Their Worm Dieth Not
A startling statement is found in both Isaiah 66:24 and also in Mark 9:48 where Jesus spoke of a “worm” that “dieth not.”
24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the ‘carcases’ of the men that have transgressed against me: for ‘their worm’ [maggot] shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. Isaiah 66:24 (KJV)
48 Where ‘their worm’ dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:48 (KJV)
Can “worms” be immortal? What did Jesus mean?
Let’s let Scripture and our mind’s logic answer this question.
Many Christians think that Jesus was referring to people as ‘worms’ and was trying to say that after death these “people” never really died — but that lived on after death, in agonizing torment. Those who say this fail to notice that Jesus does not call the wicked people “worms” but instead speaks of ‘THEIR worm.’ The Bible lexicons define the Hebrew (Isa. 66:24) and Greek (Mark 9:48) words that are translated “worm” in the KJV as a ‘grub or maggot’ and in no way does it refers to the dead man himself. Christ was not teaching the immortality of people suffering as ‘worms’!
Jesus was warning his listeners that those who would “offend,” that is those who would live a life of rebellion against God and His children — would be cast into the “the fire.” Most Bibles include in a marginal rendering that says this refers to the “Gehenna fire” of Jesus’ day, which was a burning dump just outside Jerusalem’s walls. Jesus was referring to this “Gehenna fire” as a type or figure of the ‘second death’ (Rev. 20:6) of the lost in the “lake of fire,” which will be the ultimate end all the unsaved ungodly of all ages.
The use of the term “Gehenna,” refers to the trash dump in the Valley of Hinnom, which was located on the southside of Jerusalem, just outside its walls. It was a place where trash, filth, and the dead carcasses of animals and despised criminals were thrown to burn and decay. There were jagged ledges along the edge of this valley on which these dead bodies might be caught instead of falling all the way down into the fires beneath where everything was burned to ultimate ash. Smith’s Bible Dictionary gives a description of this valley of Hinnom as something like our city-dumps of the past where trash and rubbish are burned up (consumed to ash).
Most of us have seem how that ‘maggots’ grow on decaying garbage. If anything, especially a dead body, landed on a ledge above the fires, it would first be devoured by many worms or maggots which were generationally kept alive by the animal and vegetable substances deposited there. It was to these “worms [maggots]” that Jesus was referring when He said “their worm dieth not.” Jesus did not mean that each individual worm or maggot continued to live forever!
Actually, these ‘worms’ or ‘maggots’ are the larvae which develop from eggs deposited by flies. They continue for only a few days in this larval stage, then pupate and finally emerge as flies, then later dying and returning to dust. These are scientific facts, known by any real student or science. And yet some people think that Christ ignorantly stated that these larvae continued to live forever in that ‘stage one’ of fly development! We should always be careful to use wisdom and common sense in studying God’s Word. The Holy Spirit in us is “the spirit of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). Let’s use our minds rightly
The Greek word which was inspired and translated into the word “worm” in this passage is ‘scolex,’ meaning a ‘grub or maggot,’ and it is a collective expression for all the worms that devour dead matter. Yes, the flies that these worms become, like all living things will return to the dust from which they came. “All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (Eccl. 3:19-20).
19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even [that is] one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 20 All Go Unto One Place; All Are Of The Dust, and All Turn To Dust Again. Eccl. 3:19-20 (KJV)
This same reference to worms is found in Isaiah 66:24 (above). Here we again find that the inspired word simply means a common ‘grub or a maggot.’ These worms or larvae feed on the dead bodies for a few days, and then emerge as flies. Thus, these worms “die not” but rather continue to develop into flies just as any normal healthy worm does! These flies continue to deposit their eggs only as long as there are dead bodies or other matter for the larvae to feed on. The cycle of fly-life continues.
These worms do not have immortal souls! Ecclesiastes 3:19 (above) shows us that no creature, man or beast, is born with a so-called ‘immortal soul’ – yet ‘man’s religion’ persists with this false pagan idea.
The Bible makes good sense! Let’s always study any seemingly perplexing scriptures through, before we jump to conclusions. Then let us live by God’s Word, so that we may enjoy “the gift of eternal life.” Then we need not receive “the wages of sin” which “is death” (Rom. 6:23). Death is NOT eternal suffering or torment. This death will come when to men when their “spirit of man” leaves the body and “returneth to the Lord” (Eccl: 12:7) and the body then will be consumed by a fire to ash.
That ‘fire will not be quenched ‘— but it will largely burn itself out by consuming the bodies of all the wicked. Then also, ultimately the heavens and the whole earth will be renewed by fire; “… wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” (2 Peter 3:12).
These “worms” which will live off of the bodies of transgressors — those not who at first are not consumed by fire. The fire continues until there are no more bodies left. Then all will have returned to the dust and ash as seen in this verse.
1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh Shall Burn Them Up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. Malachi 4:1 (KJV)
Having the foregoing, consider words of Job in these among his many verses concerning death as sleep in “the grave,” awaiting their resurrection and final destiny.
Job 17:13-16 (KJV) If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. 14 I have said to corruption [decay], Thou art my father: to the WORM, Thou art my mother, and my sister. 15 And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it? 16 They shall go down to the bars of the pit [Heb. Sheol, the grave], when our rest together is in the dust.
Job 24:20 (KJV) The womb shall forget him; the WORM shall feed sweetly on him; he shall be no more remembered;
Job 14:12 (KJV) So man lieth down, and riseth not: till [until] the heavens be no more, they shall NOT awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
Job 4:13 (KJV) In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men,
Job 7:21 (KJV)And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.
Job 33:15 (KJV) In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;
Job 5:26 (KJV) 26 Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season.
Job 7:9 (KJV) 9 As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.
Job 14:13 (KJV) 13 O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath [the Tribulation period] be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
Job 17:13 (KJV) 13 If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness.
Job 21:13 (KJV) 13 They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.
Job 21:32 (KJV) 32 Yet shall he be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb.
The writings of Job make it clear that the dead go to “the grave” until their resurrection [or Rapture] unto eternal life in the case of believers … or unto the final judgement and 2nd death of “everlasting destruction” in “the lake of fire” in the case of unbelievers.
*Portions adapted from https://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/get/hwa.cgi?action=getseriesltrs&InfoID=1409952876