What is the Biblical Meaning of Perish?
The Wicked Shall Perish: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). A double enunciation of the truth is couched in this short text. It is that eternal life is to be obtained only through Christ, and that all who do not thus obtain it will eventually perish. John testifies further on the same point in his first epistle (1 John 5:11): "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." From which it follows, as a most natural consequence, that "he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Verse 12.
Dr. Weymouth, head master of Mill Hill School, and one of the finest Greek scholars, says, "My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying 'destroy,' or 'destruction,' are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this."
- The wicked shall perish.
- The saved shall never perish.
- The sincere reader will understand that the primary meaning of perish is to die, to lose life, to come to an end, or to be destroyed.
- PERISH is paralleled with die, kill, destroyed, consumed, slain, being eat up, laid waste, go to nothing, be as nothing, vanish, withereth, cut off, turn again unto dust, deceased, fade away and utterly wasted.
- PERISH is illustrated by dung, turning again to dust, consuming into smoke, melting like wax before a fire, melting away, a vine being burned by fire, breath leaving a body, years being shortened, a city being uninhabited, and bottles breaking.
- PERISH is contrasted to prolonging days, days not failing, enduring, abiding, having no end, living, eternal life, everlasting life, being renewed, and remaining.
- Things that perish are land, an eye, people, weapons of war, dung, beasts, names, expectations, riches, wisdom of wise men, nations, kingdoms, houses, body members, bottles, hair, meat, and money.
- That which causes things to perish are famine, God's wrath, smiting, warring nations, sickness, the sword, battle, fire, want of clothing, evil travail, and hunger.
- As to any secondary meanings of perish, NONE express a continual process without an understood end.
- As to any secondary meanings of perish, NONE even remotely express the theory of endless torment.
N. T. Use of the Word Apollumi (Perish, Destroy)
(excerpts from the book "The Wages of Sin" by Charles Walsh)
A consideration of the words used in the Greek New Testament.
In the preceding papers of this series we have submitted to a careful examination some of the words most frequently used in the Hebrew Scriptures to denote or to describe the end of the unsaved. We now would direct the reader to the New Testament, and the examination of the words used therein in the teaching, warning, or demonstration of the wages of sin.
Apollumi.- This word is translated in the A.V. as follows: "Destroy," 23 times; "lose," 21 times; "be destroyed," 3 times; "be lost," 10 times; "be marred," once; "die," once; and "perish," 33 times.
In examining "the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth" we must ever remember that the literal sense of the words is prima facie their true sense. It is this literal sense which is the common, ordinary, fundamental basis of all language, and accurate communication of thought. "Labour not for the meat which perisheth but for that meat which endureth to age-abiding life" (John 6:27). "They shall perish, but Thou remainest" (Heb. 1:11). None can fail to see that the word perish in these passages is the opposite of enduring or remaining. By what system of contrarieties do men seek to explain the Bible when the object of perishing is the sinner? Why should perishing in this special case mean remaining or enduring in conscious suffering? Dean Alford is responsible for the following statement:
"A canon of interpretation which should be constantly borne in mind is that a figurative sense of words is never admissible except when required by the context."
To this all will heartily agree who believe that God's Word is His revelation, and to this we seek to adhere. When we read in Heb. 11:31, "By faith, the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not," we do not understand the word "perish" to signify living in agony or remorse, but that Rahab was saved from the fate which awaited the inhabitants of the city of Jericho. Let God be true, though it makes every man a liar. Let Scripture tell us what "perishing" in Heb. 11:31 means:
"And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and ass, with the edge of the sword .... and they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein .... and Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive" (Josh. 6:21D25).
Here inspired comment is absolutely opposite to the orthodox teaching concerning this word "perish."
In Luke 6:9 the Lord Jesus, speaking with reference to healing on the Sabbath Day, says, "Is it lawful .... to save life or to destroy it?" Here the word "destroy" (apollumi) is used in its simple primary meaning, and is contrasted with "save." A reference to Matt. 12:will show, further, that the Lord used as an illustration the case of saving the life of an animal. In Luke 17:27 the same word is used of the flood which "destroyed them all," and in verse 29 of the effect of the fire and brimstone which fell upon Sodom and "destroyed them all." When we read Luke 9:56, "For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them," why should we distort the meaning of the word? Why not believe that the Lord used a fit and proper word, indeed the most suitable word which the language provided?
It is the same word translated "perish" that occurs in that oft-quoted passage John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Here the subject is lifted to the highest level. Here is no ambiguous phraseology, neither figure, nor parable, but plain gospel spoken in solemn earnestness by the Lord Jesus Himself. He says that there are two alternatives before men, the one - life everlasting, the other - perishing, utter destruction (Heb. 11:, Josh. vi.), and from this doom He came to save those who believed in Him. Hence we read in Luke 19:10, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost (apollumi). Man by nature was on the road which leadeth to destruction.
The primary meaning "perish," or "destroy," becomes changed in the transition of language to the derived and secondary meaning "lost." Thus we read of the "lost" sheep, and the "lost" son in the parables of Luke 15, and in the "lost" sheep of the house of Israel in Matt. 10. The fragments left over after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand were gathered so that nothing should be "lost" (John 6:12). It is pitiable to hear those who should know better arguing that because we read of a "lost" sheep, which could not mean a "destroyed" sheep, that therefore the plain, primary meaning of the word must be ignored and the secondary derived meaning be understood in such clear, solemn passages as John 3:16, etc..
Notice the way in which the Lord uses the word in Matt. 10:28. "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell (gehenna)." Here we have an argument which proceeds from the lesser to the greater. Man can only kill the body. God can destroy body and soul. Man may kill, but he cannot prevent resurrection: The murdered man will as surely rise in the resurrection as the one who dies of natural causes. It is different, however, with God. He can cast men into the lake of fire, which is the second death, from which there is no resurrection. Those who are thus cast in are destroyed body and soul, as being no more fit to live.
The parallel passage to this, Luke 12:4, 5, shows that to "cast into gehenna" is to be taken as synonymous with "to destroy," or "to perish." This is further evidenced by Matt. 5:29, "It is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into gehenna." Here the plain meaning is that it is better that a limb should perish than that the whole body should perish. There is no thought of agony and torment, for the Lord would have used the word in Matt. 10:28, "Fear Him who is able to torment both body and soul in hell," had He meant to convey such teaching.
The fact that men are "perishing" and need salvation is emphasized again and again. We have noticed the word in John 3:16. In 1 Cor. 1:18 we read, "For the preaching of the cross is to them who are perishing - foolishness, but unto them who are being saved - unto us it is the power of God." It is the same word (translated "lost" in A.V.) in 2 Cor. 4:3, "If our gospel is veiled, to them who are perishing it is veiled."
Yet again in 1 Cor. 15:18 we read, "If Christ hath not been raised, to no purpose is your faith, ye are yet in your sins, hence also they who are fallen asleep in Christ have perished." What does this mean? Does it mean that believers, apart from the resurrection of Christ, are at this moment suffering the agonies of hell fire? Certainly not. It means exactly what it says. Without resurrection the believer, like the unbeliever, will have perished, will have passed out of being, will have been destroyed. The idea of a conscious intermediate state, with departments in some mythological hades, is foreign to the Scriptures and antagonistic to this passage. Death ends life, and apart from resurrection death means utter destruction. Praise be to God for this blessed hope. Resurrection, which is everywhere the one theme of hope in the Scriptures, is set aside by orthodoxy, and death instead is eulogized as the gate to life.
We have yet further evidence as to the meaning of this word apollumi by considering the inspired interpretation of the word Apollyon (Rev. 9:11), which is a derivative of apollumi. The passage gives us the Hebrew equivalent of apollumi, it is the word Abaddon, from abad, which we considered on page 8 of this Volume. The unmistakable meaning of abad is to destroy, and thus we are given, to confirm our faith, the divine warrant that the word under consideration means to "destroy." In the context of Rev. 9:11 the locusts, whose king is Apollyon, are definitely withheld from destroying or killing (their normal work), and are only permitted to torment men for five months, after which other horsemen receive power to kill those who had not the seal of God in their foreheads. Before passing on to the consideration of the next word, we would like to quote the primary meaning of apollumi as given by Liddell and Scott:
"Apollumi. To destroy utterly, to kill, slay: of things, to demolish, to lay waste, to lose utterly."
Apoleia. - This word is a noun derived from the word apollumi, and means destruction. It is rendered by the A.V. as follows: "damnation," once; "damnable," once; "destruction," 5 times; "to die," once; "perdition," 8 times; "pernicious ways," once; and with eimi eis and accusative, "perish," once; "waste," twice. The words "damnation " and "damnable" both occur in 2 Peter 2:1, 3, "damnable heresies," and "their damnation." The same word is rendered "pernicious ways" in verse 2, and "destruction" in verse 1: Here the one word apoleia is rendered by four words in those verses. The R.V. renders the word "destruction," and destruction consistently (the word "pernicious" in verse 2 is not apoleia in the best Greek MSS. and is rendered "lascivious doings" in R.V.). In Pet. 3:7 the word occurs again, translated "perdition," and finally in verse 16 it is translated "destruction," which passage the R.V. renders as in the second chapter - "destruction."
Once again we shall find that this word, like apollumi, is contrasted with life, "Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction .... narrow is the way that leadeth unto life" (Matt. 7:13, 14). The context immediately continues, "Beware of false prophets," which connects this passage with its inspired exposition in 2 Pet. 2:3. In John 17:12 we have a solemn passage wherein the Lord uses both apollumi and apoleia. "None of them is lost, but the son of perdition." This is also the title of antichrist in 2 Thess. 2:3. Again the word occurs in Acts 8:20, "Thy money go with thee to destruction." In Rom. 9:22 we read of "vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." The apostle uses the word twice in Philippians, "token of perdition" (i. 28), and "whose end is destruction" (3. 19). In I Tim. 6:9 we have a collection of words, of which the Greek language does not possess any stronger, to express literal death and extinction of being. Hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction (olethros) and perdition (apoleia). Does it not appear unreasonable to say continually that men will perish or be destroyed if they are, in fact, to be kept alive in suffering, and that they are to be miraculously preserved from perishing or from being destroyed?
There is one more point which we must bring forward before closing this article. The subject of the soul, its nature and immortality, is discussed at great length by Plato in the Phaedon, a dialogue on Immortality, and therein is discussed the question of the literal destruction and extinction of the soul. Plato wrote in Greek, his native tongue, and the Phaedon became the great classic treatise on the subject of Immortality, read, studied and debated throughout the Greek-speaking world during the four hundred years between its writing and the ministry of Christ. Plato's words practically stereotyped the philosophical phraseology of the time. The purpose of the dialogue is to show that in death the soul does not become extinct, that it cannot die, perish, or be destroyed. Modern orthodoxy, therefore, is found ranged with Plato against the Word of God. These words of Plato were known and of fixed meaning in the days of Christ and the apostles. Christ came to reveal the truth. Shall we say that, knowing as He did the meaning of the words used on the subject of the soul, He willfully, and without explanation, took those very words concerning the very same subject, and used them in an altogether contradictory sense! The idea is impossible. With reference to the philosophic usage of apollumi, we give the following extract from the Phaedon:-
"Socrates, having said these things, Cebes answered: I agree Socrates, in the greater part of what you say. But in what relates to the soul men are apt to be incredulous, they fear .... that on the very day of death she may be destroyed and perish .... blown away and perishes immediately on quitting the body, as the many say? That can never be . . . the soul may utterly perish ..... the soul might perish .... if the immortal be also perishable. The soul when attacked by death cannot perish."
To those who knew these words, who taught them, and argued about them, was sent a "teacher from God," and standing in their midst He reiterated the fact that Plato was wrong, that the soul could be destroyed, that it would perish. What would any of that day have thought of the suggestion to make such words convey the sense of endless misery, so diametrically opposed to their meaning? Would he not have been justified in replying in the language of a well-known public school head master:
"My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying 'destroy,' or 'destruction,' are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this." —Dr. Weymouth
We believe sufficient has been shown to establish the fact that, in the usage and meaning of apollumi and apoleia, destruction, utter and real, is the true meaning, and that this is the wages of sin.
The thought that the evil perish (annihilated according to this article) at death might seem to be the loving thing for a God of love to do. But one attribute of God cannot be emphasized to the detriment or denial of another - His justice. After death there will be a general resurrection Acts 24:15 and a judgement e.g Matthew 24 and 25 where the righteous (those who have been living by faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God) are taken away to be in the blessed presence of God and His holy angels. Those who have denied or refused God's free offer of life through total trust in His Son's sacrifice for sinners go to eternal fire (Matt 25:41) eternal punishment (Matt 25:46). Is it right that Hitler or Stalin get away with their crimes against humanity by being "snuffed out" along with lesser criminals and unbelievers.