Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Soul Man

A Few More Thoughts on The Existence of The Soul After Death

During our series on Hell at the GTY blog, the annihilationists we encountered insisted that humanity has “conditional immortality.”

Conditional immortality can be defined as,

…the belief that God has created all human beings only potentially immortal. Whether they will actually be granted immortality depends on their response to the revelation of God. The unbeliever never receives the capacity to live forever and, perhaps after a finite period of punishment for wrongs done during his lifetime, will be punished forever by being annihilated. … outside of Christ there is no capacity for immortality, and the unbeliever will eventually be reduced to nonexistence [Todd Miles, A God of Many Understandings?, 126]

So in other words, human beings are not born with souls. Man is not a dual creature, body and soul. When a man dies, his “soul” sleeps in the grave and is unconscious of the afterlife. The only “immortality” a soul can experience is if it is granted to a person by God upon his faith in Christ.

But these ideas are contrary to orthodox, biblical Christianity that teaches man is both body and soul, and upon his death, the soul departs the body, remains fully conscious and is either in the presence of the Lord or in torment, awaiting the resurrection and final judgment at the end of days. One particular annihilationist challenger even kept insisting the concept of dualism, that man is both body and soul, has its origin in pagan Greek philosophy, particularly the writings of Plato.

As I noted in a previous post on this subject, the claim that dualism is Greek in origin is problematic. This is especially true if it can be demonstrated that Jews and Christians believed in a body/soul distinction BEFORE Greek philosophy became wide spread. Can it be demonstrated that God’s people had an understanding of dualism, particularly the notion that a person’s conscious soul continued after death? Yes. Consider these thoughts:

Laws Against Necromancy

The OT condemned the practice of necromancy, or the conjuring up of spirits or speaking to the dead. For example, mediums, or witches practicing necromancy, are condemned in Leviticus 19:31, 20:6 and Deuteronomy 18:11. Later, the prophet of Isaiah condemns mediums who practice necromancy in Isaiah 8:19, 19:3 and 29:4. The condemnation of such individuals among God’s people reveals that a popular belief in life after death existed in pretty much all the cultures surrounding Israel. If the idea of dualism and a post-mortem conscious soul was not true, I believe God would have clarified this truth.

Take for example how the prophets of Israel compared God to false gods and idols, say for instance in Isaiah 44. The one thing the prophets would always note is that God is the only God in existence. All the other false gods don’t exist, hence the reason they are false. A similar thing would happen if souls did not continue after death. Israel doesn’t consult mediums because no souls exist to be consulted. However, it is implied that mediums attempt to do so and Israel is forbidden to participate in their conjuring, because souls do continue after a person dies.

Saul and the Witch of Endor

The key example of necromancy in the OT is Saul’s visit to the Witch of Endor as recorded in 1 Samuel 28. During this encounter, Saul has the witch conjure up Samuel’s spirit. There are couple of things to note with this passage.

First, I recognize there is a debate as to whether this was really Samuel or a demon impersonating Samuel. However, nothing in the text suggests this was a demonic entity, but instead, the details of the text clearly indicate that it was really the spirit of Samuel. I believe an unique experience God allowed in order to condemn Saul, Israel’s first king.

But secondly, notice that Saul sought out a medium to begin with. If it was a commonly held belief - the true, Bible based, Jewish belief - as annihilationists insist, that souls did not continue after death but merely “slept” in the grave, why did Saul seek out a medium? Would he not have been taught all His life that souls are not conscious after a person dies? The opposite seems clear to me. That Saul understood a man’s soul continued after death and that he could attempt to communicate with it, something that was forbidden by God.

The Disciples and the Ghost

Moving to the NT, can it be shown that early Christians, in this case, the very disciples of Jesus, had an understanding of dualism and that souls of men continued after one’s death? Yes.

Consider the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. Two of the gospels, Matthew 14:26 and Mark 6:49, record that when Jesus came to the disciples walking on the stormy seas of Galilee at night, their immediate reaction upon seeing Jesus was fright, because they believed they were seeing a ghost. The word used by the biblical writers to describe what the disciples believed they saw is phantasma, which is understood to be a “spectre” or “apparition.” What we would call a ghost.

Why would they believe this? I guess we could say they had been “influenced” by Greek philosophy, for Plato certainly lived a few hundred years before the disciples. Maybe they “read” Plato or perhaps came under the influence of Hellenist Jews. But really? Old Testament believing, synagogue attending Jews who longed for the coming of the Messiah were influenced by Plato? No. They believed Jesus was a ghost because they believed the conscious souls of men continued after death, that’s why.

Also, consider the words of the resurrected Lord to His disciples in Luke 24:39 "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." Again, Jesus addresses a common belief the disciples must have had. That being, humans are body and spirit and the spirit can exist consciously apart from the body. Why would Jesus even raise this comparison if men did not have souls? It would be absurd. Rather, in order to dispel the notion that Jesus is just a spirit, or ghost, He contrasts His resurrected body with that of what would be known as spirit. His assumption is that spirits exist apart from a body, because spirits are obviously non-material. Jesus, however, is not “just a ghost,” but tells the disciples He really rose bodily from the dead.

The Richman and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 is the undeniable biblical passage teaching us men will exist as conscious, spiritual entities after the body dies. Jesus teaches that the righteous go to the presence of the Lord and the unrighteous to a place of torment. Annihilationists and soul sleepers are hard pressed to interpret this story. I have read a variety of views from various annihilationist and conditionalist sources, and regardless of their conclusions as to what they believe this story is telling us, they all have to appeal to convoluted exegesis in order to explain away the ramifications of the details.

Even laying aside the debate as to whether this is just a parable or a description about real people the Lord knew in eternity, the one question overlooked by those who reject dualism and the consciousness of the soul after death is, why would Jesus make up a false story regarding something that is fundamentally a lie in order to illustrate divine truth?

If the dualist is correct, man is not body and soul, and the conditionalist is correct, the soul of man is not immortal and is not conscious after death, then they are faced with explaining why our Lord and Savior appealed to what they claim is heresy, the conscious soul of the dead continuing in the afterlife, in order to teach a spiritual truth. All of the so-called “problems” annihilationists claim this story generates, like the tormented being able to see into the realm of the righteous and even communicate with that side, are really irrelevant. The Lord of glory is still telling a parable that clearly teaches dualism and the conscious existence of the soul after death. Either Jesus is telling us the truth about the afterlife, or He (who describes Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life,” John 14:6) is appealing to heresy to present spiritual truth. For He never once clarifies this as heresy if He is.

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Blogger keo said...

Fred, it isn't just "one particular annihilationist challenger" who believes that Greek philosophy influenced the later Christian conception of a soul-body duality. These quotes are from the Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, and I don't believe the editors have an annihilationist ax to grind:

"The early Christian philosophers adopted the Greek concept of the soul’s immortality and thought of the soul as being created by God and infused into the body at conception."

"The early Hebrews apparently had a concept of the soul but did not separate it from the body, although later Jewish writers developed the idea of the soul further. Biblical references to the soul are related to the concept of breath and establish no distinction between the ethereal soul and the corporeal body. Christian concepts of a body-soul dichotomy originated with the ancient Greeks and were introduced into Christian theology at an early date by St. Gregory of Nyssa and by St. Augustine."

soul. (2011). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/555149/soul

Not to say that the Jews weren't aware of a belief in dualism before Plato and others. Their pagan neighbors certainly held this view; the Egyptians even believed in a dual soul (same Britannica article). The question is whether the Lord revealed through his word that man has an immortal soul, separate from the body. Or did he mainly reveal that to the pagans for the first several thousand years? Nothing in the garden of Eden about God warning Adam that his immortal soul would be tortured for eternity if he ate the fruit, or Moses warning the people from Sinai that they would go to hell if they broke the commandments? Nothing clear and unambiguous like that? If not, it should make us pause and ask why not.

Interesting line of argument about ghosts (although it points up the lack of a clear verse that says we have an immortal soul separate from the body); however ... your first four references from Leviticus and Isaiah about consulting mediums prove only that these folk existed, but state neither that they were able to actually talk to dead souls nor that there are dead souls which can answer. Do you really believe that the dead can answer, or speak to the living? Is this found in the NT, for example? Or in the world today? I don't think so.

Your fifth reference, Isaiah 29:4, says nothing about mediums, but only that the city Ariel (not a dead human) will speak from the earth -- whatever that means. And did it? Can dead cities speak with a voice? Perhaps there is a poetic device at work here, rather than a literal statement, do you suppose?

Which leaves us with the odd story about the witch of Endor (maybe a once-only, as you said), the Lazarus parable (which Robert Morey acknowledges was a familiar story of the day) and Jesus chiding his disciples for believing in ghosts. Don't forget the "Jewish fables" in Titus 1:14. You may think the Jews made it through the centuries of exile in pagan lands and without a prophet of the Lord all without picking up any of their neighbors' superstitions, but I don't think that requires much imagination. Look how badly they got it right when they had the prophets....

Read the other Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphal writings from that period. All sorts of crazy stuff there -- that would have been familiar to working class stiffs, from which most of Apostles were numbered. Is it really that hard to believe that, when faced with a dead man or a man walking on water, that half-believed lore might suddenly seem plausible?

"Hey, you ninnies, I'm not a ghost," Jesus says, and you want to build a doctrine of ghosts or souls on that? Fun stuff, but I think you're stretching it.

1:56 PM, May 18, 2011  
Blogger Ronnie said...

"So in other words, human beings are not born with souls."

Huh? The source you quoted said nothing about souls. Conditionalism per se makes no claim about whether or not humans are composed of both body and soul.

While it is true that many conditionalists (such as myself) also affirm physicalism and mortalism, the three issues are in fact distinct. Some conditionalists are also dualists, and some of those affirm a conscious intermediate state.

4:31 PM, May 18, 2011  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

Matthew 22:32‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

11:26 PM, May 18, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Just so we are clear: the Britanica doesn't want to prove annihilation any more than they do representing what Scripture teaches authoritatively.

It may be that there wasn't a full understanding of heaven/hell, body/soul or whatever in the OT. Like I pointed out in a previous discussion, there wasn't a full understanding of the Trinity, either, or the NT Church, or Christ's work of salvation. Those things were made clear in the NT. Do you deny or question those items as well?

I personally want to see you interact with what I said about Luke 16. Did Jesus lie or fabricate a heresy by teaching a parable about two men who existed consciously after death? Why would he do such a thing?

Though it may be true, as you point out from Morey, that the Lazarus story is a familiar parable of the day, Morey also noted, "What is important to grasp is that Christ used the mental images conjured up by this rabbinic parable to teach that, in the hereafter, the wicked experience torment and the righteous bliss."

6:49 AM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Fred. Not all anahilationists believe man is without a spiritual component that survives death - though obviously some do. Now, I am NOT a conditionalist, but I do think that to treat all conditionalists as physicalists is a mistake - it would be like treating all dispensationalists as Progressive Dispensationalists. Indeed many of the earliest advocates of the view, such as Edward White, a British pastor, taught that there was a sort of hell, and that the souls of the damned would be punished there in accordance with their sins, but then would cease to exist. So future, conscious, but not eternal punishment. This was in his book 'Life in Christ'.

6:51 AM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Ronnie and HH,
Thanks for the clarification. I wasn't meaning to say all annihilationists deny the existence of the soul. Sorry it came across that way.

I will say, as Ronnie points out, pretty much all annihilationists (which are for the most part cultists, a fact that gets overlooked in these discussions) deny the dual nature of man.

6:56 AM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger keo said...

Fred, my point with the Britannica article is that this is a common view among the academic community -- those who understand and teach Greek philosophy, for example. The Jewish concept of the integrated nature of man has also been taught in orthodox, Biblical seminaries, for at least the last 50 years, so it isn't a half-baked belief of just the annihilationist fringe or the godless encyclopedia editors.

Respected theologian NT Wright presented a fascinating paper in March on the dualism question, focusing on the NT texts, by the way: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_SCP_MindSpiritSoulBody.htm I'm sure you have a problem with some of NTW's stuff, but he is no annihilationist. It's a fascinating read.

I do believe in the Trinity and the rest of your list, although church history shows that the Trinity was unclear enough in scripture to prevent the church arguing about it for 300 years. To be clear, I'm not an annihilationist. I'm just trying to understand where you're coming from but not finding your proofs convincing. If you want to say you believe in dualism on faith or because that is what people you respect have told you, that is one thing. If you want to defend it as Biblical and accuse other Christians of heresy for disagreeing, then I think you need much better support.

Regarding Luke 16, I already gave some of my thoughts in your "Hells Bells" post. You moved on without explaining the hermeneutic for interpreting parables correctly, by which you can ignore some of the details (such as the dead on both sides of the chasm being able to talk together, having fingers to dip in water, tongues to be cooled, etc.). I said that parables have a specific point; the rest of the details (literally true or not) serve the intended purpose. If I make a point about the afterlife by telling a "A man walks up to St. Peter at the pearly gates" story, you wouldn't interpret that I am teaching a doctrine about St. Peter; you would understand that I am using a familiar idiom to set the context for my actual point. and really, this wouldn't be the only time Jesus baits his antagonists with bits of their own false doctrine, right?

Jesus' punchline of this parable (again, already known at the time, not original to Jesus, probably not literally true if others somehow already knew about this conversation going on in Sheol....) shows the focus: slamming the Pharisees for ignoring Moses, the Prophets and (soon) Jesus own resurrection as proofs of Jesus being the Messiah. Immaterial souls existing apart from their bodies (fingers and tongues, remember) is obviously not Jesus' point here. Morey's quote addresses the question of judgment in the afterlife, not dualism, by the way. Not the same thing.

If we want to try to extract a soul doctrine from this parable, though it would be missing the real point, the more obvious claim would be that Jesus never says "Lazarus' soul" or "the rich man's soul" using any of the spirit/soul synonyms you haven't clarified from my question in your previous post. Rather, it's just Lazarus, Abraham, the rich man -- still in possession of bodies, too, somehow, though you said that doesn't happen until the Resurrection. The person is the person, integrated rather than dualistic. There is no mention of any duality whatsoever.

What I'd like you to interact with is the question of how the Greeks and pagans wound up with all their knowledge about dualism and hell, well before the time of Christ and while Moses and the Prophets were silent on it. That might clarify why many of the church Fathers' writings on the immortality of the soul echo the writings of pagan philosophy.

9:22 AM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger Ronnie said...

I will say, as Ronnie points out, pretty much all annihilationists deny the dual nature of man.

I did not say this. I said that many do. Perhaps most do. It is not correct to say "pretty much all" do.

which are for the most part cultists, a fact that gets overlooked in these discussions

Overlooked? Traditionalists make this irrelevant claim all the time. There are many non-"cultists" who affirm conditionalism. But even if there were none, that would have literally no bearing on whether or not the view is correct.

9:45 AM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

So you're not an annihilationist? This wrangling with me on whether the Bible teaches a body and soul dichotomy and the existence of the soul in the afterlife is just playing a "devil's advocate" exercise for your postmodern bents?

Before even going on any further, tell me how you defend the biblical view of heaven, hell, body and soul? I mean, if my attempts are inadequate and unconvincing you must have a much better way, right?

10:40 AM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Ronnie, you originally wrote,

"While it is true that many conditionalists (such as myself) also affirm physicalism and mortalism, the three issues are in fact distinct. Some conditionalists are also dualists, and some of those affirm a conscious intermediate state."

I understand they are distinct, but I guess I don't understand why? The mortalists I have encountered don't define the soul as a dualist would, a distinct, separate part of the whole of man that can exist consciously from the body. Would these folks you claim hold to some form of dualism affirm this?

Ronnie states,
Traditionalists make this irrelevant claim all the time. There are many non-"cultists" who affirm conditionalism.

Irrelevant claim? Seriously? Name me one denomination that has historically affirmed annihilationism that would even have this belief codified in the creeds they affirm? That is recognized by other orthodox groups as being orthodox? You want to define this issue as some "secondary" thing that divides amillennialists from premillennialists, but it is not.

You don't think it is problematic that annihilationism almost exclusively circulates among heretical groups like the SDA and the JWs and is embraced by fringe individuals, especially among the emergent crowds and open theists, who have it in for the so-called "traditionalists"? There is something to clearly say about such identifications.

11:48 AM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger keo said...

Fred: No, I'm not playing devil's advocate. I'm trying to engage in a dialog on the issue, hoping that your arguments will refine my thoughts and unexamined assumptions -- even if you don't gain or seek to gain from the conversation. You don't see any merit to any of the points I've already raised or questions I've asked? Nothing that prompts some new thoughts or pushes you to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures? Because that's what I was hoping to get out of the exchange with a fellow Christian, not a hostile debate.

Frankly, I'm surprised that you would lump everyone who isn't sold on Platonist dualism in with all annihilationists. Surely there must be more than just those two positions. And to jump in on your exchange with Ronnie, are you bundling John Stott and FF Bruce with the JWs and the "fringe"? And isn't your view of SDA a bit outdated? I believe my 1992 edition of Walter Martin's Kingdom of the Cults acknowledges that they are no longer a cult. Are Walter Martin (and now editor Ravi Zacharias) also on the wrong side of the fence? I think Ronnie is correct that the merits of a belief should be evaluated independently of who holds those views. There are some twisted folk out there with some very traditional beliefs, but that doesn't make their beliefs wrong. Believing in annihilationism doesn't necessarily make one a JW any more than believing in a body-soul duality makes one a pagan Greek or believing in progressive revelation makes one a Mormon.

As for demanding that I defend heaven, hell, the soul, etc., I think you must be joking. I'm already clocking 500+ words on some of my comments, just trying to get somewhere on the limited scope of the original post here. Show me where the comments I've made are wrong so I have some context for trying to clarify. Thanks.

1:18 PM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger Ronnie said...

Would these folks you claim hold to some form of dualism affirm this?

Some would (minus the "consciously" qualifier, obviously). Just about all physicalists are mortalists, but not all mortalists are physicalists. Some are dualists who believe that when the body dies the soul goes dormant until the body is raised, ergo "soul sleep". These days, most mortalists are probably conditionalists, but there have been mortalists who affirm the traditional view of hell (e.g. Tyndale). Some conditionalists (or "annihilationists") are neither mortalists nor physicalists (e.g. John Stott).

Irrelevant claim? Seriously?

Yes, seriously.

Name me one denomination that has historically affirmed annihilationism . . .

Aside from SDA, I can't. I don't determine truth by counting votes, and I'm not Catholic. This question could be asked (and was asked) of the Anabaptists regarding their view of baptism. Is that evidence that their view was false?

You want to define this issue as some "secondary" thing that divides amillennialists from premillennialists, but it is not.

When did I say such a thing? I don't particularly care to categorize this issue as "primary", "secondary" or even "tertiary". The only thing that really concerns me is the truth of the matter.

That being said, most contemporary evangelical defenders of eternal torment (and I believe I'm familiar with most of them) affirm that this issue is not essential or something that Christians should divide over. Now, I'm not overly interested in what their opinion of this is, but you seem to care much about what the majority thinks, so there you have it.

You don't think it is problematic that annihilationism almost exclusively circulates among heretical groups . . .

That's simply false. But even if it were true, it would not be problematic. At the very most, it might cause to a person to question why that's the case, but it would play almost literally no role in actually determining whether or not the view is true.

Associating conditionalism with scary words like "heretical," "cultists," and "fringe" in an attempt to score rhetorical points against the view is just frivolous and quite frankly tiresome. Fortunately, most traditionalists who are interested in seriously engaging the issues don't waste their time with stuff like that.

3:58 PM, May 19, 2011  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

5:39 PM, May 19, 2011  

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