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Mark 9:47-49:

47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. [ESV]

47 And if your eye is causing you to sin, throw it away; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished. 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. [NASB]

47 And if thine eye may cause thee to stumble, cast it out; it is better for thee one-eyed to enter into the reign of God, than having two eyes, to be cast to the gehenna of the fire -- 48 where their worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched; 49 for every one with fire shall be salted, and every sacrifice with salt shall be salted. [YLT]

Is Jesus describing a literal place called Gehenna (hell), to which those who don't make it to the kingdom of God will be cast? Are worms that never die and fires that are never quenched literal aspects of this place? Or should we rather view Jesus' words as figurative statements?

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    If it is symbolic the symbolism could have been taken from a rubbish tip. A typical rubbish tip has a lot of worms crawling through food scraps, and has sporadic fires burning here and there, from time to time. Apr 30, 2021 at 8:38
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    All species of worms die in fire, so, how can it be anything else than figurative? Apr 30, 2021 at 9:06
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    Worms and fire correspond to the two most common ways of disposing of a body: burial and cremation. As long as any flesh remains, the worms and the fire live on, nothing or no one kills or quenches them. Jesus is talking about the permanent and complete destruction of dead bodies. The concept of immortal worms is definitely not Christian doctrine. Apr 30, 2021 at 23:29
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    I do find it interesting we hear many times that the entrants, and life, will be eternal when it comes to heaven. Over and over. And we hear that the place is eternal when it comes to Hell. Over and over. Except for one time, when it seems to be taking about some archetypes tbat will be in the lake suffering forever. I think thats the only time that the one admitted to hell is referenced as eternal, not the place. Or the destruction is eternal not destructee (but.. something permanently annihilated has faced eternal destruction). Solidly clear “You will suffer forever” is strangley absent
    – Al Brown
    Sep 15, 2021 at 10:59
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    If the worms don't die and the fire is not quenched then there must always remain food for the worms and fuel for the fire. If those who enter this realm are ultimately consumed this would kill the worms and quench the fire. Jesus said this doesn't happen. Jun 1 at 23:09

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God revealed himself in literal fire a number of times. He appeared in a burning bush to Moses, Exodus 3:1-6. Fire came out of the tabernacle from before the Lord and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering .. and the people shouted and fell upon their face, Leviticus 9:24. This in the inauguration of the Aaronic priesthood.

But some thought to mimic this procedure and thought to rebel against what the Lord had decreed. And fire came out from the Lord and devoured them and they died before the Lord, Leviticus 10:2.

Came out from the Lord ... and they died before the Lord.

For the Lord thy God is consuming fire, Deuteronomy 4:24.

For our God is consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29.

In both the original Hebrew and in the original Greek there is no grammar in the way, there is no verb : it is stated as an equivalence - "the God of us - consuming fire".

It is what he is. Consuming fire. Either to purge and purify : or to utterly consume.

That which conforms to him is purified and purged.

This was made clear to Abraham : 'Walk before me and be thou perfect', Genesis 17:1. It was said to the children of Israel : '... be holy for I am holy', Leviticus 11:44. It is said by Peter to scattered strangers : 'Be ye holy for I am holy', 1 Peter 1:16.

That which does not submit, will not be made perfect, and shall be (eventually) consumed. There is no alternative. For God is whom he is.

That is why justification by faith is not a matter of 'human righteousness' (which does not exist) but is a matter of 'the righteousness of God', so described ten times in the Greek New Testament scriptures. God's righteousness was demonstrated and was resolved and was fully satisfied at Golgotha, by the sacrificial offering of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Redemption having been accomplished, there remains the fate of that which has 'not submitted to the righteousness of God', Romans 10:3.


We are told by Jesus that at the end of time, the stars shall fall to the earth, Mark 13:25 and John reiterates this, having seen it in vision, Revelation 6:13.

We are told by Peter that in the day of the Lord, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, 2 Peter 3:10.

If the stars fall to earth and if the elements of matter are reduced to their basic structure, then this is what we call a plasma, the fourth state of matter (other than solid, liquid and gas) and the most abundant form of matter in the universe, see Wikipedia - Plasma.

We are told that the wicked shall arise from the dead in the day of judgment and shall be judged according to their works, John 5:29, and Jesus tells us that they shall be consigned to the lake of fire into which Diabolos and his angels have already been cast, Matthew 25:41.

The Apostle John confirms this in vision, Revelation 20:10 and 15.

There can be no doubt that the end of the first creation results in a conflagration of the entirety of its contents and that the result is a plasma that is self-sustaining.

Anyone who does not escape this event, will be trapped in it, in a resurrected body, which cannot be further modified or changed, and which will continue, without ceasing, for ever and ever, aeon upon aeon, aeons of aeons . . . . . .


But those who are called are exhorted to 'lay hold on eternal life', 1 Timothy 6:12.

And we are assured that those who have turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom God raised from the dead, are they who are already delivered from the wrath which is to come, 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

... even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come [1 Thess 1:10 KJV]

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    Was the burning bush literal fire, considering it did not consume the bush? I always thought it was just the appearance of fire.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 30, 2021 at 14:08
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    @curiousdannii The word used is 'fire'. If it was only the 'appearance' of fire, there would be no mystery about it and no indication that God, himself, was involved. Nor would the whole incident lend itself to the understanding of divine presence (a burning) inhabiting that which comes of the earth (a living bush) thus a setting forth of Deity and humanity represented as united together. A mere 'appearance' robs the figure of spiritual meaning.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 30, 2021 at 15:33
  • @NigelJ actually appearance of fire is a miracle. This is before TV after all. Normal fire is just fire and would make the unconsumed bush a miracle. But when God shows you a miracle to teach you a lesson it's a bit rude to ask him how it works. But what do I know? I'm still trying to figure out what this immortal worm is. Apr 30, 2021 at 16:18
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Is Jesus' description of Gehenna (Hell) literal or figurative?

This is an admittedly difficult subject because we do not recognize our wretchedness before God. The reason that animal sacrifices were so gruesome was that God wants us to know what sin represents to Him, in contrast to His absolute majesty, holiness, and perfection. A couple of passages from the Gospel of Mark may help illustrate our woeful condition:

Mark 7:21-23: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (cf. Jer. 17:9).

As well, from the Letter to the Romans, we also read:

Romans 1:29-31: "[The godless,] being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful"

Just who is "godless" in the bracketed notation above? Those outside of Christ, those that refuse to "walk in the Light" (1 Jn. 1:7) as we have been told.

Suppose we now present this full catalog in totality based on Mark 7 and Romans 1:

      Mark 7:20-23          Romans 1:29-31
  1.  Evil thoughts     14. Greed
  2.  Fornications      15. Strife
  3.  Thefts            16. Malice
  4.  Murders           17. Gossip
  5.  Adulteries        18. Haters of God
  6.  Covetousness      19. Insolence
  7.  Wickedness        20. Arrogance
  8.  Deceit            21. Boastfulness
  9.  Sensuality        22. Inventors of Evil
  10. Envy              23. Disobedient to Parents
  11. Slander           24. Untrustworthy
  12. Pride             25. Unloving 
  13. Foolishness       26. Ruthlessness 

Which of these qualities have never been part of our lives? If we answered that question with: "None" then it might be wise to consider this:

1 John 1:10: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us."

This passage is telling us that if we staunchly maintain we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar. Perhaps we might re-evaluate that table and think about it carefully?

Christ's and Paul's inventories could undoubtedly be more comprehensive and graphic. If anyone doubts this, perhaps they might reflect on the vile, savage posts that routinely appear on social media. This is where anonymity offers everyone a degree of separation from others, where we are able to freely express ourselves without repercussion. Our innermost thoughts can often be despicable and poisonous, yet we never consider ourselves to be anything other than "good people".

In the Letter of James, the Lord's brother writes:

James 1:17: "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

What is James saying? He seems to be indicating that every good characteristic we possess is a gift from God; all others are the result of "the world." Reference to "the world" is hardly a compliment: it is meant as a considerable pejorative. If we can understand that, as human beings, we still possess a certain amount of "goodness," then we are indeed worth saving despite the deplorable behavior that has characterized our lives.

However, once all goodness is withdrawn from us by God, what else remains? I would suggest it is the list of horribles depicted in Mark 7. In this sense, then, there is very little left to be saved. Were we to encounter ourselves without mitigating rewards from God Almighty, it seems unlikely that we would recognize ourselves as anything more than demons.

It is from this recognition that we might begin to understand why the Bible employs the expressions that it does. And, as unpleasant (and fearful) as they seem to us, that is the point: the emotional states of Hades and eventually, Hell, demonstrate conscious agony. They are indeed, places of “unquenchable fire” (Mk. 9:44) — fire representing the loathsome conditions which the disobedient, those uncleansed by Christ, will undergo after their brief life on earth.

This should be no mystery. As the OP indicates, Christ spoke of Gehenna (Hell) as a place “where their worm does not die” (Mk. 9:48). The never-dying worm also represents unending torment. As well, Jesus described Gehenna as a place of eternal punishment -- and punishment implies consciousness.

It would be absurd to describe those who no longer exist (through unbiblical annihilation) as being “punished.” As frightful as all of this may sound -- and it is meant to sound that way -- the lost will be tormented. And, whether that involves literal "worms that never die and fires that are never quenched" seems quite beside the point. Words can probably not describe the unfathomable horror of endless torture in flames.

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This is not difficult - either the expression, "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" is literal or figurative/metaphor.

We should pause to note Mark 9:48 is a direct quote from Isa 66:24. The passage immediately preceding this verse is about the New Heavens and the New Earth. Note the following elements

  • The LORD will come with fire (V15)
  • His chariots like a whirlwind (V15)
  • (V15) "to execute His anger with fury, // and His rebuke with flames of fire" Note the parallelism here that God's anger = rebuke, and God's fury = flames of fire.
  • (v16) "For by fire and by His sword, the LORD will execute judgment on all flesh, and many will be slain by the LORD." Question: is this literal or figurative??

It become obvious that God's final judgement is not done with a literal sword.

Now to V24

for their worm will never die, their fire will never be quenched (as quoted by Mark 9:48)

Is this literal or is it figurative? If it is literal, then we cannot have both living worms consuming dead bodies ("Corpses") simply because the fire that consumes the bodies would also destroy the worms. Both appear to be figures of speech, ie, metaphors of permanent and dishonorable destruction of dead bodies.

Back to Mark 9:48

Precisely the same analysis applies to Mark 9:48 - worms and fire cannot literally co-exist. Again, they are metaphors of permanent destruction. Note a further important point - the bodies that are being consumed are already dead because in Is 66:24 they are described as corpses = dead bodies.

One more question - does eternal torment without end? This cannot be for two reasons:

  1. the bodies are already dead as noted above
  2. unquenchable fire means that it cannot be quenched (Duh!) but that does not mean it will not stop burning when there is nothing left to burn. We have a similar figure in Jude 7 where Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with such fire and that fire is NOT still burning!
  3. the worms similarly are a simple metaphor of permanent destruction of dead bodies.
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  • "Is this literal or is it figurative? If it is literal, then we cannot have both living worms consuming dead bodies ("Corpses") simply because the fire that consumes the bodies would also destroy the worms." - unless they're fireproof worms purposely designed for the punishment of hell. Surely that's not something impossible for God to do, right? May 1, 2021 at 0:34
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - that is theoretically possible but then we have both fire and worms destroying already dead bodies - the piled metaphors become a stretch when we combine an ordinary fire with unearthly worms - IMHO - both are metaphors of complete destruction
    – Dottard
    May 1, 2021 at 8:09
  • Do corpses wail and gnash their teeth (Matthew 13:42)? If not then the Isaiah passage becomes a contextual reference of sorts but nothing so direct as you have proposed. Jun 2 at 11:58
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"...where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" - Is Jesus' description of Hell (Gehenna) literal or figurative?

The simple answer is that it is figurative and therefore not literal.

Gehenna is the Greek form of the Hebrew Geh Hin.nom, meaning "Valley of Hinnom". It is transliterated from the Greek word ge'en.na, at least in a number of modern translations. It appears 12 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, although many translators mistakenly, or at least take the liberty in translating the word as "hell" (Matt 5:22 (and many other relevant verses) in the NASB being a case in point). The "Valley of Hinnom" today, is known by "Wadi er-Rababi". Judean Kings Ahaz and Manasseh practiced idolatrous worship there, which included the making of human sacrifices by fire to Baal (2 Ch 28:1,3; 33:1,6; Jer 7:31,32; 32:35). It wasn't until the reign of Josiah that this place, in order to prevent further such practices, was deliberately polluted and became a place of refuse.

No Symbol of Everlasting Torment

Jesus Christ associated fire with Gehenna (Matt 5:22; 18:9; Mark 9:47,48 NWT), as did the disciple James, the only Biblical writer besides Matthew, Mark and Luke to use the word (Jas 3:6 NWT). Some commentators endeavor to link such fiery characteristic of Gehenna with the burning of human sacrifices that was carried on prior to Josiah's reign and, on this basis, hold that Gehenna was used by Jesus as a symbol of everlasting torment. However, since Jehovah God expressed repugnance for such practice, saying that it was "a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart" (Jer 7:31; 32:35), it seems most unlikely that God's Son, in discussing divine judgement, would make such idolatrous practice the basis for the symbolic meaning of Gehenna. It may be noted that God prophetically decreed that the Valley of Hinnom would serve as a place for mass disposal of dead bodies rather than for the torture of live victims (Jer 7:32,33; 19:2,6,7,10,11) Thus, at Jer 31:40 the reference to "the low plain of the carcasses and of the fatty ashes" is generally accepted as designating the Valley of Hinnom, and a gate known as "the gate of the Ash-heaps" evidently opened out onto the eastern extremity of the valley at its juncture with the ravine of the Kidron (Ne 3:13,14).It seems obvious that such "carcasses" and "fatty ashes" are not related to the human sacrifices made there, under Ahaz and Manasseh, since any bodies so offered would doubtless be viewed by the idolaters as "sacred" and would not be left lying in the valley.

Therefore, the Biblical evidence concerning Gehenna generally parallels the traditional view presented by rabbinic and other sources. That view is that the Valley of Hinnom was used as a place for the disposal of waste matter from the city of Jerusalem. [At Matt 5:30 Ph (The New Testament in Modern English) renders ge'en.na as "rubbish heap."]

Symbolic of Complete Destruction

It is evident that Jesus used Gehenna as representative of utter destruction resulting from adverse judgement by God, hence with no resurrection to life as a soul being possible (Matt 10:28; Lu 12:4,5 NWT). The scribes and Pharisees as a wicked class were denounced as 'subjects for Gehenna' (Matt 23:13,15,33 NWT).

Jesus also apparently alluded to Isaiah 66:24 in describing Gehenna as a place "where their maggot (worm) does not die and the fire is not put out" (Mr 9:47,48 NWT). That the symbolic picture here is not one of torture but, rather, of complete destruction is evident from the fact that the Isaiah text dealt, not with persons who were alive, but with " the carcasses of the men that were transgressing" against God.

Figurative Use

The Biblical use of Gehenna as a symbol corresponds to that of "the lake of fire" in the book of Revelation. - Re 20:14,15

The 'blockquotes' here, are taken from pgs 905 and 906 of "Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1," (a Watchtower publication, edited for brevity).

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    Not sure if you had it already, but here is the link for the location online for your Insight on the Scriptures source: wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001642
    – agarza
    Sep 16, 2021 at 14:24
  • The section that brings in Isaiah saying " the carcasses of the men that were transgressing" suffers deeply when you consider that a carcass cares not how many hands, feet, or eyes it has and then a fatal blow when, in Matthew 13 Jesus says "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" in that place. Jun 2 at 11:53
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NOTE: There have been four primary passages throughout history to be repeatedly cited in support of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. These are Mark 9:43-48, Matthew 25:41; 46, Revelation 14:10-11, and Revelation 20:10 with the expressions "their worm dieth not" and "the fire is not quenched", "eternal fire" and "eternal punishment", "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever", and "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" respectively. We've already examined the expressions "eternal fire" and "eternal punishment" in Matt. 25:41; 46 (see here and here), and we concluded that these expressions are much better support for conditionalism1 than traditionalism. However, we still have to deal with Mark 9:43-48, Revelation 14:10-11, and Revelation 20:10. Today we will deal with Mark 9:43-48, but don't fret, we'll deal with Revelation 14:10-11 and 20:10 soon enough. Here, we will conclude the same thing regarding the expressions "their worm dieth not" and "the fire is not quenched"/"unquenchable fire" (as well as regarding the expressions in Revelation) as we did with the expressions "eternal fire" and "eternal punishment", namely, that they are much better support for conditionalism than traditionalism.

A Comprehensive Analysis of Mark 9:43-48:

[Mark 9:43-48] And if your hand should cause you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than having two hands to go away into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot should cause you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than having the two feet, to be cast into Gehenna. 47 And if your eye should cause you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna, 48 where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (BLB)

In verse 43, Jesus starts off by telling us that, should our hand cause us to stumble, that is, sin, we should cut it off,2 for it is better to enter into life crippled than to go away unimpaired "into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire". Jesus reiterates this sentiment in v.45 and 47-48, as He tells us that if our foot or eye causes us to stumble, we should cast them out from us, for it is better to enter into life3 debilitated, than be cast into Gehenna fully intact, "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched". There is a parallel account in the gospel of Matthew, namely, Matthew 18:8-9, where Jesus tells us that we should gouge and cast out our eye if it causes us to sin, as it is better to "enter into life one-eyed, than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire". Note that Matthew's account does not tell us the nature of this "fire" that is intrinsic to Gehenna. Mark's account does, on the other hand, tell us the nature of this fire in v.43 and 48, namely, that it is "unquenchable" and "is not quenched". Hence, putting it all together, we see that Jesus is informing us that it is better to remove any appendage that causes us to sin and enter into life marred than be tossed unscathed into the Gehenna of unquenchable fire. Boy, that's pretty intense. But what exactly does Jesus mean by "unquenchable fire", "the fire is not quenched", and, of course, "their worm does not die"? Is Jesus presenting us with everlasting worms and a fire that never goes out?

First a little background on the traditional interpretation. Traditionalists believe that the phrases "unquenchable fire" and "the fire is not quenched" refer to a fire that never ends, and that "their worm does not die" refers to worms that never die, both of which eternally consume the impenitent in hell. This truth is made evident in this paper here, which is a brief and somewhat cogent defense of the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment. For the chapter on Mark 9:43-48, see pages 26-32. The sections concerning the expressions "the fire is not quenched" and "their worm does not die" are titled The Fire that Never Ends and The Worm that Never Dies respectively. The author effectively summarizes the view of Jesus' words here that traditionalists hold, namely, that Jesus is talking about worms and fire that perpetually and unendingly feast on the immortalized bodies of the wicked in hell. However, is this what Jesus' words are delineating, and how much warrant does such an interpretation really have?


We'll start with the phrase "unquenchable fire". Most importantly, what does the word "unquenchable" mean? Most people seem to think that "unquenchable" means "can never go out", and hence an "unquenchable fire" would be a fire that never goes out. We'll start with the Greek word translated as "unquenchable", which is ἄσβεστος (Strong's G762), pronounced asbestos, and is derived from the Greek word σβέννυμι, which means "to quench", and the Greek letter A (ἄλφα), which is used as a negative prefix (a prefix that expresses negation); hence, the word "ἄσβεστος" literally means "not quenched, unquenchable". So, what does the word "unquenchable" mean? Oxford Languages and Merriam-Webster provide the definition "not able to be quenched; unable to be quenched". Take note of how there is no reference to duration in this (or any) definition of unquenchable; "unquenchable" does not mean "unable to be quenched forever", just as the word "unusable" does not mean "unable to be used forever"; something may be unusable at one moment in time, but usable at another. Now, what does the word "quench" mean? Does it mean "go out" (which would make an unquenchable fire a "fire that is unable to go out", as traditionalists claim it is)? Well, the word "quench" actually means "put out, extinguish", and it is a transitive verb (meaning it has a direct object), which is in contrast to "go out", which is an intransitive verb (meaning it does not have a direct object). Thus, an "unquenchable fire" is a fire that cannot be put out, contrary to the traditional interpretation of the same expression, namely, that it refers to a fire that can never die out. When Jesus uses the phrase "unquenchable fire", He is not denoting a fire that burns in perpetuity, but rather a fire that cannot be put out or extinguished. Now, whether Jesus means to say that the fire cannot ever be put out, that is, that it can never be extinguished, is a separate question; the phrase "unquenchable fire" itself does not in any way necessitate such an understanding.

Now, what about the phrase "the fire is not quenched", which is virtually identical to the phrase "unquenchable fire" in terms of what it conveys (if a fire cannot be quenched, it certainly will not be quenched). Does "the fire is not quenched" mean "the fire is never quenched", that is, that the fire will never be put out? Perhaps, but again, such an understanding is by no means necessitated. Saying that something will not happen is not necessarily the same as saying it will never happen. But how do we know whether or not Jesus is referring to a permanently inextinguishable fire by such an expression as "the fire is not quenched"? Well, we can search the scriptures to see if there are any references to a fire that cannot be quenched and see whether the fire goes out eventually or not. When one does that, they see that the expression "will not be quenched" is one that is found numerous times in scripture and invariably signifies the unstoppable nature of God's wrath; it never refers to something that goes on for eternity (particularly for the purpose of tormenting the wicked). Observe the following passages (emphasis mine):

  • 2 Kings 22:16-17 Yahweh says, ‘Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.’”

  • 2 Chronicles 34:25 Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath is poured out on this place, and it will not be quenched.’”’

  • Isaiah 1:28-31 But the destruction of transgressors and sinners shall be together, and those who forsake Yahweh shall be consumed. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, and you shall be confounded for the gardens that you have chosen. For you shall be as an oak whose leaf fades, and as a garden that has no water. The strong will be like tinder, and his work like a spark. They will both burn together, and no one will quench them.

  • Isaiah 34:8-10 For Yahweh has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Its streams will be turned into pitch, its dust into sulfur, And its land will become burning pitch. It won’t be quenched night or day. Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation, it will lie waste. No one will pass through it forever and ever.

  • Isaiah 66:24 “They will go out, and look at the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

  • Jeremiah 4:4 Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh, and take away the foreskins of your heart, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go out like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.

  • Jeremiah 7:20 Therefore the Lord Yahweh says: “Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, on man, on animal, on the trees of the field, and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and will not be quenched.

  • Jeremiah 17:27 But if you will not listen to me to make the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem. It will not be quenched.”’”

  • Jeremiah 21:12 House of David, Yahweh says, 'Execute justice in the morning, and deliver him who is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my wrath go out like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.

  • Ezekiel 20:47-48 Tell the forest of the South, ‘Hear Yahweh’s word: The Lord Yahweh says, “Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it will devour every green tree in you, and every dry tree. The burning flame will not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north will be burned by it. All flesh will see that I, Yahweh, have kindled it. It will not be quenched.”’”

  • Amos 5:6 Seek Yahweh, and you will live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, and there be no one to quench it in Bethel.

Notice how God's fury is consistently analogized to fire ... fire symbolizes the wrath and indignation of God (cf. Psa. 74:1; 80:4; 89:46; Isa. 9:19; 30:27-30; 66:15; Lam. 2:4; Eze. 22:31; Nah. 1:6; Zep. 3:8). Take careful note of how, in each record where the fire of God's wrath was ignited and could not be quenched (2 Ki. 22:16-17; 2 Ch. 34:25; Isa. 34:10; Jer. 7:20; Eze. 20:47-48), the fire eventually went out, but only after it was done completely eradicating whatever it is that it was kindled against. When God's wrath was being poured out against the people, it could not be put out by anyone; it was irresistible, indomitable, unstoppable, insurmountable, and inexorable. The inextinguishable nature of the fire of God's wrath means that absolutely no one is capable of obstructing it from fully consuming that which it was kindled to burn up ... unquenchable fire cannot be thwarted or put to a stop by anyone until it has accomplished its goal of utterly devouring that which it has taken hold of. To summarize, unquenchable fire is not fire that torments evildoers for all eternity; it is fire that engulfs and utterly exterminates the ungodly, who are thoroughly powerless to prevent it (cf. Job 20:26; Isa. 47:14).


Now, what about the phrase "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." We know what "the fire is not quenched" means, namely, that the devouring fire of God's wrath cannot and will not be extinguished until it has reached its objective of eliminating whatever it has been ignited against. But what does "their worm does not die" mean? Who or what does "their" refer to? Jesus does not explicitly tell us. The invariant traditional interpretation of "their worm does not die" is "the worm that is feasting on the living immortals in the lake of fire never dies". However, in Mark 9:48, Jesus is directly quoting from the Hebrew Bible. The passage He quotes from is Isaiah 66:24. Let's take a look at the passage in its context.

[Isaiah 66:3-4; 14-17; 24] He who kills an ox is as he who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, as he who breaks a dog’s neck; he who offers an offering, as he who offers pig’s blood; he who burns frankincense, as he who blesses an idol. Yes, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations: 4 I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears on them; because when I called, no one answered; when I spoke, they didn’t listen; but they did that which was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I didn’t delight.”; 14 You will see it, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones will flourish like the tender grass. Yahweh’s hand will be known among his servants; and he will have indignation against his enemies. 15 For, behold, Yahweh will come with fire, and his chariots will be like the whirlwind; to render his anger with fierceness, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For Yahweh will execute judgment by fire and by his sword on all flesh; and those slain by Yahweh will be many. 17 “Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves to go to the gardens, behind one in the middle, eating pig’s meat, abominable things, and the mouse, they shall come to an end together,” says Yahweh; 24 “They will go out, and look at the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (WEB)

Yahweh God has decided to bring judgment upon the evildoers who have rebelled against Him; He is going to slay His enemies and altogether put them to an end. By the time He is done with them, their carcasses will be laid exposed and unburied (something that was the pinnacle of shame and humiliation in the ancient Near East [see Ecclesiastes 6:3]), being engulfed by an inexorable blaze and gorged by maggots4 ... the sight of the smouldering, maggot-ridden corpses is loathsome, abhorrent, and repulsive to all of humanity.5 Is there any mention, nay, any hint or slightest indication, of anything closely resembling eternal conscious torment/separation in immortal bodies? What is in view, namely, being slain by God and having your corpse (which is incontrovertibly lifeless, oblivious, and insentient) be fully devoured by fire and maggots, is the exact opposite of living forever in immortal bodies in torment. When Jesus quoted Isaiah 66:24, being consciously tormented/separated from the presence of God for all eternity as living immortals would have been the absolute last thing to ever arrive in the minds of His disciples. Perhaps you and I can't help but conceive of notions of eternal torment when looking at terms such as "unquenchable fire", "their worm does not die",6 and "the fire is not quenched", but that is only because we are already thoroughly acquainted with such notions. Jesus' disciples would not have been. What they were familiar with is the Tanakh, their sacred writings, i.e. the Hebrew Bible, and such terms as "Gehenna", "their worm does not die", and "the fire is not quenched" would have all conveyed to them something entirely distinct from eternal conscious torment/separation in immortal bodies, such as being slaughtered by your enemies and having your cadaver disgracefully laid out in the open to be irresistibly consumed by wild beasts and scavenging birds (Jeremiah 7:30-34; 19:6-7), or being executed by God in His righteous indignation and having your remains eradicated by an implacable flame and voraciously scarfed down by maggots (Isaiah 66:14-17; 24). Jesus' disciples did not have the concept of eternal conscious torment/separation clouding their perception, as hard as it might be to believe that.

Conclusion:

As we have seen, the traditional interpretation of Mark 9:43-48 cannot be sustained. Let us summarize why this is so. First off, the argument that "unquenchable fire" is fire that never goes out and consequently lasts forever is entirely baseless. Unquenchable fire is simply fire that is not able to be put out or extinguished. Whether or not the fire ever goes out is not something you can ascertain by the phrase itself. On top of this, the concept of fire not being able to be quenched does not originate with Jesus, but is found in various places in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus' disciples would have been familiar with the imagery of fire not being put out that Jesus was drawing upon from the Hebrew Scriptures by His use of the expression "unquenchable fire". And such imagery never denotes a fire that lasts for eternity, especially for the purpose of tormenting the ungodly (who themselves are alive forever), which is precisely what proponents of ECT say of the "unquenchable fire" in Gehenna. In fact, the opposite is true. The notion of fire that cannot be quenched signifies the destruction and eradication of rebellious and wicked people (2 Ki. 22:16-17; 2 Ch. 34:25; Isa. 1:28-31; Jer. 4:4; 7:20; 17:27; 21:12, Amos 5:6), occasionally the absolute desolation of their lands (Isa. 34:8-10; Eze. 20:47-48), and even the total consumption of their festering corpses (Isaiah 66:24). Finally, not only did Jesus draw upon imagery from the Hebrew Bible that His disciples would have been familiar with when He employed the phrase "unquenchable fire", but He actually directly quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures in Mark 9:48, namely, from Isaiah 66:24. What would such a passage evoke in the minds of Jesus' disciples? Isaiah 66 portrays an eschatological battle scene where Yahweh God brings judgement upon all those who have rebelled against Him and done abominable things by exterminating them and putting them to an end. When all is said and done, their relics lie outside being incinerated by insuperable flames and gobbled up by relentless maggots. So, what we have are images of God's foes being slaughtered and of their unconscious, wholly insensate corpses being fully devoured ... contrast that with living, conscious people in immortal bodies who never die and are tormented for all eternity (which is exactly what ECT adherents think Jesus is teaching in Mark 9:43-48). So, to conclude, it is simply beyond inconceivable that Jesus' disciples would have ever considered Him to be teaching eternal conscious torment/separation in everlasting bodies by His words recorded in Mark 9:43-48.


Notes:

1 Also called conditional immortality, this is the belief that immortality (the quality of not being subject to death/living forever) is a beyond magnificent gift of God that is granted only to believers in Christ, and that consequently, all unbelievers will ultimately perish. Annihilationism, which is largely the same as conditionalism, furthermore asserts that unbelievers will forever cease to exist by having their body and soul/spirit permanently killed. Both of these views are irreconcilable with traditional eternal conscious torment/separation.

2 Like most people, I believe that Jesus is being hyperbolic in this passage, but that is a separate subject, so I will simply take Jesus' words at face value for now.

3 Notice the stark contrast between "entering into life" and being "cast into Gehenna". Jesus clearly presents these as mutually exclusive fates: either we remove any part of us that causes us to sin, enter into life, and avoid being cast into Gehenna, or we don't remove any part of us that causes us to sin, are cast into Gehenna, and avoid entering into life. Entering into life and being thrown into Gehenna are the only two prospects Jesus offers us. Thus, Jesus' disciples would have known that being thrown into Gehenna precludes entering into life, or living, which means it includes dying. Now, what sort of "dying" would Jesus' disciples have thought of ... physically dying or "spiritually dying" (if they were even aware of such a concept)? In what follows, we will see that physically dying is unquestionably the only tenable option.

4 The word for "worm" in Isaiah 66:24 is תּוֹלֵעָה. That it can refer to a "maggot" or "wormlike larvae that feasts on carrion" is evident by the way it is paralleled with the Hebrew word for "maggot" (רִמָּה) in Job 25:6 and Isaiah 14:11, cf. Job 17:14, Job 21:26.

5 Here's a fun fact. The word for "loathsome" in Isaiah 66:24 is דֵּרָאוֹן, and it is found in only one other place in the Hebrew Bible, namely, Daniel 12:2, which says that some of those sleeping in the dust will wake up to "shame and everlasting contempt [דֵּרָאוֹן]" (note that only the contempt, not the shame, is said to be everlasting. While the shame is certainly felt by the wicked, it is not said to be everlasting; only the contempt is said to be everlasting). Some think this passage proves that the wicked will continue to exist forever, as it says that they awaken to "everlasting contempt". However, we know from Isaiah 66:24 that those feeling the contempt are not the damned but those protected by God, to whom the damned are abhorrent and loathsome; the ungodly are held in contempt by the righteous forever, and hence "everlasting contempt". However, the fact that the righteous will have contempt for the ungodly forever does not require that they are alive forever. One can certainly hold someone in contempt even if that someone is not alive; I'm sure all of us have great contempt for Hitler, and yet, he is most certainly dead.

6 For those who positively insist that "will not die" must mean "will never die", take a look at the following passages: Genesis 42:20, Exodus 30:20-21, and Jeremiah 38:24. In each of these passages, people are told that they "will not die", and yet, in none of these passages are they given immortality; all eventually died. "Will not die" does not have to mean "will not ever die" or "will never die"; it can simply mean "will not die in the context of whatever you are doing". The same is true of the worms in Isaiah 66:24. The worms will by no means die while they are doing what they are meant to be doing, namely, ingesting the putrid, rotting corpses of God's adversaries (cf. Isaiah 51:8). In fact, this picture of critters not being prevented from totally consuming the dead bodies of the wicked who have rebelled against God is found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, namely, in Deuteronomy 28:25-26 and Jeremiah 7:30-34. In both of these passages, the wicked and rebellious have been massacred by their enemies, and their dead bodies strewn over the ground for scavengers to feast upon, and in both passages, we are told that no one will frighten these scavengers away. What follows from this? If these creatures can't be frightened away from the corpses upon which they are feeding, eventually, they are going to entirely devour them, won't they? Since no one will be able to disturb them and prevent them from doing their job, the scavengers will continue to feast on the putrefying flesh of God's enemies until their corpses have been fully exhausted, and all that is left are dry, lifeless bones (provided that the scavengers don't eat the bones as well. Yes, certain scavengers such as hyenas and lammergeiers feed upon the bones of deceased organisms, along with their decaying flesh).

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    Excellent and only ans actually addressing the que. The biggest objection to annihilation is that ceasing to exist is hardly constitute as tormenting fiery punishment of hell fire. If you add that it's not that they'd simply cease painlessly without any regret but after a period of hell fire or whatever the torment is. It will rebut that objection that it's too comfortable view of hell. Then it will be a perfect answer for balance. It refuted the objection of atheists that hell is excessive punishment as ECT.
    – Michael16
    May 16 at 8:51
  • @Michael16 I actually think permanent death is a worse punishment then ECT. Temporary, mortal life is a sacred, magnificent gift of God. That's why Christians are opposed to things like abortion or euthanasia. Life is too wondrous; too many take simply, mortal life for granted. Logically then, permanent, immortal life would be a beyond sacred and beyond magnificent gift of God; and yet, according to ECT adherents, it's nothing wonderful since the impenitent in hell have it! This is very inconsistent. IMO, to have your very life irrevocably and permanently taken away from you is terrifying.
    – Rajesh
    May 16 at 15:03
  • The choice is between immortality, glory, honor, power, and eternal life with God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ and all believers in perfect, sinless, disease-less, deathless existence and in a New Heavens and New Earth or permanently and irrevocably missing out on ALL of that by being deprived of your very life (after a painful, violent death) for all eternity. When these are your choices, the latter is absolutely terrifying. I'm not terrified of eternal conscious torment because I don't believe in it; I believe in death and have seen the reality of it, as has every human to ever live.
    – Rajesh
    May 16 at 15:10
  • You have dug into asbestos from v.43 and 45 but not sbennumi from v. 44, 46, and 48. These are two different words. Sbennumi with the particle of negation describes things which do not "die out": The verb σβεννυμι (sbennumi) means to quench or extinguish. In the classics this verb could be used to describe how liquids dried up, inflamed boils calmed down and went away, winds died down, men died out or their charm withered. The possibility of the fire dying out (regardless if it is literal or figurative) is bluntly negated by the particle ov attached to sbennumi. Jun 2 at 11:40
  • @MikeBorden (1) There is no v.44 and 46; those are spurious additions according to most scholars. (2) I checked Strong's, Thayers, and LSJ, and they all say that σβεννυμι can mean "to quench"; none of them say that when σβεννυμι is attached to a negative particle, it must mean something different, namely, "die out". See Matthew 12:20 where σβεννυμι is attached to ov and it still refers to the transitive verb "quench". (3) My point that saying that something "will not" happen is not the same as saying it "will never happen"...
    – Rajesh
    Jun 2 at 13:35

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