Christianity has trends like everything else as I was recently discussing in a conversation on this post. As time goes by, people focus on different aspects of Scripture, different pagan thoughts influence our views of the Word and popular culture of the day emphasizes different themes. It’s not about hypocrisy, it’s about a living practice of belief. God may not change, but our views on God do change. I find that the more different views we familiarize ourselves with, the closer we get to Truth. No one but God knows everything about Scripture and everyone has many barriers to understanding it. Imagine it like you’re watching a basketball game. You have a different view on each play than a person across the gym or a person sitting closer to the floor than you. Does that make either perspective wrong? Not necessarily, it simply makes it all the more important to get each angle of the situation to gain a complete idea of what is going on in the game. Every person sees things differently based on who they are, where they come from, and their preconceived notions. That being said, let’s talk about conditional immortality. Conditional immortality is a complicated way of saying that souls are not inherent, but given by God in the case of our belief on Jesus. I mentioned it in passing in this post.
When did the idea of conditional immortality start? I recently had a conversation with someone who believes that because this theory is coming back into the spotlight a bit, it’s a contemporary idea. Actually, early biblical scholars believed this theory since the bible was written. The idea that every person has an immortal soul is actually a pagan idea that predated the opposing view.We find it in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and babylonian writings among many other writings. It appears that from the dawn of the idea of a soul, the vast majority of people believed in it’s immortality. The exception to the rule for some time was the earliest Christian church.
If it’s an old belief where’d it go? For those of you who know about the history of Christianity, you know the names Augustine, Luther and Calvin. Calvin was an avid studier of Augustine, who took his influence on the soul from Plato. Luther subscribed to sola scriptura meaning ‘scripture alone.’ His ninety-five theses and consequential excommunication changed the church forever. It was during this times that we see major changes in every aspect. Luther is the progenitor of Protestantism and Calvin is reamins firmly in the Catholic tradition. It is also during this dynamic time period that King James insists on having the Bible re-translated. As we’ll discuss later, the choices of certain words in this pervasive version changes the views on the soul. Luther’s beliefs lose popularity as it seems the Bible no longer supports them with this new translation. There are churches that still held his beliefs, but most are now considered cultic. (ie. unitarian, seventh day adventist, jehovah’s witness, and dissenting academics). But hey, maybe it’s a baby/bath water kind-of scenario.
So, what about Scripture? You all know that I am by no means a greek or hebrew scholar. That being said, several internet searches of the words translated to soul turned up the same and this discussion wouldn’t be complete without looking at where those specific words occur in Scripture. In Genesis 2:7 we see, what appears to be a clear verse that every person is born with a soul. “God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his lungs the breath of life and man became a living soul.” Seems pretty sewn up right? Well, no actually. The word used here is nepesh. We see it used over 200 times in the OT including when God created animals. It was intended to be used to mean: living being, creature, etc. I was not raised to believe that animals have souls, but simply die; so it makes perfect sense to me that this word does not indicate an immortal soul. Across the OT, we see the soul’s journey and it’s death. In several verses, the soul of a sinner is said to die. (Ezekial 18:4,20) It is also said that God can take the soul/life of a person who sins (Job 27:8) or that a sinner forfeits it (Habakkuk 2:10).
The Greek in the NT is far more confusing. The word “aionian” can be translated as either eternal/everlasting or for an age. It is used in different verses in different ways. The reason it was translated to eternal more than for a period of time is because of 1 Timothy 6:16. Aionion is used at the end of this verse and the translator chose eternal here because God’s kingdom will not last only for an age. This seems to me that this is a special circumstance where the character of God in context was taken into consideration. The other references translate to ‘an age of’ punishment or suffering without issue. In fact, one argument made was that the word can’t be aionian because God’s kingdom isn’t temporary, but yet the word is aionian. So you’re willing to compromise the meaning of the word to fit what you think it should mean? But again, I’m no Greek scholar and it’s only one verse.
These kinds of discussions while quite interesting to me, mean little. If I felt burdened with God’s justice existing in tandem with eternal punishment, this would be a blessing to me. It’s my belief that as long I can find biblical basis for an idea, that it’s cool with me. This is enough biblical basis for me for people to believe this idea without my opposition. Isn’t that what a living faith needs to be? We study a living word after all. It speaks to each person where they are in a different way and that’s not contradictory, that’s inclusive. Shouldn’t our faith reflect that?
This post is a Very short thought on the subject that has a long history, there’s so much to read!!!
The Best Scriptural Analysis of Conditional Immortality I found [Greek and Hebrew Examination]
What is Conditional Immortality?
Jewish Ideas about Conditional Immortality
A Brief History of Conditional Immortality
Supporters and Their Writings
An Apologetics Article [You guys know how I feel about that. 🙂 ]
Sources for People and Historical Context