Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Immortal Longing

By Xavier

The Apostle Paul warns the reader not to “receive a different spirit from the one you received [nor to put up with] a different gospel from the one you accepted...because even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed [anathema]...for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” [2Cor 11.4, 14; Gal 1.8]. The Apostle John likewise exhorts his reader not to “believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God [since by testing] those who call themselves apostles and are not, [we may find] them to be false” [1John 4.1; Rev 2.2].

The purpose of this article is to call on the reader to further “search and examine the scriptures” with a ‘Berean’ spirit [Acts 17.11; Isa 34.16], in order to “fight the good fight of the faith [so that we might be able to] take hold of the eternal life” that awaits us [1Tim 6.12]. As Christians, founded on Peter’s confession [“Son of God” Mat 16.13-20, and not God the Son], we should not be afraid to question what we have been taught[1] or whatever personal experience [no matter how vivid and real] we may have had in our lives. And although space may not allow me to fully tackle all the passages used by those who believe in the immortality of the soul[2] doctrine (i.e. Parable of Lazarus, Lu 16.19-31), my aim is to prove (as per sola scriptura) not only how this aberrant interpretation contradicts the gospel message, but how it is a stumbling block to our taking “hold of the eternal life” as promised by God.

In John 3.13 Jesus affirms that “no one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man[3]. This explains why Jesus later says to his apostles “where I am going you cannot come—follow” [Jn 8.21; 13.33]. We know that the writings of John remain the source for most of the false doctrines that have developed over the ages [Trinity; Hell etc.], this is also true for those who share a [over] realized eschatology, from which the immortal soul doctrine originates:
“The assumption that John dispenses with [a literal] future resurrection [of the dead] would mean that he has significantly altered the view of ‘resurrection’ found elsewhere in the documents of the NT or in the Judaism of the period[4] [where] the dead are raised, not ‘spiritually’ or metaphorically, but bodily...the data of the Gospel [of John] do not bear out the assumption that John has collapsed the future resurrection into a present quality of life, even a divinely given life...Language of being raised up remains resolutely attached to the future, to the ‘last day’ [thus bringing] to fruition what the Father offers through the Son, the gift of life.”[5] [Emphasis added]
The belief “of the period” the writer alludes to here is the one that is founded on the prophetic visions experienced by men like Daniel [12.2] and Ezekiel [37], where a literal reanimation of dead bodies by the power of God’s spirit is in view. This unchanging understanding at the centre of what ultimately the gospel message promises [eternal life to be attained only in the KOG], is maintained by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2.29-35:
“Brothers and sisters, we all know that the patriarch David died and was buried and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay...For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, 'The LORD [YHWH] said to my lord [adoni, human superior]: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’ [ref. Psa 110.1]." [TNIV]
A closer look at this key passage reveals that not only Peter knew of David’s death[6] but everyone else within earshot was also aware of this fact. But, like Daniel and Ezekiel, David was also a prophet who saw “what was to come...the resurrection from the dead of the Messiah”, a sort of prelude to the core promises that the gospel message of the KOG can only provide.

So what does this mean? No one, including prophets, patriarchs or kings, is said to be currently alive [conscious and active] in heaven, where only Jesus is said to be at the present because he is the “firstfruits [first to rise from the dead] of those who have fallen asleep [dead]” [1Cor 15.20-23; cp. Acts 26.23]:
1Cor 15.20: …If God raised Christ from the dead, then Christ truly was the firstfruits (Ex. 23:19; Lev. 23:10; Deut. 18:4; Neh. 10:35) or the first of many others who would also be raised from the dead. (See also Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:23; Col. 1:18.) The term “firstfruits” (Gk. aparchē) refers to a first sample of an agricultural crop that indicates the nature and quality of the rest of the crop; therefore, Christ's resurrection body gives a foretaste of what those of believers will be like.” ESV study Bible[7] [Emphasis added]
If this isn’t clear enough for the reader, Paul reiterates Peter’s message in Acts 13: “when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep [died]; he was buried [laid] with his ancestors [fathers] and his body decayed” [v. 36]. The second part of this verse is variously translated as “slept with his fathers”. When you do a ‘phrase count’ [36 times in all] you will discover that all of the kings registered in the book of Kings [cp. Chronicles] are said to have “died [and laid to rest with their fathers]”, from Solomon to Jehoiakim; all of them[8]!

In a beautifully composed piece of poetry, Job mentions this fact when, in his distress, he wishes he had joined all who were already in this state of rest [and not enjoying the glories of heaven] rather than being born:
“Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace. I would be asleep and at rest. I would rest with the world’s kings and prime ministers [counsellors], whose great buildings now lie in ruins. I would rest with princes, rich in gold, whose palaces were filled with silver. Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light? For in death the wicked cause no trouble, and the weary [righteous] are at rest. Even captives are at ease in death, with no guards to curse them. Rich and poor are both there, and the slave is free from his master.” Job 3.13-19 NLT
If not one of the kings is said to be presently alive and conscious in the heavens [or under it], we have to surmise that the same applies to the “fathers [ancestors]” of David, which includes those patriarchs who came before him. How do we know? The OT testifies that Abraham was laid with his “fathers in peace” [Gen 15.15; 25.8], the same for Isaac and Jacob [Gen 47.28-31], Moses [Due 31.14-15; 34.5], King David and his son Solomon [2 Sam 7.12; 1K 2.10; 11.21; cp. 2Chro 9.21]. The NT again verifies the unchanging nature of their current state:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance [via prophetic “utterances” and covenantal promises]...Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Heb 11.13-15 [TNIV]
So did Luther and Calvin, stalwarts of the so-called Protestant spirit of sola scriptura, disseminate this information to their congregations correctly?
"In the interim [between death and resurrection], the soul [person] does not sleep [rest] but is awake and enjoys the vision of angels and of God, and has converse with them."[9]

"This verse [‘...Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Acts 7:59] clearly testifies that the soul of man is not a vanishing breath [does not die], according to the ravings of some madmen [like the prophets?!], but that it is an essential spirit, and survives death."[10]
Perhaps a couple of Church Fathers, who presumably lived closer to the Apostolic Age, might get it right?
Tertullian, The Soul 22:2: "We define the soul as born of the breath of God, immortal..." c. AD 208

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of St. Moses, 2.40: "…pagan philosophy says that the soul is immortal. This is a pious [good] offspring [teaching]…" c.AD360-394
So I ask you, faithful reader, what sets us [or our dearly departed] apart from all the faithful? Why should we attain an immortal soul that is clearly not available to them, thus bypassing not only “the last day” but judgment itself? A judgment that, according to Paul, even Christians like himself will come under [Rom 14.10[11]]?

What meaning, if any, do we give to the explicit commandments of the lord Jesus Christ?

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him...I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" Jn 3.36; 11.25-26 [ESV]



[1] “The doctrine of the faith affirms that the spiritual and immortal soul is created immediately by God...” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec. 2, Ch. 1, Art. 1, Par. 6, Man, 2.366, 382; Art. 12.4.1035. 1992.

“The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: [Gen 3.19; Acts 13.36] but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: [Lu 23.43; Eccl 12.7]...” Westminster Confession of Faith, 32.1, 1646AD.

[2] The Bible presents the soul as the whole, individual person and not a separate “living entity [part]”. This is in lieu of the wrong interpretation of what Paul says in 1Thess 5.23, where he is simply using several terms [“spirit and soul and body”] to describe one and the same entity for greater emphasis.

[3] That some of Jesus’ sayings [not only in this verse but in others] include a figure of speech known as prolepsis, where a future event is referred to in the present tense [or in anticipation], is verified by the fact that some manuscripts add “who is in heaven”.

[4] Ed. Note: Cp. Gen 2.17; 3.19-22; Job 7.21; 34:14-15; Ecc 12:7; Psa. 6.15; 13.3; 30.9; 88:10-15; 103.14; 104.29; 115:17; Job 10.18-19; Jer 51.39; Ezek 18.4, 20; Eccl 3.19-20; 9.5, 10.

[5] The God of the Gospel of John, Marriane Meyer Thompson, p. 82-83, 2001.

[6] In the Bible sleep means “death” [koimao “asleep”, Mat 9.24; 27.52; Mar 5.39; Lu 8.52; Jn 11.11-13; Acts 7.60; 13.36; 1Cor 11.30; 15.6, 18, 20; 1Thess 4.13-15; 5.6, 10; 2Pe 3.4]. The OT equivalent is “slept with his fathers” (as shown throughout 1–2 Kings; 1–2 Chronicles). This is described as a deep sleep from which people will one day be awakened (cp. Dan. 12:2).

[7] WARNING: As good as most of the biblical commentaries sometimes are, they also get it wrong. The ESV Study Bible commentary for the following verse [1Cor 1.23] reads: “Until that time, those who have died exist in heaven as spirits without bodies.”?!

[9] Luther’s Works, Vol 25, p 321, cited in Morey, p 201, Death and the Afterlife, Bethany, 1984.

[10] Commentary on Acts, ibid. p 209.

[11]Rom 14.10-12: everyone will stand before God, who will judge all on the last day. The future day of judgment is prophesied in Isa. 45:23. Every person will give an account of his life to God at the judgment. Though justification is by faith alone, what Christians do will affect God's evaluation of their service to him and the rewards they will receive (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10–17; 2 Cor. 5:10).” ESV Study Bible.


Anonymous said...

Great article Carlos, I have been looking for a quote that I read awhile back, I think it was John Welsey who said " If you meet someone who says he is going to heaven when he dies be very careful that you do not call him a christian." I have not been able to find it yet but I will keep looking and send it to you. Thanks for sharing it with me. Miriam

Xavier said...

And you are..?