Sometimes we don't know the difference between a bunny rabbit fairy-tale, and the gospel. Once you hear good news, it starts to uproot every poor interpretation of scripture that was passed down to you. God destroying the soul in hell is one of those fairy-tales... more like a night-mare on Elm St really.
Matthew 10:27-29, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will."
This enigmatic statement by Jesus is used as a proof text that God is the author of destroying people's souls in hell. In fact today on Facebook a guy who is so twisted into religion he refuses to see straight said, "The bible says that Jesus said, 'Do not fear them that can kill you. Fear Him who can after ending your life put your soul into hell!' I don't think anyone can imagine a love that can do that. But Jesus can!" What?!
The same Jesus who said "love your enemies" and the same one John said, "God is love" we are supposed to believe we should be terrified of because his love is so strong and so above our comprehension, He can end your life and put your soul in hell?
When one appeals beyond common sense logic and instead says "God's ways are higher" they are in the end simply justifying their interpretation. Common sense tells us that if a mother has affection for her child, God does so infinitely more. No, you can't imagine that unpredictable god, because he doesn't exist. Otherwise how can you trust a God that you can't be sure of his character?
So let's break down this passage a bit and join me as we discover the goodness of God. In order to do so, we are going to need to recover some definitions as we go. Anytime I find a passage that seems inconsistent with the nature of God (God is love), it is an invitation to dig in and discover what it really says. That includes comparing scriptures and looking into the Greek of each passage. Hang on. I think you'll like it!
WHO WERE THE PERSECUTORS?
Let's start with context. Jesus is sending his disciples on a mission:“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. It is a risky one in that generation, because they are sent into the midst of legalistic wolves.
Paul first said that the Law was the veil blinding the Jews in his day, but then he goes on to say in 2 Corinthians 4:4, "whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them." The god of that old covenant age which was obsolete and fading away, was the Law. They made the Law their god so any revelation of God as love met with a crushing violent response.
Those killing the followers of Christ between the cross and the fall of Jerusalem were the unbelieving Jews according to both Jesus and Paul. Jesus spoke to the religious leaders in Mat. 23:31-36, "Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. FILL UP, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of GEHENNA? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them YOU WILL KILL and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon THIS generation."
Paul said in 1 Thess. 2:14-16, "For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who KILLED both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to FILL UP up the measure of their sins; but wrath is about to come upon them to the uttermost."
WHO WERE THEY TO FEAR?
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Interesting question. People have assumed that they were to fear God because he could destroy the soul and body in hell. There are several problems with making God the "Him" in this passage through. The Greek is ambiguous and can simply mean, "the one". So he describes a group of "ones" and then the "one". Who or what is he referring to?
First of all the word "hell" is Ge-henna, and was literally the Valley of Hinnom where hundreds of thousands of bodies were tossed when Rome attacked Jerusalem in AD 66-70. It is the place where the the worms literally ate their bodies after having been burned in the city of Jerusalem. It is not a symbol for a place of eternal torment. It is a literal place one can visit today.
It's abhorrence dates back to the time when Israel offered human child sacrifices to Molech in the fire in the same valley, followed by a previous judgment on the city. This isn't a description of hell at all, but rather an historical description of the judgment of Jerusalem along with a warning of impending doom for the city again. (see Appendix: Jerusalem's Hell, below)
Secondly, it was the unbelieving apostate Jews who could kill the body, but it was the Romans who would destroy the soul.
What do I mean? Some assume the soul simply dies at physical death. We know from Acts 2 that Jesus' soul was in Hades, alive, and aware for three days, feeling, rejoicing, thinking, and believing. Notice the definitions of soul:
Strongs 5590 psyxḗ (from psyxō, "to breathe, blow" which is the root of the English words "psyche," "psychology") – soul (psyche); a person's distinct identity (unique personhood), i.e. individual personality.
Thayer: [can be] the soul (Latinanimus), a. the seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions (our soul, heart, etc. (R. V. almost uniformly soul); for examples from Greek writings see Passow, under the word, 2, vol. ii., p. 2589b; (Liddell and Scott, under the word, II.
In other words, soul, can mean the inner life, the hopes, dreams, thoughts desires, and plans of a person. For instance, notice how it is used to describe Mary's experience of being the mother of Jesus. In Luke 2:35, it was prophesied to her, "(yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” It meant her heart would be broken, her soul wounded, the plans for her son would seem to be dashed.
Notice too, in Acts 14:2, 21-22 it was the unbelieving Jews who stirred up trouble for the believing Jews and so they needed their hopes strengthened, "But the THE UNBELIEVING JEWS STIRRED UP THE GENTILES and poisoned their minds against the brethren... And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, STRENGTHENED THE SOULS of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
Let's see one more definition here. Destroy. Does it mean to annihilate? Does it mean the soul would cease to exist? Does it mean continuous torment? No! Look at the other ways this word is used.
Mark 4:38 V-PIM-1P
GRK: σοι ὅτι ἀπολλύμεθα
NAS: do You not care that we are PERISHING?
KJV: not that we PERISHING?
INT: to you that we PERISH
The word "destroy" is used above to describe the threat of perishing, i.e. physically dying in the storm.
Matthew 18:11 V-RPA-ANS
GRK: σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός
KJV: that which was LOST.
INT: to save that which has been LOST
The word destroy is also used to describe the mission of Jesus to seek and save that which was LOST. They were still alive but their souls lost their way. Their souls were not annihilated, but they could not perceive. Their souls were in darkness where fear, confusion, unbelief, depression, and hopelessness kept them blind! Yet this is the same word as destroy.
Matthew 15:24 V-RPA-ANP
GRK: πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ
NAS: only to the LOST sheep
KJV: but unto the LOST sheep of the house
INT: sheep LOST of [the] house of Israel
Jesus even describes the LOST sheep, who were still alive, whose souls had not vanished, nor were they utterly beyond hope. Yet this is the same word as destroy.
What does all this mean? It means that the unbelieving Jews had hopes and dreams and plans of throwing off the Roman rule from their nation. They had expectations in their souls that God would rescue them from Rome. When in fact Jesus warned them to flee the coming wrath of Rome instead (Matthew 24).
They would lose their houses, lands, wealth, friends, family, and even their lives. But he warns their soul's dream of God's deliverance while staying in the system of Law really would be destroyed. Their dream of throwing off Roman occupation would perish. Their only deliverance would be to trust Christ, leave the Old Covenant System and flee when they saw the Roman armies approaching with their eagle war banners waving in the wind (Matthew 24:28, "For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.")
GOD'S ROLE IN ALL OF THIS?
So what was God's role, his encouragement in all of this? Jesus is contrasting the Father with Rome and the unbelieving Jews. The unbelieving Jews would kill the body (Mat. 23). The Romans would kill the body and their soul would lose it's Jewish hopes. God in contrast would be their strength, their hope, and their encouragement.
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s WILL.
How interesting! Did you know that the word "will" is not in the Greek. Instead it says, "not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the Father."
The idea is not that God somehow wills that one of the sparrows fall to the ground at some point, and so he wills for some of them/us to be persecuted to death. Rather it is the idea that even two sparrows that are valued so cheaply by men, will never fall to the ground alone, but with the Father's presence always with them. How much more then, will he be with his sons and daughters, if something were to happen to them. He is "with them". He is "with us" strengthening, helping, encouraging, and empowering with his present tense love.
Throughout scripture is the admonition to "fear not for I am with you" (Isaiah 41:10). It is God's loving presence for us that will cast out all fear (1 John 4:18). You will never be alone!
Cognate: 5399 phobéō – to fear, withdraw (flee) from, avoid
He sent them out as sheep among wolves. While they were to trust God, they were to flee from Rome, the one who could destroy their Jewish dreams. In addition, they were to know that some of them may even be put to death by the unbelieving Jews. Do not fear the ones who can kill the body (unbelieving Jews) but fear the one who can ruin their soul's hopes and dreams in the Valley of Gehenna in AD 66-70... Rome. If they aligned with the unbelieving Jews that was exactly what would and did happen.
In the midst of this know that God will never leave you. "If his eye is on the sparrow, I know he watches me."
Am I sure about this? Yes! The next verse tells them NOT to fear in their relationship with GOD... "Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows."
Other Great Blogs about Hell:
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APPENDIX: JERUSALEM'S HELL
“While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance.
Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise – nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined.
There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate. The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail.
The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives." (Josephus' account appears in: Cornfield, Gaalya ed., Josephus, The Jewish War (1982); Duruy, Victor, History of Rome vol. V (1883).)
Among the tragic events that at this time occurred, the following is more particularly deserving of notice: A false prophet, pretending to be a divine commission, said that if the people would flee to the Temple, they should behold signs of their speedy deliverance. Accordingly, about six thousand people, chiefly women and children, assembled in a gallery that was yet standing, on the outside of the building. While they waited in anxious expectation of the promised miracle, the Romans, with the most wanton barbarity, set fire to the gallery. Multitudes, rendered frantic by their horrible situation, threw themselves from the gallery onto the ruins below and were killed by the fall. Meanwhile, awful to relate, the rest, without a single exception, perished in the flames. (Welton, Jonathan (2013-11-01). Raptureless: An Optimistic Guide to the End of the World - Revised Edition Including The Art of Revelation (Kindle Locations 1380-1385). BookBaby. Kindle Edition.)
"Now the seditious [Jews warring against Rome] at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwords, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. However, when Titus [the Roman general besieging Jerusalem], in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a groan; and, spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that this was not his doing; and such was the sad case of the city itself." (War of the Jews V 12.3-4)
"Manneus, the son of Lazarus, came running to Titus at this very time, and told him that there had been carried out through that one gate, which was entrusted to his care, no fewer than a hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies, in the interval between the fourteenth day of the month Xanthieus, when the Romans pitched their camp by the city, and the first day of the month Panemus. This was itself a prodigious multitude; and though this man was not himself set as a governor at that gate, yet was he appointed to pay the public stipend for carrying these bodies out, and so was obliged of necessity to number them, while the rest were buried by their relations; though all their burial was but this, to bring them away, and cast them out of the city. After this man there ran away to Titus many of the eminent citizens, and told him the entire number of the poor that were dead, and that no fewer than six hundred thousand were thrown out at the gates,though still the number of the rest could not be discovered; " (War of the Jews, V 13,7)