Mark 9:43,44

"And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."

In this verse the word "hell"is translated from the Greek word "Gehenna" which is another name for the Valley of Hinnom just outside the walls of Jerusalem. There the refuse and bodies of animals were cast into an ever smoldering fire to be consumed. What might escape the flames was constantly being destroyed by maggots which fed on the dead bodies. Gehenna symbolized a place of total destruction.

Jesus taught in this verse that the fires of hell could not be quenched or put out by anyone. Isaiah said, "They shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame" (Isa. 47:14). Yet he hastened to say in the same verse, "There shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it." So the unquenchable fire will go out after it has consumed the wicked as stubble. Jerusalem burned with unquenchable fire (Jer. 17:27), but it was totally destroyed (2 Chron. 36:19-21).

The flames and worms of Gehenna represented the annihilation of sin and sinners. Earlier apostasy and idol worship in the Valley of Hinnom (Jer. 32:35), and God's judgments on Israel as a consequence, marked it as a symbol of judgment and punishment. God warned that it would become the "valley of slaughter" where the "carcasses of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heavens" (Jer. 7:31-34). With the fires of Gehenna burning before their eyes, Jesus could not have spoken a more graphic word to the Pharisees to describe the final, total destruction of sinners.

Those who cite this text to support their doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul are thrown into a dilemma. Why? Because the fire and worms are working not upon disembodied souls, but bodies! According to Jesus, those cast into the lake of fire will go in bodily form, and this text confirms that truth. The verses before and after this text speak of the hands, feet and bodies of those who suffer the Gehenna fire. In Matthew 5:30 Christ said, "the whole body" would be cast into hell.

In Isaiah 66:24 the same Gehenna picture of hell is presented with unquenchable flames and destroying worms. But in this case the word "carcasses" is used, revealing the fact that the fire consumes dead bodies, not disembodied souls. Speaking of the enemies of the Lord, Isaiah says, "The worm shall eat them like wool" (Isa. 51 :8) a picture of being put out of existence.

Luke 16:22, 23

"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." 

Either this story about the rich man and Lazarus was literally true or it is a parable. Here are four reasons why it could not possibly be literal:

1. The beggar died and was taken by the angels to Abraham's bosom. No one believes that Abraham's literal bosom is the abode of the righteous dead. It is a figurative or parabolic expression. Incidentally, the angels will gather the saints, but according to Matthew 24:31, it takes place at the coming of Jesus, not at His death.

2. Heaven and hell were separated by a gulf, and yet could converse with each other. There are probably few individuals in the world who believe that this will be literally true of the saved and the lost (Luke 16:26).

3. The rich man was in hell with a body. He had eyes, tongue, etc. (Luke 16:24). How did his body get into hell fire instead of into the grave? I know of no one who teaches that the bodies of the wicked go into hell as soon as they die. This story could not be literal.

4. The request of Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and come through the flames to cool the rich man's tongue is obviously not literal. How much moisture would be left and how much relief would it give? The whole story is unrealistic and parabolic.

In the parable the rich man undoubtedly represented the Jews because only a Jew would pray to "Father Abraham." The beggar symbolized the Gentiles who were counted unworthy to receive the truth. In Matthew 15:27 the Canaanite woman acknowledged that her people were beggars at the table of the Jews.

Christ probably used the name Lazarus in the parable because later he would actually raise Lazarus from the dead. And the climactic point of the entire parable is found in verse 31, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." They didn't believe even when one named Lazarus was raised before them.