Joseph Herrin (11-21-2011)
There is a curious expression used by Christ that has led many Christians to conclude that Yahshua taught that hell will be forever. In the Gospel of Mark we find Yahshua repeating the words, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
Examining the footnotes of a number of translations, you will find it mentioned that verses 44, 46, and 48 of this passage, which all repeat the expression “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” are not found in the best ancient manuscripts. The KJV Bible translators had only 8 Greek manuscripts to work with, and most of their labors were performed using the Textus Receptus which is for very good reason considered one of the most flawed and unreliable translations available today. The Textus Receptus was hurriedly thrown together by the Dutch Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus in 1516 A.D.. Erasmus was rushing to get his translation printed as he was aware of other scholars working on what would be competing translations. His work was so poorly done that it was not even proofread for spelling errors, and was an abysmal piece of work.
Erasmus did not have available to him any Greek manuscripts that were older than the 10th century, and was even missing six complete chapters from the book of Revelation. He therefore took Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible (the Latin Vulgate) which was produced toward the end of the 4th century, using it to translate the portions of the New Testament he was lacking back into Greek. Erasmus’ Textus Receptus was a Latin translation in which he included the Greek alongside the Latin for comparative purposes.
There are now more than 70o manuscripts available to translators, many of which are more ancient and reliable than that which Erasmus or the KJV translators had to work with. Two of the most highly regarded manuscripts are Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, both of which are in the original Greek and date back to the 4th century. These ancient manuscripts do not contain the phrase “Where there worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
It does seem strange that Christ would repeat such a litany, for His speech to those gathered to hear Him was normally quite common. Yahshua did not speak as if reciting poetry, but conversed in the common tongue using ordinary expression. Seeing that some of the best and most reliable ancient manuscripts of the New Testament omit these words, it is very possible that they were added to the text at a later time.
Nevertheless, it is beneficial to understand what meaning these expressions were intended to convey. They in no way contradict the Biblical testimony we have observed elsewhere of the limited duration of hell and the lake of fire. Even if we remove these doubtful phrases from the text, we are left with the following:
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Seeing these expressions in the text has confused many modern English speaking Christians. These phrases are commonly cited when people are expressing opposition, or doubts, regarding the doctrine of the reconciliation of all things. Simply put, a fire that shall never be quenched is not eternal fire. It is fire that will not be extinguished until it has consumed everything that is combustible. When the fire has consumed all that can be consumed, it will quite naturally cease to burn.
In comparing this expression to the rest of Scripture, we find that this has ever been what was intended when God speaks of a fire that will not be quenched. The prophet Jeremiah records the following words.
“But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched.”
These words of God were fulfilled a few years later when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem.
Now on the tenth day of the fifth month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who was in the service of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of Yahweh, the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; even every large house he burned with fire.
Once this fire consumed that which it was set to, the fire went out. The fire which Nebuchadnezzar set does not continue to burn today. The unquenchable fire was not an eternal fire. It was simply a fire that was not interrupted. There were no Jewish fire brigades that were able to douse this fire. The Temple and houses of Jerusalem were fully consumed.
A remarkable truth appears when we compare God’s words relating to fire with similar words speaking of His wrath. We find the parallel truth that Yahweh’s wrath, which is also said to be unquenchable, is temporal. After Judah had transgressed for many generations against Yahweh, incurring His wrath which would not be turned aside, there arose a godly king named Josiah. Josiah humbled himself before Yahweh, and inquired of Yahweh concerning the fate of the nation. Yahweh responded in the following manner.
II Kings 22:17
“Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched.”
Yahweh’s wrath was poured out after the days of King Josiah. In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, Judah and Jerusalem were captured and destroyed. Many of the people were slaughtered. The remnant were taken captive to Babylon. Those who know the history of God’s people know that His wrath that “shall not be quenched” was satisfied seventy years later. Yahweh had compassion on His people and restored them to the land of their inheritance. He strengthened them to rebuild the city walls and the Temple.
“For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says Yahweh your Redeemer.
Yahweh compares His wrath to fire. He speaks of His wrath burning. The wrath of God must accomplish its work, even as the fires He set in the Temple and the houses of Jerusalem had to burn until they were spent. Neither Yahweh’s wrath, nor the fires of hell, are eternal. The unquenchable fire will go out when it has accomplished its purpose. In the end compassion will be renewed. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Yahweh did judge Judah and Jerusalem. His wrath and anger burned against them. Yahweh’s righteous indignation had to be satisfied.
Therefore thus says Yahweh God, “Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.”
Nevertheless, after the anger and wrath of Yahweh had burned for a season, it came to an end. Wrath was replaced with compassion. Judgment gave way to mercy.
For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.
Foreigners will build up your walls, and their kings will minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, and in My favor I have had compassion on you.
These words of Yahweh recorded by Isaiah were fulfilled in a very literal sense. Not only was a foreign king the instrument of Yahweh’s judgment upon Jerusalem, but another foreign king was God’s instrument of restoration. This foreign king was Cyrus of Persia.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “Yahweh, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of Yahweh, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.'”
Is it not remarkable that the wrath of God that was unquenchable, and the fires He set in Jerusalem that would not be quenched, not only ended, but Yahweh restored that which had been cleansed by fire? Will not Yahweh do the same for those men and angels that are cast into the unquenchable fires of hell? Indeed, He will! How else will He fulfill that which He has sworn by His own name?
“Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance. They shall say, ‘Surely in Yahweh I have righteousness and strength.’ To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him.”
There are numerous places where the Bible speaks of unquenchable fire. Following is a further example from the gospels.
John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
It should now be understood that John the Baptist was not speaking of an eternal fire. The fire that Christ casts upon the earth must consume everything that is marred by sin until only that which is holy, righteous and true remains. Christ will reign UNTIL He has put all His enemies under His feet. His reign will continue UNTIL He has reconciled all things whether in heaven or on earth to the Father. Fire is emblematic of that purifying work that has been entrusted to Christ. Yahshua said:
“I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!”
We must understand these words of Christ in conjunction with all that He has testified. In another place Christ spoke the following:
When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”]
In fairness, it should be pointed out that the words enclosed in brackets in the Scripture above are not found in the most ancient and reliable manuscripts of the New Testament. Nevertheless, the Scriptures do consistently testify of this truth. Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved.
I John 2:1-2
And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Yahshua Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (merciful covering) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
There are many Christians today who are like James and John. Although they may be zealous for Christ, they do not recognize the character of the Spirit of Christ. James and John had been raised under the Law. The Law is a manslayer. It is understandable that having been raised under the Law they might view God’s wrath as predominant. Today Christians have received the gospel (good news) of Christ. We have in full view before us the mercy of God. Yahweh did not spare His own Son, but freely gave Him up for us all. We see Christ as the merciful covering who has laid down His life that all men might be saved. We transgress greatly if we commit the same error of judgment as James and John, enlarging upon the wrath of God, desiring to strike the people with blows that God does not intend. Yahweh will cast no man or angel into eternal fire. Those who teach such things do not know the Spirit to whom they belong.
There must be balance in all things. We are called to rightly divide the word of truth. The wrath of God is very real. Many Christians will experience the wrath of Yahweh right along with His adversaries.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
At the same time we must acknowledge that the wrath of God is not eternal. Yahweh’s greatest attribute is not wrath, it is love.
I John 4:8
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Throughout Scripture fire is employed as a symbol of God’s judgment. Fire is a purifying agent. In the Greek language, the words for fire and pure both derive from the same root. Fire is the greatest cleansing agent upon the earth. If you want something cleansed of impurity, then subject it to the fire.
It is easy to see the similarity between our English words pure and pyre. The word pyre is defined as “a heap of combustible material, especially one for the ritual cremation of a corpse.” How does one get rid of a dead body? The quickest and most complete way is to cremate it, subjecting the corpse to the flames. This is what Yahweh must accomplish for all mankind. All men born of Adam are dead men walking. Paul testified that “In my flesh dwells no good thing.” Sin dwells in the flesh. The flesh must therefore be consumed.
Whether one readily acknowledges Christ as Savior, or has not yet done so, their flesh must be consumed. We can present ourselves as a free will offering by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice unto God, or we will be cast into the lake of fire as the mandatory offering. In either case, the fire cannot burn forever. Once the fires of God have purified everything, the fires must go out.
Having observed from the Scriptures that unquenchable fire is not eternal fire, can we not rightly conclude that the phrase “where their worm dieth not” is also speaking of a temporal work? Worms consume flesh even as fire consumes that which is combustible. What will happen when there is no more flesh to consume? The answer is obvious. There must be an end to this work as well.
Everyone who is impure and vile in the eyes of Yahweh must experience the fire.
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
When the unquenchable fire has purged every adversary of God, and rebellion and sin are no more, then the fire of the second death, even the lake of fire, will burn no more.
I Corinthians 15:26
The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
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Brother Joseph, I am almost persuaded… I never really questioned these old and new testament verses. I just read them and took them at face value. I've always read well, but really studying something out has always been difficult for me. Thanks for this insight.
Dear Sister Julie,
Your comment reminds me of statements made by King Agrippa and the apostle Paul.
Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." And Paul said,"I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."
I might paraphrase by saying "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might perceive the marvelous plan of Yahweh to reconcile all things to Himself through His Son."
Dear Brother Joseph,
I hope you are well and recuperating.
I have always felt that GOD had more plans for the souls of men than to just cast them away.
Otherwise; how could all Israel be saved?
HE would not have created something to waste.
I have hope for all and know the mercy of GOD through CHRIST is immeasurable and we cannot expect a GOD of forgiveness to be unforgiving in the end.
Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess.
What a glorious time that will be brother.
Seeing those that ignored HIM now adoring HIM.
Blessings on you brother. ….. Steve