Resurrection, Judgment Day and Apostasy
THE Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches have turned their backs on the clear Bible truths regarding the condition of the dead and the hope for life after death. They prefer the ancient unscriptural belief in an immortal soul. As we have seen, this belief originated in Babylonia and was streamlined by Greek philosopher Plato in the fourth century B.C.E.
Christendom’s theologians claim that every man, woman and child that has ever lived has a soul that leaves the body when the person dies. To accommodate this teaching, they have invented such places as limbo, purgatory and a fiery hell. Here the disembodied souls that are unfit for “paradise,” which they say is in heaven, are supposed to go.
The churches also say that the dead are not really dead. Rather, they claim, the soul continues to live. They cannot therefore teach the true Bible doctrine of the resurrection, defined as “a coming back to life.” So their theologians invented the so-called resurrection of the body, claiming that on Judgment Day the bodies of the righteous and the wicked will be reunited with their respective souls to share in heavenly bliss or hellfire damnation. And since they believe that such “souls” do not have to await Judgment Day to be assigned to “heaven,” “hell” or such ‘waiting rooms’ as “limbo” or “purgatory,” Christendom’s theologians also invented the teaching of two judgments. The first of these is called Particular Judgment, which is when the “soul” is supposed to leave the body at death. The second is called General Judgment, which is when bodies are “resurrected” and are said to rejoin the “souls” on Judgment Day.
Resurrection and Apostasy
All the aforementioned theological inventions came about because the Roman Catholic Church, followed in certain fundamental respects by the Orthodox and Protestant churches, did not stick to the clear Bible teachings on the resurrection and its related subjects of death, the human soul and final judgment.
Apostasy in this regard started very early in the history of Christianity. Only a little over 20 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote from Ephesus to the young Christian congregation in Corinth, Greece: “Now if Christ is being preached that he has been raised up from the dead, how is it some among you [anointed Christians] say there is no resurrection of the dead?”—1 Corinthians 15:12.
It may be that some of the Christians to whom Paul was writing in Corinth were still under the influence of Greek philosophy. A few years previously Paul had declared “the good news of Jesus and the resurrection” to Greek philosophers in Athens. But “when they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some began to mock.” (Acts 17:18, 32) The Epicureans and the Stoics had their own theories about what happened to the soul after death. Other Greek philosophers, who followed Socrates and Plato, believed in the immortality of the soul. None of them believed in the resurrection, as taught in the Bible.
It could also be that some Corinthian Christians already held the apostate views about the resurrection that the apostle Paul condemned 10 years later. Recall that when Paul wrote to Timothy, who was probably at Ephesus at that time, he warned: “Shun empty speeches that violate what is holy; for they will advance to more and more ungodliness, and their word will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of that number. These very men have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred; and they are subverting the faith of some.”—2 Timothy 2:16-18.
By saying that “the resurrection has already occurred,” these apostates were not claiming that deceased Christians had already been raised from the dead. They apparently believed that living Christians had already been resurrected, the resurrection being of a merely symbolic, spiritual kind. They denied any future resurrection from the dead. Such ideas were “subverting the faith” of some, so that the apostle Paul issued a strong warning against those apostate teachers.
The Apostasy ‘Spreads like Gangrene’
This Hymenaeus was doubtless the same as the one mentioned by Paul in his first letter to Timothy. This man had been disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation, together with a certain Alexander, because they had “experienced shipwreck concerning their faith.” Paul counseled Timothy to “go on waging the fine warfare” against such apostates.—1 Timothy 1:18-20.
While the apostles were still alive, they set the example in combating apostasy. But once they were no longer present to ‘act as a restraint,’ Paul’s fears were confirmed, and the “word” of apostates ‘spread like gangrene.’—2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; Acts 20:29, 30.
Ideas of a purely symbolic resurrection, such as those taught by Hymenaeus and Philetus in Ephesus, were later developed by the Gnostics. During the second and early third centuries C.E., the Gnostics (from the Greek word gnoʹsis, “knowledge”) combined apostate Christianity with Greek philosophy and Oriental mysticism. They claimed that all matter is evil and stressed that salvation came through mystical “knowledge” (gnoʹsis) rather than through faith in Christ as redeemer.
But Gnosticism was not the only form of apostasy that ‘spread like gangrene.’ By the fourth century true Christianity as taught by Christ and his faithful apostles and disciples had become corrupted by other men who had “deviated from the truth.” The scholarly New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology admits that during the “further course of church history many extra-biblical motifs, pictures and ideas were absorbed into the conception of paradise.” This Bible dictionary goes on to speak of “the fact that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came in to take the place of N[ew] T[estament] eschatology [study of the ultimate destiny of mankind and the world] with its hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
As we have seen above and in the previous article, the denial of the reality of death and the acceptance of the pagan idea of the automatic survival of an immortal soul led the Catholic and Orthodox churches farther and farther away from the clear Bible teachings on the resurrection and judgment. It led to the God-dishonoring dogma of hellfire and purgatory and to the nonsensical idea of fleshly bodies being resurrected to float around in heaven or to be eternally tormented in “hell.”
The “gangrene” did not stop there. In later centuries Protestant reformers added their own non-Biblical theories on death, resurrection and final judgment. For the most part, they followed Catholic dogma on the inherent immortality of the soul, which obliged them also to accept the doctrine of the “resurrection of the body.” Many Protestant churches also teach hellfire. But Protestant theologians also have proved their inventiveness by concocting other doctrines not taught in the Bible. Some Calvinist Reformed churches, for example, teach that God predestines certain souls to salvation and others to eternal damnation. Other Protestants believe in universal salvation, that is, in the ultimate salvation of all souls, even those of the wicked.
Holding to Bible Truth
After warning against the apostasy of Hymanaeus and Philetus concerning the resurrection, Paul added: “For all that, the solid foundation of God stays standing, having this seal: ‘Jehovah knows those who belong to him.’”—2 Timothy 2:19.
Having reviewed the historical development of apostate ideas concerning the soul, death, resurrection and final judgment, and having seen the confusion of present-day beliefs on these vital subjects, what will you do? The sincere Christian will be more convinced than ever of the need to stick to “the solid foundation of God” on these matters, as outlined in His Word, the Bible.
However, while accepting the clear Bible teaching on the human soul, death and resurrection, for emotional reasons some Christians may have ideas about final judgment that seemingly exalt Jehovah’s loving-kindness but that, in fact, cast doubts upon his justice and his right to destroy the wicked. With a view to clearing up such questions, the following articles will examine what the Bible says about the true resurrection hope as related to God’s kingdom and to God’s day of judgment. We invite you to read on.
[Box on page 17]
What the Bible Says About the Soul, Death, Resurrection and Final Judgment
Man does not possess a soul; he IS a soul.—1 Corinthians 15:45.
The soul, or whole person, dies.—Ezekiel 18:4.
Death is an enemy, not a friend.—1 Corinthians 15:26.
Life after death can come only through a resurrection.—John 5:28, 29.
The reward for faithfulness is everlasting life.—John 10:27, 28.
The judgment for willful sin is everlasting death, not eternal torment.—Romans 6:23.
[Box on page 18]
An Official Teaching of Christendom’s Churches
The Athanasian Creed, which is officially accepted by the Roman Catholic, Anglican and other Protestant churches, states: “He [Jesus] ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty. From whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.”
[Box on page 19]
A Church View of Resurrection
“The general resurrection can hardly be proved from reason, though we may show its congruity [fitness]. (a) As the soul has a natural propensity to the body, its perpetual separation from the body would seem unnatural. (b) As the body is the partner of the soul’s crimes, and the companion of her virtues, the justice of God seems to demand that the body be the sharer in the soul’s punishment and reward. (c) As the soul separated from the body is naturally imperfect, the consummation of its happiness, replete with every good, seems to demand the resurrection of the body.”—Catholic Encyclopedia (Italics ours).