Saturday, June 06, 2015

Hell (Gehenna), Death, the Soul and Matthew 10:28

"Apply whatever torture devices you have to my body; you can't reach my will, no matter how much you wish (4 Maccabees 10:4).

The Oxford RSV notes that 4 Macc 10:4 does not occur in certain MSS: it goes on to say that this passage may be an interpolation. Furthermore, the passage may not have been written until sometime after Jesus' death (ca. 63 BCE-120 CE). Thus it may truly have no bearing on how we should understand Mt 10:28.

As for eternal torments: Neither Matthew nor Luke indicate that eternal suffering is being discussed by Jesus since Matthew writes that the soul can be "destroyed" by God "in Gehenna," while Luke notes that Jehovah "after he has killed," has the power to throw into Gehenna (Lk 12:4-5).

Furthermore, TDNT IX:646 observes:

"In Mt 10:28, however, the reference to God's power to destroy the YUXH and SWMA in Hades [Gehenna] is opposed to the idea of the immortality of the soul. VII, 1058, 15. For it is again apparent that man can be thought of only as a whole, both YUXH and SWMA. This view of man comes up against the undeniable fact that men are killed, e.g., in the persecution of the community. As Mk 8:35ff . . . already maintains, however, the YUXH, i.e., the true life of man as it is lived before God and in fellowship with God, is not affected by this. Only the SWMA (-----> VII, 1058, 15ff.)"

In harmony with other OT usages, Mt 10:28 could be using YUXH in the sense of life.

Additionally, John L. McKenzie (SJ) has some interesting observations regarding YUXH and Gehenna. He writes:

"Gehenna is also mentioned frequently in the rabbinical literature where it also appears as a pit of fire, a place of punishment for the wicked. In rabbinical literature, however, the eternal fire is not surely eternal punishment. The rabbis at times see the possibility of annihilation of the wicked or even of their release after a period of punishment" (McKenzie 300).

For a text that I think has a bearing on Mt 10:28 and the use of Gehenna there, see Isa 66:24.

McKenzie also adds:

"It [Gehenna] is a place where the wicked are destroyed body and soul, which perhaps echoes the idea of annihilation (Mt 10:28)."

He also contends that the "apocalyptic imagery" contained in certain NT passages should be taken for what it is, to wit, "imagery." The pictorial nature of "torments" should not be construed as "strictly literal theological affirmation" (300).

Gehenna is evidently neither a literal geographical place (in eschatological texts) nor an eternal locus of torture: Jesus seems to use the term in a figurative way. Gehenna appears to be representative of everlasting oblivion. NT Wright's advice is sagacious in this matter:

"It should of course be noted again that 'Gehenna' is the name of the smouldering rubbish-heap outside the south-west corner of Jerusalem . . . The extent to which it is used in the gospels metaphorically for an entirely
non-physical place of torment, and the extent to which, in its metaphorical use, it retains the sense of a physical conflagration such as might accompany the destruction of Jerusalem by enemy forces, ought not to be decided in advance of a full study of Jesus' meaning" (Jesus and the Victory of God, page 454-455).


Alethinon61 said...

I find it odd that anyone would use Matthew 20:28 to prove either eternal torment or the immortality of the soul. It seems pretty clear that APOKTEINAI "to kill" and APOLESAI "to destroy" are used to signify the same thing in context. Indeed, the ability of the text to serve as a vehicle able to convey the intended warning depends on it.

If Christians didn't believe that God both can and will kill souls, then this verse is robbed of the very impact it was used to convey.

Edgar Foster said...

I don't have time right now to post the original comments that sparked this post, but Mt 10:28 is commonly used to prove the existence of a burning Hell. Rob Bowman is one of many, who have invoked the text for this purpose.

Edgar Foster said...

Here is Bowman quoted verbatim on his understanding og Mt 10:28:

"Now then, whatever instrument of vengeance ye have, apply it to
my body [TWi SWMATI MOU], for ye are not able [DUNASQE] to touch, even if you wish it, my soul [THS YUXHS MOU]. . . . But thou, for thy
impiety and blood-shedding, shall endure indissoluble torments"
(4 Macc. 10:4, 11).

In the above text, once again the context is that of a Jew willing to
die a martyr's death for his faith. Notice the striking points
of contact with Matthew 10:28, notably the idea that the killer is not able (cf. MH DUNAMENWN in Matthew 10:28) to harm the YUXH (cannot
even touch it!) in contrast to the SWMA. But then, note that the
martyr warns his executioner that he will endure "indissoluble
torments" (v. 11). This is exactly how Christians have traditionally understood Matthew 10:28; Jesus is encouraging his disciples to fear
God rather than men, because whereas men cannot kill the soul (not
being able to touch it), God can subject the whole person, body and
soul, to the torments of eternal punishment.

Alethinon61 said...

Ah, yes, well, I discussed this verse with Bowman some years back. If memory serves, he ultimately argued that "die" doesn't mean what we think it means. Some folks will argue almost anything to avoid yielding to a better understanding.

Edgar Foster said...

I find the reasoning hard to understand as well, but Bowman is one among many, who think Mt 10:28 is perfectly consistent with eternal/everlasting torments. Vine's Expository Dictionary even says for apollumi:

a strengthened form of ollumi, signifies "to destroy utterly;" in Middle Voice, "to perish." The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being. This is clear from its use, as, e.g., of the marring of wine skins, Luke 5:37; of lost sheep, i.e., lost to the shepherd, metaphorical of spiritual destitution, Luke 15:4,6, etc.; the lost son, Luke 15:24; of the perishing of food, John 6:27; of gold, 1 Pet. 1:7. So of persons, Matt. 2:13, "destroy;" Matt. 8:25, "perish;" Matt. 22:7; 27:20; of the loss of well-being in the case of the unsaved hereafter, Matt. 10:28; Luke 13:3,5; John 3:16 (ver. 15 in some mss.); 10:28; 17:12; Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:15, "are perishing;" 2 Cor. 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:10; Jas. 4:12; 2 Pet. 3:9. Cp. B, II, No. 1. See DIE, LOSE, MARRED, PERISH.