What Does Perishing Mean?


     My interest in the Greek text and the English translations has led me to conclude that translation is more subjective than most people think. Most notably are the translations of the divorce and remarriage texts that I explained in that book. I also found many new ways of understanding Jesus’s and Paul’s teachings as I wrote a new book – Dry Bones: Breathing New Life into Petrified Words in the Bible

     Some of the variations I found do not necessarily change the meaning of a passage as much as it clarifies a more specific meaning. Let me give you an example.

     One of the dry bones I wrote about is the Greek word sometimes translated as “perish.” It’s apollumi, translated several ways in the New Testament. In my younger days, I understood ‘perish’ as being on the slippery slope toward the lake of fire. That seems to be how many churches have interpreted their purpose – to keep you out of the fire.

     Here’s a list of potential meanings for apollumi that translators have used:

(a) to destroy, to die, to lose, to perish

(b) put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to

(c) to be lost, ruined, or destroyed; to be thought of as useless

(d) go astray, fall into decay, be drawn down by the desires of the flesh.

          Most translators seem to default to the quick and easy meanings of “to be lost” or “to perish.” But that’s lazy or conditioned translating. Jesus told his disciples to permit the little children to come to him. In his time, women and children were undervalued. He taught the disciples that little children were to be appreciated. He said anyone who causes a child who trusts [pisteuo] in him to sin would pay a high price. Then Jesus continued in Matt. 18:11, “For the Son of Man has come to protect from harm [sozo “most often translated as “to save”] those who are considered useless [apollumi].” The NKJV reads “lost.”

     At that point, he told a parable about a shepherd who went looking for a sheep that had wandered away from the safety of the flock. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one who was wandering. Jesus concluded, “And if he should find it, surely I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Therefore it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be drawn down by the desires of the flesh [apollumi]” (Matt. 18:13-14). The NKJV uses “perish.”

     The traditional translations leave a lot to the imagination, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet “lost” children and “undervalued” children are a bit different in my mind. And “perish” is not as clear as my choice in replacement words.

     We still undervalue children today. We expect them to act like adults long before their brains are fully developed and capable of rational, abstract thought. The world puts helmets and pads on six year olds and thinks it’s cute. The world teaches them how to compete with each other instead of get along. The world teaches them that winning is what is important. Getting a high paying job is more important than helping others. The world tells them who they should fear rather than who they should love. 

     Think about it. If you aren’t willing to contribute to educating the children of today, when they grow up, they may not think old folks are worth spending money on either. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. 

     The USA may be the most powerful country in the world, but it’s #29th on list in terms of education. What do you think will happen in forty years to a country that values its children less than competition, Mammon, power, or the desires of the flesh? How much will the children of today value you? Will you be apollumi-ed?


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