And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 ESV
Destroy – [WARNING: This a long because the subject is complicated.] Does Yeshua teach the destruction of the soul? If He does, doesn’t this stand in utter contradiction to the Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul? Is this verse really nothing more than an endorsement of Greek dualism in the mouth of a Hebrew prophet?
Since it seems very unlikely that Yeshua taught Greek dualism, we will have to replace this Greek language with Hebraic concepts. That means “Do not fear those who kill” also requires some re-interpretation. The verb for “to kill” in Greek is apokteino, an intensive form of the verb kteino, “to slay, to kill, to destroy.” The Hebrew parallel is harag (e.g. Psalm 78:47), but the Hebrew verb is never about “eternal” life. It is about killing, war, fratricide and the slaughter of men and animals in this life. We noticed that the Greek text distinguishes two verbs for the termination of life in this verse. Whatever Yeshua said in the second half of the verse, He apparently did not employ the same verb used in the first half, otherwise it would make no sense for the translator to provide two different Greek verbs, apokteino and apollumi. We may conclude from an Hebraic perspective that the opening statement of this verse is about death as we know it on this earth, especially horrendous death as a result of aggravated violence. The intensive Greek verb provides justification for an idiomatic translation such as “Do not fear those who are able cause terrible forms of death.” We still have to deal with the application of this action to “body and soul,” but before we can do that, we need to examine the second verb in this verse. It isn’t apokteino. That itself is strange. Why is the second verb different than the first? Aren’t both verbs about death? What are we to do with apollumi – to destroy?
In his article on the Greek word apollumi, Albrecht Oepke draws attention to the “familiar Jewish expression avad nephsho, an idiom for ‘trifling away one’s life.’” This Jewish background is particularly relevant to this text. It helps us distinguish between the Greek implication that Yeshua is speaking about eternal damnation and the Hebrew implication that Yeshua is speaking idiomatically about the consequences of living a lawless existence.
The apparent theological contradiction in the Greek text is set aside if the words in this Greek translation really attempt to capture a Hebrew idiom about pointless, lawless living. If Yeshua’s worldview is rabbinic, first century, conservative Judaism, then the Hebrew idiom would have readily come to mind when He uttered these words. His audience would not think about a Greek dichotomy between body and soul since no such dichotomy existed in Hebrew thought and there is no word for “body” in Hebrew. Instead, they would have been reminded of the absolute necessity of purposeful living, that is, living according to God’s instructions in order to accomplish God’s purposes here and now. They would have heard Yeshua teaching about the senseless waste of a life that comes from not acknowledging the sovereignty of God.
Let’s attempt to understand this verse from its Hebrew perspective. First we should note that it won’t do much good to attempt a word-for-word backwards translation from Greek to Hebrew. Idioms resist wooden word-for-word renderings. Idiomatically, the opening thought of this verse is probably something like this: “Do not fear those who are able to bring about violent termination of life.” The idiom does not allow us to posit a distinction between body and soul. But if our idiomatic translation is correct, we still have to deal with the question, “How come the Greek text says ‘body and soul’?”
Suddenly things get far more complicated. We have already acknowledged that there is no Hebrew word for the Greek idea of “body” (soma). When soma is used for an Hebraic concept, the meaning is always the whole person or even a dead body, but never a body as distinct from a “soul.” Schweizer says, “There is no sense of his [man’s] standing at a distance from himself or regarding his corporeality as something which can finally be parted from him.” In other words, even when the biblical texts use the word soma (body), the Hebraic worldview does not mean that the “body” is a separate element of human existence. As Bultmann remarks, “Man does not have a soma; he is soma.” The fundamental Hebraic concept of human existence is embodied existence. Every translation that suggests a division of human existence into separate ontological parts relies on a Greek paradigm, not a Hebrew one.
What does this mean for Matthew’s account of Yeshua’s warning? It means that Yeshua could not have suggested the supposed separation of body and soul. The translator introduced this division because there was no other way to capture the Hebraic point of view. Why would the translator change the Hebrew idiom in this way? The answer to this question comes from a brief historical analysis of rabbinic literature prior to the birth of Yeshua.
Rabbinic thought began to be influenced by Greek philosophy as early as 400 BC. By the time of the Maccabees, the Greek distinction between body and soul was already present in rabbinic written material. Therefore, in The Book of Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Judah and 2 Esdras we find the distinction between body and soul with the emphasis placed on the eternal and undefiled soul in opposition to the material, temporal and corrupt body. In these writings, the rabbis suggested that death separated body and soul; that the body remains on earth but the soul is taken to heaven. This teaching stands in opposition to the older teaching of the Tanakh that the embodied person returns to the earth at death but is resurrected at the Judgment. This means that by the time Yeshua taught, the rabbinic view, influenced by Hellenism, existed alongside the more conservative view of the Tanakh. It is possible that the translator of Yeshua’s Hebrew statement recorded in Matthew was also influenced by this rabbinic material and therefore converted Yeshua’s Hebraic view into a view that would have been acceptable by rabbinic Judaism in the first century but did not reflect the older view of the Tanakh.
While we may not be able to prove this hypothesis, what we do know for certain is this: the idea that Man is composed of parts (whether body and soul or body, mind and soul-spirit) is not found in Hebraic thought before the influence of Hellenism and is not consistent with the view of the Tanakh. If Yeshua is a reformer, one who calls the people of Israel back to the strict teaching of the Tanakh, it is simply impossible that He would embrace the Greek dualism of body and soul. It is far more likely that His words have been reconstructed in translation.
Topical Index: body, soma, soul, psyche, kill, apokteino, destroy, apollumi, Matthew 10:28
 Albrecht Oepke, apollumi, TDNT, Vol. 1, p. 394.
 Eduard Schweizer, soma, TDNT, Vol. 7, p. 1048.
 R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 194.