Philippians 2:10 (DRB):

That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth:

Is "under the earth" a metaphor?

If it is a metaphor, then why not "in heaven" is also a metaphor?

If "under earth" and "in heaven" are both metaphors, thus why not "on earth" is also a metaphor?

For example:

  • in heaven is a metaphor for Spiritual.
  • on earth is a metaphor for Bodily.
  • under earth is a metaphor for Soulish.

I mean that there are three classes of human beings: Spiritual, Bodily and Soulish. Thus, in heaven, on earth, under earth are metaphors for these three types, i.e: all three types are human beings living on earth.

Look Revelation 5:13 (DRB):

And every creature, which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them: I heard all saying: To him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction, and honour, and glory, and power, for ever and ever.

Are there intellectual beings living in the Sea?, If "in the Sea" is a metaphor, then why not "under earth" is a metaphor.

I hope that the question is clear. I hope my point of view is clear.

  • 1
    By your own reasoning, those in heaven have spirits, those on earth have bodies and those under the earth have souls. So those in heaven (according to your reasoning) bow in spirit, those on earth bow in body and those under the earth bow in 'soul'. I do not follow your reasoning as I, myself, bow to Jesus Christ in spirit, soul and body. (And I am still on earth, though it may well be that - also - I am seated in heavenly places with Christ.) Your apparent fixation for your 'soulish' theory is making nonsense of a number of texts, in my own view.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 2, 2020 at 13:09
  • I think it should read on επι the sea, or in the sea on the surface not as you read it, submerged or on the sea floor. Apr 3, 2020 at 3:28

4 Answers 4


In Biblical cosmology the earth or eretz in Hebrew is a plane that is covered by a dome and the underworld or Sheol is under the earth. Water surrounds the whole structure and above that is the third heaven where the unseen God resides.

So when it speaks about under the earth it literally means below the dirt.

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  • It is worth noting that greco-roman mythology shared this cosmology. Apr 2, 2020 at 15:54
  • 1
    +1 for @Nihil Sine Deo answer. To answer your question, Paul was not using a metaphor at all. Ancient people believed in an underworld, and there were three "heavens," see 2 Corinthians 12.2. Paul was simply saying that all powers, in every realm, would submit to Jesus.
    – Steve11235
    Apr 2, 2020 at 18:19
  • @JamesShewey until Copernicus’ heliocentric motionless sun model at the center of the universe, all of history since day one of Creation ascribed to the Biblical model in one form or another with relatively minor alterations. In fact this view is resurging due to technological advances that challenge the current cosmological model. Apr 2, 2020 at 19:53

The Phrase "under the earth" in many cases is simply a reference to things that are in the soil below ground level such as:

  • Job 18:16 - tree roots under the earth
  • Amos 2:9 - tree roots under the earth
  • Deut 33:13 - water flowing under the earth (eg that supply wells and under ground springs)
  • Deut 4:18 - fish in water under the earth

Thus, there is little mystical or mythological about such references and show the simple understanding that is obvious to everyone that there are things that exist below the ground level.

However, when this phrase, "under the earth" is coupled with other such as "heaven and earth" we get what some call a merism signifying "everything" or "every creature" or "everyone", depending on the context. Here are some further examples:

  • Rev 5:3 - no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll = absolutely no one (except the Lamb)
  • Phil 2:10 - at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth = absolutely everyone
  • Rev 5:13 - Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying = absolutely every creature
  • Ex 20:4 - You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. = no image of absolutely anything (see also Deut 5:8, 4:18)

Understood this way, there is no need to assume much about ancient Hebrew cosmology (the Hebrews were very uncomplicated practical farmers). Therefore, I would not try to separate part of an idiom from the rest of it.

APPENDIX about Hendiadys

Most languages, including English have a construction called a "hendiadys". here are some examples:

  • "Day and night" = continually, all the time
  • "Searched high and low" = searched everywhere
  • "Time and again" = repeatedly
  • "Neither one nor the other" = nothing
  • "Turn neither to the right nor the left" = do not deviate from the current path (see 2 Sam 2:19, Prov 4:47, Deut 2:27, etc, etc).
  • "For better or worse" = under all circumstances,

Ancient Hebrew and Greek had similar expressions:

  • "heaven and earth" (= all things) Eph 3:15 Acts 17:24, Matt 5:18, Ps 121:2, Ezra 5:11, etc.
  • "not from men nor through men" (= unrelated to humanity) Gal 1:1
  • "not Jew nor Greek; not slave nor freeman; not male nor female (= no distinction in a triple hendiadys) Gal 3:28.
  • I guess I read that wrong because I don’t see what being simple farmers has to do with describing one’s cosmology. +1, given I agree their cosmology is as they describe it without assuming a metaphor as the OP implies there might be. Apr 3, 2020 at 0:21
  • 1
    I voted up for pragmatic content but I would like to have seen (or see in the future) an explanation of what 'under the earth' actually means - hades ?
    – Nigel J
    Apr 3, 2020 at 10:04
  • Unless I have missed (I am happy to be corrected) the above list is exhaustive of the instances in Scripture that has the phrase "under the earth". None is associated with hades or sheol.
    – Dottard
    Apr 3, 2020 at 10:38
  • @Dottard DOWN into Sheol implies under the eretz. “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭14:15‬ or explicitly shown to be in the ground “So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.” ‭‭Numbers‬ ‭16:33 Apr 3, 2020 at 14:49
  • That is true but there is no phrase "under the earth" associated with these - it is only implied. I was speaking about explicit phrasing "under the earth" as explained above.
    – Dottard
    Apr 3, 2020 at 21:22

Philippians 2:10, is “under earth” a metaphor?

After his resurrection and just prior to ascending to God's heavenly courts, Jesus told his disciples: "All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth." (Matt. 28:18)

Similarly, Paul wrote that God granted the faithful resurrected Jesus a highly exalted position and a name which is above every other name.

Philippians 2:9-11 (NASB)

9 "For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

For "every knee will bow," in Jesus’ name means recognizing his position and acknowledging him as Lord to God’s glory. This includes "those under the earth"(ground) evidently showing that those resurrected from the grave will also come under this requirement.

Those resurrected will be required to be obedient to the laws then in force and will be judged "out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds." (Revelation 20:12) The "books/scrolls" apparently represent God’s revelation of his will for humankind during that thousand-year period.

John 5:28-29 (NASB)

28 "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment."

Ephesians 1:9-10 (NASB)

9 "He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him.



Those 3 locations, for God's creatures, aren't metaphors. There's a lot of people in the last 2. Paul had no need to use any metaphor there, and that would've been a wild one. As far as 'spiritual, soulish, and fleshly/fleshy': Paul uses those adjectives, as in 1 Corinthians 2--3, to describe Christians, believers into Christ. Regarding maturity. Whether they live by the Spirit of Christ in their spirit, or not. You can comprehend Him only by faith, Mr Salah, by believing into Jesus Christ, to receive Him as your life and be justified. Just call 'O Lord Jesus!' Call upon His name.

By definition, all unbelievers are the latter 2, with an emphasis on flesh. To say, as John the apostle wrote, that 'the Word became flesh,' means that God didn't become sinful, but God became man, in the appearance of sinful flesh. For the purpose of crucifying it and resurrecting in it. Both to become the Vaccination to the global pandemic of Death, and also to fulfill God's original eternal purpose, of having a Bride for His Son, of having many sons as His eternal family, expressing and living by Christ His Firstborn.

For the law of the Spirit of life has freed me in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and of death. For that which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit. For those who are according to the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but those who are according to the spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the spirit is life and peace.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that every one who believes into Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that every one who believes into Him would not perish, but would have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes into Him is not condemned.

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