The Bible says that hell-fire will not be quenched and that “their worm dieth not.” (See Mark 9:43-48 and Isaiah 66:24). Doesn’t this prove the immortality of the soul?
Even if we should agree that unquenched means endlessly burning, we would not find it necessary to accept the doctrine that at death an immortal soul is freed from man and lives apart from the body. These texts do not speak of disembodied souls, or spirits, burning. The Bible paints a picture of literal, wicked men at the judgment day being “cast into the lake of fire.” (See Revelation 20.)
Christ speaks of the “whole body” being “cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30.) If it be replied that the body would be destroyed by the flames, and therefore only the spirit would be left, we ask for the Bible proof that spirits, or souls, are impervious to fire. Christ declared we should “fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28. If “destroy” means consume as regards the “body”, we demand very clear proof if we are expected to believe that “destroy” means to leave unconsumed as regards the “soul.” A failure to produce such proof really takes the whole point out of the objection based on Mark 9 and Isaiah 66.
In Mark 9:43-48 Christ quite evidently refers to the same judgment fires as those described in Isaiah 66:24, where we read: “They [the righteous] shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses [“dead bodies,” A.R.V.] of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched.” We are told in so many words that the agencies of “work” and “fire” are working, not upon disembodied spirits, but upon bodies, dead bodies.
The word “hell” used in Mark 9:43-48 is from the Greek word Gehenna. This term, as we have learned, is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Hinnom, the name of a valley near Jerusalem, “used as a place to cast carcasses of animals and malefactors, which were consumed by fire constantly kept up.” (See Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon.)
Christ here uses this valley of Hinnom to teach His hearers the fate that awaits the wicked. Certainly the Jews who heard His words could not possibly have obtained any idea of wicked, disembodied souls endlessly suffering. They saw in Hinnom dead bodies being devoured by flames, or if the flames did not reach them, then by worms, those ever-present agents of destruction and disintegration. The fact that the fires of Gehenna were ever kept burning, were “not quenched,” was the surest proof that whatever was cast into them would be entirely consumed. To declare that if a fire keeps ever burning, then whatever is cast into it keeps ever living, is to go contrary both to the evidence of our senses and to the testimony of Scripture.
The question may now be asked: If whatever is cast into this fire is completely consumed, why will the fire always be kept burning? The answer is, it will not. A city-wide conflagration once enveloped Chicago. If we should describe that fire by saying that the flames could not be quenched, would you conclude that Chicago was still burning? No, you would simply understand that the fire raged until it had devoured everything within reach. Common knowledge makes unnecessary the additional statement that the fire itself then died down.
It is this natural sense of the word “quench” that we find used in the Bible. The Lord through Jeremiah declared to the ancient Jews, “If you will not hearken unto me, … then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof [of Jerusalem], and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.” Jeremiah 17:27. (In the Septuagint the very same Greek root is here used for “quenched” as in Mark 9.) In 2 Chronicles 36:19-21 we read of the literal fulfillment of this prophecy when the Babylonians put the torch to the city. Is that fire still burning? Are those Jewish “palaces” ever consuming, but never quite consumed? How preposterous, you say. Then why should anyone wish to take Christ’s statement in Mark 9 and force from it the conclusion that the judgment fire will never end; and then build upon this conclusion that the wicked will ever be consuming, but never quite consumed; and then finally rear upon this the conclusion that therefore the wicked have immortal souls?
Each and every one of these conclusions is unwarranted by logic and contrary to Scripture. The Bible nowhere says that souls are immortal, but declares that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4. The Bible nowhere says that the wicked will ever be consuming; instead it declares that they will become “ashes.” Malachi 4:3. The Bible does not say that the judgment fires will burn endlessly, for we read that these fires are due to God’s setting ablaze this wicked earth, and that following this conflagration He creates “a new earth.” (See 2 Peter 3:7-13 and Revelation 20 and 21.) There must therefore be an end to the fire, else this earth could not be re-created. In other words, the very promise of God to give us a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness is contingent upon there being an end to the judgment fires.
- Answers to Objections, Francis D. Nichol, pp. 369-371