Inherent Immortality or Resurrection—Which?
We invite you to examine carefully the series of four articles beginning on this page. They present the Bible’s viewpoint on what happens to the soul at death, the resurrection, God’s day of judgment and the final tribulation, tying these in with the Kingdom theme of God’s Word.
EACH March or April over a quarter of the inhabitants of the earth celebrate Easter, which is called the “feast of Christ’s resurrection.” This means, therefore, that the millions who commemorate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday are actually expressing hope in their eventually being raised from the dead. Yet, strange to say, most of these people do not believe that life after death depends on the resurrection, but, rather, on the survival of their “immortal soul.”
Hundreds of millions of other people, who do not celebrate Easter, also believe that their hope of life after death depends, not on a resurrection, but on the survival of their “soul.” All these people, both inside and outside Christendom, obviously feel that there must be something after their short span of life on earth. They would feel frustrated to think that man lives and dies like an animal. Their desire for a future life is quite natural. Perhaps you share that desire. But how is life after death possible?
Life After Death—How?
The “sacred books” of various religions in most cases offer two solutions to this problem. Some such books tell of the automatic survival of the “soul,” or the “spirit,” of a dead person. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that the dead are brought back to life by means of a resurrection.—Hebrews 11:17-19; Luke 20:37, 38; John 5:28, 29; 11:24.
That Oriental religions should teach the automatic survival of the “soul,” or the “spirit,” is not surprising, for reliable history shows this belief to be of Eastern origin. The ancient Babylonians believed in an underworld peopled by the souls of the dead under the god Nergal and the goddess Eresh-kigal. The ancient Egyptians also believed in the immortality of the soul, and had their own “underworld.” They worshiped Osiris as “god of the dead.” Like the Egyptians, the ancient Persians believed in a “weighing of souls” after death. Many ancient Greek philosophers adopted this Eastern concept of an immortal soul, it being finally defined by Plato in the fourth century B.C.E.
What is surprising is that Judaism and the religions of Christendom should have adopted the idea that future life is dependent upon having an immortal soul. This simply is not a Bible teaching, as The Concise Jewish Encyclopedia (1980) reveals: “The Bible does not state a doctrine of the immortality of the soul, nor does this clearly emerge in early [Jewish] rabbinical literature. . . . Eventually the belief that some part of the human personality is eternal and indestructible became part of the rabbinical creed and was almost universally accepted in later Judaism.”
Christendom’s theologians followed the example of the Jewish rabbis in adopting the Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian and Greek concept of man’s possessing an immortal soul. Yet, because Christendom’s churches claim to accept the Bible, they created a dilemma for themselves by adopting this non-Christian teaching. The dilemma is this: How can the churches hold to the Bible teaching of the resurrection and, at the same time, teach that a person survives death by means of an immortal soul?
How do Christendom’s churches wriggle out of this dilemma? The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us how, saying: “The Fourth Lateran Council teaches that all men, whether elect or reprobate, ‘will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear about with them.’ In the language of the creeds and professions of faith this return to life is called resurrection of the body.” (Italics ours) In other words, the claim is thereby made that the resurrection of the dead is merely the reclothing of a deathless soul with a fleshly body. But that is not what the Bible teaches.
The True Resurrection Hope
Many Bible scholars admit that the doctrines of inherent immortality and the “resurrection of the body” are not taught in the Bible. Georges Auzou, French Catholic professor of Sacred Scripture, writes: “The concept of ‘soul,’ meaning a purely spiritual, immaterial reality, separate from the ‘body,’ . . . does not exist in the Bible.” “The New Testament never speaks of the ‘resurrection of the flesh,’ but of the ‘resurrection of the dead.’”
Similarly, in his book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?, French Protestant Professor Oscar Cullmann writes: “There is a radical difference between the Christian expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the Greek belief in the immortality of the soul. . . . Although Christianity later established a link between these two beliefs, and today the average Christian confuses them completely, I see no reason to hide what I and the majority of scholars consider to be the truth. . . . the life and thought of the New Testament are entirely dominated by faith in the resurrection. . . . the whole man, who is really dead, is brought back to life by a new creative act of God.”—(Translated from the original French edition.)
Yes, the true Biblical hope for a future life rests on the resurrection, or the “rising again from the dead,” not on the automatic survival of an immortal soul. The Bible states quite clearly: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) Just how so much religious confusion on the hereafter came about will be considered in the following article.
[Picture on page 15]
The picture of the soul hovering above a dead body shows that the ancient Egyptians believed that the soul survived death