3

Matthew 10:28

`And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna. (YLT)

And do not be afraid of 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 hell (Gr Gehenna). (NASB)

According to believers in a eternal conscious torment/separation:

  • What is a soul (ψυχὴν - psychēn)?
  • What is to destroy (ἀπολέσαι - apolesai)?
  • What is gehenna (γεέννῃ - geennē)?
  • As a whole, what does it mean for a soul (psychēn) to be destroyed (apolesai) in gehenna (geennē)?

Link to opposite side: How do Annihilationists interpret Matthew 10:28?


Mirror question on BHSE: What exactly does it mean for a soul to be destroyed in gehenna? Matthew 10:28

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 17 at 12:17

4 Answers 4

3

Negative Argument continued

Part 1 here, Part 2 here, this post is Part 3


In my prior post, I offered definitions of 4 key terms, reviewed relevant parallel passages, and demonstrated 2 contradictions in a competing interpretation.

In this post, I will offer responses to Rajesh’s rebuttal (see here)

Gehenna

I have suggested that in the Jewish mind, Gehenna was a symbol of death & punishment, and I have argued that separation from God is a culturally plausible meaning of death & destruction. My disputant argues that Gehenna could not be used as a symbol for separation from God, because Gehenna is a place of utter desolation, with no conscious survivors, and nothing but oblivious, lifeless corpses.

This is a disagreement on definitions, not symbols. The plausibility of our interpretations of Gehenna then, depends on our definitions of life & death (discussed in the next section). My interpretation of Gehenna as a symbol is not ruled out unless my definition of death is ruled out.

Rajesh also argues that I commit an error of false equivalency in my reference to the use of the grave in other passages. I have not suggested equivalency between Gehenna and the grave, rather, I have responded to the original post made by Rajesh which indicated:

What Gehenna DOES fit with is notions of complete desolation and utter destruction, where there are no conscious survivors(nothing but unconscious, lifeless bodies rotting out in the open until there is nothing left)

(This after showing the association with dead, lifeless corpses through multiple passages)

If Gehenna’s association with lifeless corpses means it can only refer in metaphor to things that are thoroughly lifeless and oblivious, then if I show an association between the grave & lifeless corpses, the same reasoning indicates that the grave can only be used in metaphor to refer to things that are thoroughly lifeless and oblivious.

I demonstrated that this is not true with respect to the way the grave is used in metaphor, meaning the original Gehenna reasoning is not sound. The comparison between Gehenna & the grave is their association with lifeless corpses, not a claim of equivalence.

--

In my prior post I applied a reductive argument to the claim Gehenna eliminates the wicked; a related comment was made in my disputant’s rebuttal: the people who go into Gehenna WILL stay in their state forever.

Rajesh’s response to the reductive argument is reasonable if his definition of death is assumed:

Ge-hinnom is symbolic of the final judgment of the wicked because in the final judgment of the wicked there will be the complete destruction of the life of the wicked(just as how there was complete destruction of life in Ge-hinnom); and because the judgment is final(permanent, everlasting), said destruction of life will last ad infinitum(and hence be the annihilation of life[the permanent/everlasting cessation of life]) (emphasis mine)

But this assumes the very definition of death the argument seeks to prove. I do not believe, however, that he has satisfactorily demonstrated that death & consciousness are mutually exclusive. I will argue below that death does not imply unconsciousness or annihilation.

Furthermore, this fails to acknowledge a significant piece of historical context: this is not how Gehenna was understood by Jesus and the majority of His audience, who believed in the resurrection. Gehenna did not eliminate people from existence, and those who died there would not stay in that state forever.

--

Additional comments to respond to:

that is the most preposterously absurd notion I've ever heard.

This is not an argument, but may be an example of what debaters refer to as “table pounding”, from the adage “when the facts are on your side, pound the facts; when the facts are not on your side, pound the table”.

There's no competition here.

See competing definitions of life & death below.

Life & Death

I have argued that Biblically, death describes a separation, that this is the historically & culturally appropriate understanding of the term.

My thoughts on death as separation:

  • For a Biblical basis on CSE, see here
  • For a Hermeneutic review on BHSE, see here
  • For a Patristic basis, see here
  • For a Macro-theological argument, see here & here

I’ll cite just 3 examples–see links above for more:

  1. The Bible describes mortal life as a coming together of spirit & body (Genesis 2:7), and it describes mortal death as a separation of spirit & body (Eccl. 12:7). The Bible describes eternal life in terms of a relationship with God (John chapter 17, see esp. vss. 3, 19-26), and it describes eternal destruction in terms of separation from God (2 Thess. 1:9).

  2. The parable of the prodigal son demonstrates this worldview very effectively (see Luke 15:24,32). The son never physically dies in the story--but his father describes him as having been dead. His father isn't killing the fatted calf for a dia de los muertos celebration & dressing the boy up for a viewing at the morgue--he knows his son is alive. His son was separated (from his family, from his faith) and he has now rejoined. The son's anguish during the story clearly demonstrates that he's conscious.

  3. From Irenaeus of Lyons (grandson in the faith of the Apostle John):

He that believeth in Me is not condemned," that is, is not separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God; "that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord (Against Heresies 5.27.2)

In these passages and others, there is no implication that death means unconsciousness or annihilation–such an implication is not only absent but actively rejected in multiple Biblical examples (see links above) and in numerous early Patristic writings.

--

Rajesh argues that I have conflated definitions:

In the first paragraph, you define literal killing as depriving the body of life; so, to literally die would mean to have your body deprived of life. And yet, in your second paragraph, you define literal death as a separation of body and spirit.

On the contrary, in the first paragraph I quoted Rajesh’s definition from his original post; in the second paragraph I offered my own.

--

There has been an extended exchange on the use of literal vs. figurative definitions of death–I am not suggesting that Matthew’s use of “to kill” or “to destroy” in Matt. 10:28 is figurative, or that “death as separation” is figurative. I am suggesting that in culturo-historical context, this is what death meant.

Modern Merriam-Webster definitions were cited. However, in interpreting a first-century text, Merriam-Webster definitions from the 21st (or 20th) centuries are not the focus: what counts is how the people of the time and place understood the words.

Rajesh defines two types of life as follows:

To kill a living thing would be to deprive them of the quality that distinguishes them from something dead/lifeless(something inert, inactive, and inanimate). We'll refer to this as life_1. But it also refers to a living person's period of existence(on earth). For example, "I've experienced many things in my life[period of existence on earth]." We'll refer to this as life_2

He further argues:

The reason a living person has existence is because they hold the quality that makes them functional and animate beings(life_1) (emphasis mine)

The latter quote is the critical link used to argue later that existence cannot be retained upon death. I do not grant this description of existence–it assumes an annihilationist concept of existence; since annihilationism is what my disputant seeks to prove (or at least prove beyond reasonable doubt), it cannot be assumed.

One could argue that the “living soul” generated when spirit & body come together (see Genesis 2:7) is no longer a functioning entity upon death (but the reason it isn’t is that there has been a separation! See Eccl. 12:7), and that the body decays, but this in no way requires that the spirit lacks existence (or consciousness).

My disputant’s argument…

I believe that consciousness is a product of the harmony between the physical body and the breath of life, that is, that consciousness is dependent on the unity between body and spirit; a dissolution of the unity[via death] correlates to a dissolution of consciousness

…is stated but not defended. This is not the only plausible definition of consciousness, and competing definitions are offered in the passages (and linked posts) I have cited. As my argument on Matt. 10:28 is defensive––it serves to show that annihilationism is not a necessary conclusion from this passage–I need only show that there is more than one viable definition to render my disputant’s claims unproven.

Destruction

Rajesh argues:

The literal(primary, basic) definition of "destroy" is put an end to the existence of (something) by damaging or attacking it.

On what basis? Many counterexamples could be offered (one particularly frustrating case is a car that is totaled even though only the front end sustains any damage–most of the car remains intact–and certainly still exists–but the car has been destroyed and will never again do what is was meant for. Lest I be accused of anachronism, a parallel argument could be made for a wagon or chariot)

Separating the wicked from God where they remain conscious and alive for eternity is NOT literal destruction of the wicked, because they have not ceased to exist.

Rajesh thereby argues that my interpretation is figurative. I suggest that this proposed definition of “destroy/apollumi” is much too narrow. The NAS Exhaustive Concordance translates forms of apollumi 17 different ways into English, none of which say anything about a cessation of existence (to argue for cessation of existence because apollumi can refer to death would simply collapse this discussion into the discussion of life & death above).

I propose that an understanding of apollumi which is able to more fully encompass the breadth of usage of the term is that “to destroy” is to prevent something from doing what is designed/intended to do. This understanding maintains consistency with all 17 of the NAS English renderings of the word, and encompasses animate or inanimate direct objects:

  • A wine container is destroyed by preventing it from holding liquid
  • Wisdom is destroyed by being outsmarted
  • A son is destroyed by throwing away his future in riotous living
  • A person is destroyed by being barred from what he/she was made by God to do (further discussion later in this post)

Indeed, this latter definition is just how apollumi is used in James 4:12: to destroy is presented as the opposite of to save (and the context is sin, not physical death).

I suggest that apollumi is not a word (like, for example, psuche–see here) which contains multiple mutually-exclusive meanings. Unless we assume annihilationism in advance (which would be to argue in a circle), none of Thayer’s 5 definitions of the term are mutually exclusive (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

The prodigal son is a particularly applicable example because in the parable the son is both “dead” and “destroyed”, yet not non-existent. I’ve offered an understanding of the word that fits all Biblical usages of the term, including the prodigal son.

Other objections:

The argument for applying apollumi to non-existence based on usage by classical authors was not sustained.

ἀπόλλυμι indisputably refers to the literal cessation of life countless times; it never indisputably refers to the spiritual cessation of life.

See a direct spiritual application in Romans 14:15:

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

Paul is not telling the Romans not to kill each other with their dinner, nor to avoid eliminating anyone’s existence. Paul is telling them not to be a spiritual stumbling block to their brothers & sisters.

Hence, there is no basis to say that Jesus is talking about the person(which is NOT an inanimate, lifeless object) being rendered useless(unable to fulfil their purpose) in Gehenna.

This is ironic, because my disputant has argued that Gehenna was a place where inanimate, lifeless bodies were destroyed in the Old Testament. If a corpse is destroyed in Gehenna (a point that is central to Rajesh’s argument), then destruction is being applied to humans & inanimate objects simultaneously. My point with the lost coin example in the prior post is that Jesus was quite capable of using what happens to objects to describe what can happen to people.

It appears, then, that there is overlap between how apollumi can be used to refer to animate objects & inanimate objects–I’ve offered an understanding of the word above that does just that.

Psuche

There appears to be a developing consensus (or near-consensus) in our discussion that the “spirit” or the “breath of life” is a plausible understanding of “psuche” in this passage. This is consistent with the arguments I have presented.

Silent or Synoptic?

Rajesh suggests that my comparison between Matt. 10:28 and its Lukan parallel commits an argument from silence; it need not do so, but the relevance of the Synoptic Problem to this comparison deserves more attention.

Under 3 of the synoptic theories I cited, Luke copied this passage from Matthew. On the Two-Source theory, Luke & Matthew both copied it from Q. Even on the most popular theory of Lukan Priority (see the Lindsey hypothesis), Luke & Matthew still relied upon a common source.

Comparisons across the Synoptic Gospels show that when the evangelists are narrating the story, they are more willing to tell the story in their own words, versus when they are quoting the words of Jesus, they tend to agree much more closely in wording (neither of those statements are absolute, agreement in wording will vary from pericope to pericope, but the pattern is striking; see my work here). This indicates a mentality among the synoptic authors that the words of Jesus were significant and had to be treated with care: the authors are trying to preserve Jesus’ message.

I have argued that Luke repeatedly exhibits a careful “Septuagint-style” translation from a Semitic language into his written Greek. He is not just trying to preserve the general idea; he, like the Septuagint translators before him, seeks to preserve the original structure of the message. This can be demonstrated by observing the Hebrew structure that has been meticulously ported over into the written Greek of the Gospel of Luke. That it sometimes makes for odd reading in Greek, and demonstrates Luke’s reliance upon a written Hebrew source, is argued extensively by Tresmontant in The Hebrew Christ.

Given that Luke either copied this story from Matthew, or that they both copied the story from the same source, and given Luke’s demonstrated efforts to preserve what Jesus said and what it meant, Luke’s relation of this pericope without undertones of annihilation indicates that he did not understand annihilation to be the message of this teaching.

It would be a bold claim indeed to suggest we understand this passage in Matthew better than Luke did.

Perished forever

Rajesh grants that the passages cited from Luke 17 do not teach annihilationism, but suggests my interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:17-18 validates his position.

That without the resurrection the dead would be dead forever is fully consistent with both of our views. That apollumi (“destroyed”) is in this passage referring to a death that lasts forever is also entirely consistent with both of our views.

Whether the second death refers to annihilation, unending torment, unending separation, or unending ruin (or variations on any of those), what is described is permanent. This verse then can be used in an argument for any of those views, but does not favor one over the others.

The Body

Rajesh offers an intriguing discussion of “the body”, a portion of which is, I believe, the strongest part of his argument:

Jesus uses one word(ἀπόλλυμι) to refer to what God does to BOTH ψυχή and body(σῶμα). What God does to the ψυχή in Gehenna, He also does to the body. If ἀπόλλυμι means "render unable to fulfil the purpose", then God renders BOTH the ψυχή and body unable to fulfil their purpose. And according to dualists, the purpose of the body is to hold the soul/spirit/self(or in your case, "eternal self"), thus the purpose of an immortal body(which ECT/ECS proponents believe the wicked are resurrected with) would be to hold the soul/spirit/self for eternity. If in Gehenna said body is rendered useless(unable to fulfil its purpose), then it CANNOT hold the spirit/soul forever, meaning the wicked cannot live forever(meaning they eventually die)

Although I confess I found some portions of my disputant’s post discourteous, I nonetheless upvoted it for the above-quoted statement. Rajesh has not only brilliantly flanked my Contradiction A argument, but has proposed a contradiction in the opposite direction.

This contradiction may possibly be inescapable for ECT/ECS proponents who believe the purpose of the body is to hold the soul/spirit/self–I don’t know, because that is not my view. The shortcoming, then, that this argument has against my view specifically, is that I believe the body has a much greater purpose. Let us consider an analogy:

Cars have a purpose (if not, they’re egregiously over-priced). A car is something that holds people–when they use a car, people usually sit in them. This may well-describe part of the function of a car, but it falls far short of describing the overall purpose of a car. A rocking chair can hold a person…should we replace our cars with rocking chairs? No, because a car is a conveyance to get us from one point to another–holding a person is a means of fulfilling its purpose, but not the purpose in and of itself.

I believe the purpose for which God endowed us with physical bodies is for our progression–getting us from one point in our development to another: it’s all about what are we becoming. Potent descriptors of our journey to become are found in Matt. 5:48, Romans 8:16-17, and 1 John 3:2, to name a few. A more detailed discussion of these passages would merit a post all its own. The spirit & body given by God–and joined together by Him (see Genesis 2:7)--are neither of them ends in themselves–their purpose is to enable us to do what the above-cited passages describe.

--

A few other statements I’d like to respond to:

bodies are alive(though not exactly as people are)

Here Rajesh (accurately) acknowledges that it is possible for something to be alive without being conscious, but also demonstrates the presupposition that has found its way into his earlier arguments, that alive = conscious. I maintain that alive & conscious are separate characteristics.

--

what do humans do to the body? They deprive it of life…They do not eternally separate the body from God

This counterargument misrepresents my view. Humans can separate the body from the thing that gives it life–the spirit.

--

But those who believe in ECT/ECS do not believe that the ψυχή becomes nonfunctional; merely that it cannot fulfil its primary purpose. The ψυχή of a person(operating under the notion of the soul[immortal inner-being]) still retains consciousness/awareness …hence not entirely inoperative(a dead body, however, is fully inoperative; incapable of doing anything at all whatsoever)

This makes a comparison between what man can do and what God can do–that’s the opposite of Matt. 10:28, which contrasts what man can do and what God can do.

--

My disputant also makes the following 4 statements, which–collectively–I believe are incompatible with an annihilationist interpretation of Matthew 10:28:

  1. men have the capacity to shut down our bodies, that is, to cause our bodies to be fully powerless and insentient, unable to perform anything at all

  2. what do humans do to the body? They deprive it of life; make it powerless and lifeless, unable to do anything

  3. they cannot make the ψυχή inert and lifeless

  4. men do not have the ability to make the life-breath permanently powerless/nonfunctional

This falls into the same dilemma I outlined in Contradiction B in my prior argument. Rajesh has suggested that men can temporarily shut down the body (making it inert), but cannot permanently shut down the psuche (making it inert). But this is not the contrast the verse is making: if the psuche is inert/inoperative/unable to do anything between death & the resurrection, men can temporarily render inert both psuche & body!

This fails the test of contradiction B from my prior post.

--

All this to say that God can cause the two components(body and spirit) necessary to create a living being to become eternally nonfunctional(essentially, destroyed), making resurrection(which demands a functional body AND spirit) an impossibility in perpetuity, thereby rendering the person dead(and unconscious) for eternity

This statement also draws an unproven correlation between death & unconsciousness, which I suggest is neither supported by the New Testament text nor was it understood that way by its early readers.

It is not entirely clear to me what position Rajesh is taking on the resurrection–I gather he is suggesting that the wicked will be resurrected, but not into immortal bodies. This is contradicted by 1 Cor. 15:52-54. If, on the other hand, he is suggesting that resurrection is only granted to the righteous, this is contradicted by 1 Cor. 15:22. I’ll offer what I believe these passages from 1 Cor. 15 (combined) indicate:

Only God gives bodies immortality–even to Xerxes–from Goliath to Gideon–whether powerful, wicked, righteous, simple, or anywhere in between, all are powerless on their own to be raised from death, but God will grant a resurrected, immortal body to all of them. If God did not do this, then men really could bring about a permanent end of the physical body. The reason that men cannot do this, is that God in His power intervenes and resurrects. If God then proceeded to destroy the physical body through annihilation, what was the point of saying men cannot destroy the physical body? They did destroy it, and it would have been permanent without Divine intervention. I do not believe God resurrects the dead simply for the purpose of showing off His ability to destroy things better than wicked men do.

Conclusion

We could probably go on for many more rounds, each cogently defending his viewpoint and comparing ad infinitum different analogies & word-meanings. In an effort to avoid an eternal debate, which could be perceived by readers and/or writers as conscious torment, I suggest the following concluding thoughts:

  • Neither Rajesh nor I have annihilated the other’s interpretation of the verse–both of us have shown how Matt. 10:28 can be read consistently with our respective viewpoints–thus, the verse constitutes proof for neither
  • There is a clear & conscious separation between our viewpoints–upon which much of the argument hangs–we hold different understandings of the meaning of “death”

I’ll end with my concluding thoughts from my earlier post: Matthew 10:28 is thereby neutralized as a prooftext for either view.


Humorous addendum not directly tied to my argument above

Given the ambiguity clearly evident in this passage, wouldn't it be nice if God had more to say on the subject, that could clear things up?

2
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 28 at 3:48
  • Hi HTTR. I made my rebuttal. Ok, it isn't really a rebuttal, since I don't respond to any of your arguments. But I don't need to. I realize I made many, many mistakes in the original formulations of my arguments, which made it very easy for you to either strawman my arguments or miss the point of my arguments and employ red herrings, so that's on me(+ I had added some sections that were impertinent to my arguments). So, I sliced through the thick jungle vines and just went straight to the point as clearly as possible. My refurbished answer should end the debate once and for all. Take care! :-)
    – Rajesh
    Mar 27 at 5:56
3

The answer turns on the word "destroy" versus the word "kill". With this distinction, the verse interprets itself.

KILL, apokteino, from Vines, emphasis mine

1 Strong's Number: g615 Greek: apokteino Kill:

"to kill," is used (a) physically, e.g., Mat 10:28; 14:5, "put... to death," similarly rendered in Jhn 18:31; often of Christ's death; in Rev 2:13, RV, "was killed" (AV, "was slain"); Rev 9:15, RV, "kill" (AV, "slay"); Rev 11:13, RV, "were killed" (AV, "were slain"); so in Rev 19:21;

DESTROY, apollymi, from Vines, emphasis mine

1 Verb Strong's Number: g622 Greek: apollymi Destroy, Destroyer, Destruction, Destructive:

a strengthened form of ollumi, signifies "to destroy utterly;" in Middle Voice, "to perish." The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being. This is clear from its use, as, e.g., of the marring of wine skins, Luk 5:37; of lost sheep, i.e., lost to the shepherd, metaphorical of spiritual destitution, Luk 15:4, 6, etc.; the lost son, Luk 15:24; of the perishing of food, Jhn 6:27; of gold, 1Pe 1:7. So of persons, Mat 2:13, "destroy;" Mat 8:25, "perish;" Mat 22:7; 27:20; of the loss of well-being in the case of the unsaved hereafter, Mat 10:28; Luk 13:3, 5; Jhn 3:16 (ver. 15 in some mss.); 10:28; 17:12; Rom 2:12; 1Cr 15:18; 2Cr 2:15, "are perishing;" 2Cr 4:3; 2Th 2:10; Jam 4:12; 2Pe 3:9. Cp. B, II, No. 1.

From Greek NT Words

Definition to destroy to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin render useless to kill to declare that one must be put to death metaph. to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed to destroy to lose

In short, the idea of destroy is not one of utter disappearance or dissolvement, but of the loss of well-being, of ruin.

With this in mind, we may parse the remainder of the verse.

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. Mt 10:28

As My disciples, you will face danger (verses 24-27). Fear not people who can only kill your body because they may only kill your body, but never your soul. Your body perishes, but your soul once born is eternal. Fear God instead, the Creator. Understand you may be killed by men (apokteino), but only God may destroy (apollymi) both your body and your soul. This does not mean you disappear, but you may exist in hell, eternally separated from God. Therefore, serve God, not men.

TO ADD:

What is a soul (ψυχὴν - psychēn)?

the soul the seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions (our heart, soul etc.) the (human) soul in so far as it is constituted that by the right use of the aids offered it by God it can attain its highest end and secure eternal blessedness, the soul regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (distinguished from other parts of the body)

What is to destroy (ἀπολέσαι - apolesai)?

see answer above

What is gehenna (γεέννῃ - geennē)?

Hell is the place of the future punishment called "Gehenna" or "Gehenna of fire". This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.

As a whole, what does it mean for a soul (psychēn) to be destroyed (apolesai) in gehenna (geennē)?

see answer above

0
2
+100

Negative Argument

Positive Arguments were provided in a separate post for readability; in this post I’ll respond to competing views; in particular, the very studious & detailed post by Rajesh here.


Contents

In my prior post I offered definitions of Gehenna, death, the soul, and destruction–I will review key definitions and offer a response to competing views as follows:

  1. Gehenna

  2. Literal vs. spiritual death

  3. The soul

  4. Destruction

  5. Parallel passages

  6. Contradiction in the Argument

1. Gehenna

I will grant that the association of Gehenna with garbage in general is ambiguous in the early sources (it is not ambiguous in later sources); however, its significant association with fire is not ambiguous at all. It is a place where bodies were burned on multiple occasions.

Rajesh suggests, though, that the association between Gehenna & dead, rotting, lifeless corpses, indicates that usage of Gehenna in eschatological metaphor must also refer to things that are not conscious, but are “are thoroughly lifeless and oblivious”. This does not follow; the grave is unambiguously associated with dead, rotting, lifeless corpses as well, and yet, we have multiple Biblical passages referencing the grave giving up its dead–a place that was once the site of lifeless corpses is now used in a depiction of beings that are neither lifeless nor oblivious:

12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves (Ezekiel 37:12)

Also from Ezekiel 37:

2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.

5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

A valley specifically and directly associated with lifeless corpses is now being used in a metaphor for the resurrection! And the dead returning from the sea, death, and Hades are mentioned in Revelation:

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:12-13)

To make the case for annihilation Rajesh suggests: Compare the entirety of Jeremiah 31 to Revelation 20-22. The conception is that Ge-hinnom is a place where evil, and all those who have set their hearts on evil, are annihilated; obliterated from existence. And that because of this a New World, thoroughly free of all wickedness, can finally flourish! Gehenna eliminates the wicked (emphasis mine)

Annihilation, obliteration–Jeremiah says nothing of the sort. To claim annihilationism on the basis that Gehenna eliminates the wicked is to stretch the metaphor to the breaking point, to the point of denying the resurrection. If the people slaughtered in Gehenna were eliminated (or annihilated) are they un-eliminated and un-annihilated at the resurrection? (if so, annihilate doesn’t really mean annihilate). Or is Gehenna so destructive that the people who died there (even the righteous children!?) cease to exist forever, without resurrection? Clearly this is not what Gehenna would have meant to Jesus’ first-century audience.

Objection: It would not make any sense for Jesus to use Gehenna to signify something completely distinct(e.g. conscious existence that lasts forever) from the concepts of Ge-hinnom in the Old Testament.

First, the New Testament regularly does apply new light and meaning to Old Testament passages.

Second, Gehenna is associated by the Jewish culture not with annihilation but with death. I have argued elsewhere that Biblically, death describes a separation. This point was not countered in Rajesh’s argument.

Jesus is using Gehenna–associated with death–to signify an even more devastating form of death: spiritual death, separation from God (see 2 Thess 1:8-9).

2. Literal vs. spiritual death

Some of the objections raised:

Or do you think that Jesus, in using the exact same word within the exact same context merely half a second apart, is talking about the same type of killing when referencing both the body and soul?

First, it is not clear that we know what word He used–this passage is written in Greek. Was the sermon given in Greek? Maybe there’s an outside chance…but He’s speaking to the apostles here..more likely He’s speaking Aramaic or Hebrew and what we have is a translation. What we have then, in Greek, is the writer using the same word in a parallelism.

That said, the point may be moot either way.

Rajesh proposes there is an irreconcilable distinction between using the verb ἀποκτείνω to describe “literal” killing (as in depriving a physical body of life) and “spiritual” killing (separation from God). No such distinction is needed on the definitions I have offered.

If death is a separation, then ἀποκτείνω is being used consistently in both cases, no literal vs. figurative dichotomy exists. A person dies physically when the physical body & spirit separate (the opposite of what happened in Genesis 2:7) A person dies spiritually when they separate from God (the opposite of what is described repeatedly in John 17).

In this case, and under this worldview, neither Jesus (speaking to Jews) nor Matthew (writing to Jews) have massively misled their entire audience.

3. The soul

The Greek word ψυχή (“psuche”) and its Hebrew counterpart (“nephesh”) do not have only one meaning. Thayer offers 6 different uses of the word psuche (see here ). I’ll briefly outline the definitions from Thayer:

  1. The breath of life; the vital force which animates the body

  2. Life

  3. That in which there is life; a living being

  4. The seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions

  5. A moral being designed for everlasting life

  6. An essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death

A long list of NT examples favoring 1 specific definition is not dispositive, considering that the Greek word is used 104 times (in quite a variety of ways) in the New Testament (ibid).

Objection: I made a massively thorough case for the Hebrew counterpart of ψυχή, נֶפֶשׁ(pronounced nephesh), never referring to the immaterial, immortal conscious part of a person

Note that the case is even weaker for nephesh, which BDB indicates holds 10 principal definitions & 27 sub-definitions, spread over 754 Old Testament occurrences. (source)

A few (of a greater set) examples that nephesh, like psuche, can be used to refer to:

  • Spirit/the thing that gives life: 1 Kings 17:21-22, Jeremiah 15:9, Deut. 12:23
  • Mind: Psalm 139:14, Esther 4:13, Proverbs 2:10

These words have a great breadth of usage; from the premise that one usage is most common it does not follow inductively or deductively that that usage should be applied by default to other passages and other contexts.

4. Destruction

Rajesh rightly makes the point that the verb ἀπόλλυμι (“apollumi”) carries multiple connotations. He cites classical writers to show that apollumi is sometimes used to describe complete non-existence.

Offense vs. defense - my argument on Matthew 10:28 is not an offensive argument designed to prove post-mortal consciousness (I have made arguments in other posts with that in mind); my prior argument is a defensive argument–it serves to show that annihilationism is not a necessary conclusion from this passage. As such, the fact that apollumi can be used to describe complete non-existence doesn’t go far enough; if apollumi could describe complete non-existence or it could describe something else, annihilationism is neither proved nor disproved. My arguments that apollumi describes something other than complete non-existence remain intact.

Objection: There is no evidence to support the notion that Jesus was speaking about spiritual destruction in Matthew 10:28, and all the evidence to support the notion that Jesus was speaking about literal destruction in Matthew 10:28.

There is substantive evidence contrary to cessation of existence in an unusually comparable passage: the prodigal son (see discussion below under “parallel passages”).

Furthermore, as noted above in the discussion of death, I do not subscribe to the literal vs. figurative/spiritual dichotomy of destruction presented here–I believe that clay shattered into shards and people separated from God experience a very real destruction, but this need not imply a cessation of existence. It destroys their ability to fulfill their potential.

Objection: The examples of where ἀπόλλυμι refers to rendering something unable to fulfil its purpose…what do they all have in common? In each one of them, ἀπόλλυμι refers to something that happens to inanimate(lifeless) objects…But Matthew 10:28 is not dealing with inanimate objects; it's dealing with humans

Jesus used inanimate objects to represent humans in other teachings as well (e.g. the parable of the lost coin); so Jesus can indeed deal with inanimate objects & humans in the same lesson.

Objection: But the moments where ἀπόλλυμι refers to the ceasing of person's life vastly outweigh the moments where ἀπόλλυμι refers to people who are/could be lost

It takes only one counterexample to falsify an inductive argument. Rajesh acknowledges that apollumi is sometimes used to mean something other than the cessation of life, eliminating the possibility of an inductive argument against apollumi holding one of several potential meanings in this verse. But note that even in the case of the cessation of life, the definition offered in my post and defended here still stands: the cessation of life is a separation, not a loss of consciousness.

This statement then is ironic:

Incontrovertibly, the primary use of ἀπόλλυμι when referring to people is to denote the END OF LIFE. It never once refers to rendering a person unable to fulfil their purpose(only to rendering lifeless OBJECTS unable to fulfil their purpose).

  • Primary use is not equivalent to sole use
  • “End of life” is what I have suggested is described by the passage–we just have different views on what end of life means
  • “Lifeless objects” - my disputant spent a large portion of his post describing dead humans in Gehenna as lifeless objects.

Specific “apollumi” passages referenced:

  • Luke 17:27 - using this passage to argue for annihilationism is circular–it presupposes a meaning of death and then uses that assumption to argue for that meaning of death. We don’t disagree that many people died (did not survive) in the flood. We disagree on what death means.
  • Luke 17:29 - same objection
  • 1 Cor. 15:17-18 - If Jesus was never resurrected, then those who died in Him would never be resurrected. I agree. The resurrection rescues the body from the grave and the spirit from Sheol (see Psalm 16:10, Rev. 20:12-13); without it, the children of God would be forever blocked from progress and unable to meet their potential. Furthermore, Jesus would not have completed His atoning sacrifice in overcoming the Fall, leaving people–as Paul very astutely observed–”yet in [their] sins”. Without the potential to be cleansed from sin, nobody would be in a blissful paradise. Paul’s point is not that the righteous in the past have perished, but that if people had no option but to remain in their sins, they would perish. They would be eternally separated from God.

5. Parallel passages

Luke 12:4-5

This is the parallel to Matthew 10:28, which Luke either copied from Matthew (Two-Gospel, Farrer, or Clementine-Hebrew hypotheses) or from their common source, Q (Two-source hypothesis). Luke apparently did not understand the thrust of the message to be one of annihilation–he says nothing at all about it.

Luke, who was far better positioned than we are–in time, place, culture, linguistics, and association–to understand exactly what Matthew/Q meant, understood the focus of the passage to be the fate of being cast into Gehenna–sent somewhere with eternal consequences.

--

The Prodigal Son

The parable of the prodigal son is uniquely relevant to our analysis, because it is a passage in which both “death” and “destruction” (same verb) are used in a parallelism, a striking correspondence to Matthew 10:28:

For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost (apollumi), and is found. And they began to be merry. (Luke 15:24; see also verse 32 which uses this parallelism again)

The parable of the prodigal son demonstrates the death-as-separation worldview very effectively--the son never physically dies in the story--but his father describes him as having been dead. His father isn't killing the fatted calf for a dia de los muertos celebration, and the boy certainly hasn’t ceased from conscious existence. The father knows his son exists, is alive, and is conscious. His son was separated (from his family, from his faith) and he has now rejoined. The father describes that separation using “dead” and “destroyed” (the latter root verb is our good friend apollumi, discussed above)

6. Contradiction in the Argument

My disputant makes the following claims:

  1. Men are literally capable of putting an end to someone's life by killing(ἀποκτεῖναι) the body

  2. In describing the destruction of the flood: The life of every single creature on land had ceased to exist

  3. In describing those in Sheol: nonexistent (whether it’s temporary or permanent is another matter–they key statement is that those in Sheol are nonexistent)

  4. ἀπόλλυμι in Matthew 10:28 refer[s]...to literal destruction

  5. The passage should be understood as follows: Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who can kill your body[temporarily killing you] but cannot [permanently] kill your life[ψυχή]. Instead, fear the One who can [do what men cannot] permanently kill[annihilate] both life[ψυχή] and body in Gehenna[the place of utter desolation where there are no survivors].

On this view there are 2 contradictions:

Contradiction A

Men are literally capable of ending someone’s life (“them which kill the body,”), but if psuche means life here, men are simultaneously not capable of ending someone’s life (psuche) (“ are not able to kill the soul”). The propositions “capable” & “not capable” are contradictory.

--

Contradiction B

If the lifeless cease to exist, then the fate of the psuche and the fate of the body share a significant common feature: they are both lifeless between death & the resurrection, and they both become lively at the resurrection.

This directly contradicts the passage which contrasts what men can do to the body vs. what men can do to the psuche. Both what men can do and what men cannot do are described using the same verb, apokteino (½ a second apart?), yet my disputant suggests different meanings for this verb in the same phrase (see claim 5 above). It’s the actions of God--not men--that have a different verb assigned (apollumi).

The annihilationist interpretation of Matthew 10:28 holds that men can temporarily render non-existent the body and the psuche, and that God can permanently render non-existent the body and the psuche.

  • P1_A: men can temporarily render non-existent the body
  • P2_A: men can temporarily render non-existent the psuche
  • P3_A: God can permanently render non-existent the body
  • P4_A: God can permanently render non-existent the psuche

But this is not what the passage states. Let X refer to whatever we decide men are not capable of doing in this verse. Here is a neutral rendering of the first 2 premises (direct from the text, with no theological superstructure built on top):

  • P1: men can X the body
  • P2: men cannot X the psuche

In the latter set of premises the contrast is between P1 & P2, but this contrast is entirely absent in the “A” premises above. Regardless of what we decide “X” refers to, the statement in Matthew 10:28 is irreconcilable with P1_A & P2_A above.

Conclusion

My intention in this post is not to prove that post-mortal consciousness must follow from the passage, but to demonstrate that annihilationism need not follow from the passage (aka playing defense).

I sincerely compliment Rajesh for a studious & detailed presentation of a competing view.

As shown by the exchange of ideas between Rajesh & my posts:

  • Those who believe in annihilationism–on the basis of other passages–offer a means of interpreting Matthew 10:28 consistent with their views
  • Those who believe in some form of an eternal soul–on the basis of other passages–offer a viable means of interpreting Matthew 10:28 consistent with their views

Matthew 10:28 is thereby neutralized as a prooftext for either view.

1
  • HTTR I have at last concluded my rebuttal. I hope you enjoy it! :)
    – Rajesh
    Feb 24 at 22:11
1

Positive Argument

Negative arguments were provided in a separate post for readability


What is Gehenna

Literally: a valley southwest of Jerusalem notorious for the burning of bodies (and potentially much more) that took place there

Figuratively: the final place of punishment of the ungodly (source)

A comparison between Mark 9:43-44 & Revelation 20:13-15 makes it clear that the "lake of fire"--in Revelation's apocalyptic description to a Hellenistic audience--is the same concept as "Gehenna", used by Jesus & James in teaching a Jewish audience.

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:13-15)

In this passage (KJV), "hell" is Hades and the "lake of fire" is Gehenna.

--

What is a soul

a. Sometimes ψυχή "psuché" (and its Hebrew counterpart נֶפֶשׁ "nephesh") is used to describe the entity created by the combination of a body & spirit (as in Genesis 2:7)

b. Sometimes it's used synonymously with spirit (as in Acts 20:10)

Thayer has an excellent discussion of 2 primary uses and 6 sub-uses of the word (see here).

That Matthew 10:28 uses the word to refer to the "spirit" is evident by comparing the two possible renderings of the passage:

a. If "soul" in this context = body + spirit: "fear him which is able to destroy both [spirit and body] and body in hell"

b. If "soul" in this context = spirit: "fear him which is able to destroy both [spirit] and body in hell"

Option a (as in Genesis 2:7) does not require appending the word "body" to the last clause; since "body" is appended to the statement, option b (as in Acts 20:10) is clearly intended.

--

What is to destroy

The Greek root used here is ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi), frequently used in the New Testament as "kill" or "destroy". That the word does not, however, demand the notion of annihilation is evident by looking at its usage in several passages:

The Prodigal Son

In the final verse of the parable, the father says to the older son:

It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. (Luke 15:32)

Apollumi is the verb translated "lost". Clearly, the prodigal son was not annihilated, nor did he experience a cessation of conscious existence. The son had been lost or destroyed in that he had failed to live up to his potential, he was dead/separated from his family and his faith. In this case, "destruction" did not even render the son past hope of repair.

Broken vessels

All 3 synoptic gospels use apollumi to describe the wine containers that break--we'll use Matthew's rendering as an example:

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish (Matt. 9:17)

The bottles (containers) perish; they are destroyed--but they do not cease to exist. Even a container shattered into a thousand pieces still exists: but it is no longer able to fulfil the function for which it was designed.

I propose then, the following definition of "to destroy" as generally applicable to the passages under consideration: to render something unable to fulfil its purpose.

--

Death as separation

Biblically, death describes separation, not annihilation.

  • Physical death: separation of body & spirit
  • Spiritual death: separation from God

I have written more extensively on this topic here; for purposes of this post, the passages above demonstrate that "destroy" can mean "kill", but need not convey a cessation of existence at all (annihilation).

--

Conclusion

As a whole, what does it mean for a soul to be destroyed in gehenna?

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

Humans are the offspring of God, intended to be heirs of his glory. God joined together body & spirit (see Genesis 2:7) so that His children could progress towards that purpose.

"Destroy both soul and body in Gehenna" indicates that this body & spirit will suffer the second death (see Rev. 20:14); this fate is further described by Paul:

Such people will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction by being separated from the Lord's presence and from his glorious power (2 Thess 1:9)

This means being permanently separated from God and thereby rendered unable to fulfill their purpose.

9
  • I've approached this question from the perspective of eternal separation rather than the perspective of eternal torment. I am of the opinion that on either approach, the final sentence of the post would be the same...it would just take a lot longer to get there by working through the meaning of eternal torment Feb 15 at 3:16
  • 1
    "they do not cease to exist. Even a container shattered into a thousand pieces still exists: but it is no longer able to fulfil the function for which it was designed." Question: Is a broken window still a window? That is to say, if you shatter a window, does the window still exist? The definition of "window" necessitates that light particles are capable of being transmitted; a broken window is not capable of doing that, hence the window is nonexistent. When annihilationists say that a person becomes nonexistent, we don't necessarily mean that all their atoms are obliterated from existence.
    – Rajesh
    Feb 15 at 3:31
  • 1
    @HoldToTheRod - probably of interest :-) christianity.stackexchange.com/q/89692/50422 Feb 17 at 23:57
  • 1
    @HoldToTheRod I have a question. Do you think you could write me an answer to my question here: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/89575/… I want to understand your perspective on the Second Death(i.e. how you would resolve the contradiction presented in my question). So far, no one has been able to resolve the contradiction. I'd like to see if you could + I wanna get your perspective on it. So, I'd appreciate it if you could write an answer. Thanks! :D
    – Rajesh
    Feb 18 at 5:41
  • 1
    @Rajesh - so that it is a fair trade, would you also post an answer (not just comments) to this question christianity.stackexchange.com/q/89602/50422 ? Feb 18 at 12:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .