar… :confused:

Oh, good, a reminder of some discussion I haven’t posted yet in my ExCom notes! :mrgreen: :ugeek:

Now rectified.

The tl;dr version: Yes, God is the one in authority being talked about in contrast to lesser authorities; yes, the punishment must be more than only killing the body (like at Jerusalem) even though {psuche} / nephesh usually refers to natural life not to the spirit (but the terms are often interchangeable in scriptural usage); no, the destruction isn’t necessarily hopeless, that depends on God’s intentions, and God values people more than trash to be burned which is why we shouldn’t fear God after all.

The distinction removes an apparent contradiction: definitely fear God and God’s punishment, more than what anyone less than God can (only) do to you; but don’t fear God because He doesn’t punish people hopelessly and has good intentions toward us.

Thanks Jason. Just read your post. I have always understood Jesus to be referring to God (and Himself i.e ‘‘depart from me into the fire…’’) as the one to fear, so we are in agreement with that. :slight_smile:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (NKJV)
The word translated as “is able” (or “can” in the translation you quoted) signifies “having the power to.”
Also the word translated as “soul” means “self” in the New Testament. Unfortunately we think of “soul” in terms of Greek thought, as the conscious part of us that can exist apart from the body. Also the word translated as “kill” can mean “destroy”.

I see the verse in this way. Human beings can kill someone, but this doesn’t destroy the person himself (the “soul”) because the day is coming when God will raise that person to life. So we don’t need to fear being put to death, since we will live again. Rather we need to fear God who HAS THE POWER to destroy both the body and the self, that is annihilate the whole person. However, the text does not affirm that God ever does this—only that He has the power to do it.

If it werent for John 12:32 and Eph 1:9-11 and Col 1:15-20 and 1 Corintians 15:22-28 and Romans 11;31-36 and a dozen or so other verses I would say it might be a problem. Since we have a broad foundation in scripture for claiming that all will be reconciled and restored, i think the explanation Paidon gave is a perfect response. if God decides he wants to annihilate a few beings tho- that is His prerogative, and i allow that possibility, but the weight of scriptures still swings the pendulum over to the view of UR, if someone reads them as literally as they want to read the few verses that could contradict UR if they stood alone with no other context. And who are those who need this fear?

Certainly not children, the ignorant, the marginal sinners of the world. It is worthwhile to note who Jesus was speaking of- those who would kill disciples of Christ for their testimony that He lives and that He alone saves by His gracious cross.

God could annihilate a few of those, and some predators of various types if He likes and i will not complain because I am not as holy as i ought to be - but that would run contrary to what the scriptures say, as I read them, despite my lack of forgiveness. :wink:

Hi Catherine… as pantelist I understand it this way. The physician Luke in his expanded account (Lk12:4-7) helps clear up a few misconceptions often automatically assumed of the text as to “what” Jesus was actually talking about.

Lk 12:4-7 “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who killing the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear the one who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell [Gehenna]; yes, I say to you, fear this one! “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Notice that this passage does not say “after death” as is typically read into it the text, but simply “after that”; this is quite literally, after the killing. Now one might conclude there seems little difference between the two but there is subtle enough difference NOT to read into these passages what is NOT actually there… typically a reference to post-mortem destinies. However, read from a more prêteristic perspective “to be cast into Gehenna” should make perfect sense… being understood as speaking to the soon coming deadly end-time conflagrations of the Jewish-Roman wars AD66-70. The ultimate culmination of madness and mayhem coming in AD70 with the razing of Jerusalem and her Temple; a coming period that Jesus alludes to by means of an historic illustration early in the following chapter Lk 13:3-5.

By way of historical context: Just off Jerusalem’s southwest corner walls down in the valley of Hinnom was “Gehenna” – Jerusalem’s infernal rubbish-heap, smouldering continuously “day and night forever”. All manner of city refuge was cast into it and its fires and maggots (worms) consumed without end. This is the backdrop (pardon the pun) to Jesus’ words, all of which his audience would have been completely au fait.

This place allegorically spoke of the most contemptuous and acrid form of disdain, dismissal and utter scorn where one’s IDENTITY or “SOUL” as a Jew became synonymous with total abandonment. Significantly, only the worst and vilest of criminals were consigned to its nether regions, having been summarily executed by the Romans – the masters of crucifixion, from which once dead were duly cast. Thus to be “cast into Gehenna” was the ultimate pronouncement of condemnation, rejection and shame; an apt picture of the old covenant world’s soon coming end and all who clung to and IDENTIFIED with it. For an Israelite, Jerusalem and in particular her Temple WAS the whole “soul” and identity of who and what an Israelite was – and all this was about to be “cast into Gehenna”.

Now the textual context of this passage is primarily that of Jesus reassuring his disciples that during these times of impending tribulation to “fear not!” From the pantelist perspective these passages are NOT, as is most often supposed, dealing with an unbeliever’s post-mortem destiny. Rather this was Jesus reassuring his followers and disciples in the face of real dangers that lay ahead for those committed to Him… dangers that Jesus being fully aware could for some mean potential or actual loss of life; yet Jesus is telling them that “not one of them is forgotten before God” i.e., NOT abandoned to Gehenna.

In other words, unlike the historical record that would end in the criminal contempt of Gehenna for those who clung to their old covenant identity (soul), God’s “called” would be duly numbered and remembered, and so delivered (saved Mt 24:13) and receive their full reward in the Parousia, according to what they had done. For the obstinate however awaited sufferings, shame and loss that clinging to the old covenant mode of existence was inevitably about to bring.

I think you might find the following interesting… here are a few quotes from prominent 19th century Universalist J.W. Hanson, DD from his 1878 work “Bible Threatenings Explained”.

As you can see, this Universalist held to a very strong FULFILLED eschatological view that in turn informed his soteriology.


In other words, we shouldn’t fear the ones who can only kill and cannot throw the body into the physical Hinnom Valley (because after killing they can do no more), but we should fear the one who can kill and after he has killed has the authority to throw the body and one’s identity as a Jew only into the physical Hinnom Valley (not having anything to do with a post-mortem destiny)?

So Christians are not to fear the Pharisees who don’t have authority to do more than kill the body, but Christians should fear Vespasian or Titus (whichever “one” is referred to) who after killing has the authority to throw the body into Hinnom Valley and destroy their identity as Jews?

So you don’t agree with Hanson, whom you quoted, that Jesus meant we should fear God? Because Hanson and I seem to agree that we ought to be fearing God Who can punish post-mortem not merely pre-mortem, even though God doesn’t go as far as He could with that authority (having rather the intention to save the sinner rather than to hopelessly punish the sinner).

Though then again, Hanson goes on to claim that Gehenna (where God has the authority to destroy both body and soul, which he agrees means more than just destroying natural life) does NOT denote “a place of torment after death”, thus not a state of punishment by God after death, thus nothing more than just destroying the natural life in a particular way related to that physical valley.

So he’s rather inconsistent. :wink: That being the case, I suppose you could choose between his inconsistencies and go with the latter rather than the former.

But then you’re back to comparing Jewish and Roman authorities about whom Christians should emphatically fear and yet not fear thanks to God. Instead of fearing God instead of pagan (or Jewish) authorities as in Isaiah 8:12-13 (which seems to be the reference in mind). And instead of fearing God instead of pagan or Jewish authorities as the contexts around those Synoptic verses talk about, including apparently the judgment of being denied by Christ (in front of the Father, suggesting the eschaton not a local reduction of Jerusalem which no Christian has had to worry about since 70 despite being persecuted by human authorities for 1945 years since then) for denying Christ.

To me the entire context points rather toward a warning that we ought to fear God rather than men, if we’re going to fear punishment, because God can punish more than any human (or for that matter diabolic) authority; and this warning continues to be valid after 70 CE; just as the assurance continues to be valid after 70 CE that God cares more for people than to throw them away or destroy them like trash, and that the Holy Spirit will help us bear up and give good testimony under persecution after 70 as well as before and during 70 (though apparently not many if any Christians were caught in the slaughter of Jerusalem, having been warned to avoid taking a stand against Rome there.)

Still, either way, not anything to count against Christian universalism. :slight_smile:

‘‘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 (Gehenna).’’ Matt 10:28.

Really this is nothing new, simply means fear God not man. Jesus simply said God can destroy the soul not necessarily that he would. Fearing God is repeated many times in scripture like “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” I think it is pretty clear “fear” doesn’t mean to be terrified but rather “reverence.”
Also this statement would indicate the soul is not immortal as many believe.

In Matt. 10:28 note that Jesus is encouraging his listeners to not fear man but fear God because God is the ultimate judge and the one who is ultimately in control. It reminds me of my father saying, “I brought you in this world, and I can take you out!”

Also note what follows, “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.”

So, don’t be afraid of man because God’s ultimately in control and don’t be afraid of God our Father but love him because he loves you and you are precious to him.

This passage is not even warning of judgment, but highlighting the love of God for us.

Gehenna = Hinnom Valley, and the Lake of the fire and the brimstone likely = Dead Sea. Hinnom Valley recalls to mind the destruction of Jerusalem because of sacrificing their children to Molech. And on the West bank of the Dead Sea are the Ash remains of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And anything burnt up in Hinnom Valley eventually washes down ravines into the Dead Sea. These concepts are connected, both referencing the judgment of God and the destruction of evil; but they are different locations and call to mind different images.

Hinnom Valley is a specific geographic site but it does not have a specific metaphorical meaning. It could reference

  1. a trash dump
  2. sacrificing one’s own children to your idols
  3. destruction of Jerusalem
  4. death and destruction in general, and
  5. possibly post-mortem punishment of sin.

Hades references death and the realm of the dead.

By Homogenizing these terms we loose their potency, I think!


Go into more detail on “the lake of fire and brimstone” = “Dead Sea”, please. That intrigues me. :slight_smile:

Jason, I pasted those quotes from Hanson for two reasons… 1) Catherine had asked for “UR thoughts” on the text in view (I’m a pantelist), AND 2) because of the plainly prêteristic-type understanding Hanson clearly gives to said and related passages… something surprising and seemingly more absent from present-day “universalists”. :open_mouth:

As to the “He” of these passages… I’m inclined to see such as you indicated (Vespasian or Titus) more in line with the likes of N.T. Wright i.e., a local governing power of Rome etc.

Yeah look that’s fine (and I agree) in terms of finding personal applicability beyond the specific context where realising any scriptural truth actualises greater blessing in life in an experiential and practical sense where we appropriate and imbibe said values and principles and so find afresh its transforming relevance for living etc.

However, your ‘royal we’ goes beyond the context wherein Jesus was specifically speaking to THEM about THEIR prospective future as it was about to roll out FOR THEM. IOW… said “warning” was literally applicable TO THEM, not us; apart from, as I just suggested above.

Yep, and again no problems from my pantelistic side of the fence which butts up right next to yours. :wink:

Guys and gals, great replies. I’m just doing some studying on ‘Gehenna’ so will come back asap to specific points you have made, but for now, this is the meaning I am getting from Jesus:

** ‘‘Don’t fear being killed by man. All they can do is kill the body (temporarily), rather fear my Father, because if He kills you it will be worse’’. **
Now, in what way it will be worse, is what I am trying to determine. So far, I’ve read that the Jews of Jesus’ time understood ‘Gehenna’ to be symbolic of post mortem punishment, and so is Jesus using ‘Gehenna’ in this way too, or purely in a literal way, as is usually offered by URists and those who don’t believe in a literal ‘hell’. Or is He meaning BOTH? One thing seems clear: Jesus repeatedly warns about being thrown into Gehenna. He wants/wanted you to avoid it because it is a terrible punishment. It makes no sense to assume it is some kind of lame threat that God doesn’t carry out. So what is worse than physical death?.. :question:

‘‘Don’t fear being killed by man. All they can do is kill the body (temporarily), rather fear my Father, because if He kills you it will be worse’’.

“Worse” meaning God can also kill/destroy the “soul” which man can not. That’s the “worse” part, the destruction of the soul with Jesus making a clear distinction from the body.
Does this warning mean God will kill/destroy some souls and possibly impact UR? You have to add it to the weight of all the evidence for and against UR and see where it fits in.

  1. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Jews of Jesus’s time understood the Valley of Hinnom to be symbolic of post-mortem punishment. The earliest such reference I can find is in St. Justin Martyr, well over 100 years after Christ’s resurrection.

  2. Who cares if a man kills us? It doesn’t and can’t hurt us. As St. Paul said, our sufferings are not even worth thinking about, so it is less than nothing if we are murdered. But look at how fearful it is to fall under the judgment of God: The only way to be so judged is to be sinful. Being sinful is a BIG DEAL. That is the ONLY thing that can hurt us. In a nutshell: Do not fear pain and death. Rather, fear being sinful.

Here is another possible understanding of the text. I wrote this a number of years ago, and forgot about it:

***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 religlious 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, He will raise them up again at the last day. So their very essence, their self or “soul” is not permanently wiped out by death. They cannot “kill the soul”.

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

It is important to recognize that some scriptures use “destroy” (apollumi) 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:

***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… ***

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

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.

The Greek text actually calls it “the lake of the fire and the brimstone”. What lake in the middle east is most associated with “fire and brimstone”? The Dead Sea. On the West bank of the Dead Sea are the ash remains of the 5 cities of the plain, the two primary being Sodom and Gomorrah. The Jordan River is actually located in the Jordan Rift Valley where two techtonic plates meet like the San Andreas fault. There is significant geological activity along this rift valley, especially around the Dead Sea. Under the Dead Sea are vast pockets of gas and tar. The tar actually bubbles up and floats on top of the Dead Sea in great chunks, some as big as cars.

The ash remains of Sodom and Gomorrah can clearly be seen today. Walls, buildings, doors, windows, roads and alleys, and ziggarats were made of limestone. Some places the ash remains are in great swirls with chunks of brimstone, (sulfur with traces of magnesium) that made for a very high heat, over 6000 degrees F creates the swirling effect in the ash.

And various documents through history attest to fire and smoke coming from and being over the Dead Sea. It is a place that speaks of the judgment of God. Some scientists believe that vast quatities of sulfur errupted from under the Dead Sea and showered down on Sodom and Gomorrah, a geological event that was understood as judgment by God.

I think the Dead Sea is what John saw in his vision, but it was not called the Dead Sea in that day. I don’t know that it was called the lake of the fire and the brimstone by the Jews, but the Greeks called it Lake Asphaltites (sp?). Anyhow, it makes sense to me that John was referencing the Dead Sea. It is only a few miles from Jerusalem and is spoken of in prophecy as being ultimately healed.

Sherman, thank you for that. It is utterly fascinating and looks logical. I’m going to have to study the matter further. Thanks again! :slight_smile:

Thank you for all the replies. I’m struggling again, so haven’t got the energy to discuss this. I’m reading the comments though. Thank you.