In “Peter’s synonym for Gehenna,” Jefferson Vann explains how Peter, Paul, and the other apostles described the ultimate fate of the lost.
You know that passage in the Bible where the apostle Peter confronts Simon the sorcerer and tells him “May your silver perish with you”? He didn’t actually say that. What he said was much more interesting.
But first – a little background might be helpful.
Peter and John had just been sent on their first post-resurrection missions trip to Samaria. They laid their hands on the new believers, and these new converts experienced something very much like the Pentecost believers had. Acts 8 does not say that these new believers spoke in different languages, but whatever they did, it was obvious that they had received the same empowerment as those in Jerusalem did. Simon wanted that gift – the ability to transfer the power of God’s Sacred Breath to whomever he would touch. He dared to ask Peter to give him that gift, and offered him money for it.
That is when Peter rebuked Simon for trying to purchase a ministry position – a sin that would from that time on take his name: simony.
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Acts 8:20 ESV)
But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. (KJV).
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! (NASB)
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could acquire God’s gift with money! (NET)
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! (WEB)
All of these translations consistently treat the word ἀπώλεια1 as if it were a verb. It is not. It is a noun.
How Peter used the word ἀπώλεια in his letters:
Note that Peter consistently uses the word as a substantive, referring to the final judgment of the lost.
2 Peter 2:1 There were indeed false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will introduce heretical cults, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.
2 Peter 2:3 They will exploit you in their greed with made-up stories. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.
2 Peter 3:7 By the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
2 Peter 3:16 He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.
In other words, Peter uses the word ἀπώλεια as a synonym for Gehenna hell. When he used the word in Acts 8:20, he was using it in the same way. Not only is it a noun, but it is preceded by the preposition εἰς2 (in or into), indicating that destruction is something that one can be thrown in or thrown into. Consequently, a better translation of Acts 8:20 would be…
Acts 8:20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be (thrownor put or sent) into destruction with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
Where did Peter get the idea that sinners would be sent to a place called where they would be destroyed? He got it from his Master. When Peter was a disciple of Jesus Christ, he heard Jesus say…
Matthew 10:28 … fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
The word Jesus used for “destroy” was ἀπόλλυμι3 – the verb form of ἀπώλεια. Thus Peter picked up on that connection and began to use the noun ἀπώλεια as a synonym for the event and place of the destruction of the sinner’s soul and body in Gehenna hell at Christ’s return.
But he was not the only one.
Matthew himself used the word to describe the ultimate fate of the lost.
Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction (ἀπώλεια), and many are those who enter by it.
The apostle John also used it for the same purpose. He called Judas the son of destruction.
John 17:12 While I was with them, I was protecting them by your name that you have given me. I kept them and not one of them is destroyed, except the son of destruction (ἀπώλεια), so that the Scripture may be fulfilled.
He also used the word to describe the destruction of the great beast (who figures into the description of Gehenna in Revelation 20).
Revelation 17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the unfathomable depth and go to destruction (ἀπώλεια).
Revelation 17:11 The beast that was and is not, is itself an eighth king, but it belongs to the seven and is going to destruction (ἀπώλεια).
And if that is not enough evidence, notice how the apostle Paul uses the word:
Romans 9:22 Imagine God, wanting to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his power, enduring with much patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction (ἀπώλεια)?
Philippians 1:28 not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction (ἀπώλεια) for them, but of your rescue – and this is from God.
Philippians 3:19-20 Their end is destruction (ἀπώλεια); their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in the sky, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 2:3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the lawless human is revealed, the son of destruction (ἀπώλεια).
Christ himself and all of these apostles consistently use this word to describe an event which will take place at the return of Christ when all the lost will be judged, condemned, punished and then destroyed. In not one of these instances of the word is their any hint that this judgment process will be a perpetual one. In fact, if the judgment Peter threatens in Acts 8:20 is perpetual, then he would be threatening Simon that his money will be tormented forever!
No, destruction is just that – it is destruction. The fate of the lost is permanent annihilation.
Jefferson Vann is a teacher, Bible translator, and avid blogger.
"My hope is that everyone who reads my writings will have an opportunity to understand the gospel, and will know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior." He has written books on theology and Bible commentary.
You can read more of Jeff's writing at Devotions | Jefferson Vann | Commands of Christ | Learning Koine Greek Together