What is Conditional Immortality?

“Conditional Immortality” is an unfortunately cumbersome piece of jargon that refers to a fairly simple belief: That human beings are mortal, and can only receive immortality on the condition that God gives it to them as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ.

Conditional immortality begins with an understanding of the nature of humanity as revealed in Scripture. According to the Genesis account the first man was formed out of the dust of the ground, then God breathed life into him and he became a living soul (Gen 2:7).

dust + breath of life = living soul

The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which has been variously translated as being, life, soul, creature, etc but is never equivalent to the Greek/Platonic concept of the soul as an immaterial invisible immortal being, and instead refers to us as whole beings, and to the various aspects of our being such as heart, strength etc. (In fact the KJV translates nephesh in 44 different ways!) The same word is used for the animals (e.g. Gen 1:21,24 “living creatures” = living “Souls”). Thus conditional immortality regards each human as a unit, a soul, comprised of the dust of the earth and the life-giving breath of God, and not as a combination of two or three separate entities (body, soul and spirit).

This leads to an understanding of death which also takes the term quite literally. If you take away the body, or the breath of life, there is no longer a living soul. The same word translated soul is sometimes used to refer to a dead body (e.g. Numbers 9:6 and elsewhere, where the nephesh is said to be dead), rather than a kind of “ghost” that has left the body.

Death = extinction

When a person dies he or she returns to the dust and the spirit (or breath of life) returns to God (Psalm 104:29). The Bible often uses the imagery of death as “sleep”, a sleep that only God can awake us from (e.g. Job 3:13; 14:12, Psalm 13:3; 22:29, Daniel 12:2, 1 Cor 15:20).

This waking or resurrection is a future event. The Apostle Paul writes, “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Cor 15:22,23)The Bible speaks of everyone being raised from the dead (John 5:28), but with two possible outcomes. The first is eternal life, or immortality. The second is the “second death” (Rev 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8). Conditional immortality presents these two fates literally. One is life and the other is death. The second death equals destruction (Matt 7:13; 10:28, Phil 3:19, 2 Thes 1:9, 2:3), or perishing (Luke 13:3,5; John 3:16; Rom 2:12; 2 Peter 3:9) but not eternal torment. This is not to say that the punishment is not eternal (since eternal destruction is indeed eternal), only that it is not eternal torture. It is not that we don’t believe in “hell” (a popular misconception). Our understanding is that the Bible speaks of final punishment in terms of of final and irreversible destruction.

Eternal Punishment = Destruction

It should be fairly obvious that we centre all our hope in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

We believe that the sacrificial death of Jesus is our only hope of forgiveness (Matt 26:28, Luke 24:47, Acts 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18, Eph 1:7, Col l:14).

We believe that Jesus’ ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit are our only hope of true change within us in this life (Rom 12:2; John 14:26; Rom 15:16; Titus 3:5).

We believe there is nothing immortal in us in and of ourselves, therefore Jesus is our only hope for eternal life (1 Cor 15:53,54; 1 Tim 6:16; 2 Tim 1:10).

We believe that when we die we return to the ground, therefore our only hope is the return of Jesus Christ when we will be raised from the grave (Gen 3:19; Job 21:23-26; John 5:25-29; 1 Cor 15:20-23). Immortality then, is “conditional”, we can only receive it from God as a gift.

The hope for the dead lies in the Second Coming (1 Cor 15:22-23, 1 Thess 4:13-18). We look forward to the return of Christ as the time when the dead will be raised and judged and rewarded or punished.

 

 

Glenn

About Dr. Glenn Andrew Peoples

Dr. Glenn Peoples runs Right Reason, a popular blog featuring the Say Hello to my Little Friend podcast on theology, philosophy and social issues. You can also find him at Rethinking Hell