Aphthartos: No Expiration Date

Word of the Week

April 23, 2023


Aphthortos:  No Expiration Date


To obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.

1 Peter 1:4 NASB20


I opened a container of cream cheese and found a crust of blue fuzz on the edge.  Rats!  It has been in the refrigerator too long!

That’s why you find expiration dates on bags of lettuce, boxes of cereal, and jars of mayonnaise.  Given enough time, most things go bad.  Even a car will rust out if you drive it long enough, as I discovered for one vehicle when the mechanic said, “There isn’t enough solid metal left to reattach the wheel assembly to the body.”

This near-universal principle of life applies to more than just physical objects.  Friendships fade, organizations crumble, and people die.  We see it in our own bodies as the years go by.

Isn’t there anything that doesn’t deteriorate over time?

People who know their Bible realize that some things are permanent.  In fact, there is a Greek word that describes things that are immune from decay.  Today we are going to get acquainted with that word.  And in the process, we are going to discover a wonderful list of things that have no expiration date.

The Greek word is aphthartos (AHF-thar-tahs).  It is formed by putting the Greek letter alpha on the front of a word that means “perishable, corruptible, mortal.”  We do the same thing in English by adding a syllable like “un” to reverse the meaning of a word.  Uncomfortable means “not comfortable;” unable means “not able.”  In the same way, aphthartos simply means “not perishable, not corruptible, not mortal.”

We are accustomed to the idea that nothing lasts forever.  We even talk about a “second law of thermodynamics” which explains why the universe is gradually running down.  Some physicists project a time billions of years in the future when nothing will exist but a black, empty darkness.  And the ancient Greeks understood the idea that things would change from good to worse until you reached an end point of ruin.

How refreshing to turn to the New Testament, where we hear God talk about things that will never slide down that slope to chaos.  Seven different passages use the word aphthartos to describe realities that will never rust.  Let’s look at the list together.

  1. God Himself is imperishable

God exists eternally, with no beginning or end.  He neither grows or fades in glory.  Nothing can dim His radiance or sap His power.

  • One of the central sins of mankind is the fact that they “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God” for false deities (Romans 1:23)
  • Paul provides a catalog of God’s excellencies – “Now to the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:17).

Because the Lord never diminishes, He is the reason we can talk about some other imperishable realities.

  1. God’s Word is imperishable

If you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, you have been born anew.  God planted an imperishable seed in your heart that brought you to Him, and I Peter 1:23 identifies that “seed” as “the living and enduring word of God.”

God has spoken, and His word will remain true through all eternity.  It never becomes outmoded or fades into irrelevance.

  1. Our inheritance is imperishable

If your aunt passes away and leaves you an inheritance, you should enjoy it while you can.  The stock market may go down or real estate prices may drop, and your wealth may dwindle.  But God promises an inheritance for His children that no one can touch.

  • . . . an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4).

The legacy God has promised is safely stored in heaven with your name on it.  And it is guaranteed by the credit of Almighty God.

  1. Our character is imperishable

Most of us will never merit a mention in the history books.  We won’t start a movement or build a great organization.  But each of us has the opportunity to do something that has eternal implications, something that no one can take away from us.  We can develop the Christ-like character qualities that we will take into eternity.

  • Peter encouraged wives to focus on “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4).

The Lord Jesus aims to fill heaven with sons and daughters who bear His family resemblance, and whenever you grow in that direction, you are taking on traits that will never be out of date.

  1. Our rewards are imperishable

Athletes train for years to gain a gold medal.  First century Olympians got a wreath formed from laurel branches.  But God offers rewards in heaven that will never wither or tarnish.

  • Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:25).
  1. Our new bodies will be imperishable

Arthritis bothering you?  Making more trips to various doctors?  Aging reminds us that our current bodies are wearing out.  But the Bible promises that we can look forward to a day of resurrection when God will do an instantaneous change, giving us bodies that will never age.

  • In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52).

Aren’t you grateful that there are at least a few things that have no expiration date?


Study Hint:

You can expand this study by looking at a small cluster of words in the same family:

The noun aphtharsia, “incorruptibility” – Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50, 53, 54; Ephesians 6:24; 2 Timothy 1:10.

The opposite word phtheirō “to destroy, corrupt, ruin” – 1 Corinthians 3:17; 15:33; 2 Corinthians 7:2; 11:3; Ephesians 4:22; 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 10; Revelation 19:2.  Sometimes you can understand a word most clearly by examining its opposite.



Q:  Is it true that the name for the flower called an “amaranthus” comes from a Greek word in 1 Peter?

A:  I think so.  When I lived in Arizona, someone with an odd sense of humor posted a sign on his fence that said, “Beware of the creeping amaranthus!”  I looked it up, and discovered that the name probably does trace back to the Greek word amarantos, which means “unfading.”  Evidently one of the Greek myths mentioned a plant called the amaranthus which was supposed to stay permanently in bloom. I like to think of that when I read 1 Peter 1:4, which not only says that our heavenly inheritance is imperishable, as we discussed earlier, but it’s also an inheritance which cannot be defiled and can never fade away.


Coming Up

Next week we will try to solve a riddle – a simple-sounding verse that is translated in very different ways in different Bible versions.  Join us to find out more!


©Ezra Project 2023

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