Someone once asked me…. “Does it matter?” He was referring to conditional immortality. Is this an issue of personal preference or an essential and important doctrinal issue? Certainly, some are not happy with the concept of conditional immortality even though it is rapidly gaining interest amongst some evangelicals.
To answer this question we have to answer another question. Is the idea of conditional immortality supported by Scripture? If the answer is yes, then it does matter. Briefly, the argument for conditional immortality goes like this. Only God has immortality1 and Jesus came to grant immortality through the Gospel.2 In addition, nowhere in the Bible does it say that man has an immortal soul, is an immortal soul or naturally avoids death. The proof of this is in the fall of Man. God clearly stated that the end of man was the dissolution of the body.3 Nowhere in Genesis does God say that man naturally survived this dissolution as some sort of being who existed in an afterlife realm. The proof of this is what Jesus said about death and life. Jesus’ major focus on these issues was about believing and avoiding death through the resurrection.4 In support of this was Paul’s teaching who clearly stated that the mechanism for eternal life is a new incorruptible body in the resurrection, and the fact that nowhere does Paul suggest that man survives death without the resurrection of this new body.5
Therefore, the essential elements of conditional immortality states that only God is immortal; man is mortal and subject to death by dissolution of the body; the answer to man’s problem of death is the resurrection of the body from the dead; therefore, immortality is eternal life in the bodily resurrection of the dead.
We now have to consider the antithesis of the above arguments. If man is naturally immortal, then he doesn’t really die, but must continue to exist in some sort of afterlife realm of existence; this would mean that Jesus’ offer of eternal life through the resurrection of the dead and Paul’s insistence that immortality only begins with the provision of a new body are incongruous ideas.
Which point of view makes the most sense Biblically? The view that states that man is an immortal being who does not die although he comes back to life in the resurrection; or the view that states that man is mortal and is dependent upon God to bring him back to life in the resurrection to receive a new body and new bodily existence.
I would have to agree with the biblical view that man is mortal. He requires a rescue from death. That, according to the Apostle Paul, required a new incorruptible body in the resurrection. It does matter. Conditional immortality strongly supports the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Natural immortality therefore undermines the significance of the resurrection. If I were an immortal being who does not really die; if I am a soul that escapes this body at death, then why would I have to wait for the resurrection of a new body? Would it not be easier to assign a new body immediately after death? Paul’s hope was always the defeat of death through the bodily resurrection from the dead.6 This does not happen at death according to Paul, but at the end of the age when both those who are living and those who are dead are raised up and transformed.78
If we choose to oppose the idea of conditional immortality, we are likely opposing the very fabric of Jesus and Paul’s teaching that God grants immortality in the bodily resurrection of the dead. This does matter.
- 1 Timothy 6:16
- 2 Timothy 1:10
- Genesis 3:19
- John 11:25
- 1 Corinthians 15:53
- Philippians 3:11
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
- 1 Corinthians 15:50-57