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Mark 3:4

4 And he saith to them, `Is it lawful on the sabbaths to do good, or to do evil? life to save, or to kill (ἀποκτεῖναι)?' but they were silent. [YLT]

Luke 6:9

9 Then said Jesus unto them, `I will question you something: Is it lawful on the sabbaths to do good, or to do evil? life to save or to kill (ἀπολέσαι)?' [YLT]
9 Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy (ἀπολέσαι) it? [KJV]

Matthew 10:28

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

Mark 3:4 and Luke 6:9 use ἀποκτεῖναι and ἀπολέσαι respectively to report the same situation. Matthew 10:28 is more interesting because the two verbs are used in the same context, but apparently to describe different kinds of experiences.

Are kill (ἀποκτεῖναι) and destroy (ἀπολέσαι) synonyms? Does the answer depend on the context?


Related: Can men kill/take away our ψυχὴν (psychēn) or not? Matthew 10:28 vs. other passages (word study)

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  • Yes they can be used interchangeably. Matt 10:28 can be used strongly in favour of annihilation of the soul, meaning complete destruction. God is able to destroy both the soul and body, to whom we should fear. People can destroy just the body/flesh.
    – Michael16
    Feb 20 at 9:29

2 Answers 2

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The Greek roots ἀποκτείνω & ἀπόλλυμι overlap in meaning--whether we describe them as synonyms or plesionyms is a matter of nuance--they can be used interchangeably but carry some variation in connotation.

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Usage

Strong's offers the following range of meanings for each:

ἀποκτείνω

put to death, kill, slay

ἀπόλλυμι

destroy, die, lose, mar, perish

Note, however, that the usage of ἀποκτείνω can include "destroy" (e.g. Ephesians 2:16) & the usage of ἀπόλλυμι can include "to render useless" (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:19)

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Synoptic Problem

It is common for Mark & Luke to exhibit this type of variation in parallel stories--it is a well-known feature of the synoptic problem that Luke often uses a more precisely fitting vocabulary word, whereas Mark tends toward more surprising/dramatic word choice. This has led many (myself included) to conclude that Luke had greater proficiency than Mark in Greek.

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Conclusion

There is clear overlap in meaning between these words; they are sufficiently close semantically to be used in a synonymous parallelism (as in Matthew 10:28). Both possess a sufficient breadth of literal & figurative meanings--even within the writings of the same author--that meaning cannot be divorced from context.

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There is certainly enough overlap in the meaning of ἀποκτείνω and ἀπόλλυμι for the two to be used loosely as synonyms as the OP has documented.

However, they are not strict synonyms and Matthew clearly makes a contradistinction between the two in the significant verse of Matt 10:28.

Before discussing this let me suggest that while the righteous will have heavenly bodies at the resurrection (1 Cor 15:32-49), the wicked will not because they will soon be destroyed. However, the resurrection of anyone involves far more the simplistically popular re-uniting of body and soul. Since the body will no longer exist, the act of resurrection involves a significant act of re-creation of the person as in such a way that

  • people are still recognizable by friends (1 Cor 13:12)
  • People have memories to recognize friends
  • people have enough memories to recognize Jesus and God, etc

Now, in order to do any of this, God retains some record of the person (whatever that means (Rev 20:12, etc). Thus, God retains the ability to recreate people after they have been killed or died.

However, the point of Matt 10:28 is that the meaning of "Gehenna" is that the wicked and their sinfulness is somehow completely destroyed (Rev 20:9, etc) so that they will never be resurrected again - see Eccl 9:5.

I note that the verb ἀπόλλυμι (as distinct from ἀποκτείνω) is used of the state of eternal death or of those will suffer eternal death, as in Rom 14:15, Matt 21:41, 22:7, Mark 12:9, Luke 17:27, 29, 20:16, Jude 5, etc.

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  • The wicked dead are non-existent (except for God's record keeping) and God is going to resurrect them and then destroy them again with the only difference being that they are also struck from the record keeping? Feb 20 at 13:42
  • @MikeBorden - that is what the above suggests
    – Dottard
    Feb 20 at 21:39
  • Why resurrect them to kill them again if He could just wipe them from the record and skip a step? Feb 21 at 13:03
  • @MikeBorden - justice must be seen to done?
    – Dottard
    Feb 21 at 20:33
  • The soul that sins, it shall die. That's justice that already happened (I think) ... and then they are made alive and killed again. It troubles me. Feb 22 at 1:20

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