The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Mat. 10:28

I don’t see any posts on Mat. 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.”

So looks like annihilationism better explains this. What are the UR takes?


Great question:
Wish I knew…

And this text became familiar to me back when I WAS an annihilationist and I took comfort in it.
Guess we need Jason to jump in here!

But let me just guess. Perhaps all that’s happening here is the emphasis that our mere bodies are NOT all that matters. That there exists some power which transcends our mere physical selves. There is a GREATER power; namely, that one who started the whole deal in the first place. So it’s (maybe) simply a point of who really matters in the game. (ie Satan – fabulous discussions as to his existence notwithstanding – has, in essence, no power at all…)

Next, this statement need not necessitate a reality that actually DOES destroy both bodies and souls (in hell or anywhere else) – it’s just that we are being drawn to a power which CAN go there.

Further, recall the passage where God says “vengance is Mine; thus saith the Lord”? But who says His vengance is like ours might be? Not that God is saying He will take “revenge” (as in getting even; retribution; retaliation etc) but that we are to LEAVE these things to His hands. Why? So that He might be displayed for who He is when he redeems all this mess and becomes “all in all”.

Or something like that…


Hanson take the approach that Jesus doesn’t say God WILL or even WANTS to destroy the soul in hell. He only says we ought to fear God who CAN do so. After all, John says God CAN raise up children of Abraham from these stones. Doesn’t mean God WANTS to do so or WILL do so.

This doesn’t adequately explain Mat. 10.28. It’s impossible to FEAR what you KNOW will not happen. Hanson is a universalist. That means he’s committed to the view that God WILL NOT destroy the soul in hell. How does one THEN fear an ability of God to do what one knows God neither wants to nor will do? You can only fear what YOU think might happen, not what you think CAN but WILL SURELY NEVER happen.

The best explanation I can think of here, Bob, is something along the lines of the 1Pet verse you brought up some time ago, where Peter says our faith is refined “like gold which is destroyed in the fire.” But if you zoom in on the process it’s the dross and impurities that are burnt away (destroyed) and the redeemable/refined gold that survives.



…The problem with the 1Pet passage is that what Peter may mean to say is not that the “perishing” or “destruction” of the gold IS the process of refinement, but that gold–which, by the way, perishes (i.e., ceases to exist)–is nevertheless valuable, and that therefore your faith (by comparison) is more valuable.

So the 1Pet passage may contribute nothing.


Just thinking out loud here.

1Pet 1.7: In order that the testing of your faith…might be found unto praise and honor…
being more precious than gold which perishes though it be tried with fire

ἵνα τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως πολυτιμότερον χρυσίου τοῦ ἀπολλυμένου, διὰ πυρὸς δὲ δοκιμαζομένου, εὑρεθῇ εἰς…

I’m interested in how the italicized parenthetic description of gold is understood, for that decides just what in fact our faith is being compared to. It could be that all that our faith is just being compared to the relative worth of gold which, though refined by fire, is ultimately destroyed (ceases to exist). In this case the “destruction” of god is not its testing and Peter’s point is something like, “Hey, gold ends up destroyed but we still value it and purify it with fire.”

The other option is to say that what our faith is compared to is the purifying process itself and that the “destruction” of the gold IS ITS PROCESS of purification.

To understand the qualifying phrases, it’s:

|being more precious than gold
|which perishes (perishes qualifies gold)

That’s easy.

But how does διὰ πυρὸς δὲ δοκιμαζομένου fit it?

Two possibilities:

  1. Faith
    |being more precious than gold
    |which perishes
    |through fire (fire qualifies perishes)
    |though it’s tested


  1. Faith
    |being more precious than gold
    |which perishes
    |though it’s tested through fire (fire qualifies tested)

In (2) then, “through fire” qualifies “tested” and “though” introduces the whole phrase: “though it is tested through fire.” In this case the “de” introduces an adversative thought to the fact that gold “perishes” and therefore gold’s “perishing” and its “being tested by fire” are not the same thing. They’re rather unrelated. Peter would be saying “…so that your faith, which is more precious than gold which, as you know is only around for a while anyhow though it is tested by fire, might result in praise…” (where “destroyed” = ceases to be).

Or should we go with (1) and understand “through fire” as further qualifying “being destroyed” and take “though it is tested” as a further qualification. That would give us:

“…your faith, which is more precious than gold that’s destroyed through fire in spite of being tested, might result in…”

See the difference? In the latter reading, “being destroyed through fire” is set in relation to “though it is tested” and we understand “being destroyed” as “being purified.” That’s how we’re able to understand the “destruction of gold” here AS its “testing” and get ourselves some support for shooting down annihilationist understandings of “destruction.” Interestingly, Talbott wants to say that “destruction” really does utterly annihilate SOMETHING (just not the person). But that’s difficult here in Mat because the thing destroyed is specified as “the soul.” Should we understand “destruction” here in Mat. as something that doesn’t annihilate its object?

I’m inclined to reading (1), though the latter helps UR. I don’t see how “de” (“though”) sets up a meaningful comparison given (2). I don’t find it meaningful to say “…gold, which is purified through fire even though it’s tested.” It’s purified “though” it’s tested? No, it’s purified “because” it’s tested. But “…gold which perishes (for good, as a matter of fact), though we test by fire” makes better sense. But reading 1Pet this way means we can’t appeal to it to help explain Mat. 10.


How do I indent a line? Can’t find that command.

Regarding Matt 10:28:

I have a few thoughts

First, I agree that this would appear doom-and-gloomy if we took the verse in isolation. But also bear in mind that Jesus elsewhere said that Gehenna-fire has the same purifying affect as the fire that will cleanse Christians (see Mark 9:49, which is given as an example of the previous verses that speak about Gehenna; I have an extended discussion on it elsewhere). That doesn’t sound like annihilation of persons, especially since it follows Biblical precedent of divine-fire being ultimately remedial. So whatever Gehenna is, Jesus (in Mark 9) seems to think that it ultimately has remedial functions.

(I’ll offer a potentially-fallible interpretation of Matt 10:28 in a moment)

The use of “apollumi” is interesting; it’s the same word Jesus uses to describe the people that he came to find and save. The same verb is used in the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15:8-10, which describes a woman who has “apollumi” a silver coin. After “losing” the coin, she “seeks diligently” until she finds it. After she finds it, she then “rejoices” with her friends. In the parable, the lost coin represents a sinner, while the woman represents God. The woman finding her coin is akin to a sinner repenting (God gets back something that is very valuable to him).

So what’s going on in Matt 10:28? Perhaps the point is something like this: *People may be able to kill your body. But in Gehenna, God can put you into a state in which he is the only one who can find and save you. In Gehenna you’ll realize how much you need God. *

Of course, that could be completely wrong, and I readily admit that I’m not sure how to interpret the verse. An annihilationist perspective is possible, but I think it conflicts with other descriptions of Gehenna. Aside from Mark 9:49 (and aside from the Biblical precedent of divine-fire being remedial), one could draw a parallel between Gehenna and the Lake of Fire (LoF). However, there seems to be evidence that the LoF is remedial. For example, it enables the Kings of the Earth (who are previous residents of LoF) to enter New Jerusalem - I assume you’re familiar with this argument from Talbott’s work, but let me know if you’re not.

1 Peter 1 seems to say that faith is tested by temptations (v 6), and it goes on (in v 7) to give an analogy with the process by which gold is tested. The text may be saying that gold is apollumi because it is tested by fire (dia can mean “by means of”, so perhaps “gold apollumi by means of testing fire”). What happens when gold is tested by fire? Well, the “pure” gold remains, but the impurities are burned away. “Testing” gold with fire is a very old technique for getting a piece of pure gold; whatever is leftover is the pure stuff. Likewise, when faith is tested, people often shed everything that they’re needlessly attached to. Of course, it’s possible for the “gold” item to be destroyed, revealing that it never contained any pure gold in the first place. And likewise, it’s possible for a person’s pseudo-faith to be exposed for what it really is. So perhaps 1Peter cannot be used to support either view.

thinking with you

  • Pat

Pat: So what’s going on in Matt 10:28? Perhaps the point is something like this: People may be able to kill your body. But in Gehenna, God can put you into a state in which he is the only one who can find and save you. In Gehenna you’ll realize how much you need God.

Thanks Pat!

The problem with this understanding is what’s left out: fear. Jesus said “do not fear them who kill the body, but FEAR HIM WHO can destroy both body and soul…” How would you work fear into this? “Fear him who can purify both body and soul in hell”? The contrast with the first portion makes it difficult too. Those who destroy the body aren’t purifying it, they’re bringing it to an end (so far as this world is concerned). So we’re to fear instead him who can do the same to the body AND SOUL in hell.

I’m open!


I’ve actually commented on this statement somewhere on the site already, though I think it was the Lukan version.

Still recuperating, so I’m too foozle-headed to look it up at the moment. But I noted that in both the Lukan and Matthean versions (which are given at apparently different circumstances in His ministry, though it’s also probable that GosMatt is porting relevant instruction over to his scene from a relatively ‘less important’ incident) Jesus immediately goes on to teach that His listeners shouldn’t be afraid of the one Who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna (GosMatt) and Who, after killing, has authority to throw into Gehenna (GosLuke). Jesus even literally explicitly says, in both cases, they shouldn’t be afraid, because God loves them. (And He introduces His comment in GosLuke by calling the people He’s warning “Friends”. The Lukan parallel is in chp 12, by the way.) Nevertheless: in both scenes Jesus goes on to remind them that punishment is certainly coming to those (even of His listeners!) who deny Him before men; and in both scenes there are further reminders of strife and division coming because of Jesus. (GosLuke’s scene even contains a repeat of the statement about the Unforgiveable Sin Against The Holy Spirit.)

Still, both sides of the information ought to be kept in account. Especially since, in GosLuke, Jesus goes on to contrast His listeners in an ‘a fortiori’ fashion with the daisies of the field who are arrayed in glory beyond that of Solomon even though ‘today they are, and tomorrow are cast into the fire’–how much more worth are His listeners to God, and consequently how much more may they expect from God in their favor than what He has shown to the mere daisies. (He does this with a callback to the how-much-more-valuable comparison to birds, too, that He had used earlier.)

Kav’s notice of how apollumi is used elsewhere is extremely interesting and relevant; not least because that parable is a parallel to the parable of the 100th sheep!! I hadn’t noticed the Greek using the word for ‘destroy’ there, in the parable of the lost coin. Super-nifty! :sunglasses: :smiley:

As to how fear should be recognized in the warning (both Matthean and Lukan) about how we should fear the One Who can cast into hell? I recommend the strongly purgatorial Psalm 19: it begins with an observation of how the heavens are are sign of God to all people, then moves to consideration of the sun from which nothing is hidden and which rises in joy like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; then moves to considering the greatness of the law, the testimony, the instructions and the commandments of the Lord, how they restore the soul, make wise the simple, enlighten the eyes and bring the heart to rejoice. From this, David stops a moment to declare that “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever” before finishing with a consideration of the active judgments of the Lord: that they are not only true and altogether fair (righteous), but that we should desire His judgments on us!–they are more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. Why? Because by His active judgments on us, we are warned, and in cooperating with His judgments we have great reward. We cannot discern all our unintentional sins, but God can, and by His judgment on us He acquits (literally cleans in the sense of emptying) us. His judgments on us keep us, as His servants, from presumptuous sins as well, so that they will not dominate us and we shall be completed; moreover His judgments shall empty/clean us from even great rebellion. Thus shall the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be both acceptable in the sight of our Lord, our rock and our Redeemer.

One of the Sunday School classes I attended yesterday began their series on the Psalms with this one; and I helped point out how David was appealing to God’s active judgments to clean him from sin. The class (including the teacher and especially his wife) seemed very appreciative of this angle. :slight_smile: God’s judgments on us are gracious because of His intentions to us; what isn’t gracious is how we receive them sometimes. Is it in cooperation with God? or in rebellion against Him? Our fear of Him should be clean: and, because of His intentions to us, it is better for us to fear Him than to fear anyone else. (Although if all we can perceive is mere power-effect, then even with that it is better to fear the Highest Authority over us than to fear those of lesser authority in rebellion against Him. I am absolutely sure Jesus was quoting from one of the OT prophets in those two Gospel scenes, too, though I can’t find where at the moment…)

Good point Tom. I’m not sure what to make of the verse, though as I said, I don’t think we should take it in isolation. One could cite Mark 9:49 in isolation and come to the exact opposite conclusion about Gehenna. So do we interpret Matt 10:28 in light of Mark 9:49, or vice versa?

I prefer a more holistic approach that integrates all of the relevant verses and tries to make sense of the whole thing. Some may still come out on the side of annihilationism, but I think a great deal of others will come out as universalists. I make the (partial) case:


and here:

(I say “partial” because I still have not posted my discussion of the pro-universalism passages, and because I need to make major additions to the work I have posted)

You may have read those brief essays of mine, but I’m sharing them so you can understand how I approach the question. In my mind, it really has to be a choice between universalism and annihilationism; I don’t even think eternal conscious misery is on the table.

keep up the thinking :slight_smile:

I have a bad cold, so I may not be of much use to you for a while.

peace (and don’t get sick!)

  • Pat

Excellent essay/s I enjoyed reading them.

I wrote the following a couple of years ago.

Matthew 10:28 (cf. Luke 12:4-5)

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Though perhaps an alien concept to most Christians and non-Christians alike, the word here translated “soul” (psuche) is never said or implied in Scripture to refer to an immortal part of man’s nature, and unless this verse is the single exception, the word is never used to denote a part of man that can exist in a disembodied state after death. Far from teaching this, the word psuche is being employed by Christ in the same sense as he uses it in Matthew 6:25 (cf. Matt 2:10):

*Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life (psuche), what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life (psuche) more than food, and the body more than clothing? *

Both here and in Matthew 10:28, psuche simply denotes the natural, biological life of a person (which must be sustained by food and water), while soma is being employed by Christ to refer to a person’s physical frame (which can be clothed or stripped naked). With this contrast kept in mind, there is a sense in which one’s “body” (as distinguished from one’s life) can be “killed” without one’s life being “killed” as well. In the former case, severe bodily harm may be inflicted, while the person’s life is spared. But in the latter case, it is the life itself upon which harm is inflicted, which can only result in the total destruction of the person. Thus, when soma (i.e., the physical frame of a person) and psuche (a person’s natural life) are distinguished, the body may be spoken of as being “killed” or “destroyed” without one’s life being “killed” or “destroyed” as well. That this is indeed the case will be even more evident when we consider the first time the expression “destroy both body and soul” is used in Scripture.

To speak of “soul and body” being “destroyed” was evidently a common Jewish expression with which Christ’s disciples were well acquainted. There is no indication that Christ’s disciples misunderstood what he meant by the destruction of “soul and body” in Gehenna." This is evident, because when they did not comprehend his meaning on other occasions, we find them making all the necessary inquiries. But here, they made none. From this single circumstance it is evident that they did not learn the meaning of this expression from Jesus, but that it was instead a common expression and proverb of that day. Now, by comparing Matt 10:28 with Isaiah 10:16-18, we can see that it was used as a proverbial expression denoting the total destruction of anything to which it was applied:

Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire. The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day. The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the LORD will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. Isaiah 10:16-18

Here, we find God threatening a national judgment against Assyria, after having judged Israel. The expression under consideration is applied to the destruction of the glory of the king of Assyria’s “forest and fruitful land,” making the expression obviously figurative in this instance. The literal meaning of the expression “destruction of soul and body,” however, seems to refer to that which takes place when “a sick man wastes away.” This agrees with our observation that the “body” could be spoken of as being “killed” (or in this case, “destroyed”) without the “soul,” or life, necessarily being “killed” (or “destroyed”) as well. But when a sick man “wastes away,” his condition is such that both his life and his physical frame are progressively “destroyed” by the illness. Thus, whether this expression is understood figuratively or literally, it has nothing to do with the punishment or annihilation of “immortal souls” in a “disembodied” state of existence.

Moreover, Christ is not talking about a post-mortem judgment when he employs the word that is here and elsewhere translated “hell” in less literal translations of the English Bible. The word he uses is “Gehenna,” which literally means “Valley of Hinnom” in the Greek language, and is the proper name of an actual valley that lies just south of the city Jerusalem. Originally known as “the valley of the sons of Hinnom,” this location is referred to in the Old Testament in the following verses: Josh 15:8, 18:16; 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron 28:3, 33:6; Neh 11:30; Jer 7:31, 32, 19:2, 6, 32:35. In most of these verses it is to be understood in its literal sense. But in Jeremiah 19 (cf. 7:30-34) we read that, by God’s authority, the Valley of Hinnom (“Gehenna”) – which was also known as “Topheth” (v. 6) - was made an emblem, or figure, of the temporal calamities which God threatened to bring upon the unfaithful nation of Israel for her sins (v. 12).

Other than its literal and emblematic meaning, no other meaning is ever attached to this word in the inspired Scriptures. Any other meaning one may choose to assign to the word (for whatever reason) is simply without divine sanction and authority. Though for centuries the idea of post-mortem, unending torment has been attached to this word by “orthodox” theologians, this sense is entirely foreign to its inspired meaning as found in Jeremiah 19. To make it refer to a place of endless misery in a future existence (or to any kind of punishment after death) is to completely disregard how it is used and defined in Scripture. Moreover, because Christ gives no indication of introducing a new emblematic meaning to a word whose meaning had long ago been fixed by his own inspired Scriptures, we can confidently maintain that, whenever Christ employs “Gehenna” in a non-literal sense, he is ascribing to it the same emblematic meaning that was assigned to it by God in Jeremiah’s day.

Just as in Jeremiah’s day, a severe judgment upon the nation of Israel was looming over the horizon when Christ spoke these words to his disciples. In Matthew 23:32-36 (cf. 1 Thess 2:15-16; Isaiah 65:6-7), we read of Christ warning the religious leaders of the Jewish nation that, upon their filling up the measure of their fathers’ sins, their generation would be severely punished. No other generation is in view but the one to which Christ spoke. In verse 33 of this passage, Christ refers to this approaching judgment upon that generation as their being sentenced to “Gehenna” (i.e., the Valley of Hinnom). Any Jew familiar with their Hebrew Scriptures would have understood Jesus’ words to be a warning of an impending national judgment, because it is this of which “Gehenna” (or “Topheth,” which was a location within this valley) had become an emblem (again, see Jeremiah 19, whole chapter; cf. chap. 7:30-34). Christ goes on to say (vv. 37-38),

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate…

Here Christ is referring to that terrible judgment that would come upon the guilty nation of Israel. Their capital city, Jerusalem, would be completely overthrown, and their “house” (i.e., the temple) would be left to them “desolate.” This national judgment fell upon the Jewish people like a thunderbolt at the climax of the Jewish-Roman war in 70 A.D., when the Roman army, led by General Titus, sacked the city of Jerusalem and utterly destroyed the temple. More than a million Jews perished during this violent overthrow of the Jewish nation.

So what is Jesus saying in the verse under consideration? There are two possible views. Understood in the larger context of Matthew 10:16-23, Jesus’ words “kill the body” may refer to the bodily punishment which the Jewish persecutors of the early Christian church were allowed to inflict upon people in the synagogues, and stands in contrast with what the Roman authorities had the power to do (cf. John 18:31), and of which they took full advantage at the climax of the Jewish rebellion in 70 AD when countless Jews were slaughtered. But Christ’s obedient and watchful followers escaped this fearful calamity by heeding their Lord’s words to flee the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area when God gave them opportunity (Matt 24:15-20; cf. Luke 21:20-21). In this way, those Jewish Christians who fled from the impending judgment upon the Jewish nation were spared from being destroyed “body and soul.” when God brought judgment upon the corrupt nation of Israel through the instrumentality of the Roman army.

An alternative (though similar) view is that Jesus is not referring to the literal bodies and lives of individual people, but is using the expression in a figurative sense to refer to the early Church as a corporate whole. “Destroying the body” refers to the intense persecution and death that many Christians suffered prior to the overthrow of Jerusalem. But God would not allow the Church to be utterly destroyed by her enemies (i.e., destroyed both body and soul); as Christ prophesied, the gates of Hades (death) would not prevail against his Bride (Matt 16:18). Thus it could be said that, though persecuted severely, the “soul” or “life” of the Church was spared during this tumultuous time.

I can’t quite agree with you, because it says that they can kill the body, but* cannot *kill the soul. I do agree that our commonly held notion of ‘soul’ is probably wrong.

I’m inclined to think that, in this passage, Jesus is teaching and assuring them that even if a person’s body is killed, his life cannot be utterly extinguished by man. That only God has the power to annihilate.

Your thoughts?

Hi Sonia,

I’ve never been completely satisfied with any interpretation of this verse, which has kept me from ruling out other views (including one that may be close to your own). But of the two options presented in my paper, I’ve found the second more plausible than the first - i.e., that Christ is using the expression “destroy body and soul” as it is used in Isaiah 10:18 (i.e., as a figurative, proverbial saying) and applying it to the survival of the Church as a corporate whole amidst severe persecutions, and in view of a future judgment coming upon the nation of Israel (that which is represented by the term “Gehenna”). According to this view, Christ is both exhorting his disciples to remain faithful as well as comforting them with the promise that the Church which he had begun to build would not be utterly destroyed by her persecutors. To say that the persecutors of the early Church (both Jewish and Roman) could “kill the body” but could not “kill the soul” simply means they did not have the power or authority to utterly exterminate the Church from the earth; it is for this reason Christ says they “cannot kill the soul.” When Christ spoke these words, the only one who had the authority to do this (i.e., “destroy both body and soul in Gehenna”) was God - and since that would never happen under God’s providential care, Christ tells his disciples not to fear (v. 31).


This has nothing to do with annihilationism, but everything to do with death where the worm would have never quit had it not been for Christ. All that the Father had given Him will be raised on the last day. Had it been only the 12, Christ would have died for them, a friend giving his life for another - though all abandoned Him at the cross. The obedient Son of God following through to save even one. It’s only through the 12 that we learn that everyone will be raised. The Father had given Him all of mankind! Imagine that! ALL will raised.

What a gift to His Son! And now what? People think THAT gift should or will be reduced by annihilating ‘hard cases.’ As if we weren’t or still are all in the same category? The hypocrisy of the self-righteous never ceases to amaze. They, of all people - since they will be judged the most harshly for using Christ for their ends, should be praying that annihilation is the religious myth they fostered and nothing more. But a hypocrite is locked into a paradigm that makes them the most blind of men. I know my Redeemer (from death and annihilation) is alive.

God help from those who sit in judgment on mankind.


It is certainly an honor to discuss these matters with someone so well-read in the scriptural contexts, and who can present his case in such proper detail! I don’t know about anyone else, but I am greatly thankful you are here; and I hope that you will remain and contribute for a long time to come! :smiley:

Moreover, there are many portions of your essay that I agree with–seeing as I do take the destruction of Jerusalem to have been a partial fulfillment of Jesus’ coming-judgment prophecies.

However. :mrgreen:

1.) While there is a distinction between apo-ktein, ‘from-kill’ (or to kill away-from), and apolesai ‘destroy/lose’ in Matt 10:28, there is no such distinction in the parallel saying at Luke 12:5. Admittedly, there is some question as to whether these sayings, and the surrounding contexts, were given to the disciples at two different times and places (before sending out on an evangelistic mission in GosMatt, or on the road to Jerusalem in GosLuke); or whether one or the other author decided to port the sayings topically over from one ‘scene’ to the other. But the similarities in both cases, not only for this saying but many of the surrounding sayings, would tend to indicate that the meanings are principly similar (unless some significant difference can be found, perhaps tailored to the immediate circumstances.)

Consequently, the parallel at Luke 12 has to be reckoned with. And the verb soley in use there, while it can certainly also mean destroy, is primarily a strong word to kill. (In Cry of Justice, as well as a callback in Book 3, I have a character command her soldiers “Destroy them as they die”–a formal way of commanding overkill by saturation. She would be using apoktein, to kill-away.)

Thus, Matt’s report: Now, do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

Luke’s report: do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more they can do. But I will warn (or show) you whom to fear: fear the One Who after He has killed has authority to cast into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear that One!

2.) While it may be possible to find uses of ‘destroy’ (apollumi and cognates) that don’t involve the death of the body (and/or the psuche), is there any use of that strong word for kill anywhere that doesn’t mean to actually kill?!

When Herod is wanting to {apoktein} John the Baptist (Matt 14:5), and later Herodias is wanting to {apoktein} him (Mark 6:19), are they only talking about withering his body without killing him? True, Herod keeps him alive in prison, and actually comes to be friends with him (in a way); but the reason Herod kept him alive to begin with was because he was afraid of the general populace mobbing, since they considered JohnBapt a prophet. If {apoktein} only meant punish while leaving alive there, Herod acted from the beginning at odds to his own fear of the mob, and the statement at Matt 14:5 would make less than no sense!

When GosMatt (16:21) and GosLuke (9:22), also GosMark (8:31), say that the Messiah is to be {apoktein}ed and then roused from the dead, do you think they intend to represent Jesus as meaning He only expects to be scourged and maybe imprisoned for a while before metaphorically rising from the dead?!

Ditto when Christ warns that men will be apoktein-ing Him (Matt 17:23, Luke 18:33, also Mark 9:31 twice and 10:34).

It’s admittedly possible that when the Jewish leaders are reported as seeking to destroy Christ, they may only mean to destroy His reputation (though perhaps in various fatal ways such as getting the mob to attack Him, or getting Rome to arrest and execute Him). But by Matt 26:4 (ditto Mark 14:1), which use the term apoktein instead, things have surely moved along rather more literally in the planning of the chief priests, haven’t they?!

John 5:16 might perhaps only mean ruin instead of kill (though the word is certainly apoktein), but when it goes on to emphasize two verses later at 18 that because He was saying His own Father also is God, making Himself equal to God, they were seeking more to apoktein Him–is merely seeking more to socially ruin Him (or maybe scourge Him) what we should be culturally expecting from that rampup?!

Again, John 7:1 might perhaps only mean ruin instead of kill (though the word is certainly apoktein again), but when the exact same term is used three times later in the chapter (vv.19, 20, 25), is that the context that makes the most sense??–the group (of Jewish leaders) Jesus is talking to answers back that Jesus is demented because He thinks they are seeking to only soundly punish Him and let Him go?!

Ditto GosJohn 8:37, 40. Same term, apoktein. And this scene ends with the group (who had actually been believing in Him after He had stood up to their peers earlier in the chapter) becoming so hacked off at Jesus for declaring of Himself that “Before Abraham came into being, I AM!” in answer to their retort that He is not yet even 50 years old and He has seen Abraham, that they picked up stones to throw at Him. Is heavily bruising someone the traditionally understood punishment for claiming to be God Almighty?!

In the immediately preceding scene, when Jesus sorrowfully tells the assembled Pharisee leaders that “I am going away, and you will be seeking Me, and in your sin shall you be dying. Where I am going, you cannot be coming,” some of them retort, “Will he not apoktein himself, seeing that he is saying, ‘Where I am going you cannot be coming’!?” (8:22) Jesus replies, “You are of the below!–I am of the above! You are of this world; I am not of this world. I said, then, to you, that you shall be dying in your sins. For if ever you should not be believing Me, that I am, you shall be dying in your sins!” They are only talking back and forth about being sick with disease or beaten up badly, right? Not about actually dying and actually being killed?!–the other way is the most reasonable and natural way to understand them?!

John 11:53, the high priest Caiaphas has just said to the other chief priests, “You know nothing in the least!–nor are you reckoning that it is expedient for us that one man should be DYING for the sake of the people rather than that the whole nation should PERISH.” And the author has just continued by commenting that Caiaphas said this, not of himself, but as a legitimate prophecy (being the high priest for that year) that Jesus was about to be DYING for the sake of the nation, and not only for the sake of the nation. “From that day then”, the Evangelist continues, “they are consulting that they should apoktein Him.” So, would you say the most reasonable way to read this context is that they don’t mean killing him to death, but only severely punishing Him (like a synagogue discipline) and then letting Him go?!

Luke 13:31, a Pharisee deputation arrives to (apparently) bluff Jesus away from Jerusalem with the warning that Herod wants to apoktein Him. (In fact, Herod is very much interested in Jesus and wants to meet Him, as GosLuke makes clear elsewhere. He has no particular desire to even punish Him and let Him go–not yet anyway.) Jesus replies they should take a message back to “that jackal”, that it is not credible that a prophet should perish outside Jerusalem. So, how would you say the reader should understand the threat at this point in the story, a week or less before the crucifixion (whether this particular threat was a bluff or not)? Only a severe bodily punishment, or to perish by being killed-away?

In the parable of the rebel vineyard tenants (GosMatt 21:33-46; GosLuke 20:9-19; also GosMark 12:1-12), how does it read to you? When the king sends his son at the last, expecting them to respect him, and they apoktein the son instead (Matt 21:38,39; Mark 12:7,8; Luke 20:14-15), do you think they are only giving him a good whipping and then running him out of the vineyard in shame? Is that how we should read and understand it?

When the Jewish leaders petition Pilate in GosJohn 18, and he replies (v.31) that they should take Him and judge Him according to their law, they reply, “It is not allowed to us,” i.e. by the Roman state, “to apoktein anyone!” The Evangelist goes on to explain (in v.32) that they said this so that the word of Jesus, which He had said, would be fulfilled, signifying what death He was about to be dying. So, we shouldn’t read this as meaning they’re talking about actually killing Him?! They only mean that they have no permission from Rome to discipline someone with punishment according to their law?–Pilate was only testing them to see if they remembered?! (That would go rather against all the other times that synagogue disciplining of Christians occur throughout the Empire in the NT, including earlier in GosJohn itself, without Rome giving much of a hoot…)

When Peter, in Acts 3, is testifying before the Sanhedrin concerning his ability to heal a man known to have been lame from his mother’s womb, he accuses them: “The Inaugurator of Life you apoktein, Whom God rouses from death, of which we are witnesses!” (v.15) But Peter only means they beat Jesus severely, right?–that is how we are to read it?

When St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians that the Jews who apoktein the Lord Jesus as well as the prophets “and banish us” are not pleasing to God, he only means that they banished the Lord Jesus after severely punishing Him, right? Not talking about two different things (killing-away, and banishing)?

When the ship carrying St. Paul and some fellow prisoners to Rome starts to founder in a storm, the guards recommend apokteining the prisoners (Acts 27:42) so that they won’t escape (and the guards won’t be legally held liable for them). Culturally, though, we should only expect this to mean whipping the prisoners and sending them away from the ship, or something like that, so that they won’t escape, right?

I could give more examples. (When people are being apokteined by the saber in Rev 6:8, that only means giving them some cuts as punishment, right?)

You could of course reply that in these cases, context clearly indicates that yes the people being apokteined (or threatened by that) are being killed. Not just punished in some strong but non-fatal way. But my point is, first, that this is how the verb is usually applied (and maybe universally so in GosMatt and GosLuke, the two texts under immediate consideration); and second that some of the contexts referenced above actually have some connection to your argument in other regards; and third, that since the face-value meaning of the verb is pretty obvious, too (not only killing but killing in some spectacular fashion, like watching someone in a movie kill-hit someone so hard the body flies away which is the imagery the first metaphorical application appeals back to), shouldn’t that (killing in some overtly spectacular fashion) be our first interpretation unless context arguably indicates otherwise?

If you answer that the immediate textual context indicates otherwise, my first answer is going to be that I don’t think your argument (as presented so far) even tried to establish that by apoktein (or even apolesai) the immediate contexts don’t mean kill (even in GosMatt, much less in GosLuke which doesn’t have two different verbs for the saying but only apoktein). You tried to explain it in regard to much larger scale contexts, including OT refs. (True, Jesus goes on in both Gospel reports to reassure his listeners that they shouldn’t fear God after all, but that’s going to be the same regardless of what the verbs are supposed to mean in the specific verses under examination.) My second answer is going to be that I think your appeal to larger scale contexts is kind of dicey, too! :mrgreen: But I’d rather stay focused on immediate contexts for the moment.

3.) The question of the typical use of apoktein in the New Testament (and especially in GosMatt and GosLuke) is of more than passing relevance to the general thrust of your interpretation; because your conclusions totally require (a) apoktein in the Matt version (at least) only applying to non-lethal disciplinary action (by synagogues for example); and (b) God’s threatened action (apolusai in GosMatt, but apoktein again in GosLuke) happening only in this life, not post-mortem.

As I have shown, though, apoktein is not typically used in the NT (especially in the Gospels) to mean only non-lethal (if stern) disciplinary action; on the contrary, there are times when the term is used by contrast to such non-lethal punishment.

And while it may be argued that the Matthean version might be unclear (at least) as to what God would be doing (or when, rather) if He destroyed both body and soul (psuche) in Gehenna, the Lukan version is pretty dang clear (so to speak): God has authority to cast people into Gehenna after killing. That’s the contrast–don’t be afraid of those who, after they have killed the body have nothing “more excessive” (as it reads in the Greek) that they can do to a person. Be afraid of the One Who has the authority to do something more excessive after killing.

The only way around this is to try to present apoktein to clearly mean something much less than kill-away, and even much less than God throwing a person into Gehenna after non-lethally-kill-awaying them (because the same kill-away term is used is used for God’s action, too, in GosLuke). And frankly, this just looks extremely tenuous based on the evidence at hand for use of the verb in question. Awesome terms like “kill-away” are not typically invented and applied for much-less-than-less-than-awesome purposes; and the emphatic use of the term in the NT bears this out.

4.) Your argument also relies explicitly (from the outset even) on this being true: “the word here translated ‘soul’ (psuche) is never said or implied in Scripture to refer to an immortal part of man’s nature, and unless this verse is the single exception, the word is never used to denote a part of man that can exist in a disembodied state after death.”

There is something to be said in favor of considering “soul” to be connected somehow, in many (or most) uses, to “natural, biological life”. (Which would usually be zoe_ in Greek, by the way.) Certainly the word is being used in connection with a life that requires food and water shortly afterward in Matt 10 (as you reported).

However, the term’s underlying Hebrew word nephesh is also used for inorganic things like rocks, in the OT. And more importantly, the nephesh/psuche is regarded as a gift from God Who (and this is of great importance) also has psuche! And this use of the term happens not long afterward in GosMatt, chp 12:18 (quoting OT scripture no less). Nor can it be said that what is being referenced is the psuche of the Son Incarnate–though that would admittedly be a reasonable first guess–because the distinction of Persons being referenced here applies the term to the Father Whose psuche delights in His beloved Son.

Similarly, it is probably not only Jesus’ natural, biological life that is sorrow-stricken (Matt 26:38; Mark 14:34) nor disturbed (John 12:27). It is not very likely that (only?) the natural, biological life is going to hades, where (whether David’s or the Messiah’s) it is not forsaken by God by the way. (Acts 2:27. I say “by the way” since there are some people who, explicitly instructing us to ignore the scriptural contexts of the cry from the cross as well as ignoring some GosJohn testimony that the Father shall not abandon the Son, insist that God the Father forsakes the Son on the cross. Though not you, hopefully. :mrgreen: ) And when 3000 souls were added as a result of his first sermon (Acts 2:41), are we to understand this as meaning only 3000 natural, biological lives? Is Peter only talking about natural, biological life when exhorting us to commit our psuche to God? (1 Pet 4:19) Or when he reports Lot’s just soul being grieved? (2 Pet 2:8) When Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) is to love the Lord our God with all our psuche, is He only talking about our natural, biological life (especially in context with the rest of that statement)? When the psuche of Jesus’ mother Mary was magnifying the Lord (Luke 1:46), did that only mean her natural, biological life?–and when she was warned in prophesy by Simeon (Luke 2:35) that a sword would be striking through her own psuche as well, did he mean only her natural, biological life? (Was she struck down by the spear to the heart as well at the cross??) When the rich man in the parable of the greater grain-bins is taking counsel with himself by saying to his psuche, “Psuche, many good things have you laid up for many years! Rest, eat, drink and make merry!” (Luke 12:19), was he addressing only his natural, biological life? When St. Paul writes in Phil 2:2 that the congregation should be joined in one psuche, is he talking only about natural, biological life?–is that consonant with the whole context of that passage? (Woo-hoo! LOVE FEASTS!! :mrgreen: Where the heck are the orgies in my church on Sunday morning? I’m clearly missing out! Moving to a larger church hasn’t helped at all!–though admittedly the prospects do seem better in some regards. :laughing: )

I am aware, of course, that sometimes psuche means something more natural. (Heck, sometimes it even means something diabolical (James 3:15)!–which again doesn’t seem quite on par with natural, biological life.) It’s somewhat like the way we use the word “heart”. Or, for that matter, it’s somewhat like the way “heart” is used in the Bible. I thought it was very common knowledge that psuche can easily go either way. (One interesting attempt at getting a standard NT definitional usage, involves psuche, or psyche as we would spell it nowadays, being the result of an organic body combining with spirit, for example. I strenuously doubt that this attempt holds up altogether in practice; but it does work pretty well in many cases, including some of the ones I just reffed.)

But then again, maybe you’re a Mormon, and so believe that God the Father (as that Person per se) has a mortal characteristic that does not and cannot exist without an embodied state. :slight_smile: That might be an important doctrinal provision to mention, if so! (And, if so, welcome to our group as the first Mormon commenter I would be aware of, by the way. :smiley: I don’t mean that insultingly; it just occurred to me that this might explain your statement.)

5.) Aaron: “Other than its literal and emblematic meaning [concerning pre-mortem temporal punishments], no other meaning is ever attached to this word [Gehenna] in the inspired Scriptures. Any other meaning one may choose to assign to the word (for whatever reason) is simply without divine sanction and authority.”

I’ll save this particular detail for another day. :wink: It’s true that the term Gehenna doesn’t show up often in the NT (and all but one time it’s in the Synoptics. The other time the term is used is James 3:6. I’m more than a little doubtful that the meaning assigned there can only be either literal, or else emblematic in the sense you gave. Hopefully this won’t mean that whatever meaning assigned to the word for whatever reason in that case is “simply without divine sanction and authority”! :laughing: But it’s also beside the point for the current discussion. I just thought a caution about making such an absolute pronouncement might be in order. Also, you might not consider the Jacobin Epistle to be inspired Scripture, perhaps.)

I’ve got to eat lunch, and then get to work on ‘work’ work this afternoon, so I’ll hold off more commentary and critique until later. This should be plenty to start with anyway. :slight_smile:

Again, thanks very much for writing in on discussion. I’m looking forward to you contributing to some related threads, too!

Hi Jason,

Thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough critique of my paper; it was well-received. As I said to Sonia, I haven’t yet settled on any interpretation of this verse…and since I wrote that paper 2 years ago, I’ve become even less attached to the interpretations I offer therein (especially the first interpretation, which for a while now I’ve felt was somewhat weaker than the second), and I’ve always been willing to part with both interpretations if something more satisfactory were to come along. And in light of the valid objections I think you provide in your response (primarily points 1-3), doing so will be that much easier.

At the same time, your point #4 was hardly necessary (although parts of it were certainly entertaining, and elicited a chuckle or two! :slight_smile: ). I do not, in fact, believe psuche to only carry the meaning of “natural, biological life.” What I said was this:

“…the word here translated “soul” (psuche) is never said or implied in Scripture to refer to an immortal part of man’s nature, and unless this verse is the single exception, the word is never used to denote a part of man that can exist in a disembodied state after death. Far from teaching this, the word psuche is being employed by Christ in the same sense as he uses it in Matthew 6:25 (cf. Matt 2:10),”


"Both here and in Matthew 10:28, psuche simply denotes the natural, biological life of a person…"

So while I do state what I believe psuche does not mean (i.e., what is commonly referred to as the “immortal soul”), I do not, in fact, state what psuche must mean, without exception, throughout Scripture. In another paper I wrote a few years ago, I state the following:

"The Hebrew and Greek words translated soul are nephash and psuche, respectively. Based on how these words are consistently used throughout Scripture, we can understand “soul” in the following ways:

  1. Any created organism whose complexity of organization gives it a capacity for sentient existence; or

  2. That which is common to, and characteristic of, all created, sentient beings (such as life, sensation, instinct, desires, affections, etc.).

(I add the following in a footnote: “For a few examples where nephesh means “desire” or “appetite,” see Ex 15:9; Deut 23:24; Ps 27:12; Prov 6:30, 23:2; Eccl 6:7, 9; Jer 22:27; Micah 7:3; Hab 2:5. Because the Hebrew and Greek words translated “soul” (nephesh and psuche, respectively) can denote both a sentient creature and those attributes that are common to sentient creatures (such as desire and life), there is occasionally some overlap in meaning between them and the words translated “spirit” (ruach/pneuma). For example, whenever “body” (soma) and “soul” (psuche) are distinguished in the NT (e.g., in Matt 6:25), “soul” stands for the life that is common to all biological beings (which must be sustained by food and water, and can be “lost” if one dies, or “saved” if one is kept alive). Whenever body, soul and spirit are distinguished in the NT (e.g., in 1 Thess 5:23), “soul” likely denotes the seat of the desires, emotions and appetites (again, that which is common to all sentient creatures), while “spirit” refers to the conscious thought-life or mental disposition of a person (a capacity possessed only by personal beings such as God, humans and angels); see definition (2) of “spirit.” It may also be added that, in both the OT and the NT, the Hebrew and Greek words translated “heart” are (when used in a figurative sense) equivalent to this second definition of “spirit” (i.e., the governing thought pattern or mental disposition of a person, from which good or evil intentions spring – see Matt 15:18-19).”)

I go on to say, “Under the first definition (which is by far the most common use of the word in Scripture), the word translated “soul” refers to a physical, material creature, and has no reference at all to any aspect of human nature that is immortal, or that maintains a conscious existence after death. Instead, it simply denotes the physical, embodied person themselves. In Leviticus 5:1-4, a soul, or nephash, can see, hear, touch and speak with lips. In Leviticus 7:20-27, it is said that souls can eat and be killed. In Deut 14:26, it is said that souls can hunger and thirst. In Jeremiah 2:34, souls are said to have blood. We are further told that souls can be strangled or snared (Prov. 18:7; 22:25; Job 7:15), torn to pieces by lions (Psalm 7:2) or utterly destroyed by the sword (Josh 11:11; cf. Josh. 10:30-39; Eze. 22:27; Prov. 6:32; Lev. 23:30). Through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned the Israelites that “the soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20; cf. James 5:20). And in Psalm 89:48, it is asked whether one could deliver one’s soul from “the power of Sheol.” David says (concerning Christ) that God would not abandon his soul in Sheol, or let him see corruption (Psalm 16:10; cf. Acts 2:27). Since David is employing Hebrew parallelism (i.e., where the writer expresses the same thought in slightly different words), it follows that for God to abandon Christ’s soul (Christ himself) in Sheol would mean to let him “see corruption” (which is an obvious reference to his physical body, which would have begun to decompose had God not raised him from the dead).”

Continuing: “All of these verses make perfect sense if we simply understand that “soul” is being used interchangeably with a physical, human person. Because the Hebrew and Greek words translated “soul” have the primary sense of a sentient creature when human persons are in view, it is frequently used interchangeably with the human “self.” Hence, the term is also employed emphatically to refer to the persons themselves. For example, when David says, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 35:13), it is simply an emphatic way of saying “I humbled myself with fasting.” Similarly, for Job to say, “My soul is weary of life” (Job 10:1) is simply an emphatic way of saying “I am weary of life.” And for Samson to say, “Let my soul die with the Philistines” (Judges 16:30) is simply to say, “Let me die with the Philistines.” For the prophet Jeremiah to say, “They have dug a pit for my soul” (Jer 18:20) is another way of saying, “they have dug a pit for me.” And in places like Psalm 89:48, “his soul” simply means “he.” Humans are not the only beings referred to as souls, however. The first four times that the word nephash is used in the Bible, it is applied to the lower forms of animal life that God created – i.e., flying, land-dwelling and aquatic creatures (Genesis 1:20-21, 24-25; cf. Rev 16:3). Significantly, the expression nephesh chaiyah (“living soul”) occurs only twelve times in the Old Testament, and of those twelve times, it is applied to human beings only once (Gen 2:7).”

I also have a good deal to say about the words translated “spirit,” (ruach and pneuma), but I’ll forgo posting that for now.

No, I’m definitely not a Mormon! (Although I do enjoy having discussions with them when they come to my door on occasion!) When God refers to his soul, I understand such language to be anthropomorphic (for lack of a better word, since “soul” refers to other created beings besides man), and that it is simply an emphatic way of referring to God’s self (see my examples above in the last paragraph quoted).

Actually, I would suggest that James is in fact ascribing to “Gehenna” its literal meaning in this verse, just as he is ascribing the literal meaning to “fire.” He’s merely using such words in poetic expressions to create a colourful image for his reader, in order to more effectively make his point. It’s my understanding that, by James’ day, Gehenna had become a dump where all the refuse of the city was burned. And while he’s ascribing the literal meaning to the word, the expression in which he uses the word is not to be understood literally - for no one’s tongue is literally set on fire by this dump located south of Jerusalem. But James wanted his readers to get an image of that literal, burning valley in their minds when they thought about the harm which their words could inflict on both others and themselves.

How do you understand Gehenna, and what is your basis for so understanding it?


Alright Jason, after having mulled over Matt 10:28 and Luke 12:5 since I first replied to this thread, I’d like to put forth the following interpretation, which, though not revolutionary (being only a modification of the early universalist view), is perhaps most consistent with a natural, straight-forward reading of both texts. As argued in my original paper, I still hold that psuche means the same thing in Matt 10:28 as it does in Matt 6:25. However, I think a better definition of psuche (for these verses) would be something akin to “the common distinguishing property or attribute of all living things” (i.e., the animating principle which is common to all living things). What I continue to deny is that this word denotes any part of man which consciously exists in a disembodied state after death (something for which I still see no scriptural support :confused: ).

Now, by God’s having the power to kill or destroy both man’s body and the “animating principle” which keeps him alive, I believe is meant that God alone has the power and authority to decree that this animating principle be permanently withheld from man (i.e., that his life be permanently extinguished). And Christ adds the words “in Gehenna” in Matt 10:28 to emphasize that this permanent annihilation of both body and life could take place amidst the greatest and most severe of temporal judgments (which the judgment of Gehenna most certainly was). But like J.W. Hanson (et al), I understand the ability of God to do this to be no indicator that he will, in fact, do it. So why then do we have reason to fear that he may do it? Answer: we don’t, and that seems to be the very point of Christ’s words (as I believe you yourself point out in your response to Tom earlier in this thread). If God (who is our heavenly Father) is the only one who has the power to do this, then we have nothing to fear - for we are far too valuable in God’s eyes for him to permanently withhold from us the gift of life with which he originally blessed us.

Your thoughts?


This article: begins by saying that self is:

And that makes me wonder how much the idea of ‘soul’ has changed over time.


I should also add that, if the last interpretation I offered is valid (and I’m still not completely sold on it!), then implied in Jesus’ words in Luke 12:4-5 is that which Matthew adds in his parallel account (assuming the accounts are parallel) about “body and soul” being “destroyed” in Gehenna. Thus, the meaning of the expression, “fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Gehenna” would be, “fear him who, after he has killed the body, has authority to permanently destroy the very life of man amid the judgment of Gehenna.” In this sense, to be “cast” into Gehenna should be understood as much stronger language than merely being killed at the time of this judgment - it would convey the idea of permanent destruction, and the removal of all hope of one’s life being restored, immediately following one’s death.


So what you are saying is that the difference between those that can kill the body, but not the soul, and the One who can kill both body and soul is ultmately tied to the Resurrection?