Conditional immortality as a view of human persons, although biblical, comes with an emotional price. I wanted to share some thoughts about fear and doubt, and the roles they play in how we respond to what Scripture teaches about human nature, death, and destiny.
I’ve started listing to Pints with Aquinas very recently. So recently that I only just listened to episode four today. But you’ve had a few too many pints with Aquinas if you think the host’s argument for purgatory is a good one.
The podcast is well made and easy to listen to, and Matt Fradd presents it well. His dedication not only to his audience but to Christ is evident, and his passion is contagious. But I don’t know how long I’ll be listening. Time will tell. In today’s episode (ie the one I listened to today), I rolled my eyes as Matt repeated as fact the chestnut that all of the books used in the Catholic Bible were accepted by Christians until the Reformation, when Protestants started throwing out books that contradicted their theology. Nobody faithfully representing history in an informed manner would say this, as I’ve shown in the past. Is the podcast going to turn out to just be another bad Catholic apologetics ministry? I hope not. As I said, time will tell. The podcast might turn out to be my all-time favourite!
I’m an occasional contributor to Afterlife, a New Zealand Website exploring the questions of life, death and eternity, from an Evangelical Christian perspective. My latest article there, Can These Bones Live? The Resurrection of the Body is now available.
Is it really clear that the first Christians believed in the empty tomb of Jesus and in the resurrection of our bodies, leaving all the graves empty?
Check out the rest of the article, in which I explain that the earliest Christian community maintained that in the resurrection of Jesus, his body came back to life, setting the precedent for the resurrection of all the dead.
If soul sleep is true, then why did Jesus tell the criminal on the cross that he would be with him that day in Paradise?
As I’ve indicated numerous times, I’m a materialist about human beings. I don’t think that I’m an immortal ghost/soul living inside a body. I think that I’m a physical creature. Long before I encountered philosophy of mind or neuroscience, I became convinced that this is what the Bible teaches, making its teaching on human nature stand out like a sore thumb against the pagan Hellenistic theology of the first century.
I also become convinced that since I am not an immortal ghost living inside a body, when my body dies I will not escape death and live on in heaven, or the underworld, or the astral plane or anything of that sort. I think the Bible teaches that death is very real and it puts an end to our life. There is no conscious state of any sort immediately following death. There is noting at all. Of course, I am a Christian and I do believe in the resurrection of the dead, but that obviously doesn’t happen when a person dies, or I think somebody would have noticed by now. The view I hold has sometimes been called “soul sleep” because it views death as a state of “sleep” or unconsciousness. It’s not an ideal term because it can be taken to imply dualism and maybe “person sleep” would be a better alternative, but it’s too late for that. The term has been coined.
Holding and expressing these views rubs some of my fellow conservative evangelicals the wrong way, but for the most part there’s really no disputing that the Bible presents human nature and death this way literally dozens of times in fairly clear language. Affirming dualism and the view that we live on as immaterial spirits after death and go somewhere is a point of view held in the teeth of the biblical evidence. This fact too, I suspect, rubs some of my fellow conservative evangelicals the wrong way.
In spite of the fairly clear overall teaching of the Bible, there is a very small handful of biblical passages (no more than four, in my view) that might be used (and have been used) to suggest that actually the general impression given by most of what the Bible teaches is false, and that really we do survive our bodily deaths and travel to heaven, or hell, or some other place and live consciously there. This should not be surprising. Whether you’re doing surveying, earth science or biblical interpretation, when formulating a theory you’re always going to be confronted with recalcitrant evidence, that is, evidence that at first glance seems to go against the flow of the well-established facts and is in need of an explanation. The existence of such evidence in science or in Scripture does not falsify a theory.
One of those texts is Luke 23:43.
Anybody familiar with the dialogue between biblical translator William Tyndale and Thomas Moore will know that one of the issues they debated was the immortality of the soul and the intermediate state (OK, that’s two issues, but they are closely related).
As a translator of Scripture, Tyndale was at times keenly aware of the mistaken beliefs that were common in the Church simply because believers only knew what they heard on Sunday, not having the means to study the Scripture in depth, and certainly not to delve into the texts in the original language as he had done. We take that ability for granted today.
At the end of his translation of the New Testament he included a final page of text, as there was some spare space. The heading for this page was: “These things I have added to fill up the leaf withal.” Writing materials were expensive, and wasting a whole page seemed like such a shame, you see.
On this final page, Tyndale offered a few helpful notes on various passages, drawing on his insights as a translator. Interestingly enough, the very first thing he wanted the layperson to know here was that they ought to be more discerning about how they understand the word “hell” in their Bibles. He comments on the differences between gehenna and infernus (infernus is the Latin translation of the Greek term hades). Gehenna in the Greek New Testament refers to the place/state of punishment at the last judgement.
In Tyndale’s age, as in ours, a number of Christians thought that hades, or “hell” as it appeared in their Bibles, was a place of consciousness in the intermediate state. As a translator of both Greek and Hebrew (hades is the word used to translate the Hebrew term sheol in the Old Testament, something Tyndale was well aware of), Tyndale knew better. Here’s the first comment he added in this the last page of his Bible:
Infernus and Gehenna differ much in signification, though we have none other interpretation for either of them, than this English word, hell. For Gehenna signifieth a place of punishment: but Infernus is taken for any manner of place beneath in the earth, as a grave, sepulchre or cave.
Tyndale then explained the origin of the term gehenna, a Greek word derived from the Hebrew Geh-Hinnom (meaning “valley of Hinnom,” inexplicably spelt “Hennon” here).
Hell: it is called in Hebrew the valley of Hennon. A place by Jerusalem, where they burnt their children in fire unto the idol Moloch, and is usurped and taken now for a place where the wicked and ungodly shall be tormented both soul and body, after the general judgement.
Of all the issues to clarify for the reader, the first that Tyndale raised was to point out the hades is not a conscious place in the intermediate state, but merely the grave or any sepulchre or cave, and that people don’t go to “Hell” (i.e. gehenna) until after the judgement.
Anyone interested in what the other issues Tyndale raised were can read that final page here.