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Title: Immortal Worms
Author: Jim Wood


Immortal worms and unquenchable fire?

Let's take a look at the worms and fire Jesus spoke about. According to the King James Version, He referred to these destructive forces three times in Mark 9. Here is the passage in full. Verse numbers are included for easy reference:

[43] 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:

[44] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

[45] 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:[46] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

[47] 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:

[48] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Many who hold to the doctrines of the Immortal Soul and Eternal Torment believe that these verses provide evidence that the souls of unsaved sinners will suffer in hell forever. After all, the passage is a direct quotation from the lips of Jesus Himself.

Let's take a close look at what Jesus said - or did not say.

Please notice that Jesus did not say "soul" in these verses. Not even once. He was clearly talking about physical organs/bodies. In verses 44, 46, and 48 He quoted from Isaiah 66:24, an Old Testament prophecy that also talked about dead bodies rather than souls.

Drawing from that verse in Isaiah, Jesus described two unstoppable, unrelenting forces of destruction. Both are physical in nature, and together they accomplish the complete decomposition of corpses.

Worms (maggots) feast on dead flesh. Note that the worm is the only thing in our passage that does not die.

The worm's companion in the process of destruction is unquenchable fire. It consumes what the worm leaves behind.

We find the word "hell" in verses 43, 45, and 47. The King James translators chose to use that familiar word rather than "gehenna" - the Greek word used in Mark's gospel. "Gehenna" would have been particularly meaningful to those who were listening to Jesus.

"Gehenna" was the name of a valley just south of Jerusalem. It had once been the site of child sacrifices - offerings to Molech, the fire god. Some people think it had become a refuse dump where maggots feasted and where fire smoldered continually.

Since Jesus was talking about physical organs and bodies, it was natural for Him to choose a literal, physical location to complete His word picture of death and destruction. Taken as it reads, Mark 9:43-48 deals with concrete realities; bodies and eyes and hands and feet. To some people His words may be shocking in the extreme, but Jesus was pressing home an important lesson: Don't let anything get in the way of your salvation.