The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Matt 10:28 / Luke 12:4-7

This is part of my Exegetical Compilation Project, which I am slooowwwwly posting up here.

Matt 10:28; paralleled with slight differences at GosLuke 12:4-7, for a different incident. If only one version of the saying is historical, internal evidence suggests Luke’s version on the road, with Matthew having ported it (and some other material from that Lukan incident) back into Jesus’ discussion about the call of the apostles and Jesus commissioning them as preachers. But it isn’t impossible Jesus said it first to the apostles before sending them out on their first evangelical mission, and then later to the general public while on the way into Jerusalem from Jericho the week before final Passover.

In Luke’s version, Jesus says, “But I am saying to you, My friends – do not be afraid of those who kill the body, yet after this they can do no more. Now I will show you whom you should fear: fear Him Who after killing has authority to cast you in Gehenna! Certainly I tell you, be afraid of this One!”

In Matthew’s version, Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but haven’t the strength to kill the soul; but rather, fear the One Who is strong to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

What does it mean to kill body and soul in Gehenna? Who is the one who has both the authority and power to do so? And is this destruction hopeless?

Some have argued that Satan is the one who has authority and strength to kill both body and soul in Gehenna; but those people are, perhaps inadvertently, denying trinitarian theism or even a mere supernaturalistic theism where God as the ultimate judge is certainly the only one with the authority and the power to punish sinners in Gehenna, even if He delegated that authority and empowers other creatures to do so – and in the scriptures He never delegates that authority or power to anyone else, unless it is to the Messiah (in a non-trinitarian Christology). Satan does receive delegated authority or permission to destroy the body sometimes, but not the soul or spirit (or anyway not in a sense that could be contrasted to destroying the body only, i.e. the soul or psuche is not merely the life of the body in GosMatt’s version of this saying; and Gehenna involves something more than bodily death in GosLuke’s report of the saying.)

To be fair, the people who go this route tend to ignore GosMatt’s version (through inadvertence or as an inaccurate version). But I could also name a prominent and highly respected modern New Testament scholar (one whom I also highly respect) who tried to go this route without reference to GosMatt’s data, and also without much consistency to two of his other unusual positions: that sinners are annihilated by God’s authority (not Satan’s authority and power) in the final judgment, and that most or nearly all judgment warnings in the Gospels, especially Gehenna warnings, are not about final judgment at all but are only about the fall of Jerusalem, where the Romans (not God nor Satan) killed only the bodies and dumped them into the valley of Ge-Hinnom nearby and after that could do no more! But he recognized that this saying couldn’t only refer to the Roman slaughter of Jewish rebels, because that would fit the category of whom not to fear, and yet he didn’t want to regard God as the one Who actively annihilates sinners (“waiting with a large stick to beat anyone who steps out of line”), so who is left over? In his account, it could only be Satan!

This scholar was certainly correct that in Luke’s next verse Israel’s God is portrayed as the creator and sustainer Who can be lovingly trusted in all circumstances, which was part of his reason for inferring Jesus must be referring to Satan (though without Jesus saying so specifically); but since this scholar believes in a finally hopeless punishment or fate for at least some sinners, he was unable to reconcile the idea of Jesus specifically saying we shouldn’t fear God Who has only good intentions and caring love toward us, with the only one Who not only has the only metaphysical power and authority to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna (if even a mere supernaturalistic theism is true, much moreso trinitarian theism), but Who is also the only One ever shown to do something like that in the scriptures!

To which could be added, if it was needed, that if Jesus had an Old Testament reference in mind, it was probably Isaiah 8:12-13, where YHWH Himself 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.

At any rate, the question of who should be feared has to be answered by who fits the criteria: he has the authority and strength to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna, not only the mere capability of killing the body and then after that being unable to do anything more to the person (whatever else he may also do to the body). And whoever that is, that isn’t Satan, much less Titus or Vespasian; nor do the Pharisees (whom Jesus was more explicitly warning not to fear) have authority to do any of that.

Nor can the {exousia} or authority be an impersonal power, like “sin”. There are several dozen occurrences of {exousia} in the New Testament, and not one of them elsewhere refers to impersonal authorities, including earlier in Matt 10 (translated by the author or compiler of GosMatt from Jesus’ original Aramaic of course) where Jesus gives {exousia} to His apostles. Even the “powers and authorities” whom St. Paul pits spiritually against Christ and His church, are regarded as being in personal rebellion and even as being reconciled eventually to Christ Who thus becomes “the head of every {exousia}” in the Epistle to the Ephesians.) To be fair, the Matt 10 version of this warning uses a more generic term for strength, not for power, which could be impersonal, unlike authority in Luke 12’s version; and the pronouns in either Gospel’s report could be translated impersonally. But we would need strong contextual reasons to regard this as the only impersonal usage of “authority” in the New Testament, and those strong contextual reasons just don’t exist.

In Matt 10, Christ has just 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 will do 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 contexts 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 the apostles should keep on going and don’t fear them, with at least one warning (in this group of sayings) of a personal threat from Jesus. 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 only harm the body.

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 Luke 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 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 at 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 has 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.

Granting then that the total weight lands heavily on the authority being personal, could the authority to be feared be a personalization of sin?

I don’t have a problem with the personalization of sin in principle, though in practice when I find similar things elsewhere I notice they tend to be ascribed to Satan personally (for example “the death”). 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.) But I certainly see no such argument from theological principle, since I affirm (from a consistent supernaturalistic theism, including trinitarian theism) that God does have both power and authority to destroy the soul as well as the body in Gehenna; and I have yet to see any kind of extended context argument, much less a strong one, that in comparison with criteria elsewhere the details of this saying signal a personalization of sin as the authority to be feared.

Moreover, whatever Gehenna means, it has to refer to a condition where this person who has authority and power 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 even have the mere power, much less the authority, to destroy the soul as well as the body; much less do Pharisees or Romans have power to destroy the soul; and Romans only killed bodies at the fall of Jerusalem anyway, throwing only the bodies into the literal Ge-henna.

Only God has power and authority to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Proposing anything else with that power and authority, isn’t even supernaturalistic theism anymore; and the scriptures show nothing and no one else having anything like that power and authority – on the contrary, the scriptural testimony is strongly emphatic and colorful about God being the one to do it!

If even “destroying” the soul and body in Gehenna is a hopeful punishment, however, everything becomes easy: God is able to save even the “lost” or “destroyed”, the terms being exactly the same in Biblical Greek, even (or especially) when God is the One Who does the destroying. For (as Jesus goes on to say not long afterward in Luke’s report, GosLuke 12:27-28 and contexts, related to His immediate consolation about the birds back at 12:6-7, though mirrored in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount 6:25-30 and contexts rather than Matt 10) if God cares so much about the grass of the field to dress them in greater glory than Solomon, even though the flowers are here today and tomorrow are cast into the fire, how much more does God care for you, you of little faith! God does not regard you, even if you have poor faith, as something only to be thrown away and burned like trash; nor is Christ speaking obviously here about some special elect whom God values more than flowers while He values the non-elect not even so much as flowers, giving them souls which by His choice can only do injustice and shall only be annihilated back out of existence or else suffer unending torments.

The local (if not immediate) context of the saying, consequently, weighs heavily back in the direction that even though God can and does destroy some souls as well as bodies in Gehenna (which adds more evidence toward Gehenna representing the lake of fire judgment after the general resurrection, by the way); God does not intend this as a hopeless punishment, but instead graciously values rational creatures, even if they are currently impenitent sinners, more than to be disposable trash.

Nor can someone get around this reassurance about God’s intentions, by foisting the hopelessness onto the Father, from Whom we are protected by the Son (somehow – which would make less than no sense on any trinitarian theism, and would not even make sense on any lesser Christology). For the Son Himself on one hand says He joins the Father in the judgment against those who deny Him (so no division in intention there), and on the other hand also says that the Father (not merely Himself the Son) values people more than flowers which are thrown into the fiery furnace.

To put the conclusion more shortly: when a loving parent says to a rebelliously unjust child, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!”, that reflects a real point on which we ought to respect our parents, but that doesn’t mean our mother or father is going to annihilate us or torment us in punishment forever with no hope. On the other hand, Jesus indicates (with another nearby judgment warning directly referencing Himself and the Father) that we ought to be wary about the judgment brought against us by God if we betray Him, and so to fear God more in that regard than to fear evil persons; yet the proper response to the God Who cares for us more than for the grass that is thrown like trash into the furnace, Who gives Himself to the very death for our sake while we are still rebels against Him, is not wary fear of a threat, but respectful numinous fear, leading into adoration.

Members are encouraged to add further comments or alternate interpretations below, and add links to other discussions of these verses (whether here on the forum or off-site).

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Hi Jason!

I like the point made about how God values all when you say:

How would you then interpret this:

It seems to be saying that outside of Christ fallen humanity is worthless.

I think it is interesting that the word “destroy” is “apollumi” which is alternately translated “lost”, “destroy”, “perish”, “ruin”. it is a word that is a bit difficult to pigeon hole in a single meaning, but, the word is definitely not always yoked with utter destruction in its contexts.

“once having killed(the body) to ruin the soul in Gehenna”, is actually consistent with a UR paradigm, and with what I believe happens in Gehenna, and why it was a threat Jesus used towards the Pharisees. Josiah ruined the altars of the idols unto which Israelites had sacrificed their children, in Gehenna. He made it into a garbage dump. For me it may parrallel 1 Cor 3:15

Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

in these verses the Day(ight) and the fire are the same.

Jesus is separating the chaff from off the wheat. The wheat is beaten, the chaff breaks, revealing the tender grain, the wind lows the worthless chaff away and it is consumed with unquenchable fire. Better to take the beating(separation) in this life and be gathered into the granary.

To me, if the fire of Gehenna and the lake of fire are not the same experience- they are the same in nature. Whatever view one holds concerning that judgment of this fire, as occurring in this life, or in the after-life, or both(my view), the effect is to take out the garbage, burn up the wood, hay and stubble (works of mixed nature, flesh and spirit mixed, dead works).

IMO it is the fire in Jesus eyes(Rev 1), burning into the heart “I am He that tries the reins and the hearts”. Light is fire to darkness consumes.
It is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”, from which all shadows flee, every veil is torn.

Similar to the idea of a believer being delivered over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his/her spirit may be saved “in the Day”-
That the Day where God judges the secrets of men’s hearts by Jesus Christ, there consciences(seated in the heart) either excusing or accusing them(Rom 2).

That Day has dawned, and God is bringing “all” into it- so I believe these principles are always in effect, but will also find fulfillment in that consummate Day that awaits all who live, into which all will awaken(each in his own order)

The reason (I believe) Jesus warned that it would be better to cut off ones hand and enter heaven maimed than to enter Gehenna whole is because, whether the process is effected in this life or the next, the exposure of ones conscience to the light, when holding iniquity not confessed and forgiven, is painful.

I believe in the Day, those who are exposed to that consuming fire in the face of Jesus(our God is a consuming fire) will experience remorse in a very intense way. Before , “every knee bows and every tongue confesses” and before “every adversary is made subject” they will experience this light/fire in a way perhaps that cannot be conceived of while we are in this mortal body.

Whatever the “olam” fire is, in terms of duration, it will be(again, imo), extremely intense, and a “many stripes, few stripes” thing depending on the hardness of the unrepentant heart.

What I believe, is that the absolute light of Christ crucified, the beauty of that sacrificial love, will expose to the core the darkness, in a measure that can only be described as the distance between that one act of infinite love, for that particular soul standing exposed before it, and the darkness of a black hole, and it will strip away every argument and every attitude- every stronghold and tower that exalts itself against the true knowledge of God -which is epitomized in the cross of Christ(If i be lifted up from the earth…).

I think this is why in Rev 14 it speaks of the devil and his angels being tormented “in the presence of God and His holy angels”.

I think it could be in the nature of a familial “forced intervention”, as Paul says, “Don’t you know that you will judge angels?”

This “lake of fire”(reservoir of light :slight_smile: ) could be a metaphor for the general assembly of Hebrews 12:22-24, which if you read, fits perfectly with this context, including the tabernacle, the testimony, and the resolution-

27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain…29 For our God is a consuming fire.

Perhaps Gehenna has more to do with the unrighteousness within the house of God(judgment begins at the house of God with the ellders at Jerusalem) and the lake of fire more for the devil and his angels and those whose names are not written in the lamb’s book of life, but the same or separate the nature of the fire is the same.

Those who have already been washed shine in it. Those who have not must be “ruined” as the Psalmist says, “When I hid my sin I groaned all day long”. Until a broken and a contrite heart, “You will make me know truth in my innermost parts(conscience/heart/soul)”.

Heb. 4:12
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Isaiah 27;1
In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.
In that day,
“A vineyard of wine, sing of it!

Malachi 3:2
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.

For me these speak during the day(walk as children of the day) that has dawned and everyone is living in(the light that lighteth everyman who comes into the world)

and the Day that is to come, when we awake in it, each in his own order.

So fear not the ones who can kill the body. fear the one, who having killed the body, is able to ruin the unrepentant soul in Gehenna- a fearful prospect, according to all Jesus spoke about “olam” or “aionian” fire, and punishment(correction/kolassis).

Of course in every case, this agony of self revelation will be followed with the healing balm of the ministry of reconciliation :slight_smile:

I was going to say, hey, there’s a part of Romans I haven’t posted up yet from my notes, good!

Then I realized I somehow haven’t posted up ANY of my notes on Romans yet. :unamused: :blush: :unamused: :laughing:

So, this somewhat obscure verse gets to be the first entry on Romans posted in the ExCom series. Yay! :slight_smile:

My overly short reply is

a.) the Greek term Paul is using translates better as being or not being helpfully saving (which he thus focuses the meaning further specifically than the Hebrew of the Psalms he’s midrashing together), not worthy and worthless, so also not intrinsically worthy or intrinsically worthless to God;


b.) the context of the Psalms actually indicates instead (though David may not have realized it) just how dangerously bad (and morally bad) an idea it is to regard as worthless even persons whom God is currently punishing for their sins (such as for example regarding other persons as worthless!)