Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Downburned and Ashified, The Annihilation of the Unrighteous

The Bible uses many words to describe the annihilation of the unrighteous.  Two of those words we will examine today: downburned and ashified.

You won’t find either of those words in an English translation of your Bible, nor for that matter in an English dictionary.  In order to draw attention to these words, I have translated two Greek words in an admittedly overly literal way. Let’s look at these words one at a time.

Downburned, from the Greek katakaio

In English, if we say that something has been burned, it is not clear how severely it was burned.  The same is true with the Greek word meaning “to burn”, namely kaio.

If we want to make clear that something was destroyed by fire, we can say that it was “burned up” if we are thinking about the smoke and ashes rising, or “burned down” if we are thinking about the ashes and embers left on the ground.  As far as I know, Greek does not use a word corresponding to “burned up” (I might be wrong about this), but it does have a word corresponding to “burned down”, and that word is katakaio.  Greek puts these words in the opposite order we would, and so katakaio could be over-literally translated as “downburned”.

The account of the burning bush further illustrates the meaning of katakaio:

The traditional view of hell is that that the people thrown into to it are like the burning bush in that they are burning in the fire and yet they are never consumed or burned up by the fire.  Of course, the analogy is limited.  Bushes don’t feel anything whether they are burned up or not.

But the Bible teaches just the opposite of the traditional view of hell.  The Bible teaches that the unrighteous will be burned up (katakaio-ed):

"And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up (katakaio) the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:12 NAS)

“Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up (katakaio); but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30 NAS)

What didn’t happen to the burning bush does happen to the unrighteous!

The context makes it clear that the chaff and tares refer to the unrighteous.  They will be burned up.

That this is the normal, consistent meaning of katakaio may be seen by its use throughout the Bible.  Here are some examples:

ESV  2 Kings 23:4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned (katakaio) them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel.

ESV  Isaiah 33:12 And the peoples will be as if burned (katakaio) to lime, like thorns cut down, that are burned (katakaio) in the fire."

ESV  Jeremiah 36:25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn (katakaio)  the scroll, he would not listen to them.

Katakaio continues to be used the same way in the New Testament:

ESV  Acts 19:19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned (katakaio) them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.

Katakaio is not the only word used to emphasize that the unrighteous will be completely burned up in judgment.

Ashified, from the Greek tefroo

In English we turn some nouns into verbs.  For example:

glory glorify
diety deify

But we don’t turn “ash” into a verb.  Nevertheless, if I said I “ashified” something, you would probably understand what I meant.

Just because we don’t turn “ash” into a verb in English, doesn’t mean they can’t do it in Greek.  In fact, they do.  The Greek word tefroo is a verb derived from the noun that means “ashes”.  tefroo means to “ashify”, or to put it into more normal English, “to turn something into ashes”.  This word is used only once in the Bible.  Peter uses it.  Why would he use a relatively rare word?  Rare words tend to capture our attention.  Here’s what Peter wrote:

NIV 2 Peter 2:6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes (tefroo), and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;

Question:  Based on 2 Peter 2:6, what should we expect to happen to the ungodly?

Answer:  We expect them to be burned to ashes.

When will this happen?  Well, I’ve never seen any of my ungodly neighbors turned to ashes, so I’m pretty sure Peter is talking about the final judgment.

Same Truth, Other Words

This same truth, that the ungodly will not exist forever as conscious people, but will be completely burned to ashes, is also taught using different words:

ESV Malachi 4:3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

NIV Hebrews 10: 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,  27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

The use of the words katakaio, tefroo, and similar words is not at all consistent with believing in eternal conscious torment.  Are the ashes being tormented?

The Biblical language is entirely consistent with the Bible’s teaching that the unsaved will perish (John 3:16), be destroyed in both soul and body (Matthew 10:28), and experience a second death (Revelation 20:14).

Conclusion and Further Reading

When the ungodly are thrown into Hell, they will not continue to exist forever as conscious people.  They will be completely consumed by the fire and burned to ashes.  Ashes, smoke, and dust may remain, but not people.

If you want to read more on the topic of hell, I have gathered a list of resources (my own, plus some others) here:

Mark's Resources on Hell

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .


  1. Hi Mark,
    You have some long posts and I only skimmed a few. As a Conditionalist, I also believe cessation of being is a punishment. However, there are more judgments: 1. While on earth both believers and unbelievers experience results for their actions. 2.After death it seems that both groups go through the fire where believers may suffer loss of rewards and destruction of carnal deeds. Unbelievers seem to suffered commensurately for what they have done before destruction.
    Most only focus on the net end result while these threats of temporal judgments serve as warnings for believers to live godly lives and be blessed. It seems to me we are taught the knowledge of good and evil.

  2. Alex, I agree that some of my posts are long! Some should have been trimmed :)

    I also agree that as believers we still experience consequences for our actions. This includes a type of judging by fire of what we have done with our lives (1 Cor 3:12-15). I also agree that unbelievers suffering seems to be proportional to their sins.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. I noticed this: "But we don’t turn “ash” into a noun. Nevertheless, if I said I “ashified” something, you would probably understand what I meant." I think that you meant to say that we don't turn "ash" into a VERB, yes?

    1. Brian, thank you so much for pointing out that error. It has been corrected.