PM3115: Mark 9:47-48

Mark 9:47-48 (KJV): ...hellfire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

hellfire here is γέενναν (geennan), accusative singular of γέεννα (geenna). Gehenna is a valley outside Jerusalem were it is said that garbage was burnt.

What is the meaning of this passage? A common interpretation is that it refers to everlasting punishment. The suggestion is they are being eaten by the worm and burnt by the fire, and that the worm never dies, and neither does the fire, indicates that their punishment is unending.

However, to understand it properly, we must firstly understand that it is an allusion to Isaiah 66:24, which reads (KJV): And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.

It is clear then that what this passage is referring to is not something which happens to the soul, but to the body. The carcases of the men refers to their dead lifeless soulless bodies, not to living bodies. The word carcass is used to refer to dead meat, not living bodies. Looking at the Hebrew, it is clear the word here means a dead body.

So the Isaiah passage, whatever it is about, has nothing to do with eternal punishment. And so Jesus' quoting of that passage, cannot be speaking of eternal punishment either. What then is this passage about?

Reading more of the context of Isaiah 66:24, we see it is referring to an eschatological situation, in verses 22-23 (KJV): For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.

So it must be clear, this passage is the context of a final triumph of the forces of good over the forces of evil. Will these rotting and burning dead bodies, somehow miraculously preserved from decaying, be constantly visited by the people of this final age, only to be revolted by the sight and the stench? Or is this passage figurative?

Our bodies are our influence upon the world, our presence in the world. Their bodies are dead because they are dead; but though they be dead, their influence, the memory of them, continues. Their souls have moved on, but the consequences and memory of their lives remain. This influence is decaying - getting ever dimmer - but they shall never permit the fire of memory to ever fully go out. They will go on remembering, choosing to remember, though the stench and revolting sight of what was is immense, and it might be better were they to forget such things entirely. But even in this perfect age, they will go on remembering, past unpleasantness: And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men. When shall they do as such? from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another.

And what then is Gehenna? It is not a literal place; it is not literally meant as a certain valley outside Jerusalem; neither is it some other place, in some other plane of existence; it is a metaphorical place, the place of bad memories.

That is Jesus plea (Mark 9:47 KJV) - 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 - to be "cast into hell fire" is to be among those remembered as being on the wrong side of history; to "enter into the kingdom of God" is to be among those remembered as being on the right side of history. If your eye causes you to sin - to oppose the cause of the good and the final triumph thereof - it is better for you to serve the cause of the good and the true end with a single eye, than to have two yet by opposing that true cause become one remembered as an enemy of the good. For when shall this memory be forgotten?

We should not take "never" as meaning never - for their worm shall not die - a long-lived one, we may say truthfully of them, they shall not die, even if after long years and aeons they shall - for in that temporal period which is before our minds when we so say it, what we speak is true. Whatever one says, one says with an implied context, and is to be judged true or false within that context; if the words which one spoke were false outside of that context yet true therein, it does not follow one has spoken a falsehood; rather one has spoken the truth. Likewise, neither shall their fire be quenched. It shall not be quenched until that age end - and, when they speak of that age, and say it shall not be quenched, they by no means speak a falsehood, that it be quenched thereafter. The same even of from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, as with the ending of that great age shall end also the succession of moons, and all things done by the moon; and with the ending of that great age comes the Sabbath by which all sabbaths end, the last, the final, the greatest of sabbaths, the Great Sabbath - the final sabbath, but also once more the first, once again which is once only.
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