In Was Adam created immortal? Jefferson Vann examines the claim that our human ancestor was born with physical immortality.
We conditionalists are usually comfortable with the idea that our human ancestor Adam was created mortal, albeit with the possibility of achieving immortality. In other words, he was created mortal but immortable.
Arthur C. Custance
Canadian scientist Arthur C. Custance wrote an article in 1978 which challenged that view. His article was entitled “The theological necessity of the physical immortality of the first and the last Adam.”1 To my knowledge, the article has never been reviewed by an adherent to conditional immortality.
Custance began by quoting Romans 5:12, and asked a question about its implications “If physical death is the penalty of sin, would a sinless Adam and Eve have lived on and on forever, never experiencing physical death?”2 He restated the question as follows: “Did the fall actually introduce physical death as a thing entirely foreign to the experience of an unfallen race previously endowed with a potential for unending continuance, or did it merely shorten life, which was subject to certain natural limitations in any case?3
Custance argues that Adam would have continued to live forever simply by virtue of his being created immortal physically. He finds it “interesting that many who are willing to accept the idea of the inherent immortality of the human soul or spirit, a concept that owes more to Greek philosophers than to Scripture, find it difficult to accept the idea of a once inherent immortality of the human body, a concept that Scripture clearly implies in the Eden story.”4 He argues that numerous unicellular creatures never experience what we call natural death. In fact, many more complex animals and plants are quite resilient, and live very long lives. They might accidentally be killed, “but it is today not firmly established that they would die anyway in due course.”5
Custance concludes “that Adam and Eve as originally created could indeed have enjoyed a physical immortality such as the amoeba still has.”6 But that immortality is not exactly the same thing that is meant by the term as commonly used. It does not mean the inability to die, or be killed. It means the potential not to die or be killed. Thus, he does not seem to be drawing the line in the sand, dividing himself from conditionalists.
Custance reinforces his position theologically by quoting Christian and Jewish Rabbinical commentaries. He also argues that unless Adam had physical immortality in the beginning, the threat of losing it would make no sense.
physical nature alone?
But the Genesis record nowhere makes the distinction which Custance makes between physical and spiritual immortality. If Adam had any kind of immortality in the beginning (even if it was only potential immortality) why insist that this potential applied to his physical nature alone?
Also, there was much more to Custance’s argument. He claimed that Adam could have eventually “graduated” to a higher plane of existence had he not sinned. This would have allowed Adam to break free from the confines of earthly space, and his progeny after him could have done the same thing, solving the problem of overpopulation caused by their obedience to the command to be fruitful and multiply.
Jesus as the Second Adam
Custance also claimed that Jesus was born with the same option that Adam was created with, and that Jesus could have ascended to heaven in just such a graduation on the Mount of Transfiguration. According to Custance, Jesus chose death rather than the joy of “graduation” that was his for the taking. He did this because unless the Lord Jesus could voluntarily embrace death he could not be a substitute, and unless his physical constitution was truly representative of Adam’s constitution as unfallen and therefore of man as God made him, he could not be a substitute for man.”7
If I were to rewrite Custance’s work there are two things I would definitely change, as a conditionalist. First, I would make it clear that if Adam had any kind of immortality at his original creation it was potential, conferred, and conditional. Second, instead of latching onto the Rabbinical concept of “graduation” as the goal of human existence, I would used a much more common and biblical term: resurrection. When Jesus promised his followers permanent life, he also told them when their permanent lives would start. He said he would raise them on the last day.8 That – and not graduating to a higher plane of existence – is the hope defined in the Christian gospel.
A Selective Bibliography
Custance, Arthur C. Was Adam Evolved or Created?: Does It Really Matter? Hants, England: Evolution Protest Movement, 1960.
Custance, Arthur C. The Unique Relationship between the First and the Last Adam. Ottawa: [publisher not identified], 1962.
Custance, Arthur C. Man and Adam in Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Publ. House, 1979.
Custance, Arthur C. Fall Was Down (The). Brockville: Doorway Publications, 1988.
Custance, Arthur C. First and the Last Adam (The). Brockville: Doorway Publications, 1989.
Custance, Arthur C. If Adam Had Not Died. Brockville: Doorway Publications, 1989.
1 JETS 21/4 (December 1978) 297-303.
2 Custance, 297.
3 Custance, 297.
4 Custance, 297.
5 Custance, 299.
6 Custance, 299.
7 Custance, 303.
8 John 6:39, 40, 44, 54.