I've been told by solid Bible-believing, seminary-educated Christians that souls are immortal and that people will either spend eternity in heaven or hell. (Interestingly, I've never met anyone who thought they were going to hell. We all think we're headed to heaven!) I've heard this stated over and over. One day I stopped and thought, "Where does it say that in the Bible?" Well, what do you know - it doesn't. (If you find it in Scripture please let me know as soon as possible so I can pull this post!)
Naturally, I wanted to find out where this idea comes from. Because when you think about it, the idea of the immortal soul gives birth to the idea of eternal torment for those who are not written in the Lamb's book of life.
Let's imagine for a moment that the human soul is not immortal. What would happen if God withdrew from that person and they were separated completely from Him, the Creator and Giver of life? How long would they last? Just ponder that for a bit and keep it in your pocket for now.
So, what does the Bible tell us about immortality?
It seems to please God that we seek for immortality (Rom. 2:7) - why would we seek for immortality if we already had it? And it is certainly a result of life in Jesus ("…this mortal must put on immortality…” 1 Cor. 15:53-54) I am confident we could all agree that the term 'eternal life' could be used interchangeably with our word 'immortality'. Or not. The problem here is that as we look at verses that describe eternal life, we see that it is always conditional. For example: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life..." (John 3:36) and "...the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Gal. 6:8)
If eternal life is conditional (not automatic, not a given) then is it earned? Of course not! We know very well that eternal life is a gift from God through Jesus! "...the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." (1 John 5:11) and "...the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Rom. 6:23
Scripture states plainly that God is the only inherently immortal One ("…who alone possesses immortality…” 1 Tim. 6:16). He decides who has eternal life and who does not. "...I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish..." (John 10:28) That makes immortality a conditional gift (Read 1 Cor. 15:35-58).
We know that man cannot kill the soul. God alone retains the power to ultimately give life or take life. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says plainly, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
Consider these verses (the soul can die): “Behold, all souls are Mine…The soul who sins will die.” (Eze. 18:4) “And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people." (Peter speaking in Acts 3:23, see Deut. 18:19) “…let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death…” (James 5:20) "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)
So, the missing piece: where did the idea of the immortal soul come from, if not from the Bible? My research brought me to author and Church historian Edward Fudge. He solved the mystery: "The immortality of the soul was a principal doctrine of the Greek philosopher, Plato (429-347 BC). In Plato's thinking, the soul (or psyche) was self-moving...or 'simple'. Ungenerated and eternal, it existed before the body died that it inhabited, and it would survive the body as well." 1 Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, see pages 19-29.
Christian writers "freely borrowed the Platonic conception of the soul, the chief characteristic being its separability from the body."
The immortal soul originates with the Greek philosophers and is adopted by Church leaders through the centuries: Tertullian, Augustine, Calvin, and the Catholic Church are a few of the big guns that infused these ideas into our doctrine. I recommend researching this as there is much more to the story, as these ideas slipped into our doctrine masquerading as Truth in very shadowy areas. If this be the case, it is time to shine some very bright light on this information!
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8)
Additional excerpt from the book by D. Barry "Conditional Immortality"
For centuries, church theologians have wrongly assumed the Greek doctrine of the immortality of all souls. Therefore, it is no wonder that the message of immortality has been completely dropped from modern preaching. I ask you, when have you ever heard a message offering immortality as part of the gospel presentation? It is almost never done, because today most people falsely assume the soul is already immortal.
Yet, immortality through Jesus (Yeshua) alone is what the Jewish Apostle Paul preached: He (Jesus), has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9b-10) Paul clearly links immortality to the gospel.
Paul did not believe the Greek philosophy of his day which taught the immortality of all souls. Before the Messiah, Jesus, came, no one had a chance at immortality because of sin. If they did, then Paul's statement would make no sense. Why would immortality come through the gospel if all had it from birth? The gospel would not have brought about immortality since all had it.
But look how Paul frames in immortality uniquely and only with believers: To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:7) Notice Paul uses the word "seek" when speaking of immortality. None of these attributes he lists here are inherent to mankind. If they were, then the word "seek" would clearly be out of place.
Again, Paul did not believe the Greek philosophers who taught the immortality of all souls, neither did Yeshua (Jesus)... I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. (John 6:51) Again, why would Jesus Himself make this plain offer to "live forever" if everyone lived forever?
It is important to note that in Hebrew, the word for "life/soul" (nehphesh) is never used in conjunction with the word "everlasting" in Tenach (The Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament). Likewise, in the New Testament writings, the word for "soul" (psukee) is never used in conjunction with the words "eternal" or "everlasting." Again–it is an assumption (based upon Greek philosophy)–that the soul of mankind is eternal and can never be destroyed.
To read the full teaching and to access the book, go to http://www.jewishnotgreek.com/ or find the book on Amazon: "Conditional Immortality: Biblical Proof of Annihilation in Hell"
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