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Matthew 10:28

`And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna. (YLT)

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Gr Gehenna). (NASB)

Questions

  • What is a soul (ψυχὴν - psychēn)?
  • What is to destroy (ἀπολέσαι - apolesai)?
  • What is gehenna (γεέννῃ - geennē)?
  • As a whole, what does it mean for a soul (psychēn) to be destroyed (apolesai) in gehenna (geennē)?

Related BHSE questions

Related CSE questions

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  • Once cast into the (eternal) lake of fire, they have no existence in the New Creation. What they experience, personally, will be between the Creator and themselves. (And we, also, if we obey not the gospel.) Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 14 at 16:53

9 Answers 9

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Positive Argument

Negative arguments provided in a separate post for readability


What is Gehenna

Literally: a valley southwest of Jerusalem notorious for the burning of bodies (and potentially much more) that took place there

Figuratively: the final place of punishment of the ungodly (source)

A comparison between Mark 9:43-44 & Revelation 20:13-15 makes it clear that the "lake of fire"--in Revelation's apocalyptic description to a Hellenistic audience--is the same concept as "Gehenna", used by Jesus & James in teaching a Jewish audience.

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:13-15)

In this passage (KJV), "hell" is Hades and the "lake of fire" is Gehenna.

--

What is a soul

a. Sometimes ψυχή "psuché" (and its Hebrew counterpart נֶפֶשׁ "nephesh") is used to describe the entity created by the combination of a body & spirit (as in Genesis 2:7)

b. Sometimes it's used synonymously with spirit (as in Acts 20:10)

Thayer has an excellent discussion of 2 primary uses and 6 sub-uses of the word (see here).

That Matthew 10:28 uses the word to refer to the "spirit" is evident by comparing the two possible renderings of the passage:

a. If "soul" in this context = body + spirit: "fear him which is able to destroy both [spirit and body] and body in hell"

b. If "soul" in this context = spirit: "fear him which is able to destroy both [spirit] and body in hell"

Option a (as in Genesis 2:7) does not require appending the word "body" to the last clause; since "body" is appended to the statement, option b (as in Acts 20:10) is clearly intended.

--

What is to destroy

The Greek root used here is ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi), frequently used in the New Testament as "kill" or "destroy". That the word does not, however, demand the notion of annihilation is evident by looking at its usage in several passages:

The Prodigal Son

In the final verse of the parable, the father says to the older son:

It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. (Luke 15:32)

Apollumi is the verb translated "lost". Clearly, the prodigal son was not annihilated, nor did he experience a cessation of conscious existence. The son had been lost or destroyed in that he had failed to live up to his potential, he was dead/separated from his family and his faith. In this case, "destruction" did not even render the son past hope of repair.

Broken vessels

All 3 synoptic gospels use apollumi to describe the wine containers that break--we'll use Matthew's rendering as an example:

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish (Matt. 9:17)

The bottles (containers) perish; they are destroyed--but they do not cease to exist. Even a container shattered into a thousand pieces still exists: but it is no longer able to fulfil the function for which it was designed.

I propose then, the following definition of "to destroy" as generally applicable to the passages under consideration: to render something unable to fulfil its purpose.

--

Death as separation

Biblically, death describes separation, not annihilation.

  • Physical death: separation of body & spirit
  • Spiritual death: separation from God

I have written more extensively on this topic here; for purposes of this post, the passages above demonstrate that "destroy" can mean "kill", but need not convey a cessation of existence at all (annihilation).

--

Conclusion

As a whole, what does it mean for a soul to be destroyed in gehenna?

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

Humans are the offspring of God, intended to be heirs of his glory. God joined together body & spirit (see Genesis 2:7) so that His children could progress towards that purpose.

"Destroy both soul and body in Gehenna" indicates that this body & spirit will suffer the second death (see Rev. 20:14); this fate is further described by Paul:

Such people will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction by being separated from the Lord's presence and from his glorious power (2 Thess 1:9)

This means being permanently separated from God and thereby rendered unable to fulfill their purpose.

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  • 1
    Nicely done here, + 1. Extensive rendering on topic also given + 1. Feb 22 at 9:20
  • 1
    This is great… I can’t but help think that there’s an element of mystery here… Mystery because we don’t understand infinity, eternity. We haven’t experienced it. So we think of eternal life as day after day of amazing existence. But that’s what Adam and Eve had. Heaven is more than that. Infinity is more than simply the set of all positive integers. Likewise, eternal destruction is more than simply day after day of separation from God, from everything good that flows from him…
    – user36337
    May 2 at 23:56
  • However, I also can’t help but think that Matt. 10:28 presents a good case for annihilation… The person not to be feared KILLS the body only (because the resurrection remains a future event from the perspective of time). But we should fear the one who kills (flowing from v.28a) both body and spirit… Considering “the smoke of their torment rises forever”, if I (Lord forbid) were to kill you, and the process tormented you, you could be long gone, but the smoke of your torment could still continue to rise… We tend to read “eternal torment” - but is it not eternal smoke, post-torment…?
    – user36337
    May 3 at 0:46
2

The fires of Gehenna refer to the complete destruction of anything. We see an allusion to this a few times in the NT:

  • Rev 20:9 - And they marched across the broad expanse of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. But fire came down from heaven and consumed them.
  • 2 Thess 1:7-9 - This will take place when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in blazing fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might
  • Mal 4:1 - “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble; the day is coming when I will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of Hosts. “Not a root or branch will be left to them.”
  • Mal 4:3 - Then you will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the LORD of Hosts.
  • Ps 37:20 - But the wicked and enemies of the LORD will perish like the glory of the fields. They will vanish; like smoke they will fade away.
  • Ps 92:7 - that though the wicked sprout like grass, and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed.
  • Phil 3:9 - Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things.
  • Heb 10:39 - But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
  • 2 Peter 2:6 - if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction, reducing them to ashes as an example of what is coming on the ungodly;
  • 2 Peter 3:7 - And by that same word, the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
  • Jude 7 - In like manner, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, who indulged in sexual immorality and pursued strange flesh, are on display as an example of those who sustain the punishment of eternal fire.

All these references to destruction allude to the Hebrew idiom to "burn with fire" - see appendix below.

Thus, the fires of hell consume completely.

APPENDIX - Burn with Fire

The expression, "Burn with fire" is a quintessentially Hebraic expression. While it is true that “burn with fire” is technically redundant, it was an expression used to convey a feeling of intensity and complete destruction, ie, not merely scorched. Here is a sample:

  • Ex 12:10 - And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire [= completely destroy it]
  • Ex 29:14 - But the flesh of the bull and its hide and its refuse, you shall burn with fire [= completely destroy it] outside the camp; it is a sin offering
  • Lev 8:32 - The remainder of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn in the fire [= completely destroy it].
  • Lev 13:57 - and if it appears again in the garment, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is an outbreak; the article with the mark shall be burned in the fire [= completely destroyed].
  • Lev 16:27 - But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. [= completely destroy it]
  • Deut 7:25 - The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire [= completely destroy it]; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God.
  • Josh 11:6 - Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire [= completely destroy them].
  • Ps 46:9 - Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire [completely destroy them].
  • Jer 43:13 - He will also shatter the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt; and the temples of the gods of Egypt he will burn with fire [= completely destroy].
  • Eze 23:47 - The company will stone them with stones and cut them down with their swords; they will slay their sons and their daughters and burn their houses with fire [= completely destroy them].

See also Matt 3:12, Luke 3:17

There are two important exceptions to this general pattern of Scripture which will be shown not to be exceptions:

  • Ex 3:2, 3 where the LORD appeared in the burning bush and Moses was instructed to remove his sandals and no come too close or be destroyed.
  • Deut 5:32 discusses the mountain burning with fire (but the mountain was not burned up) showing that at the giving of the 10 commandments, anyone who came close to the mountain would be destroyed by fire

This supports the frequent contention that God, in His capacity as perfectly Holy, is described as a “consuming fire” and sinners cannot stand in the presence of such a holy God. Heb 12:29, Deut 4:24, 9:3, Ps 50:3, Isa 29:6, 30:27, 30, 33:14, Ex 24:17, etc.

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  • RE: Last paragraph - the multiple scripture references can be seen to relate to ‘fire’, but which of those state “sinners cannot stand in the presence of such a holy God.”?
    – Dave
    Feb 14 at 3:36
  • @Dave - I did not suggest that any did say that - they are simply the references to God as a consuming fire - presumably only for sinners and not the forgiven saints.
    – Dottard
    Feb 14 at 5:13
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This concept you are querying needs to draw from a broad viewer the Bible, rather than a specific analytical view. Nevertheless let’s briefly start with an analytical look ..

MAT 10:28 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.

The word ‘kill’ (Greek apokteinō) can take a range of meaning, one of which is ‘to deprive of spiritual life’ (STRONGS G165).

Jesus came to provide a ‘means’ for man to access ‘life’. So what ‘life’ does the ‘spirit’ provide?

GAL 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

So the use of ‘apokteinō’ in Matthew 10:28 is ‘suggesting’ that ‘hell’ is an environment where in the spirit can not provide ‘life’. And neither can the [physical] body, as that was separated at [physical] death.

Key point - the ‘soul’, [you] has ‘needs’. Love, peace, joy, etc. and man ‘seeks’ to meet those needs from what the ‘world’ provides. And to do this you need a [physical] body. This is the way it’s been since Adam ‘fell’. Originally Adam could fulfil those needs via his spirit - but his spirit was separated from the source [God] when he ‘ate’. Since then ‘man’ only had the world for its ‘source’ to meet those needs.

But what happens when the ‘body’ can no longer be used to meet those needs? Then ‘man’ lives in a ‘state’ where his soul can no longer obtain what it needs - this being called ‘hell’.

Man’s greatest ‘need’ is righteousness. Through ‘righteousness’ man can be [re]united back with God, and thereby have those [soul] needs ‘met’ via the ‘spirit’.

Man can to a large extent meet or fulfil the ‘souls’ needs via the world. We can get a lot of joy, peace, satisfaction, pleasure from the world - but this needs a [physical] body. Although this can result in “issues? And [worse] this can also allow the ‘flesh’ to dominate.

The concept of ‘what’ hell ‘is’ has been totally distorted, by both religion and imagination. ‘Hell’ is separation from God - and separation from your physical ‘body’. And in this ‘state’ none of your ‘needs’ can be met. Resulting in everlasting torment.

The soul, unable to have its needs meet, is destroyed.

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  • Torment of what kind?
    – Dottard
    Feb 14 at 5:14
  • @Dottard (IMO) torment = the soul not/never being able to ‘meet’ a single one of its (your) needs - ever!
    – Dave
    Feb 14 at 18:11
  • OK, and what about the source of life itself? Does God meet that need? If so, what needs does the soul/spirit have if it is sustained by God?
    – Dottard
    Feb 14 at 20:42
  • @Dottard Yes - God is the [only] source of Life. To ‘access’ that life, you need (Gods) righteousness - which we obtain via Christ. ‘Life’ is the souls Number 1 need. All other needs come with it. Hell is (eternal) separation from that ‘source’. And only those with ‘life’ will also receive a body so as to be able to ‘live’ that ‘life’ on the earth.
    – Dave
    Feb 15 at 0:21
2

Negative Argument

Positive Arguments were provided in a separate post for readability; in this post I’ll respond to competing views; in particular, the very studious & detailed post by Rajesh here.


Contents

In my prior post I offered definitions of Gehenna, death, the soul, and destruction–I will review key definitions and offer a response to competing views as follows:

  1. Gehenna

  2. Literal vs. spiritual death

  3. The soul

  4. Destruction

  5. Parallel passages

  6. Contradiction in the Argument

1. Gehenna

I will grant that the association of Gehenna with garbage in general is ambiguous in the early sources (it is not ambiguous in later sources); however, its significant association with fire is not ambiguous at all. It is a place where bodies were burned on multiple occasions.

Rajesh suggests, though, that the association between Gehenna & dead, rotting, lifeless corpses, indicates that usage of Gehenna in eschatological metaphor must also refer to things that are not conscious, but are “are thoroughly lifeless and oblivious”. This does not follow; the grave is unambiguously associated with dead, rotting, lifeless corpses as well, and yet, we have multiple Biblical passages referencing the grave giving up its dead–a place that was once the site of lifeless corpses is now used in a depiction of beings that are neither lifeless nor oblivious:

12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves (Ezekiel 37:12)

Also from Ezekiel 37:

2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.

5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

A valley specifically and directly associated with lifeless corpses is now being used in a metaphor for the resurrection! And the dead returning from the sea, death, and Hades are mentioned in Revelation:

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:12-13)

To make the case for annihilation Rajesh suggests: Compare the entirety of Jeremiah 31 to Revelation 20-22. The conception is that Ge-hinnom is a place where evil, and all those who have set their hearts on evil, are annihilated; obliterated from existence. And that because of this a New World, thoroughly free of all wickedness, can finally flourish! Gehenna eliminates the wicked (emphasis mine)

Annihilation, obliteration–Jeremiah says nothing of the sort. To claim annihilationism on the basis that Gehenna eliminates the wicked is to stretch the metaphor to the breaking point, to the point of denying the resurrection. If the people slaughtered in Gehenna were eliminated (or annihilated) are they un-eliminated and un-annihilated at the resurrection? (if so, annihilate doesn’t really mean annihilate). Or is Gehenna so destructive that the people who died there (even the righteous children!?) cease to exist forever, without resurrection? Clearly this is not what Gehenna would have meant to Jesus’ first-century audience.

Objection: It would not make any sense for Jesus to use Gehenna to signify something completely distinct(e.g. conscious existence that lasts forever) from the concepts of Ge-hinnom in the Old Testament.

First, the New Testament regularly does apply new light and meaning to Old Testament passages.

Second, Gehenna is associated by the Jewish culture not with annihilation but with death. I have argued elsewhere that Biblically, death describes a separation. This point was not countered in Rajesh’s argument.

Jesus is using Gehenna–associated with death–to signify an even more devastating form of death: spiritual death, separation from God (see 2 Thess 1:8-9).

2. Literal vs. spiritual death

Some of the objections raised:

Or do you think that Jesus, in using the exact same word within the exact same context merely half a second apart, is talking about the same type of killing when referencing both the body and soul?

First, it is not clear that we know what word He used–this passage is written in Greek. Was the sermon given in Greek? Maybe there’s an outside chance…but He’s speaking to the apostles here..more likely He’s speaking Aramaic or Hebrew and what we have is a translation. What we have then, in Greek, is the writer using the same word in a parallelism.

That said, the point may be moot either way.

Rajesh proposes there is an irreconcilable distinction between using the verb ἀποκτείνω to describe “literal” killing (as in depriving a physical body of life) and “spiritual” killing (separation from God). No such distinction is needed on the definitions I have offered.

If death is a separation, then ἀποκτείνω is being used consistently in both cases, no literal vs. figurative dichotomy exists. A person dies physically when the physical body & spirit separate (the opposite of what happened in Genesis 2:7) A person dies spiritually when they separate from God (the opposite of what is described repeatedly in John 17).

In this case, and under this worldview, neither Jesus (speaking to Jews) nor Matthew (writing to Jews) have massively misled their entire audience.

3. The soul

The Greek word ψυχή (“psuche”) and its Hebrew counterpart (“nephesh”) do not have only one meaning. Thayer offers 6 different uses of the word psuche (see here ). I’ll briefly outline the definitions from Thayer:

  1. The breath of life; the vital force which animates the body

  2. Life

  3. That in which there is life; a living being

  4. The seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions

  5. A moral being designed for everlasting life

  6. An essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death

A long list of NT examples favoring 1 specific definition is not dispositive, considering that the Greek word is used 104 times (in quite a variety of ways) in the New Testament (ibid).

Objection: I made a massively thorough case for the Hebrew counterpart of ψυχή, נֶפֶשׁ(pronounced nephesh), never referring to the immaterial, immortal conscious part of a person

Note that the case is even weaker for nephesh, which BDB indicates holds 10 principal definitions & 27 sub-definitions, spread over 754 Old Testament occurrences. (source)

A few (of a greater set) examples that nephesh, like psuche, can be used to refer to:

  • Spirit/the thing that gives life: 1 Kings 17:21-22, Jeremiah 15:9, Deut. 12:23
  • Mind: Psalm 139:14, Esther 4:13, Proverbs 2:10

These words have a great breadth of usage; from the premise that one usage is most common it does not follow inductively or deductively that that usage should be applied by default to other passages and other contexts.

4. Destruction

Rajesh rightly makes the point that the verb ἀπόλλυμι (“apollumi”) carries multiple connotations. He cites classical writers to show that apollumi is sometimes used to describe complete non-existence.

Offense vs. defense - my argument on Matthew 10:28 is not an offensive argument designed to prove post-mortal consciousness (I have made arguments in other posts with that in mind); my prior argument is a defensive argument–it serves to show that annihilationism is not a necessary conclusion from this passage. As such, the fact that apollumi can be used to describe complete non-existence doesn’t go far enough; if apollumi could describe complete non-existence or it could describe something else, annihilationism is neither proved nor disproved. My arguments that apollumi describes something other than complete non-existence remain intact.

Objection: There is no evidence to support the notion that Jesus was speaking about spiritual destruction in Matthew 10:28, and all the evidence to support the notion that Jesus was speaking about literal destruction in Matthew 10:28.

There is substantive evidence contrary to cessation of existence in an unusually comparable passage: the prodigal son (see discussion below under “parallel passages”).

Furthermore, as noted above in the discussion of death, I do not subscribe to the literal vs. figurative/spiritual dichotomy of destruction presented here–I believe that clay shattered into shards and people separated from God experience a very real destruction, but this need not imply a cessation of existence. It destroys their ability to fulfill their potential.

Objection: The examples of where ἀπόλλυμι refers to rendering something unable to fulfil its purpose…what do they all have in common? In each one of them, ἀπόλλυμι refers to something that happens to inanimate(lifeless) objects…But Matthew 10:28 is not dealing with inanimate objects; it's dealing with humans

Jesus used inanimate objects to represent humans in other teachings as well (e.g. the parable of the lost coin); so Jesus can indeed deal with inanimate objects & humans in the same lesson.

Objection: But the moments where ἀπόλλυμι refers to the ceasing of person's life vastly outweigh the moments where ἀπόλλυμι refers to people who are/could be lost

It takes only one counterexample to falsify an inductive argument. Rajesh acknowledges that apollumi is sometimes used to mean something other than the cessation of life, eliminating the possibility of an inductive argument against apollumi holding one of several potential meanings in this verse. But note that even in the case of the cessation of life, the definition offered in my post and defended here still stands: the cessation of life is a separation, not a loss of consciousness.

This statement then is ironic:

Incontrovertibly, the primary use of ἀπόλλυμι when referring to people is to denote the END OF LIFE. It never once refers to rendering a person unable to fulfil their purpose(only to rendering lifeless OBJECTS unable to fulfil their purpose).

  • Primary use is not equivalent to sole use
  • “End of life” is what I have suggested is described by the passage–we just have different views on what end of life means
  • “Lifeless objects” - my disputant spent a large portion of his post describing dead humans in Gehenna as lifeless objects.

Specific “apollumi” passages referenced:

  • Luke 17:27 - using this passage to argue for annihilationism is circular–it presupposes a meaning of death and then uses that assumption to argue for that meaning of death. We don’t disagree that many people died (did not survive) in the flood. We disagree on what death means.
  • Luke 17:29 - same objection
  • 1 Cor. 15:17-18 - If Jesus was never resurrected, then those who died in Him would never be resurrected. I agree. The resurrection rescues the body from the grave and the spirit from Sheol (see Psalm 16:10, Rev. 20:12-13); without it, the children of God would be forever blocked from progress and unable to meet their potential. Furthermore, Jesus would not have completed His atoning sacrifice in overcoming the Fall, leaving people–as Paul very astutely observed–”yet in [their] sins”. Without the potential to be cleansed from sin, nobody would be in a blissful paradise. Paul’s point is not that the righteous in the past have perished, but that if people had no option but to remain in their sins, they would perish. They would be eternally separated from God.

5. Parallel passages

Luke 12:4-5

This is the parallel to Matthew 10:28, which Luke either copied from Matthew (Two-Gospel, Farrer, or Clementine-Hebrew hypotheses) or from their common source, Q (Two-source hypothesis). Luke apparently did not understand the thrust of the message to be one of annihilation–he says nothing at all about it.

Luke, who was far better positioned than we are–in time, place, culture, linguistics, and association–to understand exactly what Matthew/Q meant, understood the focus of the passage to be the fate of being cast into Gehenna–sent somewhere with eternal consequences.

--

The Prodigal Son

The parable of the prodigal son is uniquely relevant to our analysis, because it is a passage in which both “death” and “destruction” (same verb) are used in a parallelism, a striking correspondence to Matthew 10:28:

For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost (apollumi), and is found. And they began to be merry. (Luke 15:24; see also verse 32 which uses this parallelism again)

The parable of the prodigal son demonstrates the death-as-separation worldview very effectively--the son never physically dies in the story--but his father describes him as having been dead. His father isn't killing the fatted calf for a dia de los muertos celebration, and the boy certainly hasn’t ceased from conscious existence. The father knows his son exists, is alive, and is conscious. His son was separated (from his family, from his faith) and he has now rejoined. The father describes that separation using “dead” and “destroyed” (the latter root verb is our good friend apollumi, discussed above)

6. Contradiction in the Argument

My disputant makes the following claims:

  1. Men are literally capable of putting an end to someone's life by killing(ἀποκτεῖναι) the body

  2. In describing the destruction of the flood: The life of every single creature on land had ceased to exist

  3. In describing those in Sheol: nonexistent (whether it’s temporary or permanent is another matter–they key statement is that those in Sheol are nonexistent)

  4. ἀπόλλυμι in Matthew 10:28 refer[s]...to literal destruction

  5. The passage should be understood as follows: Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who can kill your body[temporarily killing you] but cannot [permanently] kill your life[ψυχή]. Instead, fear the One who can [do what men cannot] permanently kill[annihilate] both life[ψυχή] and body in Gehenna[the place of utter desolation where there are no survivors].

On this view there are 2 contradictions:

Contradiction A

Men are literally capable of ending someone’s life (“them which kill the body,”), but if psuche means life here, men are simultaneously not capable of ending someone’s life (psuche) (“ are not able to kill the soul”). The propositions “capable” & “not capable” are contradictory.

--

Contradiction B

If the lifeless cease to exist, then the fate of the psuche and the fate of the body share a significant common feature: they are both lifeless between death & the resurrection, and they both become lively at the resurrection.

This directly contradicts the passage which contrasts what men can do to the body vs. what men can do to the psuche. Both what men can do and what men cannot do are described using the same verb, apokteino (½ a second apart?), yet my disputant suggests different meanings for this verb in the same phrase (see claim 5 above). It’s the actions of God--not men--that have a different verb assigned (apollumi).

The annihilationist interpretation of Matthew 10:28 holds that men can temporarily render non-existent the body and the psuche, and that God can permanently render non-existent the body and the psuche.

  • P1_A: men can temporarily render non-existent the body
  • P2_A: men can temporarily render non-existent the psuche
  • P3_A: God can permanently render non-existent the body
  • P4_A: God can permanently render non-existent the psuche

But this is not what the passage states. Let X refer to whatever we decide men are not capable of doing in this verse. Here is a neutral rendering of the first 2 premises (direct from the text, with no theological superstructure built on top):

  • P1: men can X the body
  • P2: men cannot X the psuche

In the latter set of premises the contrast is between P1 & P2, but this contrast is entirely absent in the “A” premises above. Regardless of what we decide “X” refers to, the statement in Matthew 10:28 is irreconcilable with P1_A & P2_A above.

Conclusion

My intention in this post is not to prove that post-mortal consciousness must follow from the passage, but to demonstrate that annihilationism need not follow from the passage (aka playing defense).

I sincerely compliment Rajesh for a studious & detailed presentation of a competing view.

As shown by the exchange of ideas between Rajesh & my posts:

  • Those who believe in annihilationism–on the basis of other passages–offer a means of interpreting Matthew 10:28 consistent with their views
  • Those who believe in some form of an eternal soul–on the basis of other passages–offer a viable means of interpreting Matthew 10:28 consistent with their views

Matthew 10:28 is thereby neutralized as a prooftext for either view.

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    WOW!! You have impressed me no end on this one, + 1. Feb 22 at 9:24
  • That’s incredible, thank you. Did you train in law before becoming a Bible lecturer?
    – user36337
    May 3 at 1:29
  • 1
    @User76451 thanks for the kind words. No law school, but I do enjoy a good Parliamentary debate. May 4 at 3:42
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Negative Argument continued

Part 1 here, Part 2 here, this post is Part 3


In my prior post, I offered definitions of 4 key terms, reviewed relevant parallel passages, and demonstrated 2 contradictions in a competing interpretation.

In this post, I will offer responses to Rajesh’s rebuttal (see here)

Gehenna

I have suggested that in the Jewish mind, Gehenna was a symbol of death & punishment, and I have argued that separation from God is a culturally plausible meaning of death & destruction. My disputant argues that Gehenna could not be used as a symbol for separation from God, because Gehenna is a place of utter desolation, with no conscious survivors, and nothing but oblivious, lifeless corpses.

This is a disagreement on definitions, not symbols. The plausibility of our interpretations of Gehenna then, depends on our definitions of life & death (discussed in the next section). My interpretation of Gehenna as a symbol is not ruled out unless my definition of death is ruled out.

Rajesh also argues that I commit an error of false equivalency in my reference to the use of the grave in other passages. I have not suggested equivalency between Gehenna and the grave, rather, I have responded to the original post made by Rajesh which indicated:

What Gehenna DOES fit with is notions of complete desolation and utter destruction, where there are no conscious survivors(nothing but unconscious, lifeless bodies rotting out in the open until there is nothing left)

(This after showing the association with dead, lifeless corpses through multiple passages)

If Gehenna’s association with lifeless corpses means it can only refer in metaphor to things that are thoroughly lifeless and oblivious, then if I show an association between the grave & lifeless corpses, the same reasoning indicates that the grave can only be used in metaphor to refer to things that are thoroughly lifeless and oblivious.

I demonstrated that this is not true with respect to the way the grave is used in metaphor, meaning the original Gehenna reasoning is not sound. The comparison between Gehenna & the grave is their association with lifeless corpses, not a claim of equivalence.

--

In my prior post I applied a reductive argument to the claim Gehenna eliminates the wicked; a related comment was made in my disputant’s rebuttal: the people who go into Gehenna WILL stay in their state forever.

Rajesh’s response to the reductive argument is reasonable if his definition of death is assumed:

Ge-hinnom is symbolic of the final judgment of the wicked because in the final judgment of the wicked there will be the complete destruction of the life of the wicked(just as how there was complete destruction of life in Ge-hinnom); and because the judgment is final(permanent, everlasting), said destruction of life will last ad infinitum(and hence be the annihilation of life[the permanent/everlasting cessation of life]) (emphasis mine)

But this assumes the very definition of death the argument seeks to prove. I do not believe, however, that he has satisfactorily demonstrated that death & consciousness are mutually exclusive. I will argue below that death does not imply unconsciousness or annihilation.

Furthermore, this fails to acknowledge a significant piece of historical context: this is not how Gehenna was understood by Jesus and the majority of His audience, who believed in the resurrection. Gehenna did not eliminate people from existence, and those who died there would not stay in that state forever.

--

Additional comments to respond to:

that is the most preposterously absurd notion I've ever heard.

This is not an argument, but may be an example of what debaters refer to as “table pounding”, from the adage “when the facts are on your side, pound the facts; when the facts are not on your side, pound the table”.

There's no competition here.

See competing definitions of life & death below.

Life & Death

I have argued that Biblically, death describes a separation, that this is the historically & culturally appropriate understanding of the term.

My thoughts on death as separation:

  • For a Biblical basis on CSE, see here
  • For a Hermeneutic review on BHSE, see here
  • For a Patristic basis, see here
  • For a Macro-theological argument, see here & here

I’ll cite just 3 examples–see links above for more:

  1. The Bible describes mortal life as a coming together of spirit & body (Genesis 2:7), and it describes mortal death as a separation of spirit & body (Eccl. 12:7). The Bible describes eternal life in terms of a relationship with God (John chapter 17, see esp. vss. 3, 19-26), and it describes eternal destruction in terms of separation from God (2 Thess. 1:9).

  2. The parable of the prodigal son demonstrates this worldview very effectively (see Luke 15:24,32). The son never physically dies in the story--but his father describes him as having been dead. His father isn't killing the fatted calf for a dia de los muertos celebration & dressing the boy up for a viewing at the morgue--he knows his son is alive. His son was separated (from his family, from his faith) and he has now rejoined. The son's anguish during the story clearly demonstrates that he's conscious.

  3. From Irenaeus of Lyons (grandson in the faith of the Apostle John):

He that believeth in Me is not condemned," that is, is not separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God; "that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord (Against Heresies 5.27.2)

In these passages and others, there is no implication that death means unconsciousness or annihilation–such an implication is not only absent but actively rejected in multiple Biblical examples (see links above) and in numerous early Patristic writings.

--

Rajesh argues that I have conflated definitions:

In the first paragraph, you define literal killing as depriving the body of life; so, to literally die would mean to have your body deprived of life. And yet, in your second paragraph, you define literal death as a separation of body and spirit.

On the contrary, in the first paragraph I quoted Rajesh’s definition from his original post; in the second paragraph I offered my own.

--

There has been an extended exchange on the use of literal vs. figurative definitions of death–I am not suggesting that Matthew’s use of “to kill” or “to destroy” in Matt. 10:28 is figurative, or that “death as separation” is figurative. I am suggesting that in culturo-historical context, this is what death meant.

Modern Merriam-Webster definitions were cited. However, in interpreting a first-century text, Merriam-Webster definitions from the 21st (or 20th) centuries are not the focus: what counts is how the people of the time and place understood the words.

Rajesh defines two types of life as follows:

To kill a living thing would be to deprive them of the quality that distinguishes them from something dead/lifeless(something inert, inactive, and inanimate). We'll refer to this as life_1. But it also refers to a living person's period of existence(on earth). For example, "I've experienced many things in my life[period of existence on earth]." We'll refer to this as life_2

He further argues:

The reason a living person has existence is because they hold the quality that makes them functional and animate beings(life_1) (emphasis mine)

The latter quote is the critical link used to argue later that existence cannot be retained upon death. I do not grant this description of existence–it assumes an annihilationist concept of existence; since annihilationism is what my disputant seeks to prove (or at least prove beyond reasonable doubt), it cannot be assumed.

One could argue that the “living soul” generated when spirit & body come together (see Genesis 2:7) is no longer a functioning entity upon death (but the reason it isn’t is that there has been a separation! See Eccl. 12:7), and that the body decays, but this in no way requires that the spirit lacks existence (or consciousness).

My disputant’s argument…

I believe that consciousness is a product of the harmony between the physical body and the breath of life, that is, that consciousness is dependent on the unity between body and spirit; a dissolution of the unity[via death] correlates to a dissolution of consciousness

…is stated but not defended. This is not the only plausible definition of consciousness, and competing definitions are offered in the passages (and linked posts) I have cited. As my argument on Matt. 10:28 is defensive––it serves to show that annihilationism is not a necessary conclusion from this passage–I need only show that there is more than one viable definition to render my disputant’s claims unproven.

Destruction

Rajesh argues:

The literal(primary, basic) definition of "destroy" is put an end to the existence of (something) by damaging or attacking it.

On what basis? Many counterexamples could be offered (one particularly frustrating case is a car that is totaled even though only the front end sustains any damage–most of the car remains intact–and certainly still exists–but the car has been destroyed and will never again do what is was meant for. Lest I be accused of anachronism, a parallel argument could be made for a wagon or chariot)

Separating the wicked from God where they remain conscious and alive for eternity is NOT literal destruction of the wicked, because they have not ceased to exist.

Rajesh thereby argues that my interpretation is figurative. I suggest that this proposed definition of “destroy/apollumi” is much too narrow. The NAS Exhaustive Concordance translates forms of apollumi 17 different ways into English, none of which say anything about a cessation of existence (to argue for cessation of existence because apollumi can refer to death would simply collapse this discussion into the discussion of life & death above).

I propose that an understanding of apollumi which is able to more fully encompass the breadth of usage of the term is that “to destroy” is to prevent something from doing what is designed/intended to do. This understanding maintains consistency with all 17 of the NAS English renderings of the word, and encompasses animate or inanimate direct objects:

  • A wine container is destroyed by preventing it from holding liquid
  • Wisdom is destroyed by being outsmarted
  • A son is destroyed by throwing away his future in riotous living
  • A person is destroyed by being barred from what he/she was made by God to do (further discussion later in this post)

Indeed, this latter definition is just how apollumi is used in James 4:12: to destroy is presented as the opposite of to save (and the context is sin, not physical death).

I suggest that apollumi is not a word (like, for example, psuche–see here) which contains multiple mutually-exclusive meanings. Unless we assume annihilationism in advance (which would be to argue in a circle), none of Thayer’s 5 definitions of the term are mutually exclusive (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

The prodigal son is a particularly applicable example because in the parable the son is both “dead” and “destroyed”, yet not non-existent. I’ve offered an understanding of the word that fits all Biblical usages of the term, including the prodigal son.

Other objections:

The argument for applying apollumi to non-existence based on usage by classical authors was not sustained.

ἀπόλλυμι indisputably refers to the literal cessation of life countless times; it never indisputably refers to the spiritual cessation of life.

See a direct spiritual application in Romans 14:15:

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

Paul is not telling the Romans not to kill each other with their dinner, nor to avoid eliminating anyone’s existence. Paul is telling them not to be a spiritual stumbling block to their brothers & sisters.

Hence, there is no basis to say that Jesus is talking about the person(which is NOT an inanimate, lifeless object) being rendered useless(unable to fulfil their purpose) in Gehenna.

This is ironic, because my disputant has argued that Gehenna was a place where inanimate, lifeless bodies were destroyed in the Old Testament. If a corpse is destroyed in Gehenna (a point that is central to Rajesh’s argument), then destruction is being applied to humans & inanimate objects simultaneously. My point with the lost coin example in the prior post is that Jesus was quite capable of using what happens to objects to describe what can happen to people.

It appears, then, that there is overlap between how apollumi can be used to refer to animate objects & inanimate objects–I’ve offered an understanding of the word above that does just that.

Psuche

There appears to be a developing consensus (or near-consensus) in our discussion that the “spirit” or the “breath of life” is a plausible understanding of “psuche” in this passage. This is consistent with the arguments I have presented.

Silent or Synoptic?

Rajesh suggests that my comparison between Matt. 10:28 and its Lukan parallel commits an argument from silence; it need not do so, but the relevance of the Synoptic Problem to this comparison deserves more attention.

Under 3 of the synoptic theories I cited, Luke copied this passage from Matthew. On the Two-Source theory, Luke & Matthew both copied it from Q. Even on the most popular theory of Lukan Priority (see the Lindsey hypothesis), Luke & Matthew still relied upon a common source.

Comparisons across the Synoptic Gospels show that when the evangelists are narrating the story, they are more willing to tell the story in their own words, versus when they are quoting the words of Jesus, they tend to agree much more closely in wording (neither of those statements are absolute, agreement in wording will vary from pericope to pericope, but the pattern is striking; see my work here). This indicates a mentality among the synoptic authors that the words of Jesus were significant and had to be treated with care: the authors are trying to preserve Jesus’ message.

I have argued that Luke repeatedly exhibits a careful “Septuagint-style” translation from a Semitic language into his written Greek. He is not just trying to preserve the general idea; he, like the Septuagint translators before him, seeks to preserve the original structure of the message. This can be demonstrated by observing the Hebrew structure that has been meticulously ported over into the written Greek of the Gospel of Luke. That it sometimes makes for odd reading in Greek, and demonstrates Luke’s reliance upon a written Hebrew source, is argued extensively by Tresmontant in The Hebrew Christ.

Given that Luke either copied this story from Matthew, or that they both copied the story from the same source, and given Luke’s demonstrated efforts to preserve what Jesus said and what it meant, Luke’s relation of this pericope without undertones of annihilation indicates that he did not understand annihilation to be the message of this teaching.

It would be a bold claim indeed to suggest we understand this passage in Matthew better than Luke did.

Perished forever

Rajesh grants that the passages cited from Luke 17 do not teach annihilationism, but suggests my interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:17-18 validates his position.

That without the resurrection the dead would be dead forever is fully consistent with both of our views. That apollumi (“destroyed”) is in this passage referring to a death that lasts forever is also entirely consistent with both of our views.

Whether the second death refers to annihilation, unending torment, unending separation, or unending ruin (or variations on any of those), what is described is permanent. This verse then can be used in an argument for any of those views, but does not favor one over the others.

The Body

Rajesh offers an intriguing discussion of “the body”, a portion of which is, I believe, the strongest part of his argument:

Jesus uses one word(ἀπόλλυμι) to refer to what God does to BOTH ψυχή and body(σῶμα). What God does to the ψυχή in Gehenna, He also does to the body. If ἀπόλλυμι means "render unable to fulfil the purpose", then God renders BOTH the ψυχή and body unable to fulfil their purpose. And according to dualists, the purpose of the body is to hold the soul/spirit/self(or in your case, "eternal self"), thus the purpose of an immortal body(which ECT/ECS proponents believe the wicked are resurrected with) would be to hold the soul/spirit/self for eternity. If in Gehenna said body is rendered useless(unable to fulfil its purpose), then it CANNOT hold the spirit/soul forever, meaning the wicked cannot live forever(meaning they eventually die)

Although I confess I found some portions of my disputant’s post discourteous, I nonetheless upvoted it for the above-quoted statement. Rajesh has not only brilliantly flanked my Contradiction A argument, but has proposed a contradiction in the opposite direction.

This contradiction may possibly be inescapable for ECT/ECS proponents who believe the purpose of the body is to hold the soul/spirit/self–I don’t know, because that is not my view. The shortcoming, then, that this argument has against my view specifically, is that I believe the body has a much greater purpose. Let us consider an analogy:

Cars have a purpose (if not, they’re egregiously over-priced). A car is something that holds people–when they use a car, people usually sit in them. This may well-describe part of the function of a car, but it falls far short of describing the overall purpose of a car. A rocking chair can hold a person…should we replace our cars with rocking chairs? No, because a car is a conveyance to get us from one point to another–holding a person is a means of fulfilling its purpose, but not the purpose in and of itself.

I believe the purpose for which God endowed us with physical bodies is for our progression–getting us from one point in our development to another: it’s all about what are we becoming. Potent descriptors of our journey to become are found in Matt. 5:48, Romans 8:16-17, and 1 John 3:2, to name a few. A more detailed discussion of these passages would merit a post all its own. The spirit & body given by God–and joined together by Him (see Genesis 2:7)--are neither of them ends in themselves–their purpose is to enable us to do what the above-cited passages describe.

--

A few other statements I’d like to respond to:

bodies are alive(though not exactly as people are)

Here Rajesh (accurately) acknowledges that it is possible for something to be alive without being conscious, but also demonstrates the presupposition that has found its way into his earlier arguments, that alive = conscious. I maintain that alive & conscious are separate characteristics.

--

what do humans do to the body? They deprive it of life…They do not eternally separate the body from God

This counterargument misrepresents my view. Humans can separate the body from the thing that gives it life–the spirit.

--

But those who believe in ECT/ECS do not believe that the ψυχή becomes nonfunctional; merely that it cannot fulfil its primary purpose. The ψυχή of a person(operating under the notion of the soul[immortal inner-being]) still retains consciousness/awareness …hence not entirely inoperative(a dead body, however, is fully inoperative; incapable of doing anything at all whatsoever)

This makes a comparison between what man can do and what God can do–that’s the opposite of Matt. 10:28, which contrasts what man can do and what God can do.

--

My disputant also makes the following 4 statements, which–collectively–I believe are incompatible with an annihilationist interpretation of Matthew 10:28:

  1. men have the capacity to shut down our bodies, that is, to cause our bodies to be fully powerless and insentient, unable to perform anything at all

  2. what do humans do to the body? They deprive it of life; make it powerless and lifeless, unable to do anything

  3. they cannot make the ψυχή inert and lifeless

  4. men do not have the ability to make the life-breath permanently powerless/nonfunctional

This falls into the same dilemma I outlined in Contradiction B in my prior argument. Rajesh has suggested that men can temporarily shut down the body (making it inert), but cannot permanently shut down the psuche (making it inert). But this is not the contrast the verse is making: if the psuche is inert/inoperative/unable to do anything between death & the resurrection, men can temporarily render inert both psuche & body!

This fails the test of contradiction B from my prior post.

--

All this to say that God can cause the two components(body and spirit) necessary to create a living being to become eternally nonfunctional(essentially, destroyed), making resurrection(which demands a functional body AND spirit) an impossibility in perpetuity, thereby rendering the person dead(and unconscious) for eternity

This statement also draws an unproven correlation between death & unconsciousness, which I suggest is neither supported by the New Testament text nor was it understood that way by its early readers.

It is not entirely clear to me what position Rajesh is taking on the resurrection–I gather he is suggesting that the wicked will be resurrected, but not into immortal bodies. This is contradicted by 1 Cor. 15:52-54. If, on the other hand, he is suggesting that resurrection is only granted to the righteous, this is contradicted by 1 Cor. 15:22. I’ll offer what I believe these passages from 1 Cor. 15 (combined) indicate:

Only God gives bodies immortality–even to Xerxes–from Goliath to Gideon–whether powerful, wicked, righteous, simple, or anywhere in between, all are powerless on their own to be raised from death, but God will grant a resurrected, immortal body to all of them. If God did not do this, then men really could bring about a permanent end of the physical body. The reason that men cannot do this, is that God in His power intervenes and resurrects. If God then proceeded to destroy the physical body through annihilation, what was the point of saying men cannot destroy the physical body? They did destroy it, and it would have been permanent without Divine intervention. I do not believe God resurrects the dead simply for the purpose of showing off His ability to destroy things better than wicked men do.

Conclusion

We could probably go on for many more rounds, each cogently defending his viewpoint and comparing ad infinitum different analogies & word-meanings. In an effort to avoid an eternal debate, which could be perceived by readers and/or writers as conscious torment, I suggest the following concluding thoughts:

  • Neither Rajesh nor I have annihilated the other’s interpretation of the verse–both of us have shown how Matt. 10:28 can be read consistently with our respective viewpoints–thus, the verse constitutes proof for neither
  • There is a clear & conscious separation between our viewpoints–upon which much of the argument hangs–we hold different understandings of the meaning of “death”

I’ll end with my concluding thoughts from my earlier post: Matthew 10:28 is thereby neutralized as a prooftext for either view.

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    Now, I am truly, truly impressed. I never thought there was going to be a Part 3 here, and if I had, I would never have thought that it could have been so extensive. Bravo!! I do, however, hope that there is not going to be a Part 4, as that truly would be "conscious torment", regardless of how impressive it could prove to be. + 1. Unfortunately for you, I don't think many site members can/will afford the time to read and digest the whole of Part 2, let alone then take the time to read and digest Part 3. Feb 27 at 19:14
  • @OldeEnglish thanks! Very true, I know when I write a long post most won't read it. Rajesh has been a good sport in these debates and it's been interesting to do this back and forth =) Feb 28 at 1:47
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    Honestly, I'm not keen on long rebuttal posts like this, especially when they're rebutting an answer on another site, and especially especially when they take 2-3 posts. If you feel the inclination to write this sort of long rebuttal again in the future, maybe a blog would be better?
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 17 at 1:15
  • @curiousdannii thank you, I will give some thought to your concerns. I hope you will give some thought to mine. Mar 17 at 1:42
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If hell is a literal place and not a figure of speech to describe our separation from God, a good analogy might be a black hole. In a black hole time is eternally frozen. The darkness of a black hole, along with the fire of judgment would almost literally approximate gehenna as a place of refuse & destruction.

Another perspective, would be to see hell (gehenna) as like that of the heat death of the universe. Time's arrow in reverse, so to speak.

Or maybe the redeemed go on to live in a parallel universe & time line of existence while the rest of the universe goes to hell into eternal non existence, so to speak.

C.S. Lewis once wrote a book called the "Great Divorce." The idea of hell was that people could imagine and create what they wanted, but with sin they can't stand to be with others. Lewis presents Hell (gehenna) as a boring, repetitive, and ultimately meaningless place. Those who are not redeemed simply fade away eternally. Evil in hell is the absence of beauty, enlightenment, creativity, and all the other things that only Heaven can provide.

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The passage clearly says that physical death as such is not the end of human personality and human life understood not as a biological life, but life in a different and more mystical-sublime sense and dimension.

This mystical-sublime sense is, for example, the life of angels, who aren't biological organisms, but nevertheless are alive, conscious and in a more intense prayfull-praisefull relationship with the Source of Life - God than most of biologically living humans, who are so often forgetful of their Creator.

Moreover "life" can be ascribed even to God (Matthew 16:15-16), who, to be sure, is not a biological organism to live in this biological sense, but Creator of all biological organisms and their lives. To think about "life" as only that of a biological organism and thus think that human being ceases to even exist after biological death is an atheist blindness, and if this idea is followed by a Christian, then this blindness is even greater. The one who lives in Christ will never taste death (John 8:51), but will be transferred from death to life (John 5:24), that is to say "death" in the light of those two quotations is not any annihilation, but rather a transfer of human personality from life to a more intense life.

Thus, what we said about the angels, the same holds for the deceased souls of humans - the saintly souls continue to pray and praise God together with angels, because the soul that is separable from a dead body is of the same intellectual essence as are essences angels, and it can understand angelic language as his native language notwithstanding his nationality on earth.

Thus, what is to be feared, is that after death our soul realizes that praising God is not his habit and delectation, but through customary sinfulness he has got used to realities that cease to be accessible for him in the afterlife. For instance, if I am an alcoholic, I will find no alcohol in the afterlife and my desire will torment me there. In fact, such attachments are violation of the first commandment of Moses, the creation of an idol, because I have attached my soul to alcohol and not to God, so alcohol has become my idol; and there are many such idols of sinful passions.

Moreover, besides the beloved sinful passions, also unrepented sins will torment a deceased soul. One rabbi has explained it nicely: it is like we are watching a symphonic orchestra on TV with a very hushed sound, and then somebody rises the volume to the highest degree and we hear a very loud music: the same is in our lives: he unrepented sins are like such a symphonic, or rather cacophonic music, that during our earthly lives is hushed by multiple of earthly concerns and attractions; but after death when those attractions and distractions will be abolished, the cacophonic music of our unrepented sins will become as loud as hell and we shall barely bear such a shame and disgrace through them, asking even mountains to fall upon us to hide us, but in vain (Revelation 6:16). And exactly this torment is metaphorically called by Matthew as "being destroyed in fire/gehenna", for what is a destruction of soul unless bringing it to an unnatural state of loving a sinful passion more than God, or not taking care of its unrepented sin and carrying it with oneself for the eventual shame and disgrace in the afterlife, in the presence of the entire mankind, for nothing will be hidden then?

But why also body? Because our bilogical-physical body has also a prospect of afterlife: in difference from Platonism, Christianity affirms that body will also participate in everlastingness after its resurrection, that is to say, its rejoining its soul after the Second Coming of Christ and the ensuing end of history and the general resurrection. However, the everlastingness the resurrected body will participate in depends on the condition of the soul, for a body belonging to a wicked soul will have a resurrection of condemnation, whereas a body belonging to a righteous person - a resurrection of life and bliss. Thus in the everlastingness that will follow the historical life there will be only those two options for human souls and bodies - condemnation or bliss, tertium non datur.

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  • @Down-voter Dear down-voter, I understand that the site allows for plain down-voting, but since you have done it, let me ask you for a favor: can you explain and your decision to down-vote my post? For you must have reasons, either not liking the style, or ideas, finding them wrong. For how could you have down-voted without reasons? Thus, take please few minutes to communicate to me your disagreements, for if I am wrong you will help me out of my error, but if your counter-arguments are missing the point, then you will benefit from my objections, for Truth is not a private property of anybody. Apr 6 at 13:59
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I hope that by the end of this answer you'll see why Matthew 10:28 almost certainly proves annihilationism, or at the very least that it proves eternal conscious torment (henceforth ECT) to be wrong. We'll start with γεέννῃ (Gehenna).

What Is Gehenna?

The word for "Gehenna" in Greek is γεέννῃ (geennē). Jesus most likely used Gehenna to denote the final eschatological judgment of the wicked, that is, the Second Death or Lake of Fire spoken of in the book of Revelation. Gehenna is a transliteration of the Hebrew phrase "Ge-hinnom", which refers to the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, the valley right outside of Jerusalem. The valley is explicitly mentioned over 13 times in the Hebrew Bible either as "the Valley of the Ben-Hinnom" (Joshua 15:8; 18:16; 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31-32; 19:2; 6; 32:35), or "the Valley of Hinnom" (Nehemiah 11:30). And there are several allusions to the valley, the most prominent being Jeremiah 31:40, Isaiah 30:33, and Isaiah 66:24. We'll analyze substantial references to the valley in the Hebrew Bible.

Although, first I'd like to clear something up. It's a popular idea that "Gehenna" refers to a perpetually burning garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom. However, this notion has virtually no evidence to support it. See these articles here and here for more. So, what was Jesus bringing to the mind of His disciples when He alluded to the Valley of Ben-Hinnom by His use of "Gehenna"? For that, we have to go to the Hebrew Bible (that which Jesus was fully steeped in throughout His life).

In 2 Chronicles 28:3, we see that King Ahaz sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Hinnom (c.f. 2 Kings 16:3). Manasseh, like his grandfather Ahaz, also burned his children in the Valley of Ben Hinnom (2 Chronicles 33:6; c.f. 2 Kings 21:6). Jeremiah 32:35 tells us that "they built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech," something Yahweh never commanded, nor did it enter His mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and make Judah sin. Manasseh had "shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another" (2 Kings 21:16). Because of this, Yahweh decided to bring massive calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah (2 Kings 21:12). When Josiah (Manasseh's grandson) took the throne, he reformed Judah (2 Kings 23:1-25). 2 Kings 23:10 says that Josiah "desecrated Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech." Here we see that Topheth was the place of fire within the Valley of Ben-Hinnom where child sacrifices took place. Josiah ensured that no one would sacrifice their children in the valley by wrecking it.

Already, we see that the Valley of Hinnom is a site of death and desolation, and due to the atrocities of human beings at that. It is precisely because of these depravities committed by Israelites in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom that God decided to turn it against them and let the valley serve as a place of the judgment that would be brought upon them by Him; the place where they once perpetrated horrific acts is now the place where God has brought heavy judgment upon them. This is seen plainly in Jeremiah, where the Valley of Hinnom is portrayed as a place where the apostate Israelites will be utterly eliminated by Yahweh.

[Jeremiah 7:30-34] For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,” declares Yahweh. “They have put their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. 31 They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind. 32 “Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares Yahweh, “when it will no longer be called Topheth, or the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the Valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place. 33 The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the animals of the earth; and no one will frighten them away. 34 Then I will eliminate from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a site of ruins.

All this certainly invokes pictures of complete eradication and decimation. The Valley of Hinnom will be called the "Valley of Slaughter", filled to the brim with the corpses of those who have done vile and despicable things (i.e. burn their children alive in honour of false deities), rotting in oblivion and being decomposed by scavengers (birds of the sky and animals of the land); the intense language gives us the image of a bloody battle scene of utmost desolation, with no survivors and dead bodies laid out in the open. This same language with reference to the valley is employed again in Jeremiah 19. Here are the highlights (but read the whole chapter);

[Jeremiah 19:2; 6-7] Then go out to the Valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you,; therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares Yahweh, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the Valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the Valley of Slaughter. 7 And I will frustrate the planning of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will make their carcasses food for the birds of the sky and the animals of the earth.

Once more we have images of death and destruction, with the carcasses of the Israelites who were smitten by the sword of their enemies laid out in the open for scavengers to finish them off. The next allusion is Jeremiah 31:40, which undoubtedly alludes to the Valley of Ben-Hinnom when it refers to the "valley of dead bodies and ashes" near the Kidron (which is right next to the Valley of Hinnom). The Valley is the "valley of dead bodies and ashes" because it is a place where those who have done despicable things are slain and left out in the open to be consumed either by scavengers or by fire (hence the "ashes").1 The next allusion is Isaiah 30:33, which undeniably alludes to the Valley of Ben-Hinnom when it mentions Topheth, which we previously learned from 2 Kings 23:10 was the place of fire within the Valley of Ben-Hinnom where the practice of child sacrifice took place ("Topheth" is also interchangeable with "Valley of Ben-Hinnom", as we see in Jeremiah 7:32 and Jeremiah 19:6). Here we see that it is once again a place of fire, though not for the same reasons. Isaiah 30:33 takes place within the context of God's showing mercy and compassion to Israel and consequently judging their oppressors, Assyria. Here are the highlights:

[Isaiah 30:18-19; 25-27; 30-33] Therefore Yahweh longs to be gracious to you; therefore He rises to show you compassion, for Yahweh is a just God. Blessed are all who wait for Him. 19 O people in Zion who dwell in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will surely be gracious when you cry for help; when He hears, He will answer you.; 25 And from every high mountain and every raised hill, streams of water will flow in the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 The light of the moon will be as bright as the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter—like the light of seven days—on the day that Yahweh binds up the brokenness of His people and heals the wounds He has inflicted. 27 Behold, the Name of Yahweh comes from afar, with burning anger and dense smoke. His lips are full of fury, and His tongue is like a consuming fire.; 30 And Yahweh will cause His majestic voice to be heard and His mighty arm to be revealed, striking in angry wrath with a flame of consuming fire, and with cloudburst, storm, and hailstones. 31 For Assyria will be shattered at the voice of Yahweh; He will strike them with His scepter. 32 And with every stroke of the rod of punishment that Yahweh brings down on them, the tambourines and lyres will sound as He battles with weapons brandished. 33 For Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its funeral pyre is deep and wide, with plenty of fire and wood. The breath of Yahweh, like a torrent of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze. (BSB)

Yahweh has condemned Assyria and its king to destruction. The day when Yahweh Himself comes in "angry wrath" and "lips full of fury" with "burning anger", "a flame of consuming fire", and "cloudbursts, storms, and hailstones" at His disposal to strike and shatter Assyria with "weapons brandished", is said to be "the day of great slaughter" (v.25). Topheth, whose funeral pyre is deep and wide and has an abundance of fire and wood, is said to have been long prepared for the king of Assyria, and the breath of Yahweh "sets it ablaze" (God incinerates the king of Assyria!). Once more, the Valley of Ben-Hinnom is associated with death and destruction in the context of warfare imagery (i.e. consuming fire, wrath and fury, great slaughter, brandished weapons, a funeral pyre for the king set ablaze, etc.).

And now, for the last unmistakable allusion to the Valley of Hinnom. This one is perhaps the most significant, as it is the text most alluded to by Jesus when He speaks about Gehenna. It is Isaiah 66:24. The 66th chapter of Isaiah describes an eschatological battle scene outside of Jerusalem, where Yahweh protects the righteous within the city while massacring the wicked who have rebelled against Him (v.3-4), putting them to an end.

[Isaiah 66:15-17] For behold, Yahweh will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For by fire will Yahweh enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by Yahweh shall be many. 17 “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares Yahweh.

The final verse (v.24) shows us the aftermath of God's judgment; a pile of corpses being totally consumed by an unstoppable blaze, the leftovers for the decomposers (i.e. worms/maggots).2

[Isaiah 66:24] Then they will go out and look at the corpses of the people who have rebelled against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be extinguished; And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” (NASB)

These images of death and destruction are the ones being conjured in the minds of Jesus' disciples when He employs Gehenna in His teachings. The Valley of Ben-Hinnom is nowhere associated with "spiritual death" (separation from the presence of God); it is exclusively associated with physical death and destruction. That Jesus would use "Gehenna", which alludes to the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, a place notorious in the Hebrew Bible for the brutal destruction of God's enemies, to signify a concept (i.e. separation from God's presence in immortal bodies) that is not only never once associated with the valley in the Hebrew Bible but also completely opposed to the conceptions explicitly and incontrovertibly portrayed by it is absurd, to say the least. That Jesus' disciples, entirely unfamiliar with the notion of separation from God's presence being a type of death, namely, "spiritual death" (on account of the fact that "spiritual death" is never once definitively spoken of in the Hebrew Bible) and thoroughly acquainted with the notion of God slaying His enemies as retribution (especially with regard to the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, as seen by the foregoing), would have ever believed such a thing, beyond absurd.3

What Does Matthew 10:28 Mean?

Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

1. [Do not be afraid of those who kill the body]

"Those" refers to men (human beings). Men can "kill the body". The word for "kill" is ἀποκτείνω (see Strong's G615), and the word for "body" is σῶμα (see Strong's G4983). This is the only place in the entire Bible where such an expression ("kill the body") appears. The Bible talks only about killing persons, never bodies. Bodies are never said to be "living"; only people are said to be "living". If bodies are not living things, how can we kill them? However, I realize that, in a sense, bodies are alive (though not exactly as people are). I mean, bodies do things; they have various abilities and capacities. Functional bodies are equipped with sentience (that goes for [most] animals too) and numerous capabilities, such as the capability to pump blood throughout the body using the heart, the capability to walk or talk or use any of the various senses possessed by human beings (by the way, there are more than five), and especially the capability to breathe, that is, to hold the breath of life within (when the capability to breathe is abolished, the vital life-breath returns to the One who gave it [and the person returns from whence they came, that is, to the dust {which is a metaphor for returning to the inert and lifeless state we were once in before God put our breath into us}], until He is ready to reinsert it into us). So, while our bodies are not the whole of us, they are still alive in the sense that they operate and function, i.e. they are animate and active (even when we are asleep).

Our bodies are not inert or powerless; though they can be. And men can cause this (say by, I don't know, plunging a sword through someone's heart). Men have the capacity to cause our bodies (our brain, heart, lungs, etc.) to shut down (and we lose the ability to respire). This act directly correlates to our death (or our life-breath separating from our body). When the body becomes incapable of doing anything, our life-breath leaves it to go to God. When we say "dead body", what we technically mean is "body of a dead person", but in a sense, the body is dead too because it is completely powerless and inert; without the capacity to do anything (fully incapacitated). Hence, that is what Jesus is saying; that men have the capacity to shut down our bodies, that is, to cause our bodies to be fully impotent and inactive, unable to perform anything at all; they can cause our bodies to be fully nonfunctional. Hence, Jesus is using "kill" (ἀποκτείνω) here in the sense of causing to become inert, powerless, nonfunctional.

But Jesus is also telling us not to be afraid of this fact. But why? Well, because there is more to a human than the tangible, material part of them. There is also an intangible, immaterial part of a person, which is their vital life-breath; the force that sustains their life. It was the item that God conferred onto Adam in Genesis 2:7. Although you cannot see it or feel it or measure it, it's there; and it goes back to God upon the cessation of someone's life (see Psalm 104:29, Psalm 146:4, Ecclesiastes 12:7, Job 34:14-15, Luke 23:46, Acts 7:59). It is this vital life-breath that God puts back into a person upon resurrection (see Ezekiel 37:5-6). And it is what men cannot touch; when the body dies, the life-breath retains all of its life-giving properties and can be put back into a viable/usable body at any moment (see Luke 8:54-56). It is for this reason that we should not fear men. The worse they can do is temporarily deprive us of our life by destroying our functional bodies, that is to say, when they kill, the effects of their killing are not everlasting; God can put our life-breath (which remains untouched when humans kill us) back into us at the resurrection.

2. [but cannot kill the soul]

Matthew's use of the conjunction δὲ ("but") denotes that what Jesus is saying here is in contrast to His previous statement (do not be afraid of those who kill the body). That is to say, Jesus is expressing that what man can do to the "body" (σῶμα) is what man cannot do to the "soul". The word for "soul" is ψυχή (see Strong's G5590). Jesus uses the exact same word (ἀποκτεῖναι) to describe the killing of the soul (ψυχή) that He had just used 4 words ago (half a second ago) to describe the killing of the body (σῶμα). Do you think Jesus switched from one definition of ἀποκτεῖναι to another in half a second? That when referencing the body, He's talking about one kind of "killing", but when referencing the soul, He's talking about another entirely distinct type of "killing" (namely, "spiritual killing", i.e. "separation from the presence of God")? Or do you think that Jesus, in using the exact same word within the exact same context merely half a second apart, is talking about the same type of killing when referencing both the body and soul? So, in what sense was Jesus using "kill" (ἀποκτεῖναι) when He talked about the body? We already determined that it was in the sense of causing to become inert, powerless, nonfunctional. Indeed, to paraphrase from this fantastic answer here: "We can claim they both describe causing to become nonfunctional/powerless, or they both describe separating from the presence of God, but creating a hybrid where the verb changes meaning within this single chreia would entirely miss the point Jesus is making about what men can & cannot do."

Now, what exactly is the identity of this mysterious ψυχή? Is it the immortal conscious soul? Is it the life of a person? Is it the spirit/life-breath of a person? Is it the mind/inner-being of a person (without the immortality part)? I don't suppose there's any way to know for sure, but it matters not, because we know the fundamentals; whatever the ψυχή is, we know Matthew 10:28 is saying that men cannot do to it what they can do to the body, i.e. that men cannot cause the ψυχή to become powerless/lifeless and nonfunctional (as they can with the body). That is what we know for sure; separation from God is not in view. Unless, of course, in the act of separating the ψυχή from God, it becomes wholly powerless and nonfunctional. But those who believe in ECT do not believe that the ψυχή becomes nonfunctional; merely that it's "rendered useless, unable to fulfil its primary purpose" (which apparently entails "being deprived of love and a relationship with God", even though that's a non-sequitur). The ψυχή of a person (operating under the notion of the soul[immortal inner-being]) still retains consciousness/awareness and the ability to think and feel emotion (albeit emotions of misery and desperation, but emotion nonetheless); hence not entirely inoperative (a dead body, however, is fully inoperative; incapable of doing anything at all whatsoever). Personally, I think that ψυχή refers to the breath of life in Matthew 10:28; it's the most natural reading considering that Jesus is contrasting the body and ψυχή of a person, and body and spirit are what a living person consists of. Hence, Jesus is telling us not to be afraid of men because they do not have the ability to make the life-breath/spirit powerless/nonfunctional (i.e. they are incapable of causing it to altogether lose its life-giving properties [God can always bring us back to life by reincorporating our spirit into us]).

3. [Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna]

The word used for "destroy" is ἀπόλλυμι (see Strong's G622). I thoroughly analyze the word "ἀπόλλυμι" in my answer here. In short, ἀπόλλυμι never indisputably refers to "separating from the presence of God" (not that that would help the case for ECT/ECS much, as I point out in my posts here and here), and when ἀπόλλυμι refers to "rendering unusable/useless", it's always with reference to inanimate, lifeless objects (there's no evidence it has such a usage with regards to living beings[e.g. humans]). But, in reality, this does not matter anyway, and is more or less a red herring, on account of the fact that, when performing Biblical exegesis, one cannot simply assume that all shades of meaning of a word are available to the interpreter in every context. Here, in the latter half of Matt. 10:28, Jesus is unambiguously making a contrast between the power/ability of God and the power/ability of men. Jesus is saying that what men cannot do, God can do; that is why He says, instead. He wants us to fear God instead of men because He (God) can do what they (men) cannot. What was it, again, that they could not do? Was it that men could not cause the ψυχή to be separated from the presence of God? Was it that they could not render it useless? Jesus already told us that men could not "kill" (that is, "render powerless and nonfunctional") the ψυχή (as they can the body). So what Jesus is saying is that God is the One who has the capacity to render the life-breath totally inert, powerless, and inoperative, while men do not; therefore we should fear Him rather than (instead of) men. The right reading of this passage is this: What men can do to the body, but cannot do to the life-breath, God can do to both the body and life-breath in Gehenna, and hence we should fear Him rather than men. Men can render the body entirely powerless and nonfunctional, but they cannot render the life-breath entirely powerless and nonfunctional; the life-breath returns to God upon one's death, retaining all its life-giving properties, waiting until it can be reinserted into a person so as to restore them to life. In Gehenna, however, God can cause the life-breath to lose all its power and ability; to become entirely nonfunctional. Essentially, God can nullify/make void the vital life-breath in Gehenna, and (on account of Gehenna signifying final eschatological judgment) He can do so with permanent (everlasting) effects. All this to say that God can cause the two components (body and spirit) necessary to create a functional, animate being to become permanently nonfunctional (deprived of all their capabilities), making resurrection (which demands a functional body and life-breath/spirit) an impossibility in perpetuity, thereby rendering the person dead (and unconscious)4 for all of eternity. Fundamentally, God can cause the everlasting "shut-down" of our existence, and accordingly, we fear Him. That is what Jesus is saying at Matthew 10:28.

Notes:

1 Historically, the two most common methods by which a dead body was disposed of were cremation and burial. When a body was cremated, it was turned to ashes (reduced to nothing). When a body was buried, decomposers such as maggots (and, of course, many types of bacteria) would consume the dead flesh over time, eventually leaving nothing behind but dry bones (as for bodies left out in the open, scavengers such as vultures, condors, coyotes, hyenas, etc. would feast on the dead flesh, likewise leaving nothing behind but dry bones).

2 That "worm"(תּוֹלֵעָה) 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.

3 Here's something to think about. If God genuinely hated sin, wouldn't He, like, put an end to it someday? Guaranteeing that evil endures for eternity by resurrecting those who perpetrate it in immortal, incorruptible bodies doesn't seem like something a God who despises sin would do; it certainly sounds like something a God who relishes sin would do. Usually, when people abhor something, the last thing they would want to do is deliberately ensure its eternal existence. But according to ECT, God does not detest wickedness and rebellion enough to avoid countenancing its existence for all eternity. Just a thought.

4 But why unconscious? Aren't the dead conscious? Sure, let's assume they are. People who believe in post-mortal consciousness do so because they believe that the "conscious spirit" or "soul" lives on after death, correct? Well, if, in Gehenna, God causes the spirit/soul to become inactive and nonfunctional, what is left with regards to being conscious? Purportedly, the whole reason there is consciousness after death is because the conscious spirit lives on, remaining intact. But if God makes the spirit/soul void in Gehenna, how could those who are cast into Gehenna possibly be conscious? Both their body and their soul/spirit are entirely lifeless and inoperative, without the capacity to do anything, hence there is no room for any conscious experience (let alone the conscious experience of eternal torment).

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With all due respect to the (sometimes labored) responses here - the simple answer to whether or not a "soul" can be destroyed is to remember that if the "soul" was immortal and therefore could not be killed nor destroyed - there would be no need for God to grant "it" and "it's human carrier" everlasting life.

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