Dr. John Roller sends out regular emails answering questions on matters related to the Bible from a Conditional Immortality perspective. More information about Dr. John Roller, including more free Conditional Immortality resources can be found on his website .
What follows are Dr. Rollers remarks – Editor.
Question of the Month
Q: What is meant by the biblical expression “the worm dieth not”?
A: In Mark 9:48, Jesus quotes Isaiah 66:24, a passage in which Isaiah presents the LORD (see Isaiah 66:23) as predicting something that will take place on the “new earth” (see Isaiah 66:22). He says that “they [referring to the ‘all flesh’ mentioned in Isaiah 66:23] shall go forth, and look upon the CARCASES [not ‘immortal souls’] of the men that have transgressed against me: for their WORM [the maggot that feeds on those ‘carcases’] shall not die, neither shall their fire [the fire that burns up those ‘carcases’] be quenched: and they [the people that have transgressed against God] shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” This “picture” is that of a city dump, where maggots feed on dead bodies and fire burns up trash: it is not a picture of a torture chamber where demons with pitchforks prod living human beings into fires that burn them alive but never actually harm them (because, if they did, they would eventually destroy them altogether). I can’t imagine that Jesus, in quoting the passage, meant to teach anything other than what the passage itself taught: so Mark 9:48 must mean the same thing that Isaiah 66:24 means. The idea of the “never-dying worm” is a symbol for the fact that as long as there is a dead body to be chewed on, there will always be a worm to do the chewing – not that any individual worm is immortal! Anyway, the human being in this picture is most definitely DEAD, not alive. “Carcases” don’t suffer pain, and they aren’t aware that worms are eating them; and, after they have been in fires for a while, they burn up, and they don’t exist anymore. I see NO justification for “natural immortality” in either of these verses, and I can’t imagine how anyone who reads Hebrew and Greek could.