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These are quotes about immortality from the Scriptures and throughout church history. The point of this page is to question the teaching that the human soul is inherently immortal. Instead, I suggest that immortality is a reward given by God at the judgment rather than a natural condition of humanity.
This has application also to eternal torment, a teaching that is being questioned more and more. See, for example, the book Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, by Christopher Date and Gregory Stump (2014). Wikipedia's "Christian Conditionalism" page gives an overview, but falls short of providing a real defense of "conditional immortality."
Since I hold to the position that God gives immortality to the righteous only, I will be including Scripture as well as early Christian quotes on this page.
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There are two Greek words in the New Testament that can be translated immortality: athanasia and aphtharta (or aphtharsia). Aphtharta suggests not being subject to decay, and athanasia carries the idea of not dying. The following verses are using the word that means "not subject to dying."
Behold, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible [aphtharsia], and we will be changed. For this perishable body must become imperishable [aphtharsia], and this mortal must put on immortality [athanasia]. 54 But when this perishable body will have become imperishable [aptharsia], and this mortal will have put on immortality [athanasia], then what is written will happen: “Death is swallowed up in victory." (1 Corinthians 15:51-54, WEB. Quotes in WEB and suggest Paul is quoting Isaiah 25:8.)
... until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 15 which in its own times he will show, who is the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and eternal power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:14-16, WEB)
Or do you despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath, revelation, and of the righteous judgment of God; who "will pay back to everyone according to their works:" to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruptibility [aphtharsia], eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath and indignation, oppression and anguish, on every soul of man who works evil, on the Jew first, and also on the Greek. (Rom. 2:4-9, WEB. Quotes are in WEB and suggest that Paul is quoting Ps. 62:12 or Prov. 24:12 or both.)
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown perishable; it is raised imperishable [aphtharsia]. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living soul." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor. 15:42-45, WEB. Italics in Web and indicate Paul is quoting Gen. 2:7)
Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible [aptharsia]love. Amen. (Eph. 6:24, WEB)
Now to the King eternal, immortal [apthartos], invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim. 1:17, WEB)
[God] saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before times eternal, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality [aptharsia] to light through the Good News. (2 Tim. 1:9-10, WEB)
These verses from Peter are included for the sake of full disclosure. Neither in Paul's letters nor Peter's does aphtharta always mean immortality. It can also mean incorruptible in behavior or morality. A pure follower of Christ is living "incorruptibly." It is only when "incorruptible" refers to our body that it means immortality.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy became our father again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible (apthartos) and undefiled inheritance that doesn’t fade away, reserved in Heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3-4, WEB)
[We have] been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible (aphthartos), through the word of God, which lives and remains forever. (1 Pet. 1:24, WEB)
Let your beauty be not just the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on fine clothing; but in the hidden person of the heart, in the incorruptible [aphthartos] adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God very precious. (1 Pet. 3:4)
Those who hold to conditional immortality--that we are not immortal in ourselves but only as a reward from God at the judgment--must admit that we are not backed up by the early church fathers. My argument would be that some of the most influential early writers--Justin, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen--were strongly influenced by Greek philosophy. I assert that the doctrine of the immortal soul came from the Greeks and not from Scripture. Nonetheless, I am including passages on immortality wherever I find them, not just from those who agree with me.
How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness! (1 Clement 35)
For this end did the Lord suffer the ointment to be poured upon His head [John 12:7], so that he might breathe immortality into his Church. Do not be anointed with the bad odor of the doctrine of the prince of this world. Do not let him lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. Why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognizing the gift which the Lord has in truth sent to us? (Letter to the Ephesians 17)
If the Lord makes known to me that you come together man by man in common through grace, by name, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of Man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the elders with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but instead that we should live forever in Jesus Christ. (Letter to the Ephesians 20)
Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life, of which you are already persuaded. In all things may my soul be for yours, and my chains also, which you have loved. (Letter to Polycarp 2)
The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle, and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for incorruption in the heavens. (Anonymous, Letter to Diognetus 6)
When the adversary of the race of the righteous, the envious, malicious, and wicked one, perceived the greatness of his martyrdom, the blameless life he had led from the beginning, and how he was now crowned with the wreath of immortality, having beyond dispute received his reward, he did his utmost that not the least memorial of him should be taken away by us, although many of us desired to do this, and to have fellowship with his holy flesh. To this end he suggested it Nicetes, the father of Herod and brother of Alce, to go and petition the governor not to give up his body to be buried. (ch. 17)
Having through patience overcome the unjust governor and thus having acquired the crown of immortality, [Polycarp] is now with the apostles and all the righteous, rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the catholic Church throughout the world. (ch. 19)
For reflect upon the end of each of the preceding kings, how they died the death common to all. If that death resulted in insensibility, it would be a godsend to all the wicked. But since sensation remains to all who have ever lived and eternal punishment is laid up, see that you do not neglect to be convinced and to hold as your belief that these things are true. (First Apology 18)
But our Jesus Christ, being crucified and dead, rose again, and having ascended to heaven, reigned. And by those things which were published in his name among all nations by the apostles, there is joy afforded to those who expect the immortality promised by him. (First Apology 42)
For in no other way could we have learned the things of God, unless our Master, existing as the Word, had become man. For no other Being had the power of revealing to us the things of the Father, except his own proper Word. For what other person "knew the mind of the Lord," or who else "has become His counsellor?" [Rom. 11:34] Again, we could have learned in no other way than by seeing our Teacher and hearing his voice with our own ears that, having become imitators of his works as well as doers of His words, we may have communion with Him, receiving increase from the Perfect One, and from him who is prior to all creation. We were but lately created by the only best and good Being, by him also who has the gift of immortality. We have been formed after his likeness--predestinated according to the prescience of the Father, that we, who had as yet no existence, might come into being and be made the first-fruits of creation [Jas. 1:18]--and we have received, in the times known beforehand, according to the ministration of the Word. He is the one who is perfect in all things, as the mighty Word and very man, who, redeeming us by his own blood in a manner consistent with reason, gave himself as a redemption for those who had been led into captivity.
Because the apostasy tyrannized over us unjustly and--though we were by nature the property of the omnipotent God--alienated us contrary to nature, rendering us its own disciples, the Word of God, who was powerful in all things and not defective with regard to His own justice, did righteously turn against that apostasy and redeem from it his own property. He did not do this by violent means. That was the way the [apostasy] had obtained dominion over us at the beginning, when it insatiably snatched away what was not its own. Instead, [the Word of God redeemed us] by means of persuasion, as became a God of counsel, who does not use violent means to obtain what He desires. In this way justice is not infringed upon, nor does the ancient handiwork of God go to destruction. The Lord thus has redeemed us through his own blood, giving his soul for our souls, and his flesh for our flesh. He has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and man. He indeed imparted God to me by means of the Spirit and, on the other hand, attached man to God by his own incarnation. He bestowed upon us at his coming immortality--durably and truly--by means of communion with God. (Against Heresies V:1:1)
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