Wednesday, April 20, 2022

What about Apollymi?

Sometimes a person who is an annihilationist will argue as follows (Please note that I'm not endorsing any aspect of this representation except the spelling of the lexical form of the Greek word):

1) The most common description of the fate of the wicked is that are destroyed, using the verb, ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi or apollymi).

2) The verb ἀπόλλυμι is the same verb used by certain apparently annihilationist Greeks to describe their own view, as well as by Athenagoras to describe a view he rejects in favor of the eternal conscious torment view.  

3) Therefore, an annihilationist understanding of "perish" should be understood as the meaning of ἀπόλλυμι in passages that speak of the fate of the wicked.

I answer:

A) Reading minority Greek views of the afterlife into New Testament usage is a terrible, terrible hermeneutic.  While the New Testament uses Greek, and while Hellenistic views are part of the cultural background of the New Testament, the "mainstream" Greek view of the afterlife was not annihilation, but continued conscious existence as a disembodied spirit in a place of the dead.  So, it makes little sense to apply the seemingly minority views of certain Greek philosophers.

B) We cannot simply adopt the dominant Greek understanding of the afterlife.  After all, Paul consciously rejects the Greek view by teaching a resurrection from the dead, which the Greeks rejected as foolish (see Paul's message on Mar's Hill, Acts 17). So, just because Greek mythology regarding the afterlife is anti-annihilationist, is in itself insufficient to resolve the question. 

C)  There is no undisputed New Testament usage where the verb ἀπόλλυμι refers to annihilation of body and soul. While this may seem like a trivial point, it distinguishes this discussion from cases where a word has an undisputed meaning in other parts of the New Testament.  In this case, however, the annihilationist meaning is never the undisputed meaning.  

D) In the places where the meaning of the verb ἀπόλλυμι is undisputed, it has a semantic range similar to the English word, "lost."  The meaning is very context dependent.  If a ship is lost at sea, we never see it again.  If you get lost driving to Grandma's house, you arrive an hour late.  If a sheep is lost, a shepherd goes and finds it.  If soldiers are lost in battle, a funeral is appropriate. Similarly, as shown below, while the word usually just means to kill a person, there is a wide range of meanings.

E) In at least one relatively undisputed place, the meaning of  the verb ἀπόλλυμι referring to a human loss of life cannot be interpreted in annihilationist sense: "He that findeth his life shall lose it (the disputed use; cf. John 12:25): and he that loseth (the undisputed use) his life for my sake shall find it." (Matthew 10:39; and the same again in Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24-25)  The undisputed use here does not refer to annihilation, but simply death from which the person is resurrected.  

F) The verb ἀπόλλυμι in some form occurs about 92 times in about 86 verses in the NT, and about 271 times in about 263 verses in the canonical books of the Septuagint. The following surveys the NT use.

Most often the meaning is something like "kill" or "die":

- Matthew 2:13 Herod wants to kill the young child

- Matthew 8:25 (Mark 4:38; Luke 8:24) The disciples woke up Jesus because they thought they would die in the storm

- Matthew 10:39 (as mentioned above and similarly Matt. 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33) speaks about people being martyred for Christ

- Matthew 12:14 (Mark 3:6; Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47) Jewish leaders plot to kill Christ

- Matthew 21:41 (Mark 12:8; Luke 20:16) Master of the garden will kill the wicked husbandmen

- Matthew 22:7 King killed the murderers

- Matthew 26:52 Sword will kill those who use it

- Matthew 27:20 Jews ask Romans to kill Jesus

- Mark 9:22 Devil tried to kill possessed man by quasi-suicide

- Luke 6:9 Killing on the sabbath

- Luke 9:56 Jesus didn't come to kill people

- Luke 11:51 Zacharias was martyred

- Luke 13:33 Jesus must die at Jerusalem

- Luke 15:17, 24, and 32 Prodigal son was dying of starvation and was presumed dead

- Luke 17:27 (2 Peter 3:6) Flood killed everyone except Noah and his family

- Luke  17:29 Fire from heaven killed those of Sodom 

- John 11:50 better to prevent the whole nation from dying

- John 18:14 better for Jesus to die instead of the people

- Acts 5:37 Judas of Galilee died

- 1 Corinthians 10:9-10 Rebellious Israelites killed in the wilderness by the serpents and the destroyer

- Jude 5, 11 Rebellious Israelites killed in the wilderness

Sometimes the meaning is something like "lose" in the sense of not having the thing any more:

- Matthew 5:29-30 losing an eye or a right hand (by being plucked out or cut off) rather than being cast into hell
- Matthew 10:42 (Mark 9:41) not losing the reward (a seemingly idiomatic usage) for giving a cup of cold water
- Luke 21:18 losing a hair from your head
- 2 John 1:8 not losing a reward

Sometimes the meaning is something like "spoil" in the sense of the thing going bad:
- John 6:12 uncollected fragments of food going to waste
- John 6:27 food going bad

Sometimes the meaning is something like "ruin" or "spoil":
- Matthew 9:17 (Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37) Breaking old wine skins by putting new wine in them
- John 10:10 Thief comes to destroy (the word in question) in addition to stealing and killing
- Romans 14:15 (1 Corinthians 8:11) Don't hurt your brother with your Christian meat-eating liberty
- James 1:11 of the decay of flowers
- 1 Peter 1:7 of the decay of gold

Sometimes the meaning is something like "misplaced":

- Matthew 10:6 & 15:24 The lost sheep of the house of Israel

- Luke 15:4, 6 the 100th sheep that was lost

- Luke 15:8-9 the 10th silver piece that was lost

Sometimes the meaning is similar to mentally ruin:

- 1 Corinthians 1:19 the wisdom of the wise will be destroyed  in parallel to prudence being despised 

Dead without resurrection:

- 1 Corinthians 15:18 (if there is no resurrection then ...)

Disputed (at least I assume they would be) passages:

- Matthew 10:28
- Matthew 10:39 (the first usage in that verse, as discussed above)
- Matthew 18:11 & 14
- Mark 1:24 & Luke 3:34 (about devils)
- Luke 13:3, 5
- Luke 19:10
- John 3:15-16
- John 6:39
- John 10:28
- John 12:25
- John 17:12 and 18:9 (regarding Judas)
- Romans 2:12
- 1 Corinthians 1:18
- 2 Corinthians 2:15
- 2 Corinthians 4:3, 9
- 2 Thessalonians 2:10
- Hebrews 1:11
- James 4:12
- 2 Peter 3:9 (cf. 6)

We could (and perhaps in a future post we will) distinguish the disputed uses into various categories.  For example, sometimes "those who perish" or "the lost" is a collective term for those who are not saved.

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