"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

If Someone Dies Will They Live Again? (Job 14:14)



There are three conflicting views among Bible-believing followers of Christ regarding a person's ultimate and eternal destiny.

Position #1: Some Christians believe in the Eternal Conscious Torment of the wicked in hell with the corresponding Eternal Happiness of the righteous in heaven.

Position #2: Some Christians believe the Ultimate Extinction (e.g. "the second death") of the wicked will come after their resurrection and the judicial, proportional and personal judgment of God for their sins, but the Gift of Immortal Life is given by God only to those sinners He declares righteous in Christ and makes righteous by His Spirit within.

Position #3: Some Christians believe in the Ultimate Restoration of every person by the grace of God through the Person and work of Jesus Christ, a view sometimes called Hopeful Universalism or Universal Redemption.

Lots of conflicts have arisen among Christians over these three views, with deep feelings in each camp. Some of the finest minds through the centuries have debated the issue, decided the question, and often denigrated Christians who disagree. The reason the ultimate destiny of a human being has caused such ceaseless conflict is that it is a question of transcendent importance as well as deep personal concern.

Do the Scriptures teach the eternal misery of the wicked (Position #1) as John Calvin taught? Or does God's Word teach that He will ultimately and graciously grant the restoration of all people (Position #3) as George MacDonald, the mentor of C.S. Lewis taught? Or does the Bible teach a conditional immortality (Position #2) as Martin Luther taught, a position between eternal conscious torment and universal redemption?

John Calvin, George MacDonald, and Martin Luther agreed on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, but they disagreed on the ultimate destiny of the wicked and of the righteous. These three evangelicals carried a deep appreciation for the Scriptures and possessed some of the sharpest minds in Christian history. So in light of their disagreements with one another, it might be wise for us to walk in a measure of humility. as these issues continue to be debated among evangelicals. Evidence of such humility will be our resistance to issuing dogmatic assertions or denigrating accusations to those who may disagree.

We ought to listen and learn from others rather than shout and scoff at others.

We evangelicals who hold to a high view of Scripture as infallible revelation will all agree that the only dependable source of enlightenment on man's ultimate destiny is God. He created us so He alone can give us the answers regarding our future. So we must turn to His Word, not our thoughts, to find the truth regarding a person's eternal state.  Our problem is our fallibility to understand the truth of Scripture, not the Scripture's failure to reveal the truth. It is to the Scriptures we must turn.

When we read the Bible we quickly discover that the conflict between righteousness and wickedness, personalized in Christ and Satan and lived out within mankind, has raged across the centuries. However, the Scriptures reveal that this conflict will finally and fully come to an end with the declared triumph of the Kingdom of Christ (see Daniel 2:44).

Christ will ultimately overthrow Satan and righteously judge humanity's sins. God’s full and final restoration of Paradise on earth through Christ fully and finally reversing the curse on earth, will be Christ's Kingdom forever. He gave a picture of this day when He said, “The meek will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

The Paradise lost by the disobedience of the First Adam will be fully regained by the obedience of the Last Adam. The will of God on earth will be as it is in heaven when Christ’s Kingdom fully comes on earth. The central focal point of the history is Jesus Christ. He came as the Son of Man and the Son of God to restore and redeem what the first man lost. His Story is Redemption. The H I S T O R Y of the universe is God ultimately restoring for man what man initially lost for himself – immortal life in an exotic paradise of peace.

The question at hand is “What is the ultimate destiny of those outside of Christ, or using more biblical terms, those “outside of Christ's Kingdom”? Will the wicked be judged for their sins and suffer conscious torment forever, while the righteous enjoy continuous blessings from God? Or will the wicked be raised and judged by God for their personal sins, only to die a second time as a just punishment for their crimes, while the righteous alone will receive the gift of immortal life? Or will even the wicked on earth eventually see the glory of God in Christ Jesus and bow to the grace of God that is in Christ and ultimately be restored even after death?

One position must be right, while the other two must be wrong because all three positions can’t be right at the same time.

So what does the Bible teach?

DEFINITIONS

Conditionalism or Conditional Immortality – is the belief that that the Bible teaches immortality, or everlasting life, is offered to man only upon God’s terms and conditions.

Immortal-Soulism or Inherent Immortality – is the belief that the Bible teaches man was created with a soul, which has a separate existence from the body, and that that the soul is innately and indefeasibly immortal.

In the first belief, the soul can die. In the second belief, it is impossible for the soul to die, even if God desired to destroy the soul because the soul can’t die. 

It’s possible that you’ve never thought about death in these terms. It could be that you’ve just assumed that all men, both the wicked and the righteous will live forever, because (in your mind), man's soul is like the trick birthday candles you can’t – no matter how hard you try – ever extinguish.

You have been trained to believe in Immortal-Soulism.

What we must all do is ask, “Is that doctrine biblical?”

The Destiny of a Person Based on the Definition of Terms

Those who believe in conditional immortality believe that the person who does not accept God’s conditions for life (e.g. Jesus Christ) will be ultimately deprived of life and totally destroyed. Those who believe in inherent immortality, on the other hand, believe that the person who disobeys God and persists in his rebellion will be cast into an eternally burning hell-fire, where he will be tormented forever because his soul cannot die.

The evangelical who believes in conditional immortality believes when Jesus said, "Fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell," (Matthew 10:28), He meant actually destruction and annihilation, which the word "destroy" means. However,  the evangelical who believes in inherent immortality believes the word "destroy" refers to a worse state of existence, like wine gone bad, or cheese turned rotten. The way you define the Greek word apollumi (translated destroy in Matthew 10:28) will vary according to your basic view of immortality. Is immortality inherent to every human being or is it a gift to only those "in Christ."?

Martin Luther believed in conditional immortality. John Calvin believed in inherent immortality.

When Calvin heard that Luther believed in conditional immortality, he published his first book (at the age of 25) to argue against Luther’s position. In the sixteenth-century, book titles were long. so Calvin chose as a title for his book. “A Refutation of the Error Entertained by Some Unskillful Persons, Who Ignorantly Imagine that in the Interval between Death and the Judgment the Soul Sleeps, Together with an Explanation of the Condition and Life of the Soul After this Present Life.” 

Whew! It’s the last portion of Calvin’s title – An Explanation of the Condition and life of the Soul After this Present Life that details Calvin's views that even God is unable to kill the soul of man, because the soul of man is inherently immortal. Calvin later changed the title of his book to the one word Psychopannychia, which is Greek for “the sleep of the soul.”

In Calvin’s day, there were others besides Luther who believed in Conditional Immortality. The Ana-Baptists, who loved to trace their heritage to the early Christians, taught that Jesus, the Apostles, and the early church fathers all taught Conditional Immortality. Calvin called the Ana-Baptists “pernicious pests,” and spoke far more harshly against them than he did Martin Luther.

Both Luther and the Ana-Baptists believed that when the Bible refers to death, as in “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23), that death meant the absence of life. Luther and the Ana-Baptists also took John 3:16 at face value: " "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish (there's that word apollumi again) but have the gift of immortal life."  

Luther and Calvin’s Respective Positions

For Luther, immortal life is a gift of God, for “God alone has immortality” (I Timothy 6:16). For Calvin, to be “created in the image of God” meant that immortality is inherent to the human existence. No man, according to Calvin, can cease to exist because God doesn’t cease to exist. God made man immortal because God made man “in His image.”

Luther and the Ana-Baptists countered that inherent immortality is both illogical and unbiblical. From a logical standpoint, God is also omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Why is a man not omniscient? Omnipotent? Omnipresent? If the attribute of immortality is “God’s alone” as the Bible states, then for a man to be “created in God’s image” no more means that a man is inherently immortal than it means a man is inherently omnipotent. Luther argued it may be easy to say a man is “inherently immortal” because no one has the means to prove he’s not, but one can easily prove a man is not omnipotent like God.

So from Luther’s perspective, the Bible reveals the ultimate answer to man’s final destiny. “God alone is immortal.” Therefore, according to Luther, for a human being to be granted immortality, or to come into possession of eternal life, then it must be a gift bestowed on certain conditions, not an inherent state of that man.

At the center of the disagreement between Luther and Calvin is how they interpreted Hebrew and Greek words like the Hebrew ruach (spirit) and nephesh (soul) and the Greek pneuma (spirit) and psuche (soul). Calvin separated the spirit of man (ruach) from the bodily life of the man (nephesh), while Luther believed the spirit of man (ruach) was what made the life the man (nephesh) unique from animals and angels, but when a man died, he ceased to live because the spirit and body of man are indefeasibly united.

In other words, to Luther, a man’s spiritual life (relationship to God) and a man’s physical life (relationship to the world) and a man’s mental and emotional life (relationship with others) are all so interconnected, that there is never any existence of one without the other. Calvin, on the other hand, believed that a man could be a spirit being, existing without a body (like the angels), and at death, only the man’s spirit makes its way to God. Luther held that no man exists after death apart from physical resurrection.

A Summary of Calvin’s View:  Man has a body that is energized by the spirit of that man. The spirit of a man is directly created by God and “deposited” into the man’s body upon God’s command (while in the womb of his mother). God’s deposit of a man’s spirit into his body gives to this man unique and inherently immortal life. So when the body of a man dies,  his spirit which energized the man's body, returns to God who made is the maker of spirits. Calvin believed that the moment of "death" is when God “unties the silver cord” (Ecclesiastes 12:6) that holds a man’s spirit to his body. A man's body exist without the man's spirit in it, but the body is "dead" and will decay because the spirit of man has gone back to God.

A Summary of Luther’s View: Man is body and soul which is energized by God (life) and a man never exists apart from his body living. Luther’s view that there is no life of man apart from the body of man gave him a high and strong view of the resurrection. The hope of the Christian faith, according to Luther, is resurrection life. The Kingdom of Christ is all about resurrection.  To Luther, the Kingdom of Christ now is Christ's resurrection power within a man; the Kingdom of Christ to come is Christ's resurrection power on the outward man (the physical resurrection). Physical disease, decay and death are the last enemies we face in this life. Christ's resurrection power can happen now within a person, but His resurrection power on all people will happen when He comes.

After Calvin wrote his book Psychopannychia, the evangelical church almost universally fell in lockstep with Calvin. However, since the 17th century, there have been many conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals who believe the Scriptures teach Luther's position. 

I’ve taught Calvin’s view all my life. I find beautiful biblical symmetry in Luther's view.

I see both positions. I understand them both. I could teach both as if I believed them.

In this little paper, I’m not advocating one side over the other. I am expressing my hope that Christian people can understand these issues have been debated for centuries by competent biblical scholars. Many evangelicals have held to conditional immortality. The majority of evangelicals have held to eternal conscious torment.  A few evangelicals have ventured into hopeful universalism. If you’ve come to a settled view of man's destiny based on your study of the Scriptures, then great! I would encourage you to be gentle with those who disagree.

A friend of mine told me he recently came to personally believe the view Luther held. He’s come to the conclusion that the Bible teaches conditional immortality. But then he said something that caught me by surprise, “I dare not tell anyone in my church what I believe. It would cause a huge controversy.”

How sad. The church of Jesus Christ needs some maturity. Puerile and prideful attitudes have no place among the people of God. To shame, shun and shout in anger at those who have taken a different view on doctrinal matters only causes the church to look more like the world than the Kingdom of grace it really is.

Let’s be workmen who strive to rightly divide the Word of truth, but let’s be humble about both our toolbox and our handiwork.  Christ has properly laid the Foundation.  The house we build on top of His Foundation may look differently than other houses built by His people, but as long as we are resting in Him, we will build on a firm footing indeed.

J.I. Packer, a staunch Calvinist who embraces eternal conscious torment, defended his friends and fellow Calvinist theologians John Stott and John Wenham who came to embrace conditional immortality. Packer wrote
"These honored fellow-evangelicals embrace conditional immortality for the right reasons—not because it fitted into their comfort zone, though it did, but because they thought they found it in the Bible.”
May we all have more of the same gracious spirit exhibited by Packer when it comes to fellowship with those who disagree with us on this issue.

13 comments:

carl4grace said...

Excellent article!
Especially may we all embrace your last paragraph.

Jerry Schultz said...

Thank-you so much for writing this.

RRR said...

Perhaps the degree of significance of being correct on this issue intensifies the passion a person assumes for his position; even to the point of their being aggressively and vehemently opposed to those who hold different positions. We all proclaim "The Gospel" based upon our understanding of its premises. That's a pretty scary thing to consider, i.e., that Christians have different concepts of what is required for salvation and what happens, or doesn't happen, when a person accepts/rejects The Gospel. Hopefully, we strive to assure that "The Gospel" we proclaim coincides with Scripture to the best of our interpretation. Even so, we can still come down in different places.

But the differences in these proposals are such that their consequences can determine a person's eternal destiny. We can either lead the lost down the correct path to salvation or direct them down a path to the eternal (?) abyss. As you state, one way can be correct and the opposing view not. I believe this is what fuels the passion of those involved in dialogue to the point of our sometimes becoming so aggressive as to compromise our own Christian fellowship with a brother or sister who has an opposing view.

Wade Burleson said...

RRR,

You make a solid point from a perspective I completely understand (and appreciate).

I take a little different perspective. My aim at sharing Christ is not so much to "save people from hell" as it is to "show people how to live." In other words, Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and live that life to its fullest." Christ's Kingdom brings such life.

The movie title "Dead Man Walking" is very close to the truth about every man apart from Christ. He's headed to death "for the wages of sin is death" but he doesn't know it. So he tries to live his life as best he can - to not think of death, to attempt to postpone death, to not even consider death and what it means - and in the end, his life stinks of death and not life! Jesus gives resurrecting power in the heart today (the Kingdom NOW - as in the prodigal son who was "dead and is now alive") and Jesus gives resurrecting power to the body then (the resurrection of the body and the gift of immortal life).

Those not in union with Christ never really live and will die the "second death."

"But whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have immortal life."

Wesley Rostoll said...

I really enjoyed this article, I had previously read one or two comments from Luther which sounded like he was a conditionalist but I was not sure as to his official position.

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks Carl, Jerry, RRR and Wesley for your kind comments.

Aussie John said...

Wade,
Thank you for a great article. Whilst in pastoral ministry I held the position you mention in regard to John 10:10 (still do), but am more on Luther's page regarding eternal destiny.

Christiane said...

I love the hymn we have that speaks of Christ The Good Shepherd 'leading us from death into life'

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFgZGlZ5t80

the early Christians, having responded to the great Gospel of the Risen Lord, loved to picture Christ as a shepherd, carrying a weary sheep on His shoulders

for those of us who look to the early Church to learn of that time, the image of the Good Shepherd speaks to us with as much pathos and loving kindness as it did to those early believers, so drawn to the Risen Christ

We share their hope:
"Jesus Christ, I trust in You"
"Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us"

some thoughts about 'death' and 'life' from a coffin maker:
https://vimeo.com/65019294

LS said...

Thank you for writing. I have just found your blog through another brother in Christ. What a breath of fresh air I have experienced reading this. On your articles on authority, I believe you present the heart of Messiah for real freedom with honor and respect for those who serve without becoming entangled in a codependent way with leadership who is not presenting the authority 'over' the people they are to serve. We have watched this unravel congregations and families for years. We need to grasp that real honor comes from relationships that are healthy.
On this article, we are approaching the teachings regarding Revelation events with open hearts. There is room to grow in understanding. I'm leaning more toward reconciliation that will birth a New Heaven and New Earth. We'll see!

George.Murray said...

Thank you once again for your stimulating article..it reminds me of the discussion that John Stott [a fellow Brit] had with David Edwards in ''Evangelical Essentials' about Hell.. This caused enormous upheaval in the British Evangelical scene because it was the first time in recent memory that someone so prominent as Stott veered towards conditional Immortality and If i remember, it was the discussion of John 3.16 and the word perish that was highlighted.. He [Stott[ wrote about Gehenna Isaiah 66:24 and Mark 9:48and alluded to perishing as being destruction this emphasizing that only those who believed would have everlasting life.. and that those did not would perish, and not live eternally.. In other words, the sad fate of unbelievers would be not to live eternally in Hell but to perish, be no more... I find this a more palatable solution to the unbeliever especially those in ones family who have died outside of belief in Christ..
Thank you once again Wade.. for getting the old brain cells going.
George.Murray

Anonymous said...

I'm commenting very late so doubt anyone else will read this, but this morning in my quiet time I was using the Reformation Study Bible. I read their article on the unpardonable sin and felt maybe I begin to understand something a bit differently.

I class myself as one of those hopeful universalists who never the less see annihilation as what we need to be saved from, not ECT.

But after today perhaps my hope is more that most will not reject Christ when called, be that early in life, at the point of death, or after experiencing some retraining from God either here or.....elsewhere. However, like that article described, it is possible God allows a very few to be very well informed and still consciously and deliberately reject Jesus. And those very few would be annihilated, I believe.

Grace is bigger than I ever imagined, but for the few that willfully and knowingly rebel and reject it, I can find in the Bible where they perish and even the memory of them is obliterated.

Linda

Jerry Schultz said...

Your thoughtful article encouraged me to finally post a piece I've been holding back for over 2 years on this very subject. http://thetrustworthyword.blogspot.com/2017/06/what-bible-really-teaches-about-helland.html

koi seo said...

Thank you for a great article. Whilst in pastoral ministry I held the position you mention in regard to John 10:10 (still do), but am more on Luther's page regarding eternal destiny.

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