Lorraine Day, M.D.
"Destruction" is a key term in the Bible used to support the teaching of either annihilation of the wicked or hell fire for eternity or "burning as long as one deserves." The term "destruction" leads to many differences of opinion. But most of the conclusions are not Scripturally based.
How do we come up with the real definition of a word in the Bible? Well, many say that the first occurrence of a word in the Scriptures reveals its meaning. But it is certainly a "reach" to suggest that the first occurrence of a word gives its primary meaning, since it is not known exactly when the Gospels were written. Matthew is thought to have been written around A.D. 50; Mark, the date is not known; Luke was thought to have been written in A.D. 59 to 63, and the Gospel of John, for a long time was assumed to have been written in the A.D. 70's, but it probably was written closer to the A.D. 50's. Paul wrote Romans around A.D. 57, and yet all of these dates are rather tenuous. So just looking at the "first instance" of a word in the Bible does not mean that that was the first instance it was used chronologically. Therefore, the "first" occurrence of the word is not necessarily its "primary" meaning.
The only sound system of determining the "primary" or essential meaning of any word is to gather all of its occurrences in the Bible, and to make certain that its meaning never contradicts any of the contexts in which it is used.
Let's take a look at the word apollumi in the Greek Scriptures. This is the Greek word that is often translated "destroy" or "lost" describing the wicked. But does this word apollumi really mean "to deprive of life" permanently? Let's allow the Bible to interpret itself and give us the true meaning of apollumi. (See attached documentation.)
Uses of the Greek word "apollumi"
On the following pages you will see the many ways the word "apollumi" is used in the New Testament. You will see that sometimes it is translated "lost" such as in the "lost" sheep, when the sheep was alive. In other places, the same word, "apollumi," is translated "perish" or "destroyed" and the implication in these last two instances is that the individual is dead.
But the same word, "apollumi," CANNOT mean "to be alive" in some instances AND "to be dead" in other instances. In other words, the same word cannot mean both "death" and "life."
The definition of the word apollumi, #622 in Stong's Concordance, is shown above. However, this definition is nothing more than a reflection of the mistranlations of the word in the King James Version and various other versions of the Bible.
You will see that this word, apollumi, (#622) is often translated "lost," when the "lost" item was subsequently "found" such as in the parable of the "lost" sheep, the "lost" coin and the "lost" son (Prodigal son) in Luke 15. In NO instance had the sheep, the coin or the prodigal sone died. And of course, the coin NEVER HAD life. Therefore, the word apollumi CANNOT mean "to deprive of life."
The same word, apollumi (#622) is also often translated "perish" as in Romans 2:12, "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish (apollumi) without law:"
And in Peter 2:12, ". . .and shall utterly perish (apollumi) in their own corruption."
And in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10 where it says: "Even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousnesa in them that perish (apollumi): because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved."
The same word, apollumi (#622) is also often translated "destroy" and is assumed to mean "to deprive of life" as in John 10:9, 10 where Jesus is speaking,
"I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. . ."
Please note that there are three words used to describe what the thief comes to do: 1) steal, 2) kill, 3) destroy. The word translated "kill" is the Greek word "thuo" (#2380) which means to slay or slaughter, as in slaughtering sacrifices.
Obviously the word "kill" (thuo) CANNOT meand the same as the word "destroy" (apollumi) for two reasons: 1) each word is a different word in the Greek 2) it would be redundant if the word "destroy" meant to kill, because if it did, the epassage would read, "The thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to kill."
The bottom line is this: In order to understand exactly what the Lord is trying to teach us, we must understand the exact words that were inspired. The Bible was NOT written in English. It was written in Hebrew and Greek. We must look to the original language, the original words that God inspired, and let the Bible interpret itself. If we don't, then we are taking the words of man, a translation by committee consensus, as our guide rather than the Divine Word of God.
The proper definition of each word in the Greek is revealed when that specific word, such as apollumi, means the same thing each time it is used. Because the word apollumi is used to define a state of "having life" (the sheep was "lost" but alive not dead), it CANNOT also be used to define a state that is OPPOSITE of life DEATH, such as what the theologians would have us believe is meant in Romans 2:12 and 2 Peter 2:12, as shown above.
In other words, one specific word CANNOT mean both a state of life AND a state of death!
It is obvious from these many uses of the word apollumi, that it CANNOT mean "to deprive of life."
Clearly the Bible translators translated these passages according to their own preconceived theological beliefs.
Matthew 2:13 states "And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him." Christians have assumed that the word "destroy" (apollumi in Greek) in Matthew 2:13 must mean "to deprive of life," but that definition has no support Biblically.
There are Greek words that mean "to deprive of life." They are 1) apokteinco, which means "to kill;" 2) sphazoo, slay; 3) anaireoco, assassinate or massacre; or 4) phoneuco, which means murder.
Apollumi is used for things which have no life, such as wine skin bottles (Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22 and Luke 5:37). These bottles do not "die" when they are "destroyed." A reward is not "mortal." See Matthew 10:42 and Mark 9:41 "Verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose (apollumi) his reward." And gold and money do not "die." In fact, they never had life. See Luke 15:8 and 1 Peter 1:7 "That the trial of your faith, being more precious than of gold that perisheth (apollumi)" The words which actually do mean "to deprive of life" could not be used in these passages. Neither the primary nor the secondary nor the tertiary, nor any other meaning of destroy demands that life be taken.
Apollumi is often used to describe something that either remains alive or has never had life. If the lost (destroyed) sheep (Luke 15:4) had been "deprived of life," the shepherd would not have rejoiced when he found his carcass. A word whose primary meaning is "to deprive of life" cannot have a secondary meaning of "continued life." Death cannot be another form of life. White is not another word for black. And life in any form is not expressed by a word which means death.
Jesus said "He who is finding his soul will be destroying (losing) it, and he who destroys (loses) his soul on my account will be finding it" (Matthew 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Luke 17:33). Is Jesus urging them to commit suicide? The destruction of the soul does not mean death. It means to dis-assemble or destroy the old man of sin, to destroy our carnal nature, to make us into a New Creation in Christ.
Romans 6:6 describes this process. "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin."
The statement that the "Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost (destroyed)" (Luke 19:10) is the key to the meaning of apollumi. This Bible passage refers specifically to Zacchaeus, who was lost (destroyed). Because he was lost (destroyed), he was ready to be found and saved.
The Greek word apollumi is often given an interpretation that means death from which there is no resurrection, or annihilation, a state from which salvation is impossible. But this passage in Luke 19:10 destroys this premise. Instead of the lost being beyond salvation, they alone are eligible for salvation! It is impossible to rescue a man who is already safe. It is only when he is in a "lost" condition denoted by the word apollumi that salvation can operate in his behalf.
The terms seek and save mean the opposite of destroy. So the one who is "destroyed," is really just lost, not annihilated, or no one would seek after him in order to save him. He must be in a state which needs salvation or Christ would not have come to seek and to save him. This passage proves beyond a doubt that "destruction" is a salvageable condition, not a state beyond the reach of salvation. In addition, please notice that only the "lost" are saved. This fact reverses the usual idea of destruction. God seeks what He has lost!
(All in All, A. E. Knoch)
Destruction is a relative term. The coin was lost (apollumi) in relation to the woman. The sheep was lost (apollumi) in relation to the shepherd. The prodigal son was lost (apollumi) in relation to his father. They were not dead, but they were away from the woman, the shepherd, and the father, respectively. Does this prove that they were outside the sphere of salvation? No, it actually proves the opposite. Destruction is the prelude to salvation! Destruction never means annihilation, irrespective of how closely it may seem to approach that idea in some cases.
Men are lost by God. It was He who created them. He will be the great Loser if they are not saved. A sinner can never cross a line that brings him beyond the reach of God. Remember that Paul says "I am persuaded that neither death (whether the first or the second death) nor life nor principalities nor powersnor any creature (including Satan) can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:38,39
If we lose something, it becomes more valuable to us than when we had it. If one loses his eyesight, vision assumes an importance and value that the individual never before perceived. Its loss, instead of distancing us from it, actually increases our attachment to it. This becomes tragically true when we lose a loved one. We then realize the preciousness of our lost possession. So we should never assume that God is not concerned about those that are "lost." Nor should we assume that He will sit complacently while they rush on to eternal annihilation because He's helpless to turn them around. There are a million ways God is able to accomplish His will.
God is love and ALL of His creatures are precious to Him. God loves all of us. But whom does He say that he loves? God loves the world and sinners and His enemies and those who are lost. It takes "destruction" for us to feel our need, and it takes "destruction" to flood us with God's Divine love.
Because men are unable to accomplish all that they wish, they imagine that God also is unable to save the vast majority of humanity. This basic error has so warped the minds of men that they have corrupted the Scriptures to uphold it.
All man knows how to do is to kill something that he cannot control such as a hardened criminal. Is this God's way of handling the situation? God says "I'm not like You, My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). Christ proclaimed Himself as the Resurrection and the Life. How could the God of the Universe give up on and lose that which is the desire of His heart, those for whom He gave the life of His Son? Theologians have made a little man out of a great God. Where man is impotent, man imagines that God is also impotent. Where man is unable to succeed, man imagines that God is also unable to succeed.
Ephesians 1:11 says God is operating the universe "in accord with the counsel of His own will." We must recognize that destruction is a Divine process and a necessary part of the plan of salvation. Let us look at a few texts. Psalms 90:3, says "Thou (God) turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men."
How can human beings return to God if they have been "destroyed," particularly if the term means annihilation?
In 1 Corinthians 5:5 Paul says he is delivering "such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
One is "saved" by the process of "destruction," destroying the old man of sin.
And in 1 Timothy 1:20 Paul is charging Timothy to hold the faith and a good conscience rather than imitating those who have made a shipwreck of their faith "Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme."
Giving someone to Satan is for remedial purposes, so they can learn something, not so they can be annihilated.
Again consider the wineskins, which were "destroyed." Everyone who receives salvation was once lost, "destroyed." Not only was "being lost" no hindrance to their deliverance but it was absolutely essential to it. God has lost them and then through Christ, He found and saved them. God has definitely declared that He is the "Saviour of ALL mankind" (1 Timothy 2:4 and 1 Timothy 4:10).
Though the sinner be lost a thousand times, he is not beyond the reach of the Great Seeker. Notice that the shepherd searches for the sheep, not for any specific finite period of time, but UNTIL HE FINDS IT! The same is true of the woman who lost the coin.
Jesus came to "destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). We are God's creation, we are NOT the work of the devil. The "devil's work" is the sin in our lives. Jesus came to 1) destroy the sin in our lives, but 2) to SAVE the sinner!.
The story of the Potter (Jeremiah 18:1-7) reveals that it is the Potter Himself who crushes the vessel when He discovers it is marred. But the vessel never leaves the Potter's hands during its "destruction" and re-creation into a New Creature.
God does not destroy anything that he cannot completely restore. "Destruction" is a passing process, not a finished goal. The old sinful nature is destroyed as a prelude to the formation of a New Creature in Christ. Remember God says "Behold I make ALL things new (Revelation 21:5)
For additional information on this topic, see the study entitled "The Second Death."
The "Destruction" of the Wicked
Since "All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God," (Romans 3:23) then the meaning of the "destruction" of the wicked is important to all of us.
1) How do we establish the primary or essential meaning of any word in the Bible?
2) Does the Greek word apollumi actually mean "to deprive of life?" If not, what does it mean?
3) Is the word apollumi or "destruction" ever used of anything that remains alive? See Luke 15:4, Matthew 10:6, Luke 19:10.
4) Did the shepherd find a sheep who was "destroyed?" If that means "to deprive of life," how could he have rejoiced over the carcass of the dead sheep?
5) The Bible says that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (apollumi). So only the lost (destroyed apollumi) are eventually saved, and this reverses the usual idea of destruction. God seeks what He has lost. Destruction is the prelude to salvation.
6) Do we, as human beings, ever hold things more dear once we have lost them? Do we appreciate our eyesight as much while we have it as we do when it is gone? Do we appreciate our loved ones more, or less, when they are with us or when they are gone?
7) Is God impotent and powerless to cope with those who are "destroyed?" All that we human beings can do is kill. We cannot recall from death. Is God also limited in this same way? Do we make God like us?
8) The passage usually produced to prove the utter destruction of all sinners is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12. Perhaps no stronger verse can be found. It refers to a special crisis when the lawless one is on the scene. They receive "the lie" because the love of truth is not in them. Their destruction is preliminary to their judgment. Is destruction a Divine process or the work of Satan alone?
9) In the third angel's message in Revelation 14:10 it says that those who worship the beast will be tormented with fire and brimstone. What is the derivation of the word brimstone? (see Strong's Concordance).
10) Does God destroy anything that He cannot restore? Is He impotent in the face of the adversary, a creature that He has created? Is the adversary smarter or more clever than God? Can Satan win the majority of God's creatures away from God and God is impotent to win them back?
11) Is "destruction" a passing process or a finished goal? Matthew 18:11.