In talking about Hell, the passage of Mark 9:48 came up. Someone made a comment to me that "worms" in Mark 9:48 can also be translated as "anguish".

Mark 9:48 (NIV)
where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

However, when I look at all major translations, it translates this word as "worms". Is "anguish" a valid translation for this word or was the guy completely wrong?

  • "The guy"'s sources for this are the following: concordances.org/greek/4663.htm, greek-dictionary.net/sk%C5%8Dl%C4%93x, and Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words - considering this is the word alone, I'd love some analysis of the passage itself.
    – user81
    Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 15:44
  • I am especially curious given the grammar - the αὐτῶν after σκώληξ reads something like "their worms" or "the worms of them".
    – user81
    Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 15:46
  • @IanPugsley What's really questionable about it is that this word is only used once in the Bible. Maybe the translation of this as "anguish" must come from some outside sources.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 14:58
  • 1
    It's only used once; any translation of this must come from outside sources.
    – user81
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 19:35
  • Isaiah, last verse, is the LXX source for skolêx (worm). Anguish is (wrongfully) implied.
    – hannes
    Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 16:42

4 Answers 4


σκώληξ (Strongs G4663) means "worm", specifically a grub or maggot. This passage in Mark is the only appearance of the Greek word in the New Testament. However, He appears to be quoting Isaiah 66:24, which uses the word תּוֹלָע (Strongs H8438), also translated "worm" or "maggot". (The only other definition of this word, besides "worm", refers to a dye made from a certain worm. So even it relates...) This is the word, for example, used in Exodus 16:20 in describing the result when people ignored Moses' command not to save any manna for the following day - it "bred [developed, attracted] worms and stank."

  • So, "anguish" is not even close to a valid translation?
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 15:40
  • 1
    Signs point to 'no'. Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 15:45
  • It makes me wonder if a thought-for-thought or a paraphrase would translate it that way. But at this point, even that seems a stretch.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 15:55
  • 3
    The overall concept seems to be that of a hideous, horrifying place that nobody would want to visit, much less live in. But that still doesn't necessarily lead to "anguish". Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 15:59

It is the same worm (skolex) of decomposition that Isaiah (end of the book) seems to be referring to.

Isaiah 66:24:

They will go out and observe the corpses of those who rebelled against me, for the maggots (LXX: ho skolêx autôn - the worm of them) that eat them will not die, and the fire that consumes them will not die out. All people will find the sight abhorrent.

  • So is "anguish" not a valid translation?
    – Richard
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 2:17
  • If someone was eaten by worms alive and conscious (as many - even here - seem to assume) one might think of anguish as a suitable translation. (compare Judith 16:17)
    – hannes
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 5:02
  • @Richard, are you back? I hope so! Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 18:26
  • Question is why the fire doesn't consume the worms? The only answer that comes to mind is that it is picturing a rubbish tip, with sporadic fires burning here and there. But this scenario would, off course just apply to the millennium, since there will be a general resurrection at the Last Great Judgement. Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 23:28

Greek word for worm is maggot and maggots are just one stage of the fly. So the worm that dieth not will always be in the worm stage never to become a fly. So the stage is what what don't die or cease or be or change. Doesn't mean the maggot won't die. But we that are saved shall be changed

  • I stick to my answer Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 1:05
  • Hey Michael, welcome to BHSE! We're a little different from other sites that you may know, so if you have time make sure you take our tour (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour). Thanks!
    – sara
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 6:10

"Worm" is the translation in the King James version. The preface to the Revised Standard version rightly says: "It not only does the King James translators no honour, but it is quite unfair to them and the truth they understood and expressed to retain words which now convey meanings they did not intend". The most striking example is Acts 28.13: "We fetched a compass", which now means: "We brought an instrument whose needle points north", but then "we made a circuit". The last instance the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary could find for the sense "crawling creature" for "worm" dates from 1820. As for "anguish", it is an intolerably loose paraphrase. The actual creature intended is, as other readers have already stated, a maggot, which feeds on dead bodies.

  • 2
    You overlooked OED's meaning 6 a : " A maggot, or, in popular belief, an earthworm, supposed to eat dead bodies in the grave." This is still living English.
    – fdb
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 13:49

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