From, “What Is Conditional Immortality?” (Miscellaneous Comparisons with the Greek Doctrine of Natural Immortality) by Pastor Sidney A. Hatch, Brief Bible Studies: Vol. 20, No. 2, p.9-18.
Many times, over the years, I have remarked to people that I believe in conditional immortality. However, oftentimes, the response has simply been, “What is conditional immortality?” Perhaps, then, a few words of explanation will be in order.
There are, essentially, only two views of man’s nature, the primitive Biblical view, and the ancient philosophical view. The primitive Biblical view is the foundation of the doctrine of conditional immortality. The ancient philosophical view may be called natural or innate immortality.
Natural or innate immortality says that man is born with something immortal in him. Conditional immortality says just the opposite, there is nothing in man that is immortal.
Natural immortality says that this something in man lives on after death. It may be called “soul, spirit, ghost,” or something else, but it lives on as a conscious, thinking, immaterial entity.
Conditional immortality says that nothing lives on after death. The body returns to dust, and the “spirit” or “breath of life” returns to God who gave it (Eccles. 12:7). This spirit or breath of life is not a person or conscious entity. Rather, it is simply the life-force in man.
Natural immortality says that after death, during the so-called intermediate state, man’s “soul” or “immaterial entity” goes somewhere. Christians who profess faith in natural immortality say the soul goes to heaven, hell, or purgatory.
Others suggest various places (and here the doctrine of natural immortality fragments into many pieces): Elysium, Valhalla, the underworld of hades, a happy hunting ground, etc., etc.
Still other believers in natural immortality solve the problem by saying that the soul is reincarnated in another living creature, a human being, or one of the lower animals.
Conditional immortality says that a “soul” is a person. During the immediate state, his resting place is the grave, and, as God Himself says, he returns to dust (Gen. 3:19). But the Scriptures also describe this immediate state as “sleep” (Jn. 11:11: Lk. 8:52; I Thess. 4:13). This is because it will be interrupted someday by the return of Christ and the resurrection (awakening) of the dead.
Natural immortality claims to believe in the resurrection of the dead. But, in reality, its resurrection is simply the reincarnation someday of a man’s “soul” or “ghost” in a body.
According to conditional immortality, resurrection is that great moment when a re-creation takes place. The individual is brought back from the dust and “formed alive” again (Jn. 5:21; Rom. 8:11; I Cor. 15:22).
Natural immortality says that in the eternal state “lost souls” live (burn) in the fires of hell forever. This idea is so incomprehensibly horrible that some believers in natural immortality tone it down to “eternal separation” from God.
Conditional immortality says that “death” means death, the loss and deprivation of all life (Rom. 6:23). Since there is no such thing as “an immortal soul,” there is no such thing as eternal torment. In the judgment, the lost person is simply destroyed. This is the meaning of “perish” in John 3:16. This is the “second death” (Rev. 20:14).
Conditional immortality recognises that such a thing as the eternal torment of humans never entered the mind of God (Jer. 7:31). It is contrary to His holiness which includes a perfect justice (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 7:9; Rom. 2:5; I Pet. 1:16).
Natural immortality says that “hell” is a spirit-world of the dammed. “Sheol” and “hades” are regions of sorrow where the wicked are fully conscious. Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom where the refuse of Jerusalem was burned, denotes or signifies the place of eternal torment. Eternal torment, we are told, is the second death.
Conditional immortality says that “hell,” that is “sheol” and “hades,” are the grave. The grave– not a spirit-world– is the realm of the dead. Gehenna represents the destruction of the wicked, not their eternal torment.
Natural immortality creates a problem for itself when it says that the second death is eternal torment or eternal separation from God. Christ died for our sins, but He did not endure eternal torment. Who, then, has fully paid the penalty for sin? No one, according to natural immortality.
Conditional immortality has no such problems. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3). Full atonement has been made! The blood [=death] of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (I Jn. 1:7).
Throughout history, natural immortality has had a tragic effect on society, organized Christianity, and even the human psyche. Traditionally, believers in natural immortality have persecuted those who rejected their doctrines.
Queen Mary of England (“Bloody Mary,” 1516-1558) burned heretics at the stake. She argued that the “souls” of heretics are hereafter to be eternally burning in hell. Hence, she added, there can be nothing more proper than for her to imitate the divine vengeance by burning them on earth (J.H.Petingell, The Unspeakable Gift, p. 278).
Even today, I have observed, believers in natural immortality can become very upset, even angry, when told that there is no such thing as eternal torment. Why, we may ask, this inexplicable loyalty to such a horrible doctrine? Certainly Satan would rejoice in the eternal torment of a victim, but not God, or a child of God.
The doctrines of conditional immortality are conducive to a Christian life that is kind, loving, and tolerant. The God of the conditionalist is both just and merciful, not a monster or fiend operating a torture chamber for all eternity somewhere in the universe.
The conditionalist often finds himself in a “minority status.” He recognises the practical need for tolerance, that men may live together in peace, and have liberty to study the Scriptures.
Natural immortality says that a person’s eternal destiny is settled and begins at death. He therefore begins his punishment before he appears before God to be judged. Obviously, a judgment day has been reduced to a judicial farce. (Theories of a purgatory only serve to complicate this!)
Conditional Immortality says that future judgment for all men takes place after a resurrection from the dead. While there may be different judgments, they all take place after one is raised from the dead (I Cor. 15:21-28; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:4-6, 11-15).
Natural immortality says that salvation is by faith in Christ. However, by this it means that at death a Christian’s “soul” will go to heaven and not to hell. Christ is, therefore, the umpire or director of a great host of “immortal souls” which must, at death, travel through the invisible world, en route to heaven or hell.
Conditional immortality believes in salvation by faith in Christ. Christ alone is the worker of resurrection and the giver of immortal resurrection life (Jn. 11:25). At Christ’s return the believer is raised from the dead and given immortality. Conditional immortality is based on 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory [over death and the grave] through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Natural immortality does not know when a person receives his “immortal soul” or natural immortality. Is it handed down from generation to generation (“traducianism”)? Or is it created in the individual at conception, during pregnacy, or at birth (“creationism”)?
Conditional immortality knows exactly when a person receives immortality: It will be in the resurrection at the second coming of Christ– and not before. At that moment, this mortal will “put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:54).
Natural immortality cancels out the need for Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead. If there is no return of Christ and resurrection of the dead, it will still be all right, for the “soul” is enjoying the bliss of heaven!
Conditional immortality makes the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead an absolute imperative. It agrees with Paul that if the dead rise not, “then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (1 Cor. 15:16-18).
Natural immortality says that man is worth saving because he has an “immortal soul” or he is an “eternal spirit.” He offers to God his “immortal soul” as a head-start on immortality and eternal life. Thus natural immortality compromises the grace of God.
Conditional immortality says that man is made of the soil of the earth and is a “living soul” (Gen. 2:7), not an “immortal soul.” As Abraham said, man is “but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). He has nothing in himself to offer to God; he is utterly unworthy, both as to person and works (Isa. 64:6). He is completely dependent on Christ’s work on the cross, and God’s love and grace, to save him. Conditional immortality, therefore, is a message of pure grace.
Natural immortality exalts man to the point of blasphemy. The Scripture says that “[God] only hath immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). Thus natural immortality claims for man a divine attribute. It comes close to the sin of Lucifer who said, “I will be like the most High” (Isai. 14:14).
Natural immortality cannot claim that man received his immortality at creation. The Hebrew term for “living soul” is also used of all the other animals at creation. According to the Hebrew text, they too are “living souls” (Gen. 1:20-21, 24, 30; 2:19). They too have the same “breath of life” or “spirit” that was breathed into man (Gen. 7:22).
Nor can natural immortality claim that “image of God” means that man is, in some way, immortal. In Genesis 1:26, the Hebrew words for “image” and “likeness” (tzelem and demuth) refer to form, shape, or physical likeness, not to some spiritual or moral attribute in man. Compare also such passages as 1 Corithians 11:7 and James 3:9.
From, “What Is Conditional Immortality?” (Miscellaneous Comparisons with the Greek Doctrine of Natural Immortality) by Pastor Sidney A. Hatch, Brief Bible Studies: Vol. 20, No. 2, p.9-18.
Conditional Immortality recognises that only God has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16). It is an attribute of His essence or being. Any other creature or person that has immortality–or will have it–receives it from God. Jesus our Lord, the Son of God, received it at His resurrection from the dead.
Natural immortality opens the door to all sorts of vagaries, such as spiritualism, invocation of the saints, transmigration of souls, reincarnation, etc. If the dead are alive somewhere in the universe, perhaps man can communicate with them!
Conditional immortality closes the door on all such vagaries. The dead are totally unconscious in their graves. They “know not anything” (Eccles. 9:5); their thoughts have perished (Ps. 146:4).
Nevertheless, we shall see our loved ones again some day. This is very much a part of the hope of conditional immortality. However, this reunion will not be effected by our dying and going to heaven. Rather, it will be when Jesus comes to earth again: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Natural immortality is the very thing which the serpent in Eden offered to Eve: “Ye shall not surely die . . . ye shall be as gods (or God)” (Gen. 3:4-5). It is, essentially, that blindness with which “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Conditional immortality rejects the words of the serpent as a lie. By way of contrast, in the doctrine of conditional immortality, “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ . . . hath shined in our hearts” (2 Cor. 4:4,6). The gospel of Christ — life and immortality only through faith in Him — is utterly irreconcilable with the lie of the devil.
Natural immortality says that a Christian has the light of the gospel in his “soul” or immaterial entity; his “soul” has been “saved.” It identifies a person with his “soul,” the “soul” is of eternal worth. It is that part of a man which, through the brain, thinks.
Conditional immortality recognizes that we are “earthen vessels.” It identifies a person with his body. Christ, when raising the dead, spoke to the body, not to an immaterial entity. Man thinks in his brain, for God can create an instrument that thinks.
Conditional immortality or life only in Christ is, therefore, the light of the gospel. It is “this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7). We are the “earthen vessels”!
Natural immortality was the message of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They believed the Greek view of the immortality of the soul. Josephus tells us this.
Jesus believed and taught conditional immortality. He said that Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter were asleep (Jn. 11:11; Lk. 8:52). He said the dead are in the graves, whence they shall “come forth” (Jn. 5:28-29). He presented Himself as the only source of immortality (Jn. 11:25-26).
Natural immortality came into the western world, and eventually into Christendom, through the teachings of Greek philosophers, especially Plato and his successors. It was part of that original “modernism” (Greco-Roman philosophy) which corrupted early Christianity.
Plato believed and taught that men possessed a personal immortality. The human soul was both immortal and divine. In its disembodied state, it shared the life of the gods (article “Plato,” Encyclopaedia Britannica).
I have observed that believers in natural immortality sometimes have recourse to Plato when defending their views about “the soul.” They seem to be unaware of his personal life. The “Symposium,” which, we are told, is the key to Plato’s philosophy, is supposed to be about “love.” But it is all about homosexuality, especially pederasty (cf. John Jay Chapman, Lucian, Plato, and Greek Morals, pp. 121-36).
Conditional Immortality comes only from the Word of God. Its message may be found from Genesis to Revelation. It is the true “orthodoxy” or “fundamentalism” of Scripture. It is mindful of Paul’s warning, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit” (Col. 2:8).
Conditional immortality utterly rejects the views of Plato regarding the nature of man. It derives its views from pure and unquestionable sources: A holy God, His inspired Word, and a sinless Saviour.
Ironically, the views of natural immortality are sometimes described as “fundamentalism.” This is due to its emphasis on “soul salvation,” heaven or hell at death, eternal torment, etc. Actually, however, it is a contemporary version of that original modernism mentioned above.
Conditional immortality is called “heresy” by some, “liberalism” by others. This is because it takes the words of Scripture at face value, and does not impose on them a philosophical meaning. The gospel issue is really “life” or “death,” not better housing in eternity! “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Conditional immortality, then, is the true and original orthodoxy. It is an effort to lay aside those aspects of philosophy which have corrupted Christianity, and return to the simple truths of the Bible.
A fervent preaching of the doctrines of natural immortality can make a preacher or religious leader very popular. It may seem strange, but it is not to be unexpected. people like to be told that there is no death, it is only, as the poet Longfellow once wrote, “transition.” The naivete of Eve has never died away (1 Tim. 2:14).
In times of grief, natural immortality offers a momentary comfort. Death is portrayed as a “friend,” and the grave as the portal to glory. But in doing so, it forfeits the triumph of the Christian hope of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:57).
Conditional immortality, on the other hand, can produce a mixed response. In my own experience, no other message has provoked such varied reactions, from enthusiastic interest to open hostility.
After all, the devil hates this message. It contradicts his false but soothing doctrine, “Ye shall not surely die.” Opposition, as in Jesus’ day, can arise from those in position of leadership who are anxious to maintain the traditions of the elders.
Also, the preacher of conditionalism may expect to be misrepresented as a “soul sleeper” and annihilationist.” But the Scriptures simply say that the wicked will “perish” or be destroyed. And a “soul” or “ghost” does not sleep in death, people sleep! “Lazarus sleepeth,” Jesus said.
But there are great consolations, even moments of excitement, in presenting life and immortality only in Christ. It can be true today, as in Jesus’ day: “The common people heard him gladly” Mk. 12: 37). There will be those who prove to be “good ground.” They will hear the word, receive it, and bring forth fruit (Mk. 4:20).
The conditionalist pastor can look at his flock, and say, as Paul to the Ephesian elders, “I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” Acts 20:26-27). Conditional immortality is the gospel for the strong, not the fearful.
Conditional immortality recognises the truth of Paul’s words, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). John wrote that in the new heavens and new earth “there shall be no more death.” God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain (Rev. 21:4).
Conditional immortality is the only true Scriptural comfort in time of death. The dead are “asleep” and know nothing of the passage of time. Therefore, to die, and someday be in the resurrection, is like going to bed at night, and waking up in the morning. “Joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
There is another contrast between the doctrines of natural immortality and those of conditional immortality which should be mentioned: Natural immortality has two hopes, conditional immortality has one.
Natural immortality’s first hope is to go to heaven at death. Its second hope is to be re-embodied later at the return of Christ. Thus natural immortality tries to combine the Greek hope of immortal souls going somewhere at death with the Christian hope of resurrection.
Conditional immortality’s one hope is the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. This is in keeping with the principle established by Paul: “There is . . . one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4). Jesus said, “I will come again” (Jn. 14:3). The conditionalist waits patiently for Him.
There is “a great gulf fixed” between conditional immortality and natural immortality. They are actually two different religions. Yet there are those who lamely excuse themselves by asking. “Is it really important?” To this argument, we ask, “What communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14).
For the first few years of my ministry, I vigorously preached the doctrines of the natural immortality of man. But, through personal study of the Scriptures, God changed my heart and mind. It was then that someone informed me that my new faith was “conditional immortality.” The term was new to me, but I knew its message was true!