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Conditional Immortality is the belief that the souls of the wicked perish in the Lake of Fire rather than surviving to be tormented or tortured eternally. It is also called annihilationism.
The idea behind conditional immortality is that souls are not inherently immortal. If immortality is a reward for righteousness, which comes by believing the Gospel, as stated in Romans 2:7 and suggested by 2 Timothy 1:10, then why would the souls of the wicked live forever as well?
And of course the terms "eternal life" and "everlasting life" are equivalent to immortality. Everyone agrees that eternal life belongs to those who believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, which leads us to question how those who do not believe are able to be punished eternally if they are not gifted with eternal life.
It is possible that the biggest objection that many Christians have to conditional immortality, or annihilationism as it is better known, is that the Jehovah's Witness believe it. This requires me to remind my readers that a doctrine does not become false just because a heretical group latches onto it.
In order to understand the quotes that follow, it is important to remember the point of conditional immortality. It is the teaching that the soul of man is not inherently immortal and will not live forever on its own. Eternal life comes only by believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior. If a person has not received the gift of eternal life, they will not live forever because humans are not immortal. Immortality is instead a reward given to the righteous (Rom. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:10, and all the verses like John 3:16 that mention "eternal life").
That said, let's begin the list of quotes with a definition from someone else. Sydney Hatch, the author of this quote, is no one I can appeal to as an authority. The definition is simply well worded.
Let it be said at this point that conditional immortality is a very simple and clear doctrine. It resorts to no difficult theological or philosophical gyrations. It is the belief that man may become immortal on one condition and that is that he believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. This immortality, or everlasting life, shall then be put on at the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the believers, not before.
On the negative side it is the belief, in the light of Scripture, that man does not posses any innate, inborn immortality of his own. Such can only be "the gift of God." This precious doctrine is sometimes simply called "life only in Christ." (Truth According to Scripture
Again, I am not recommending Sydney Hatch, as I know little about him. I simply found his definition of conditional immortality to be well-worded. You will find more well-known names on this subject at Rethinking Hell.
My task here is to provide quotes from the early church fathers on this subject. I believe you will find them divided on the issue.
Justin takes a clear stance against conditional immortality by the term "eternal sensibility" for the wicked.
He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by His angelic host, when also He shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality, and shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils. And that these things also have been foretold as yet to be, we will prove. By Ezekiel the prophet it was said: “Joint shall be joined to joint, and bone to bone, and flesh shall grow again; and every knee shall bow to the Lord, and every tongue shall confess Him" [Ezek. 37:7-8; Isa. 45:24). And in what kind of sensation and punishment the wicked are to be, hear from what was said in like manner with reference to this; it is as follows: “Their worm shall not rest, and their fire shall not be quenched” [Isa. 66:24] and then shall they repent, when it profits them not. (First Apology, ch. 52)
Theophilus addresses conditional immortality directly here.
But some one will say to us, Was man made by nature mortal? Certainly not. Was he, then, immortal? Neither do we affirm this. But one will say, Was he, then, nothing? Not even this hits the mark. He was by nature neither mortal nor immortal. For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. Again, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself. That, then, which man brought upon himself through carelessness and disobedience, this God now vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthropy and pity, when men obey Him. For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption. (To Autolycus, Bk. II, ch. 27)
Irenaeus rejects life "forever and ever" for the unsaved in the following quotes. This is solid support for conditional immortality. On the other hand, Against Heresies is a very long book. I will keep my eyes open to make sure there are no conflicting quotes to the ones that follow.
If any persons at this point maintain that those souls, which only began to exist a little while ago, cannot endure for any length of time. Instead, the must either be unborn in order to be immortal or, if they have had a beginning in the way of generation [i.e., being made or born], that they should die with the body itself, then let them learn that God alone, who is the Lord of all, is without beginning and without end, being truly and forever the same and always remaining the same unchangeable Being. But all things which proceed from him, whatever has been made and are made, do indeed receive their own beginning of generation and because of this are inferior to the One who formed them, inasmuch as they are not unbegotten. Nevertheless, they endure and extend their existence into a long series of ages in accordance with the will of God their Creator. In this way it is he who grants them that they should be thus formed at the beginning and that they should so exist afterwards. For as the heaven which is above us—the firmament, the sun, the moon, and the rest of the stars and all their grandeus, although they had no previous existence, were called into being and continue throughout a long course of time according to the will of God. So also anyone who thinks in this way in respect to souls and spirits and, in fact, all created things, will not by any means go far astray, inasmuch as all things that have been had a beginning when they were formed, but endure as long as God wills that they should have an existence and continue. The prophetic Spirit bears testimony to these opinions when he declares, "For he spoke, and they were made; he commanded, and they were created. He has established them forever, yea, forever and ever" [Ps. 148:5-6].
Again, he speaks in this way regarding the salvation of man: "He asked life of you, and you gave him length of days forever and ever" [Ps. 21:4], indicating that is the Father of all who imparts continuance forever and ever on those who are saved. For life does not arise from us, nor from our own nature, but it is bestowed according to the grace of God. Therefore, the one who shall preserve the life bestowed on him and give thanks to him who imparted it shall receive also length of days forever and ever. But he who shall reject it and prove himself ungrateful to his Maker, inasmuch as he has been created and has not recognized the One who bestowed, deprives himself of continuance forever and ever. For this reason, the Lord declared to those who showed themselves ungrateful towards him, "If you have not been faithful in that which is little, who will give you that which is great?" [Luke 16:11], indicating that those who in this brief temporal life have shown themselves ungrateful to him who bestowed it shall justly not receive from him length of days forever and ever. (Against Heresies, Bk. II, ch. 34, par. 2-3)
Return to the Quote Index or return home. There will eventually be an article regarding conditional immortality/annihilationism on this site, and I will provide a link to that page then. You might also want to see the quotes in immortality.