Section 9B .. The Future / Hell Part Four

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What and Where is Hell?
Part IV... Those Overlooked Greek Words
that tell us that sinners are destroyed, perish, decay, rot etc.

Carol Brooks

Introduction and Index To All Chapters


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

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 for the belief that punishment lasts forever...

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

Because aionios 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, for whatever reason we have assumed that  'eternal punishment' means unending torment. The text says nothing of the sort. Death can also fall into the category of "eternal punishment' i.e. punishment that lasts forever. 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.

Jesus used aionios in Matthew 18:8,

     "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 last word of the message assumed to be literal?

In any case a literal interpretation flatly contradicts many, many other passages in which the Greek words chosen by the disciples and apostles specifically tell us that sinners die, perish, rot, decay etc.

The Greek Word Nekros (Dead)
There is no consensus of opinion regarding what happens after an unbeliever dies. Some hold that unbelievers 'are judged immediately upon death. Others are of the opinion that they 'go to a place of torment (Hell) but will eventually face the White Throne Judgment then be cast into the lake of fire. Yet others believe that they fall 'into an unconscious sleep until judgment day' .

But what does the Bible say?

Several verses in the Bible that speak of the judgment of the unsaved dead who come to life after the millennium use the Greek word nekros that quite literally means 'dead'. Necropolis (nekros +  polis [city]) or 'city of the dead' once referred to ancient cemeteries with elaborate tombs but is even now sometimes applied to modern planned city cemeteries. Necromancy is the practice of communicating with the deceased. 

    And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead (Gk. nekros) to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth." (Revelation 11:18 NASB)

    The rest of the dead (Gk. nekros) did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:5 NASB)

    And I saw the dead (Gk. nekros) , the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead (Gk. nekros) were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead (Gk. nekros) which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead (Gk. nekros) which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them . (Revelation 20:12-13 NASB)

 However, there are those who claim that nekros is being used figuratively, in which case 1.) We have absolutely no idea what Jesus meant 2.) We would have to assume that Jesus rose figuratively and 3.) John was very mistaken - Lazarus wasn't dead at all.

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

    2. 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)

    3. 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)

Which brings us to the verses in the Bible that speak of spiritual enlightenment as "life" and spiritual darkness as "death". For example,

    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 they 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." 

There are two choices here - either these verses are speaking metaphorically or the spiritually unenlightened are the walking dead (Zombies anyone?) but lets not decide until we have examined a few other Greek words in the New Testament. See Footnote I for More on Necros in English

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 will not "perish", the obvious implication being 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 using apollumi 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 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 or decay. You do not live forever in an eternal hell, but decay and perish.

The Greek Word Thanatos (Death)
There can be 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)

    For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death (Gk. thanatos) of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10 NASB)

So when Paul wrote "the wages of sin is death (Gk. thanatos)" (Romans 6:23), he must have been hopelessly confused because according the the modern church the wages of sin is not death but eternal life in hell.

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)

In speaking of Christ's disciples who will experience the resurrection of their physical bodies, Paul made the following statement...  "The last enemy that will be abolished is death (Gr. thanatos) (Vs. 26). Then, a few verses later, he rhetorically asked

    O death (Gk. thanatos), where is thy sting? O grave (Gk. Hades), where is thy victory?   (1 Corinthians 15:55)

In other words, 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.

Although it is clearly demonstrated from the Scriptures that our bodies decay, rot, perish etc. aren't our soul immortal as many if not most, Christians seem to believe?

Immortality of The Soul
One or another version of an "immortal soul" is found in almost all religions today (the theory of reincarnation believes that souls are reborn in new bodies - a whole other topic) and Christianity is no exception. Centuries ago Clement of Alexandria made the following statement

    "All souls are immortal, even those of the wicked, for whom it were better that they were not deathless. For, punished with the endless vengeance of quenchless fire, and not dying, it is impossible for them to have a period put to their misery.” [01]

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

    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. [02]

I am sorry to say that statement is not only quite absurd but ignores Matthew 10:28 that says,

    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).

(More about this article in Section 7 - How Christians Justify Their Misinterpretation of Scripture

Additionally, we do not exactly know 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 - for example 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. 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

Yet, the traditional concept of hell as a place on unending torment boils down to "everyone has eternal life; it's only a matter of where each will spend it.

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 - it depends upon one's acceptance of Christ. It is a gift of God which He gives to the redeemed when they are resurrected. Not only do the unredeemed die, but the Bible tells us that they die twice. See The Second Death in the next chapter - New Testament Symbolism

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 360 B.C.E. in which he argues in favor of the soul outliving the body. [03].

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."  [04]

Also See The Cappadocian Fathers - Part VII of is God a Trinity?
Three theologians from Cappadocia ... Basil - bishop of Caesarea, his brother Gregory - bishop of Nyssa, and Basil's close friend Gregory of Nazianzus jointly known as the Cappadocian fathers, gave definitive shape to the doctrine of the Trinity. The problem is that not only were all three Catholic mystics but were also trained Greek philosophers who were greatly influenced by the writings of Origen known for introducing Greek ideas into Christianity. Gregory of Nyssa applying Origen's line of reasoning to the trinity claiming we would have no content for our thoughts about Father, Son, and Spirit, if we did not find an outline of their nature within ourselves. In other words, the key to the Trinity is in our triple nature ... our minds or reasoning, our word, and our souls. 


Continue on To PART V- Symbolism In The New Testament. The book of Revelation contains some of the most bizarre imagery found in the Bible like a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and a seven headed beast made up of a patchwork of different animals emerging from the sea. Sensibly we we understand these to be  figurative. However, when it comes to terms like unquenchable fire, the lake of fire etc. we are quite convinced that these terms are literal. Why? HERE

Footnote I
Necropolis (nekros + polis [city]) or 'city of the dead' 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 often in order to predict the future. Necrophilia is a sexual attraction or act involving corpses. {PLACE IN TEXT}

End Notes
[01] Fragments Of Clemens Alexandrinus. https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf02/anf02.vi.iv.ix.html

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

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

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



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