What the Bible says about
Immortality of the Soul
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Earlier, God had informed Adam and Eve that sin exacts a penalty, death - the cessation of life - and, if a person will not repent of sin, this means total death - no chance for eternal life. This threat God has held over mankind's head from the beginning. Notice, however, how the Devil replies:
Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (verses 4-5)
Here is the lie: "Look, Adam and Eve, you have an immortal soul. God cannot enforce His threat." In its various forms through the centuries, this doctrine of man having eternal life already has appeared time and again.
In theological terms, this belief is the basis of the "Doctrine of Eternal Security." What is worse, this heretical doctrine has resurfaced in the church, having been part of the latest apostasy. It cannot stand, however, before the light of God's Word. God has a far superior way of dealing with humanity - both righteous and incorrigible.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Do We Have 'Eternal Security'?
Satan's heresy that "You shall not surely die," when expanded, claims that we are already immortal, so death has no real hold over us. This idea, proposed at the very beginning, has thrived throughout history. Mainstream Christianity calls it the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, while various Eastern religions contain it in beliefs such as reincarnation. Whatever its moniker, the belief that human beings possess a spiritual, eternally conscious, imperishable component is a major tenet of nearly every religion throughout man's history. In our modern culture, books and movies abound with examples of the spirits of the dead hovering around the living characters, giving them comfort, aid, and encouragement. It is taken as given that death is not the end; somehow, one's conscious spirit will live on when the physical body perishes.
The Gnostic belief in the dualism of flesh and spirit—with the flesh being evil and something to be freed from, while the eternal spirit was good—also originated in the lie Satan told Eve. Gnostics, in general, believed that the purpose of human existence was to return to the spiritual realm from whence all originated. Death, then, was seen as liberation of the spirit.
First, consider how this belief affects a person's attitude and way of life. When Satan undermined the death penalty for disobedience, in addition to sowing further distrust in what God says, he also blunted one of the keenest elements of human motivation, continued self-preservation. If life beyond the grave is assured, how this life is lived makes little difference. It is like guaranteeing a college freshman that he will receive a doctorate degree, regardless of whether anything is learned, any work is done, any classes are attended, or any tuition is paid. While the student may indeed expend some effort, the motivation to apply himself wholeheartedly to his education will be substantially weakened. It would be so easy to slack off and postpone catching up to some time next week. After all, if the goal is certain, why worry about the details in the meantime?
Spiritually, the result is the same. If one already has immortality, and is eternally saved, there is no pressing reason to resist the pulls of carnality. Resisting Satan matters little. Devoting one's life to growing and overcoming has no urgency. Sin is no big deal. Why should one study to come to know God and His truth? Believing that one already possesses eternal life removes the urgency to live according to the desires and requirements of the Creator. At best, all that remains is the vague guidance of "just be a good person."
The Bible teaches that there can be life after death through the resurrection from the dead. Eternal life is ours only if God supplies it, and not because we possess an immortal soul:
» God tells us, "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die." (Ezekiel 18:4; emphasis ours throughout). God repeats this in Ezekiel 18:20. Clearly, it is possible for a "soul" to die.
» Paul instructs in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death," not eternal life—not even eternal life in ever-burning hell. As with Ezekiel 18, sin incurs the death penalty. Satan, though, would have us believe that since death is not a real threat, sin is no big deal. It is only because of God's grace that we are not struck down immediately—not because of any inherent immortality within us—as the rest of Romans 6:23 explains: "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eternal life is a gift, not an inborn quality.
» I Timothy 6:16 says that God "alone has immortality"—not any member of the human race, Christians included!
» Romans 2:7 promises "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality," again proving that eternal life is a gift, not a right, and that immortality must be sought (by "doing good") rather than assumed to have it already.
» Finally, in the "Resurrection Chapter," I Corinthians 15, Paul explains when Christians receive immortality:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (I Corinthians 15:50-54)
It is not until "the last trumpet," when Jesus Christ returns, that the dead will be resurrected and given immortality (I Thessalonians 4:16). At this time, the saints will be changed and given new spiritual bodies (I Corinthians 15:49; I John 3:2). Clearly, immortality is not given until the resurrection from the dead, which does not take place until Jesus Christ returns.
That God must resurrect a person for him to continue living means that He retains sovereignty. He is not obliged to grant eternal life to anyone who demonstrates, once he has the opportunity to know God, that he is not willing to be subject to His way of life. However, by belittling the truth about the resurrection from the dead, and telling people that they already have immortality, Satan can distract them from a basic reason why they need to listen to God—so that they may be resurrected and continue living!
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
Of all people, we who have left the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in the past decade should be most aware of the antinomian spirit working in the church of God. The doctrinal changes that began to be instituted mere months after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong had as their goal the removal of God's law, particularly the Sabbath, from the church's beliefs. WCG's subsequent heavy emphasis on "grace" and "love," along with its renunciation of "legalism" exposed its antinomian position. Because of these changes, it has joined evangelical Protestant "Christianity" to the point that it now worships on Sunday, encourages celebration of Christmas and Easter, and permits the use of crucifixes and images of "Jesus" by its ministry and membership and in its publications.
The "Christian" churches of this world are predominantly antinomian to some extent. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism belong to what can be termed Hellenistic Christianity, that is, a form of Christianity heavily influenced by Greek philosophies, particularly Gnosticism. Catholicism is the more moderate of the two, having retained obedience to the Church and its traditions as well as requiring certain works for salvation. However, its belief of the afterlife, with its levels of heaven, limbo, purgatory, and beatific vision - not to mention its belief in an immortal soul - brand it as Gnostic.
Protestantism is more antinomian, having rejected Catholicism's works during the Reformation. Martin Luther's doctrine of salvation by grace "through faith alone" removes God's law from the equation altogether. Pure Protestant theology is so antinomian that it claims that lawkeeping in any form - which it terms "legalism" - is detrimental to the soul's growth in spirituality. This form of Christianity also champions the doctrine of eternal security, the idea that, once one accepts Jesus, he can never lose his salvation, no matter what sins he commits ("once saved, always saved"). This doctrine knocks out law and judgment for sin in one blow.
Of course, the world itself is antinomian because it is under the sway of Satan the Devil, who despises God's law (Ephesians 2:2; I John 5:19; Romans 8:7). He even tried his antinomian tricks on Jesus, who countered with quotations from the law (Matthew 4:1-10)! Certainly, our adversary will tempt us similarly, trying to get us to put God's law aside so we can fulfill our desires.
Jesus, however, in his prayer in John 17, asks God to help us in this, and He also gives us the antidote to antinomianism:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep [guard, protect] them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (verses 15-17)
Knowing God's truth and practicing it to become holy will protect us from the rampant antinomianism of this world, this age that is soon to end. Still to come are the Beast and his False Prophet, who will exemplify this anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-law spirit. To endure to the end, to survive the mystery of lawlessness that will mark the end time, we must hold fast to God's Word and seek His righteousness. "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the [New Jerusalem]" (Revelation 22:14).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Colossians 2:8-10 gives another general definition of Gnosticism, as well as how to combat it. Paul is writing about a philosophy like Stoicism, not a specific religion, such as Judaism. This is important to recognize, since in verse 16, Paul mentions the Sabbath and holy days, and it is commonly assumed that Paul condemns their observance. Yet, he does not - he warns against a philosophy that disparaged the feasting and joyous observance of the Sabbath and holy days. This is why Paul tells the Colossians to "let no one judge you" with regard to eating, drinking, or observing the weekly and annual Sabbaths - rather than what is commonly read into Colossians 2:16: "There is no reason to keep the Sabbath or holy days." Christians in Colossae were being pressured by the ascetic society around them, which would have looked down on their feasting.
This is confirmed in the rest of Colossians 2, which deals primarily with asceticism (see especially Colossians 2:21-23). Some branches of Gnosticism adhered to asceticism as a way to free the eternal spirit by living regimented, plain, and insular lives. (Conversely, some Gnostics went to the other extreme - practicing hedonism - believing that what they did with their bodies did not make any difference since only spirit mattered.)
Paul says that this philosophy and its associated doctrines were plausible, but they were not based on solid arguments. He calls them "vain deceit" (KJV) or "empty deceit" (NKJV). They may sound good, depending upon one's inclination, but they endanger church members. The apostle writes that they would be "spoiled" (KJV), which does not necessarily mean being "corrupted," but rather of being "plundered," hence the NKJV's use of "cheated." This empty philosophy would rob or cheat them of their faith, their hope, their understanding of God, their relationship with God, their vision, and the purpose that God is working out. Once introduced, it would begin to steal away all of their true, spiritual riches.
Paul also provides two possible sources of this unsteady philosophy: "the traditions of men" and the "rudiments of the world." Examining the "rudiments of the world" first will help to explain the traditions of men. Other translations call them the "elements of the world," the "basic principles of the world," or "the powers of the world." In using this term, Paul is referring to the demonic powers that make this world, this cosmos,what it is. The source of this philosophy of salvation through special knowledge is Satan and the demons.
This explains why, when we read the histories of various religions and their branches, the same patterns arise time and again. Man does not have it within himself to pass along accurately and dependably ideas that go back to the very beginning. With an incessant drumming, the powers of the world keep prompting men and women in the same vain deceits that directly contradict the truth about God and His purpose for mankind.
Humans certainly play a role in handing down these traditions. Sunday school teachers and theologians perpetuate the Gnostic myths of the immortality of the soul, of eternal consciousness, of progressive revelation, of each person having a spark of goodness within that just needs to be fanned into a flame, and of each soul or spirit existing before in heaven and returning there upon death. Men pass these traditions on to other men, but the powers of the spirit world keep these messengers on their track and blinded to the truth.
The last phrase in Colossians 2:8 - "not according to Christ" - is a simple one, but it encapsulates what this is all about. Not a single branch of Gnosticism had the truth about Jesus Christ. That knowledge can be found only in God's Word.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Two: Defining Gnosticism
1 Timothy 6:20-21
The Amplified Bible makes these verses clearer:
O Timothy, guard and keep the deposit entrusted [to you]! Turn away from the irreverent babble and godless chatter, with the vain and empty and worldly phrases, and the subtleties and the contradictions in what is falsely called knowledge and spiritual illumination. [For] by making such profession some have erred (missed the mark) as regards the faith. . . .
Paul warns Timothy about "the subtleties and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge and spiritual illumination." The word translated "knowledge" in most translations ("science"in the King James Version) is the Greek gnosis. Literally meaning "to know," it forms the root of the word Gnosticism. It is possible, even probable, that Paul refers to Gnosticism here, since both of his letters to Timothy contain warnings against false teachers bringing in foreign concepts that were undermining the faith of church members.
Remember, however, that his warning is against a particular type of knowledge that induced some members to stray from the faith, knowledge that was subtle and yet contradictory. That it was contradictory is interesting because Gnosticism not only contradicts the truth, but within Gnostic beliefs there are also many contradictions.
Recently, the newly-discovered Gospel of Judas, an example of what is called a "Gnostic gospel," has made headlines worldwide. It was not written at the same time as the four canonical gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - but appeared a couple of centuries later. The Gospel of Judas contradicts the true gospel accounts by asserting that Judas Iscariot was actually the hero, who had been given secret knowledge that the other disciples did not possess.
The opening line of the Gospel of Judas demonstrates this secret knowledge: "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover." This so-called gospel gives a quite different view of the relationship between Jesus Christ and Judas, and its defenders say that it offers "new insights" into Jesus' betrayal, and the nature and character of Judas. "New insights" is another common theme of Gnosticism.
Several years ago, another Gnostic gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, was all the rage in the scholarly community. Its opening lines also emphasize this secret knowledge: "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded. And [Jesus] said, 'Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.'" Notice that the emphasis is immediately on discovering an interpretation and on increasing knowledge as a way to eternal life. It contains nothing about salvation coming through one's relationship with God or even about living a godly life. In this Gnostic gospel, eternal life comes from the secret knowledge that will explain the obscure sayings.
Not only were the Gnostic gospels written long after the fact, but they are also full of statements that oppose the text of the Bible. For example, in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus allegedly says, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits." Scholars say that Jesus is advocating "fitting in" and "being true to oneself," phrases often repeated these days.
In another place in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as saying, "[Blessed is] the one who came into being before coming into being." This makes absolutely no sense to us, but it does make a kind of sense to Gnostics, who believe in a dualism of flesh and spirit. Thus, they understand that "Jesus" implies that the spirit could come into being before the flesh. Many Gnostics were followers of docetism, the belief that Jesus and Christ were two separate beings in one body. Docetists believed that the man Jesus was born, and that the pre-existing god Christ entered into Him when He was baptized and left again before He was crucified. This, then, is an example of coming into being before coming into being.
Also in the Gospel of Thomas,
The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us, how will our end come?" Jesus said, "Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. [Blessed is] the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.
Again, knowing something is shown as the antidote of death. In this case, another element of dualism is that every person has a little spark of God in him or her, and that we have an eternal spirit (or soul) that is trapped or imprisoned within a body of flesh.
Gnostics generally believed that all spirit was inherently stable and good (overlooking the fact that Satan and his demons are spirit andyet also unstable and evil), while all matter and flesh was inherently evil (contradicting God's statement in Genesis 1:31 that everything God had made was "very good"). Plato reinforced this belief, writing, "The soul is the very likeness of the divine - immortal, and intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable." He also declared, viewing the body as a temporary house in which the soul is imprisoned, "The soul goes away to the pure, the eternal, the immortal and unchangeable to which she is kin."
The Gnostic goal was to learn the secret knowledge that would allow the inner spirit to be released from the confines of the flesh, enabling it to rejoin God in the spirit realm. Thus, the Gnostics linked the beginning and end (often depicted in the figure of a snake swallowing its tail), because if a person could figure out how the divine spark was infused into the flesh in the first place, he could then reverse it and release the spirit. We find the same basic tenet in the modern doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the widespread belief that our "home" is in heaven, and that we go to this home when we die.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part One: False Knowledge
The word "souls" (psuchás, plural of psuché) also requires explanation, as the Greek word is far too complex in meaning to define facilely as a person's immortal essence, as most Catholics and Protestants are wont to do. Its basic meaning is "breath," and is thus equivalent to the Hebrew nephesh and Latin anima (as in English "animal" and "animate"). One of its uses is as the New Testament version of what Genesis 2:7 calls "the breath of life," that is, the vital force that makes a body live: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [nephesh]." Luke 12:20 and Acts 20:10 use psuché in this manner.
From this basic meaning derives its extensions: as "life" (see Matthew 6:25; John 10:11; Philippians 2:30; Revelation 12:11) and "living being" (see I Corinthians 15:45; Revelation 16:3). In addition, psuché can refer to the seat of emotion, will, and desire, whereas we would use the terms "heart," "mind," "personality," or "being" today (see Luke 1:46; Acts 14:2, 22; Hebrews 6:19; II Peter 2:14). In a similar sense, it can also identify man's moral and spiritual life (see Hebrews 13:17; I Peter 1:22; 2:11, 25; 4:19; III John 2).
Some try to read immortality into certain biblical uses of psuché (for instance, Acts 2:27, 31; II Corinthians 1:23; Revelation 20:4), but the Bible does not support such an interpretation. In fact, in one of these, Matthew 10:28, Jesus confirms that souls can indeed be destroyed (also supported by the Old Testament in Job 33:22; Ezekiel 18:4, 20)! One must consult extrabiblical sources (such as Plato, Xenophon, Herodotus, and other Greek writers) to find usages of psuché that define "the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death" (Thayer's Lexicon).
How then is this word used in Revelation 6:9? We must remember that John is viewing a vision (Revelation 1:10), a symbolic representation for mortal eyes and minds of future events, not reality. One cannot see a person's actual soul, that is, his being, his life, so what John saw were representations of those who had been martyred. He probably literally saw bodies (Greek soma) under the altar but chose to identify them as psuchás, "lives" or "persons," because, as the next verses show, the vision depicts them speaking and receiving clothing, things a person can do only while alive.
The important point to remember is that John specifically identifies them as having been "slain"—they are dead—and the Bible elsewhere shows that "the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and cannot work, plan, learn, or pursue any activity in the grave (verse 10). Thus, John, a Hebrew, is using psuché in the same sense as Old Testamentwriters sometimes use nephesh, as "dead body," a being that once had life (see Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6; 9:6-7, 10; 19:11, 13; Haggai 2:13).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part One)
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