PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY:
Constable begins his book with this premise “my arguments from scripture must be overthrown from that source.” His challenge and appeal to his readers are that they will take God’s word for what it says. He says that many arguments have been mounted against him but they have been philosophical and not theological. On that note, he quickly introduces the teaches of Plato and compares them to what scripture says to reveal the difference. He says:
The Bible speaks of death as the end of life.
Plato speaks of death as a transition to another form of living.
Scripture teaches the resurrection of the physical body.
Plato teaches the escape of the physical body.
It is here where many Christians then have a problem that they do not even realise. If there is a disembodied state and humans live on disembodied as either a spirit or soul, at the resurrection this spirit or soul must reanimate or re-enter the body. Scripture, however, talks of bodies that are raised, and it never speaks of the idea of a reunion between body and soul. Scripture does speak in a few places of God’s spirit raising people, and Jesus back to life but the spirit is not the person it is either the Holy Spirit or the breath of life that animates a person to give them life. Constable contrasts this with well know theologian John Wesley whom he quotes as once saying, “I am now an immortal spirit.”
Constable then spends time explaining the Biblical use of the words neshemah, ruach, nephesh, pneuma and psuche. He explains that both animals and people are called nephesh and psuche and both of these terms are used to speak of death. In addition, neshemah, ruach, and pneuma the breath or spirit of God also resides in both animals and people. He distinguishes that while the essence of God is ruach, the essence of man is dust from the earth. Man is given breath to sustain life but it is not his, it is a gift on loan that returns to God at death. Constable states it is “not the essential property of man, but the essential property of God.” He goes on to say “man is not the spirit, but only has the Spirit of God within him. It is, therefore, a possession which may be withdrawn from him. This is reflected in both the death of Stephen and Jesus when they entrust their spirit to God for safekeeping.
Constable appeals to the fact that scripture talks about the dead body being the person and never the ‘spirit’ that left them. If this were the case, he says, we would have two different people. He also draws the reader’s attention to the words ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ which are distinct and should not be confused as the same thing. This is a critical point, especially for the modern reader who tends to conflate the two. Many Christians, when stretched on this topic, will mix and match these words simply as a result of the lack of Biblical knowledge of the vocabulary.
Language of the Soul:
Constable provides some of his most persuasive arguments in his chapter on the “psyche” in the New Testament. Here he shows that the Biblical authors and Jesus himself use the word psuche in occasions that refer to the death of the psuche. If Jesus thought the soul was immortal there is no way he would have used such language that connected the soul with mortality. Next, he draws attention to the blatant mistranslation of the word in the English texts. Below are just three of the scriptural examples he uses.
“For whoever wishes to save his life (psuche) will lose it; but whoever loses his life (psuche) for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul (psuche)? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul (psuche)?”
“And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life (psuche) or to kill?” But they kept silent.”
“When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives (psuche), but to save them.” And they went on to another village.”
What is pointed out is that the word psuche is translated life when it becomes evident that a psuche can die in context. This becomes very clear especially in Mathew 16:25-26 where the same word is used four times in context and is translated life in one instance and soul in another.
Constable next moves on to the Biblical language of Sheol and Hades. The author shows how our English translations of multiple words have helped lead to the confusion about the Biblical languages. The word Hell has become a catch-all for various Biblical words that have different meanings. For example, Sheol and Hades are always spoken of as a place associated with death. Sheol is never spoken of as a place of judgement or punishment, which is often attributed to the English word Hell. The mistranslation of words has led to Sheol and Hades being not a place of death but a place of life also associated with Paradise or Abraham’s Bosom. Sheol is spoken of as a place where all the dead go both righteous and wicked. Through careful scriptural investigation, Constable shows that Job, Jacob, Moses, and David all expected to go to Sheol. The author appeals to Christ’s death himself as the model for our death and resurrection. He says “it is a strange doctrine which should teach that believers since the resurrection of Christ resemble their Lord neither in death nor resurrection.” He makes the argument that “souls go on death to Hades (the grave) and remain there until the resurrection.” He then appeals to Hosea 13:4 and 1 Corinthians 15:15 to show that we will be ransomed from death at the resurrection not before.
Timing of Judgment:
Constable’s essential argument in this section of the book is that there can be no judgment of man until the resurrection. The teaching of an intermediate state, however, moves the timing of judgment to the time of death. Judgment in this view of the afterlife becomes an individual experience which contradicts what scripture says about it being a corporate experience when Christ returns to earth.
Sleep of Death:
In this chapter, the author says “we never read that a man sleeps as to his body, while he is wakeful and conscious as a soul”. Instead, what we read is that over and over again, scripture describes the entire person as sleeping in death. Scripture includes a ‘who’s who’ list of characters including Job, Moses, David, Daniel, Jesus and Paul to name a few, that all talked about death as sleep or expected to experience the ‘sleep of death’. Also, Paul does not reassure the church in his letters that their loved ones have passed from life to death and again on into a blissful intermediate state of existence. He instead describes those that have fallen asleep in Christ and are awaiting the resurrection to new life.
Concerning the resurrection, Constable says, “the popular doctrine of the intermediate state renders the second coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead, meaningless and purposeless things to all who have died in the faith of Christ.” Stated another way he says that “only that can rise which dies. If the true man does not die, the true man cannot rise.” If he is right and the true man is a spirit or soul that leaves the body and never dies then we can never fully say we will be truly resurrected. It is only a body that is not completely us that comes back to life instead of the person themselves.
The book closes with the discussion of three potential problem texts that are often appealed to in support of both the intermediate state and the immortal soul.
- Dives and Lazarus
Constable begins by reminding the reader that the text in question is a parable and if it is to be taken literally, the entire story must be taken literally. He then goes on to remind us that Jesus spoke only in parables to the crowds according to scripture. If that is not enough, the context itself reflects the previous parables before it. Constable reminds the reader that judgment and punishment are not said to take place in Sheol or Hades, so this would be the single exception in the entire Bible. Instead, we should do the text justice by focusing on the main thrust of the text, which is the denial of an intermediate state and the affirmation of the resurrection.
- The Penitent Thief
In addressing this text, the author reveals the debate over where the comma should be placed concerning the word ‘today’ and if it refers to the day the phrase was spoken or the day promised to the thief in Paradise. He then moves on to show that the word Paradise is a physical, earthly, corporeal word that shows up in Genesis and Revelation and is not a place of disembodied souls. Finally, any argument for what Paradise means should also involve the reality that the Tree of Life is also said to be there.
- Paul’s desire to depart
The last text addressed focuses on the anthropology of Paul. Here Constable reflects on several of Paul’s writings but reveals that his eschatology and anthropology would be best filtered through Paul’s most extensive treatment on the topic which is found in 1 Corinthians 15. The text at hand is explained by appealing to the earthly house as being the current body, nakedness is a metaphor for death, and the heavenly house being clothed with immortality at the resurrection. Constable also appeals to the idea of sleep, explaining that Paul could look forward to an immediate expectation of experiencing the presence of God because he didn’t expect to experience time between death and resurrection.
This has been an enjoyable book to read overall. The author writes very well and engages the reader with well thought out arguments that include large amounts of scriptural support. Constable presents great arguments from scripture and challenges his readers that if they are to be refuted, it must be done with scripture and not philosophy. I would highly recommend this book on the topic of conditional immortality. It has been one of my favourites to date.