Section 9B .. The Future
The Problems With The Traditional View of Hell

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What and Where is Hell?
Part IV...
Those Overlooked Greek Words

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

Introduction and Index To All Chapters


The Greek word Aionios Does Mean Eternal, But ...
The Greek word apollumi (Destroy)
The Greek Word Nekros (Dead)
The Greek Words Phthora and Diaphthora (Decay, Rot)
The Greek Word Thanatos (Death)

I Corinthians 15 - Further Inconsistencies In Translation

Immortality of The Soul?
Eternal Life... a Result of Redemption

Where The Concept of Immortality Originated


The Greek word Aionios Does Mean Eternal, But...
Most traditionalists point to passages such as Matthew 25:46 for support...

    And these shall go away into eternal (Gr. aionios) punishment: but the righteous into eternal (Gr. aionios) life. (Matthew 25:46)

Since the same word aionios (eternal in English), is used of both sinners and the righteous, they conclude that the punishment must be just as eternal as "life" is.

This is true.

However, we have assumed that the words 'eternal punishment' means unending torment. The text says nothing of the sort. Death that lasts forever can also fall into the category of "eternal punishment'.

Note how the book of Hebrews speaks of "eternal judgment" then, just three chapters later, speaks of "eternal redemption".

    of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal (Gr. aionios) judgment. (Hebrews 6:2 NASB)

    But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal (Gr. aionios) redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12 NASB)

Redemption itself was a once and for all happening 2000 years ago. The result of the redemption continues on forever. Similarly, you are judged just once, but the results of the judgment last forever.

The word aionios has also been used in Matthew 18:8 that is a repeat of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:29-30

     "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal (Gr. aionios) fire. (NASB)

Christians understand that the first part of the message is not to be taken literally - Jesus was not telling us to dismember ourselves or gouge our eyes out but was, very graphically, emphasizing the seriousness of sin.

Why then is the second half of the message assumed to be literal?

In any case a literal interpretation flatly contradicts maNy, many other passages that specifically say sinners die, perish, rot, decay etc.

The Greek word apollumi (Destroy)
In one of His messages the Savior warned that the most men can do is to destroy the body, but God is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

    Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy (Gr. apollumi) both soul and body in hell (Gr. Gehenna). (Matthew 10:28 NASB)

Jesus did not say anything about fearing a God who can perpetually punish the sinner, but fearing a God who can annihilate body and soul. The word translated destroy is the Greek apollumi, which means to destroy fully or kill.. This is made clear by the following examples

    Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy (Gr. apollumi) Him."  (Matthew 2:13 NASB)

    and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. "But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed (Gr. apollumi) those murderers and set their city on fire. (Matthew 22:6-7 NASB)

    They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing! (Gr. apollumi) " And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. (Luke 8:24 NASB)

    through which the world at that time was destroyed (Gr. apollumi), being flooded with water. (2 Peter 3:6 NASB)

John 3:16.
Even John 3:16, one of the best known, and most comforting, verses in the Bible, is one of the clearest verses about the fate of unredeemed sinners. When John says believers should not "perish", the obvious implication is that unbelievers do.

    "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish (Gr. apollumi), but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NASB)

Paul said that those who do not obey the gospel "will pay the penalty of eternal destruction"and if Christ had not been raised then believers have perished.

    and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (Gr. apollumi). (1 Corinthians 15:17-18 NASB)

    who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction (Gr. olethros, a derivative of ollumi) from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

 If an everlasting hell were true, then perish would actually mean 'never perish'.

The Greek Word Nekros (Dead)
It is particularly noteworthy that the Bible frequently speaks of spiritual enlightenment as "life" and spiritual darkness as "death."

    Jesus told a potential disciple, "Follow me, and let the dead (Gk. nekros) bury their own dead (Gk. nekros) " (Matthew 8:22).

    He also told the church in Sardis, "'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead (Gk. nekros)." (Revelation 3:1). 

    Paul told the Ephesians that were once dead (Gk. nekros) in their trespasses and sins, (Ephesians 2:1).

    Later on he said "For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead  (Gk. nekros), and Christ will shine on you." 

Nekros means a 'corpse' or 'dead'. The word necropolis stems from the Ancient Greek nekropolis that literally means "city of the dead". It once referred to ancient cemeteries with elaborate tombs but is even now sometimes applied to modern planned city cemeteries. Necromancy is the practice of supposed communicating with the deceased especially in order to predict the future.  Necrophilia is a sexual attraction or act involving corpses.

There are those that will claim that nekros is being used figuratively, in which case we have absolutely no idea what Jesus meant when he said,

    "Heal the sick, raise the dead (Gk. nekros), cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.  (Matthew 10:8 NASB)

And we would have to assume that Jesus rose figuratively

    As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead (Gk. nekros)."  (Matthew 17:9 NASB)

And, I guess John was very mistaken -  Lazarus wasn't dead at all.

    Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (Gk. nekros). (John 12:1 NASB)

The Greek Words Phthora and Diaphthora (Decay, Rot)

The Greek word phthora translated "corruption" means decay. It was used in verses like

    For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption (Gk. phthora) that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:4 NASB)

    But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction (Gk. phthora) of those creatures also be destroyed (Gk. phtheiro), (2 Peter 2:12 NASB)

Several verses in Acts use the related word diaphthora when speaking of how David died and decayed in a grave, but Christ the 'Holy One' did not.

     "As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay (Gr. diaphthora), He has spoken in this way: 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.' "Therefore He also says in another Psalm, 'You will not allow your Holy One to undergo decay (Gr. diaphthora).' "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay (Gr. diaphthora); but He whom God raised did not undergo decay (Gr. diaphthora). (Acts 13:34-37 NASB) (Also see Acts 2:27 and 32)

In the book of Galatians, Paul wrote

    Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption (Gk. phthora), but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8 NASB)

What is noteworthy about this last verse is that eternal life is set in opposition to corruption. You do not live forever in an eternal hell, but decay and perish.

The Greek Word Thanatos (Death)
There is no argument - the Greek word thanatos means 'dead' -  stone cold dead - evident by the following verses,

    "For God said, 'honor your father and mother,' and, 'he who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death (Gk. thanatos).' (Matthew 15:4 NASB)

    saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death (Gk. thanatos) and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. (Mark 10:33 NASB)

    But he said to Him, "Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death (Gk. thanatos)!"  (Luke 22:33 NASB)

    And he said to them the third time, "Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death (Gk. thanatos); therefore I will punish Him and release Him."  (Luke 23:22 NASB)

    "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death (Gk. thanatos) by which He was to die. (John 12:32-33 NASB)

    And in those days men will seek death (Gk. thanatos) and will not find it; they will long to die, and death (Gk. thanatos) flees from them.  (Revelation 9:6 NASB)

    So when Paul wrote "the wages of sin is death (Gk. thanatos)" (Romans 6:23), he must have been hopelessly confused, because the wages of sin is not death but eternal life in hell. (How exactly someone can transform 'death' into 'eternal life in hell' is well beyond me).

    For the wages of sin is death (Gk. thanatos), but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:23 NASB)

Consider also the following verses

     "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death (Gk. thanatos)."  (John 8:51 NASB)

    "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death (Gk. thanatos) into life. (John 5:24 NASB)

    For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death (Gr. thanatos). (2 Corinthians 7:10)

    For since by a man came death (Gk. thanatos), by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  (1 Corinthians 15:21 NASB)

    but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death (Gk. thanatos) and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, (2 Timothy 1:10 NASB)

See Footnote 3 for many more examples.  (below)

I Corinthians 15 - Further Inconsistencies In Translation
The first half of this chapter is devoted to the resurrection of Jesus, the second to the importance of the resurrection for all Christians. If Christ had not been raised our faith is in vain. However, He was raised from the dead -  the first fruits of those who are asleep. Following the same train of thought Paul goes on to say "The last enemy that will be abolished is death (Gr. thanatos) (Vs. 26) and later on rhetorically asks

    O death (Gk. thanatos), where is thy sting? O grave (Gk. Hades), where is thy victory? The sting of death (Gk. thanatos) is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:55-56 KJV)

But here is what is interesting.

Every single time the word Hades appears in the New Testament, it is translated into "hell" in the KJV and left untranslated in the ASV, except for 1 Corinthians 15:55 where it is rendered "death" or "grave".

    ASV: O death (Gr. thanatos), where is thy victory? O death (Gr. Hades), where is thy sting?

    KJV: O death (Gr. thanatos), where is thy sting? O grave (Gr. Hades), where is thy victory?

    NIV: Where, O death (Gr. thanatos), is your victory? Where, O death (Gr. Hades), is your sting?"

The translators were apparently reluctant to use the original Greek 'Hades" or even translate it into 'hell, because they were under the impression that Hades/hell is an everlasting place of punishment and no one in their right mind could claim victory over a place that will last forever.

The only way for them to save Paul's reputation was to, once again, take extraordinary liberties with the Greek proper name. And that is not all. Obviously trying to avoid the impression that Jesus could have been abandoned to a fiery hell, the NIV goes one step further translating Hades into "the realm of the dead" in two instances. (Emphasis Added)

    because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead (Gr. Hades), you will not let your holy one see decay. (Acts 2:27 NIV)

    Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead (Gr. Hades), nor did his body see decay. (Acts 2:31 NIV)

In summary, the resurrection of believers is a victory over death itself and, in a manner of speaking, a victory over Sheol/Hades as the place of the dead.

However the Bible doesn't speak of dying once which is bad enough, but it also says the unredeemed die twice.
See The Second Death in the next chapter - New Testament Symbolism

Okay, so we all know that our bodies decay but aren't our soul immortal as many, if not most, Christians seem to believe?

Immortality of The Soul
If I had penny for each person that believed that the soul is immortal and survives the death of the body, I would be a very rich woman. In fact, one or another version of an "immortal soul" is found among almost all religions today. The theory of reincarnation believes that souls are reborn in new bodies, which is a whole other topic.

Most Christians believe that the soul is immortal based on the fact that the Bible says God created mankind in His own image. Even respected Christian theologian Norman Geisler says (More about this article in chapter 7 - Making excuses for God - How Christians Justify Their Misinterpretation of Scripture

    Were God to annihilate human beings he would be attacking himself, for we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27) and God is immortal, thus we have to be just as immortal as He is. [04]

Although people can get pretty dogmatic in their opinions, the fact remains that we do not know exactly what being "in God's image" means. All we can be certain of is that since God does not have a physical body we cannot be patterned after His physical likeness. The rest is opinion and conjecture.  Certainly it is possible that our emotions, our ability to love etc. may be examples of how we are made in God's image.

However, it would serve us well to remember that the Scriptures never once say, nor even imply, that the soul immortal and imperishable. Yet, if you boil it down most of the church, assuming that the idea has it's origins in the Bible, believes that "everyone has eternal life; it's only a matter of where each will spend it." 

Much to the contrary, Paul very clearly states that God alone possesses immortality.

    who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. (1 Timothy 6:16 NASB)

Note the question asked of Jesus in Matthew 19:16. The man was asking what he had to do to get eternal life, not what he had to do to ensure he spent it in a good place.

    And behold, one came to him and said, Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life

Eternal Life... a Result of Redemption
In Matthew 19 Jesus told His disciples that only those who have put Christ before worldly attachments would inherit eternal life. The word "inherit", clearly indicates that we are not born with an immortal soul.

    "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29 NASB) (Also See Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30)

In innumerable passages, the Bible clearly states that eternal life is a result of redemption. Those who don't follow and obey the Son "will not see life..."

    so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:15-16 Also see John 6:40.)

     "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:40 NASB)

    Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46 NASB)

    These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 NASB)

Romans 2:6-7 teaches that eternal life is granted according to works,

    who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; (Romans 2:6-7 NASB)

Finally, 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 teaches that the redeemed will not become immortal until the time of their resurrection.

    Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NASB)

In other words, immortality is conditional, depending upon one's acceptance of Christ. It is a gift of God which He gives to the redeemed when they are resurrected.

Where The Concept of Immortality Originated
The idea of an immortal soul predated Christianity and was very common among many nations especially the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, consisted of a number of magic spells, charms, passwords, etc. intended to assist a dead person's journey through underworld and into the afterlife. These were necessary to aid the dead person's spirit to "pass" numerous tests, or be forever in limbo.

    The Greeks adopted the Egyptian ideas of immortality and an afterlife. Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher wrote the Phaedo around 60 B..E. in which he argues in favor of the soul outliving the body. [05].

As Christianity spread throughout the Greco-Roman world many converts, especially men of learning who became church leaders, came from a background of Greek philosophy unfortunately bringing some of their ideas with them. Tertullian, for example, said " For some things are known even by nature: the immortality of the soul, for instance, is held by many; the knowledge of our God is possessed by all. I may use, therefore, the opinion of a Plato, when he declares, "Every soul is immortal." [06]

Continue on To PART V- Symbolism In The New Testament
When it comes to symbolism the book of Revelation has no peer containing some of the most bizarre imagery found in the Bible. Thus a 'proof text' from these chapters is very suspect. This is why we need to carefully examine the terms 'lake of fire', fire and brimstone, the 'unquenchable fire'. Also the "weeping and gnashing of teeth" Jesus spoke about.   HERE

End Notes
[04] Norman Geisler Hell/Part 2. Norman Geisler. The John Ankerberg Show.  https://www.jashow.org/articles/general/hellpart-2/

[05] Phaedo By Plato written 360 B.C.E. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedo.html

[06] On the Resurrection of the Flesh. Chapter III.—Some Truths Held Even by the Heathen.


Footnote 3 - Relevant New Testament Verses that Use thanatos

"For God said, 'honor your father and mother,' and, 'he who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death (Gr. thanatos).' (Matthew 15:4)

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death (Gr. thanatos) into life. (John 5:24)

"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death (Gr. thanatos)." (John 8:51)

The Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death (Gr. thanatos ).' (John 8:52)

and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death (Gr. thanatos , they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death (Gr. thanatos) through sin, and so death (Gr. thanatos) spread to all men, because all sinned-- (Romans 5:12)

Nevertheless death (Gr. thanatos) reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (Romans 5:14)

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death (Gr. thanatos), or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

For the wages of sin is death (Gr. thanatos), but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death (Gr. thanatos). (Romans 7:5)

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Gr. thanatos). (Romans 8:2)

The last enemy that will be abolished is death (Gr. thanatos). (1 Corinthians 15:26)

 Indeed, we had the sentence of death (Gr. thanatos) within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; (2 Corinthians 1:9)

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death (Gr. thanatos). (2 Corinthians 7:10)

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death (Gr. thanatos) crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death (Gr. thanatos) for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death (Gr. thanatos) He might render powerless him who had the power of death (Gr. thanatos), that is, the devil, (Hebrews 2:14)

Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (Gr. thanatos). (James 1:15)

let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death (Gr. thanatos) and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)

We know that we have passed out of death (Gr. thanatos) into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death (Gr. thanatos). (1 John 3:14)

and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death (Gr. thanatos); there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)




"Artwork © by Duncan Long. Used with permission. All rights reserved"