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?

  • What, do you suppose, might be the 'figure' ? If 'fire' is not literal then what unimaginable thing can 'fire' possibly indicate ? And how can it possibly be expressed, if Jesus himself, God's only begotten Son, did not express it ? – Nigel J Apr 30 at 4:58
  • 3
    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. – Constantthin Apr 30 at 8:38
  • All species of worms die in fire, so, how can it be anything else than figurative? – Levan Gigineishvili Apr 30 at 9:06
  • The “worms” could apply to the first death and the “fire” to the second. – Constantthin Apr 30 at 12:30
  • 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. – Ray Butterworth Apr 30 at 23:29

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]

  • 1
    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 at 14:08
  • @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 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. – candied_orange Apr 30 at 16:18

Is Jesus' description of Gehenna (Hell) literal or figurative?

This is a difficult subject because we do not recognize our wretchedness as God does. A couple of passages from the Gospel of Mark may suffice for illustration:

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).

Christ's list 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 less 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.


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.
  • "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? – Spirit Realm Investigator May 1 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 at 8:09

Isaiah 33

14The sinners in Zion are afraid;
trembling grips the ungodly:
“Who of us can dwell with a consuming fire?
Who of us can dwell with everlasting flames?”
15He who walks righteously
and speaks with sincerity,
who refuses gain from extortion,
whose hand never takes a bribe,
who stops his ears against murderous plots
and shuts his eyes tightly against evil—

Only the righteous can escape the everlasting flames. The wicked will be destroyed by it.

  • Hi David, welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Could you expand upon your argument--I'm not sure it directly answers the original questions. Please be sure to take the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. Thanks! – Hold To The Rod May 1 at 17:57

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