Matthew 10:28, "Do not fear 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."
The conditionalist assumes that the word "destroy" here means nonexistence. But the verse does not say that. Strictly speaking, we have two possibilities for what the word means in its context. One is nonexistence, and the other is continued, conscious punishment. Both are possible since the text does not explicitly specify either one.
The conditionalist assumes that the word "destroy" here means nonexistence and then insert their meaning into the text. But, how do they know that's the right interpretation for this verse?
- "This “punishment” can encompass a broad spectrum of degrees of conscious suffering based on varying degrees of guilt, but the essence of this “punishment” is the total and everlasting dissolution and extinction of the person punished (Matt 10:28; 2 Thess 1:9)."1
- "The fact is that the “penalty” for sin is death, the second death, a death without limitations (“infinite”) that encompasses the whole person (Matt 10:28) forever (2 Thess 1:8). One who “pays” that penalty does not “get out” of “hell’s prison,” but dies there and is dead forever." (Fudge. p. 128)
- "Though to imagine an eternity of torment is a fearful thing, we should instead fear that God might “destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10: 28)."2
The Greek word for "destroy" in this verse is ἀπόλλυμι, apollumi, and it has a variety of meanings, depending on the context. If you want to see the complete list of every occurrence of the word in the New Testament to see how it is used, see the article Word study on apollumi, destroy.
One of the things I found regarding the use of apollumi is that the only time it is clearly and definitely describing something that stops existing is with wine (Mark 2:22), food (John 6:27), plants (James 1:11) gold, (1 Peter 1:7), and luxurious and splendid things (Revelation 18:14). So, the word can mean nonexistence, but it is not used that way in regards to people.
Below is an outline analysis of every occurrence of the word apollumi that occurs in the New Testament when those verses deal with people.
- Cessation of biological life only
- Destruction of the physical life demon possessed boy, Mark 9:22
- Destruction of Jesus, which logically would require his continued existence (hypostatic union), Matt. 2:13; 12:14; 27:20; Mark 3:6; 11:18; Luke 13:33; 19:47;
- Dying as Prodigal Son who was dying of starvation. This meant physical death only, Luke 15:17, 24, 32
- Zechariah who physically died, Luke 11:51
- Disciples who were perishing physically in a storm Matt. 8:25; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:24
- Cessation of biological and possibly spiritual life. Exact meaning is not specified.
- Judas who perished after he betrayed Jesus, but nonexistence or continued existence is not specified, John 17:12
- Destruction of people, but it is not stated if there is continued existence or not, Matt. 10:28; 18:14; 21:41; 22:7; 26:52; Mark 12:9; Luke 13:3, 5; 17:27, 29; 20:16; John 3:16; 10:28; Acts 5:37; Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:18; 10:9, 10; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:10; Jude 5, 11
- People who are lost, but still alive
- Lost people, sheep of Israel who are still alive, Matt. 10:6; 15:24;
- Lost people who are still alive (sheep, coins), Luke 15:4, 6 8; 19:10;
- Christian are destroyed, meaning is not clear
- Such hindered Christians are said to be destroyed. Exact meaning is not clear. Rom. 14:15
- Persecuted Christians who are not physically destroyed, 2 Cor. 4:9
Of course, I urge you to do your own analysis. But from what I discovered, the meaning of the word apollumi, when it is in reference to people, can refer to the cessation of biological life, the cessation biological life along with spiritual death, to people who are lost but still alive, and also to Christians who are persecuted and disciplined. So, we can see that the word has a range of meanings when referring to people. But what does it mean in Matthew 10:28? Well, its own context is what we must look to first. Let's do that.
- Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.
- What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.
- Do not fear 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.
- Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
- But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
- So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
So nothing in the immediate context tells us what the meaning of "destroy" is in verse 28. Therefore, it is the conditionalists who assume that this verse is speaking of nonexistence. If Matthew 10:28 and its context don't require the conditionalist interpretation, how then can we determine what it means? The answer, of course, is by looking at the whole of Scripture. If we can find a pattern in other Scriptures, perhaps we can determine more accurately what Matthew 10:28 is saying.
Destruction/apollumi in reference to Jesus
We now turn our attention to other Scriptures where the word apollumi is used in reference to people. We find many scriptures. Of particular importance is its reference to Jesus.
- Matthew 2:13, "Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy [apollumi] Him.”
- Matthew 12:14, "But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy [apollumi] Him."
- Luke 19:47, "And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy [apollumi] Him,"
- See also Matthew 27:20; Mark 3:6; 11:18
The ungodly religious leaders of Israel wanted to destroy (apollumi) Jesus. In each of these verses, the word means to kill him physically. But, since Jesus is God in flesh with two natures (hypostatic union), for him to be killed physically could not have meant he would cease to exist. Annihilationism is contradicted by the doctrine of Christ's two natures since both his human and divine natures are tied to his personhood which cannot be divided. Therefore, we can see the word "destroy" (apollumi) when used of Jesus, necessitates that such a destruction means he continues to exist. For more on this, please see the following articles.
- God receiving Jesus' spirit proves continued conscious existence after death
- Soul sleep, Jesus' human nature, and conditionalism
Varying degrees of destruction
One of the things that the Greek word apollumi can mean deals with the varying degrees of destruction. Please consider the following verses below in support of this idea.
- People who are physically alive but in a present state of being lost, (Matt. 15:24; Luke 15:24, 32; 19:10)
- People who are physically about to die/perishing (Luke 8:24)
- People who physically did die/destroyed (Luke 17:27; 29)
- People who are given to Christ by the Father, can't be lost (John 6:39)
Here are the verses so you can read them and see for yourself.
- Matthew 15:24, "But He answered and said, 'I was sent only to the lost [apollumi] sheep of the house of Israel.'"
- Luke 8:24, "They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing [apollumi]!” And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm."
- Luke 15:24, "for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost [apollumi] and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate."
- Luke 15:32, "But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost [apollumi] and has been found."
- Luke 17:27, " they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed [apollumi] them all."
- Luke 17:29, "but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed [apollumi] them all."
- Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost [apollumi]."
- John 6:39, "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose [apollumi] nothing, but raise it up on the last day."
The context of Matthew 10:28 does not reveal what the nature of the destruction of the people actually is. We don't know if it means nonexistence, as the conditionalists claim, or continued existence in God's judgment. But, as you can see, the word apollumi, destroy, that is used in this verse is also used to speak of the people who were still alive and are said to be in a state of destruction (Matt. 15:24; Luke 15:24, 32; 19:10). Therefore, the conditionalists should not be so quick to claim that apollumi in Matthew 10:28 means that those thus destroyed don't exist anymore. If anything, it could easily mean that they will face the eternal destruction of God by the means of eternal conscious torment.
- 1. Fudge, Edward William. The fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition (p. 39). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- 2. Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism (Kindle Locations 460-461). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.