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.