Pollock: Their Worm Dieth Not

We have now come to where Pastor Pollock mentions a very famous verse in the debate between annihilationists and those who hold to eternal conscious torment:

Again, “their worm dieth not,” etc.; an annihilation cannot be said to have anything. Here it is “their worm dieth not.”

 HADES and Eternal Punishment
A J Pollock
p. 26

I know this is a very brief mention but this turns out to be an important verse and laying out a bit more of the debate here is important.

Pollock is quoting our Lord from Mark 9:44. I am going do something I rarely do which is use Yong’s Literal Translation for this passage. Notice above how in Pollock’s quote the word “their” is in italics. The reason for this is that the word “their” is not in the original text and has been added for readability. Young’s Literal Translation rarely adds words for readability so it is difficult to work through at times but it is also more faithful to the original:

43 `And if thy hand may cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is better for thee maimed to enter into the life, than having the two hands, to go away to the gehenna, to the fire — the unquenchable —

44 where there worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched.

Mark 9:43-44 Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

From this rendering I do not get the sense that “the worm” is “their worm”. Pollock stresses that in annihilation no one is said to have anything. Maybe so but I don’t believe that anyone is said to have anything here.

I found out in my reading on this subject that the common interpretation here is that the “worm” represents the human conscience. Pollock may have held to that interpretation even though he doesn’t explicitly state it here. Since Pollock may very well come back to this idea so I want to deal with it thoroughly now so I can refer back to it later if need be.

The Pastor I grew up under actually stated once that he believed the “worm” to be the conscience. You would not believe how disappointed I was to discover this interpretation of “the worm” as conscience was first advanced by Origen who did much harm to Christianity by advocating the allegorical interpretation of scripture. My distrust of Origen is strong and I would suggest that you be extremely leery of any thing that came from his pen. The very fact that Origen originally developed this teaching makes me very reluctant to accept it.

Before I began studying this passage I never realized that Jesus was quoting Isaiah 66 here. Funny how so many Pastors, including Pollock, neglect to mention that. I think that reading the Isaiah passage is very instructive. If you are a dispensationalist and a pre-millenialist you should recognize this passage as occurring at the Second Advent here on earth and not in “hell”:

18 “Knowing their works and their thoughts, I have come to gather all nations and languages; they will come and see My glory. 19 I will establish a sign among them, and I will send survivors from them to the nations—to Tarshish, Put, Lud (who are archers), Tubal, Javan, and the islands far away—who have not heard of My fame or seen My glory. And they will proclaim My glory among the nations. 20 They will bring all your brothers from all the nations as a gift to the Lord on horses and chariots, in litters, and on mules and camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the Israelites bring an offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 I will also take some of them as priests and Levites,” says the Lord.

22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth,
which I will make,
will endure before Me”—
this is the Lord’s declaration—
“so your offspring and your name will endure.
23 All mankind will come to worship Me
from one New Moon to another
and from one Sabbath to another,”
says the Lord.

24 As they leave, they will see the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me; for their worm will never die, their fire will never go out, and they will be a horror to all mankind.

Isaiah 66:18-24 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

In this context these are dead (lifeless) bodies being eaten by maggots. It does look like each body possesses its own maggots but the point seems to be the horror of the onlookers and not any suffering on the part of the dead. There is certainly no hint at the worm being the human conscience.

For anyone who is not a dispensational pre-millenialist maybe Edward Fudge’s explanation will help you more than mine. This quote is taken from the article “A Biblical Defense of Conditional Immortality”:

Jesus quotes these words (Isaiah 66:24) in one of His own famous statements about final punishment (Mark 9:48), and they have formed the basis for much Christian teaching on hell ever since. It is important to look carefully, therefore, at what the verse actually says…

 The righteous “go out and look” on their enemies” corpses…They look at corpses (Hebrew: pegerim), not living people. They view their destruction, not their misery. Other Bible verses mention “worms” in connection with dead bodies. Several kinds of flies lay eggs in the flesh of carcasses, which hatch into larvae known as maggots. These serve a beneficial purpose in hastening decomposition. They are also a symbol of ignominy precisely because they attack only bodies deprived of burial. To the Hebrew mind, even if a man could live to be 200 years old and have 100 children, without a proper burial he would better have been stillborn (Ecclesiastes 6:3-6). Like Jezebel, these corpses are left unburied; they are “loathsome” to all who see them (2 Kings 9:10).

 To burn a corpse signified at times a thing utterly accursed or devoted to God for destruction (Josh 7:25). It also was an act of complete contempt (Amos 2:1)… Because this fire is “not quenched” or extinguished, it completely consumes what is put into it. The figure of unquenchable fire is frequent in scripture and signifies a fire that consumes (Ezekiel 20:47, 48), reduces to nothing (Amos 5:5,6) or burns up something (Matt 3:12). Both worms and fire speak of a total and final destruction. Both terms also make this a “loathsome” scene. The righteous view it with disgust but not pity. The final picture is one of shame, not pain.

 (Edward W. Fudge, The Fire That Consumes. A Biblical and Historical Study of the Final Punishment, Houston, 1982, p. 111)[Click on this link to see the next installment in this series: Pollock: The Word “Death” Has Three Uses]

[Click on this link to see the next installment in this series: Pollock: The Word “Death” Has Three Uses]

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