I Cor 15. 51 - 57
The doctrine of inherent immortality–is it true, or is it a fatal flaw in the religious system we call Christianity? I want to explore the idea starting with an example of what many consider a watershed event that took place in America in the late eighties. Robert Bork, one of our country’s most distinguished jurists was slandered and rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the nomination proceedings for an appointment as Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. What the committee did to him was so evidently wrong that it was said that he was ‘borked’, a word which has now become a part of our language. Ironically, the two principal senators that did him in were lifetime politicians Joseph Biden and Ted Kennedy. Bork took the position that the constitution of the United States means what it says. His adversaries said that the Constitution means what the judges say it means, and that they are free to re-write the law in light of current conditions in the country. Bork calls this undermining of the Constitution ‘heresy’ and cites his definition of that word taken from Hillaire Belloc (1870 - 1953), a Franco-Anglican writer and historian, who said that the word ‘heresy’ connotes a denial of an essential part of a structure, of which a great part is left standing, insuring the survival of the heresy. This gives the American constitutional system a new life of its own, vitally affecting society when judges are no longer bound by the law.
What does this have to do with Christian theology? An examination of the facts reveal a great similarity. When you take the position that the Bible means what it says the likeness becomes obvious. Stripped to its bare bones, the Christian theology speaks of a literal earth to be filled with God’s glory, and peopled by those He chooses to be its inhabitants. The faithful will be the recipients of His grace and mercy because of the life and sacrifice of His obedient son. Those chosen, who have died before Christ returns, will be resurrected and receive the gift of immortality at that time, and not until then, along with the living faithful. These are the building blocks of the Christian structure.
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet
shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be
changed. For this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and
this mortal must put on immortality . . .then shall be brought to pass the
saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory. (I Cor 15. 52 - 55)
If it is believed that man is inherently immortal, though the doctrine may be covered with a veil of Christianity, it is heretical. It is heretical because this man made Christianity is no longer earth centered, and there is no need to hope for what he already possesses. The Bible is full of proof texts for the proposition that when a man dies, he is dead. He is not divided into two parts–mortal body and immortal soul.
William Tyndale (? - 1536) whose translation of the Bible is the prime source of reference for the King James translators, has this to say on the subject:
In putting departed souls in heaven, hell and purgatory, you destroy the
arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection. . .The true
faith putteth the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour.
The heathen philosophers denying that, did put that the souls did ever live.
An answer to Sir Thomas More’s dialogue, 1531.
In 1945 the Church of England, in a theological study by a commission appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, entitled Towards the Conversion of England, we read:
The idea of the inherent indestructibility of the human soul
(Or consciousness), owes its origin to Greek, not to Bible sources.
The central theme of the New Testament is eternal life, not for anybody and
everybody, but for believers in Christ as risen from the dead. The choice
is set before man here and now (Pg 23)
Unhappily, no follow-up to this study came to fruition, probably due to the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple.
The Interpreter’s Bible, an authoritative 12 volume commentary (Abingdon Press), says plainly that the idea of inherent immortality comes from Hellenistic philosophy, and not the Bible:
If the belief in the immortality of the human soul is held to be a Christian
doctrine, then it should be realized that it is not a biblical doctrine. Thw
biblical doctrine is of a resurrection life for those who ‘have the spirit’ and are ‘in Christ’ (Vol 1, Pg 230).
An examination of the influence of Hellenism on the Pharisees in intertestament times shows that they, along with much of the Middle Eastern population, came to believe that in the death state men were not really dead. The Hebrew word sheol and the Greek Hades no longer meant grave or state of the dead, but described a place where souls continued to exist. This idea was expanded by early Christian converts, ertswhile Hellenistic philosophers, who were influenced by and brought to Christianity Plato’s notion of inherent immortality. Noteworthy among tham are Origin and Augustine. See how man has inserted himself into the word of God.
This heresy did more than damage the truth of the Bible, namely, that man is mortal and his ultimate destiny is to live forever on the earth. We are left with only a shell of the former truth, where the great edifice of Christianity is left standing in tatters with not much to lean on except the social gospel and the golden rule.