How Strong Is Your Belief in the Resurrection?
“I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.”—JOHN 11:25.
1, 2. Why does a worshiper of Jehovah need confidence in the resurrection hope?
HOW strong is your hope in the resurrection? Does it fortify you against the fear of dying and comfort you when you lose loved ones in death? (Matthew 10:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13) Are you like many of God’s servants of old, who endured scourgings, mockery, torture, and prison bonds, strengthened by belief in the resurrection?—Hebrews 11:35-38.
2 Yes, a sincere worshiper of Jehovah should have no doubts at all that there will be a resurrection, and his confidence should affect the way he lives his life. It is wonderful to reflect on the fact that in God’s due time, the sea, death, and Hades will give up the dead in them, and these resurrected ones will have the prospect of living forever on a paradise earth.—Revelation 20:13; 21:4, 5.
Doubts About a Future Life
3, 4. What belief do many still have about life after death?
3 Christendom has long taught that there is life after death. An article in the magazine U.S. Catholic said: “Down through the ages, Christians have tried to make the best of the disappointments and sufferings of this life by looking forward to another life, one of peace and contentment, of fulfillment and happiness.” Even though in a number of lands of Christendom, people have become secularized and somewhat cynical about religion, many still feel that there must be something after death. But there is much they are not certain about.
4 An article in Time magazine observed: “People still believe in [an afterlife]: it’s just that their concept of exactly what it is has grown foggier, and they hear about it much less frequently from their pastors.” Why do religious ministers speak less about an afterlife than they used to? Religious scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell says: “I think [clerics] want to stay off the subject because they feel they’re going to have to climb a wall of popular skepticism.”
5. How do many today view the hellfire doctrine?
5 In many churches, the afterlife includes a heaven and a fiery hell. And if clergymen are reluctant to speak about heaven, they are even more reluctant to speak about hell. One newspaper article said: “These days even churches that believe in eternal punishment in a physical hell . . . play down the concept.” Indeed, most modern theologians no longer believe in hell as a literal place of torment, the way it was taught in the Middle Ages. Rather, they favor a more “humane” version of hell. According to many modernists, sinners in hell are not literally tortured, but they suffer because of their “spiritual separation from God.”
6. How do some find that their faith is inadequate when they are faced with tragedy?
6 Softening church doctrine so as not to offend modern sensibilities may help some to avoid unpopularity, but it leaves millions of sincere churchgoers wondering what to believe. Hence, when face-to-face with death, these often find that their faith is lacking. Their attitude is like that of the woman who lost several family members in a tragic accident. When asked whether her religious faith had brought her comfort, she replied hesitatingly, “I suppose so.” But even if she had replied confidently that her religious faith had helped her, of what long-term profit would it be if her beliefs were not well-founded? This is an important consideration because, in truth, what most churches teach about a future life is very different from what the Bible teaches.
Christendom’s View of Life After Death
7. (a) What belief do most churches have in common? (b) How did one theologian describe the doctrine of the immortal soul?
7 Despite their differences, almost all denominations of Christendom agree that humans have an immortal soul that survives the death of the body. Most believe that when a person dies, his soul may go to heaven. Some fear that their soul might go to a fiery hell or to purgatory. But the idea of an immortal soul is central to their view of a future life. Theologian Oscar Cullmann, in an essay published in the book Immortality and Resurrection, commented on this. He wrote: “If we were to ask an ordinary Christian today . . . what he conceives to be the New Testament teaching concerning the fate of man after death, with few exceptions we should get the answer: ‘The immortality of the soul.’” Cullmann added, however: “This widely accepted idea is one of the greatest misunderstandings of Christianity.” Cullmann remarked that when he first said this, he caused a furor. Yet, he was correct.
8. What hope did Jehovah put before the first man and woman?
8 Jehovah God did not create humans to go to heaven after they died. It was not his original purpose that they should die at all. Adam and Eve were created perfect and were given the opportunity to fill the earth with righteous offspring. (Genesis 1:28; Deuteronomy 32:4) Our first parents were told that they would die only if they disobeyed God. (Genesis 2:17) If they had remained obedient to their heavenly Father, they would have kept on living on earth forever.
9. (a) What is the truth about the human soul? (b) What happens to the soul when it dies?
9 Sadly, though, Adam and Eve failed to obey God. (Genesis 3:6, 7) The tragic consequences are described by the apostle Paul: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) Instead of living forever on earth, Adam and Eve died. What happened then? Did they have immortal souls that could now be consigned to a fiery hell because of their sin? On the contrary, the Bible says that earlier, when he was created, Adam “came to be a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) Man was not given a soul; he became a soul, a living person. (1 Corinthians 15:45) Why, not only was Adam “a living soul” but, as shown in the Hebrew language in which Genesis was written, the lower animals were “living souls” too! (Genesis 1:24) When Adam and Eve died, they became dead souls. Eventually, it happened to them just as Jehovah had said to Adam: “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.”—Genesis 3:19.
10, 11. What does the New Catholic Encyclopedia admit about the Bible teaching of the soul, and how does this compare with what the Bible says?
10 In substance, the New Catholic Encyclopedia agrees with this. In its article “Soul (in the Bible),” it says: “There is no dichotomy [division into two parts] of body and soul in the OT [“Old Testament,” or Hebrew Scriptures].” It adds that in the Bible, the word “soul” “never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person.” Indeed, soul often “means the individual being itself whether of animals or men.” Such candor is refreshing, but one can only wonder why churchgoers in general have not been made aware of these facts.
11 How much concern and fear churchgoers would have been spared if they had known the simple Bible truth: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die,” not suffer in hellfire! (Ezekiel 18:4) While this is very different from what Christendom teaches, it is entirely consistent with what the wise man Solomon said under inspiration: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages [in this life], because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [mankind’s common grave], the place to which you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.
12. From where did Christendom get its teaching about the immortal soul?
12 Why does Christendom teach something so different from what the Bible says? The New Catholic Encyclopedia, in its article “Soul, Human, Immortality Of,” says that early Church Fathers found support for belief in an immortal soul, not in the Bible, but in “the poets and philosophers and general tradition of Greek thought . . . Later, the scholastics preferred to make use of Plato or principles from Aristotle.” It states that “the influence of Platonic and Neoplatonic thought”—including belief in the immortal soul—eventually was inserted “into the very core of Christian theology.”
13, 14. Why is it unreasonable to hope to be enlightened by pagan Greek philosophers?
13 Should professed Christians have turned to pagan Greek philosophers to learn about something as basic as the hope of life after death? Of course not. When Paul wrote to Christians living in Corinth, Greece, he said: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their own cunning.’ And again: ‘Jehovah knows that the reasonings of the wise men are futile.’” (1 Corinthians 3:19, 20) The ancient Greeks were idol worshipers. How, then, could they be a source of truth? Paul asked the Corinthians: “What agreement does God’s temple have with idols? For we are a temple of a living God; just as God said: ‘I shall reside among them and walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they will be my people.’”—2 Corinthians 6:16.
14 Revelation of sacred truths was initially given through the nation of Israel. (Romans 3:1, 2) After 33 C.E., it was given through the first-century anointed Christian congregation. Paul, speaking of first-century Christians, said: “It is to us God has revealed [the things prepared for those who love him] through his spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:10; see also Revelation 1:1, 2.) Christendom’s doctrine of the immortality of the soul is derived from Greek philosophy. It was not revealed through God’s revelations to Israel or through the first-century congregation of anointed Christians.
The Real Hope for the Dead
15. According to Jesus, what is the real hope for the dead?
15 If there is no immortal soul, what is the real hope for the dead? It is, of course, the resurrection, a central Bible doctrine and a truly wonderful divine promise. Jesus held out the resurrection hope when he said to his friend Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.” (John 11:25) To believe in Jesus means to believe in the resurrection, not in an immortal soul.
16. Why is it reasonable to believe in a resurrection?
16 Jesus had earlier spoken of the resurrection when he said to some Jews: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) What Jesus here describes is very different from an immortal soul surviving the death of the body and going straight to heaven. It is a future ‘coming out’ of people who have been in the grave, many for centuries or even for thousands of years. It is dead souls coming back to life. Impossible? Not to the God “who makes the dead alive and calls the things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17) Skeptics may mock at the idea of people coming back from the dead, but it harmonizes perfectly with the fact that “God is love” and that he is “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”—1 John 4:16; Hebrews 11:6.
17. What will God accomplish by means of the resurrection?
17 After all, how could God reward those who proved to be “faithful even to death” if he did not bring them back to life? (Revelation 2:10) The resurrection also makes it possible for God to accomplish what the apostle John wrote about: “For this purpose the Son of God was made manifest, namely, to break up the works of the Devil.” (1 John 3:8) Back in the garden of Eden, Satan became the murderer of the whole human race when he led our first parents into sin and death. (Genesis 3:1-6; John 8:44) Jesus began to break up Satan’s works when he gave his perfect life as a corresponding ransom, opening the way for mankind to be released from the inherited slavery to sin resulting from Adam’s willful disobedience. (Romans 5:18) The resurrection of those who die because of this Adamic sin will be a further breaking up of the Devil’s works.
Body and Soul
18. How did some Greek philosophers react to Paul’s statement that Jesus had been resurrected, and why?
18 When the apostle Paul was in Athens, he preached the good news to a crowd that included some Greek philosophers. They listened to his discussion about the one true God and his call to repentance. But what happened next? Paul concluded his speech, saying: “[God] has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.” Those words caused a stir. “When they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some began to mock.” (Acts 17:22-32) Theologian Oscar Cullmann observes: “For the Greeks who believed in the immortality of the soul it may have been harder to accept the Christian preaching of the resurrection than it was for others. . . . The teaching of the great philosophers Socrates and Plato can in no way be brought into consonance [agreement] with that of the New Testament.”
19. How did Christendom’s theologians try to harmonize the teaching of the resurrection with the doctrine of the immortal soul?
19 Even so, following the great apostasy after the death of the apostles, theologians labored to merge the Christian teaching of the resurrection with Plato’s belief in the immortal soul. In time, some agreed on a novel solution: At death, the soul is separated (“liberated,” as some put it) from the body. Then, according to Outlines of the Doctrine of the Resurrection, by R. J. Cooke, on Judgment Day “each body shall be again united to its own soul, and each soul to its own body.” The future reuniting of the body with its immortal soul is said to be the resurrection.
20, 21. Who have consistently taught the truth about the resurrection, and how has this benefited them?
20 This theory is still the official doctrine of mainstream churches. While such a notion may seem logical to a theologian, most churchgoers are unacquainted with it. They simply believe that they will go straight to heaven when they die. For this reason, in the May 5, 1995, issue of Commonweal, writer John Garvey charged: “The belief of most Christians [on the matter of life after death] seems to be much closer to Neoplatonism than to anything truly Christian, and it has no biblical basis.” Indeed, by trading the Bible for Plato, Christendom’s clergy extinguished the Biblical resurrection hope for their flocks.
21 On the other hand, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject pagan philosophy and adhere to the Bible’s teaching of the resurrection. They find such teaching to be edifying, satisfying, and comforting. In the following articles, we will see just how well-founded and how logical the Bible’s teaching of the resurrection is, both for those with an earthly hope and for those with the prospect of a resurrection to heavenly life. As a preparation for considering these articles, we recommend that you read carefully chapter 15 of the first letter to the Corinthians.
Do You Remember?
□ Why should we cultivate firm confidence in the resurrection?
□ What prospect did Jehovah place before Adam and Eve?
□ Why is it illogical to seek truth in Greek philosophy?
□ Why is the resurrection a reasonable hope?
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When they sinned, our first parents lost the hope of everlasting life on earth
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Church scholars came to be influenced by Plato’s belief in the immortality of the soul
Musei Capitolini, Roma