A growing number of well-known Christian leaders, such as Dr. David R. Reagan, John R. Stott, Greg Boyd, Roger Forster (co-founder of the March for Jesus events), Philip Hughes, Michael Green, Stephen Travis, and Clark Pinnock have declared support for part, or all, of the biblical doctrine of Conditional Immortality. Even the British Bible translator, William Tyndale, defended Conditional Immortality during his lifetime. Also, the very well respected scholar F.F. Bruce states, “Eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the revealed character of God” so he chose to write the forward to an excellent evangelical book on this topic called, The Fire that Consumes by Edward Fudge.
While some call it Annihilationism, simply stated, Conditional Immortality is the biblical belief that the immortality of the soul is not inherent (Greek thinking) but conditional (Biblical thinking) upon receiving the gift of everlasting life through faith in Jesus (Yeshua). It is part and parcel of the gospel. God alone has immortality-anyone else becomes immortal only as a result of God’s gracious gift (1 Timothy 6:16, Romans 2:7).
For centuries, church theologians have wrongly assumed the Greek doctrine of the immortality of all souls. Therefore, it is no wonder that the message of immortality has been completely dropped from modern preaching. I ask you, when have you ever heard a message offering immortality as part of the gospel presentation? It is almost never done, because today most people falsely assume the soul is already immortal. Yet, immortality through Jesus (Yeshua) alone is what the Jewish Apostle Paul preached:
He (Jesus), has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9b-10)
Paul clearly links immortality to the gospel. Paul did not believe the Greek philosophy of his day which taught the immortality of all souls.
[box type=”bio”] Greek Philosophers Taught:
It is clear that PLATO and many Greek philosophers taught the soul was indestructible:
“The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principal exponent…”The Jewish Encyclopedia (www.jewishencyclopedia.com, searched “immortality”)
“Among major schools of Greek thought, only Epicureans denied the soul’s immortality.” (Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, Downers Grove, Inter Varsity Press, 1993, p.374)
“…immortality of the soul, as normally understood, is not a Biblical doctrine…” (The International Bible Commentary, second edition, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1986, p.60 column 2)
“It is a truism that Plato’s teaching has profoundly influenced Christian anthropology.” (Forward by F.F. Bruce, The Fire that Consumes, Edward Fudge)
Conclusion: Except for the Epicureans, Greek philosophers taught of the soul’s natural immortality-without God.
Jewish Apostles Taught:
However, the scriptures teach the soul is destructible and immortality is part of the gospel.
“Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body…” (Matthew 10:28)
“There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy…” (James 4:12)
“…who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10)
Conclusion: Jesus and James taught the soul was destructible. Paul taught that immortality is brought through the gospel.
Before the Messiah, Jesus, came, no one had a chance at immortality because of sin. If they did, then Paul’s statement would make no sense. Why would immortality come through the gospel if all had it from birth? The gospel would not have brought about immortality-since all had it. But look how Paul frames in immortality uniquely and only with believers:
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:7)
Notice Paul uses the word “seek” when speaking of immortality. None of these attributes he lists here are inherent to mankind. If they were, then the word “seek” would clearly be out of place. Again, Paul did not believe the Greek philosophers who taught the immortality of all souls, neither did Yeshua (Jesus):
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. (John 6:51)
Again, why would Jesus Himself make this plain offer to “live forever” if everyone lived forever?
It is important to note that in Hebrew, the word for “life/soul” (nehphesh) is never used in conjunction with the word “everlasting” in Tenach (The Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament).
Likewise, in the New Testament writings, the word for “soul” (psukee) is never used in conjunction with the words “eternal” or “everlasting.”
Again–it is an assumption (based upon Greek philosophy)–that the soul of mankind is eternal and can never be destroyed.
The Jewish encyclopedia tells us the same thing:
The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principal exponent, who was led to it through Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended…
As Dirk Waren has put it:
Therefore, God’s Gift of Eternal Life is the Answer to Humanity’s Quest for Immortality and the Fountain of Youth. Think about it, what is humanity’s greatest desire–a greater desire than wealth, fame, true love or sexual gratification? From the ancient epic of Gilgamesh to Ponce De Leon’s obsessive search for the fountain of youth to our modern-day compulsion to remain youthful-looking as long as possible, humanity is obsessed with the idea of immortality, the idea of living forever.
Source: HELL KNOW
Yet most refuse to turn to God for this gift. Yet this immortality is exactly what the gospel offers. (2 Timothy 1:10, Romans 2:7, John 6:51)
Again I ask you to read through all of the articles here to see how unbiblical the concept of the immortality of the unsaved soul is. Immortality is reserved only for those who put their faith in Jesus (Yeshua). All the rest are destroyed (not preserved), (Matthew 10:28) after a period of time. They will suffer no more and no less than their sins deserve-then will be destroyed forever just as the Messiah foretold. And before you may falsely conclude that those who hold to Conditional Immortality believe the lost do not suffer at all for their sins, it is very obvious that they do.
“And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” (Luke 12: 47-48)
The future they face on judgment day is 1) suffering in proportion for their sins–then 2) destruction. Yet all the lost will not receive same amount of suffering for their sins before they are destroyed. God will see that they receive the exact amount of “stripes” they deserve. Some (like Hitler) will receive very many “stripes.” Others will receive “few” as Yeshua (Jesus) says. After they have received their appropriate “stripes,” then they will “perish” as John 3:16 states. (“perish” or “apollumi” in Greek: be destroyed). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23, Revelation 2:11), not eternal existence in torment. Ezekiel states clearly that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), and a plethora of other Bible verses and passages endorse this position.
Also, in regards to suffering, scripture seems to indicate that what the lost have suffered here on earth, for their sins, may actually count as partial payment then (Isaiah 40:2). Additionally, when we look at what Messiah Jesus did for us, in suffering for us, His suffering took place in this world, so it is clear that His suffering in this world will count as credit for believers in the next world. Because we believe that Jesus suffered and died for us here (and that is the gospel), therefore, it is a safe assumption to believe that unbelievers who suffer terribly in this life will have that suffering count towards the payment for their sins. This alone helps explain why some (not all) sinners suffer in this world. Better to pay for it here than there. However, do not believe for a moment that those who hold to Conditional Immortality believe there is no payment for those who have done evil in this life. There will be! Justice, in its proper amount, will be served. No more, no less, for God is Just.
Getting back to the concept of immortality. If you read John’s gospel and think of the concept of immortality whenever you hear Jesus (Yeshua) speak of offering “life,” it will make complete sense. I challenge you to read John’s gospel and mentally insert the concept of “immortality” whenever you read of Jesus (Yeshua) offering “life.” It makes complete sense.
Interestingly enough, it was the serpent who was first to suggest that sinners would not die, “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Sadly, this is the same lie being told today, that everyone lives forever. Therefore, apart from the gospel, there is no immortality. Please read next chapter: Are all souls born immortal?
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My worldview has been challenged through this and am so thankful to have found this page!
I have a question about Matthew 25:46, “Then they [the unsaved] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Greek word aionion, which is usually translated “eternal referring to an “age” or “eon,” a specific period of time period. In the New Testament, aionion is sometimes used to refer to an eternal length of time. In this verse, the same Greek word is used to refer to the destiny of the wicked and the righteous. If the wicked are only tormented for an “age,” then the righteous will only experience life in heaven for an “age.” If believers will be in heaven forever, unbelievers will be in hell forever?
Thanks for the feedback.
Notice that the comparison in Matthew 25:46 is between eternal punishment and eternal life. In other words, Only the righteous will be granted eternal life. “Eternal life” (aionios zoe) literally refers the perpetual life of the age to come. If only the righteous will be granted eternal life in the age to come, then the unrighteous will obviously not be granted eternal life in the age to come. The Bible is clear about this:
So what does Christ say will be done with the unrighteous in Matthew 25:41 and 25:46? One thing’s for certain, he says nothing about them having eternal life roasting in utter misery. What he does say is that they will be cast “into the eternal fire,” which is the lake of fire (verse 41), and that this is their “eternal punishment” (verse 46). Please note that Jesus said “eternal punishment” and not “eternal punishing.” There’s a difference.
The word “punishment” is translated from the Greek word kolasis (KOL-as-is) which refers to a “penal infliction” and is therefore a judicial sentence. Christ does not say what the penal infliction will be in this passage, only that it will take place in the lake of fire (“the eternal fire”) and that this infliction will last forever (that is, take place in the age to come, which lasts forever). Since Jesus doesn’t specify here what exactly the penal sentence is, we must therefore turn to the rest of Scripture for answers. “Scripture interprets Scripture” is an interpretational rule.
Elsewhere Christ plainly said God would “destroy both soul and body” in the lake of fire (Matthew 10:28) and Paul taught that the ungodly would suffer “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Add to this the numerous biblical examples of literal destruction covered in chapter 2 of HELL KNOW and it is clear that the eternal punishment or penal sentence that the unrighteous will be condemned to in the lake of fire is everlasting destruction of soul and body — destruction of the whole person which lasts forever — and not eternal punishing.
Also consider the fact that the Bible uses the word “eternal” to describe the results of an act even when it is clear that the act itself is not of endless duration. For instance, Hebrews 9:12 speaks of the “eternal redemption” that Christ obtained for us; yet no one absurdly supposes that this redemption will be an endless process that goes on through all eternity “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). Also, Hebrews 6:2 speaks of “eternal judgment,” yet no one ludicrously claims that the work of judging goes on forever and ever without end. In the same way the act of punishment need not go on endlessly for the punishment to be eternal. Like eternal redemption and eternal judgment, eternal punishment is eternal in the sense that its results are eternal.
Some contend that Jesus was teaching eternal torment by describing the lake of fire as “the eternal fire.” Yet this is simply a name for — and description of — the lake of fire which was “prepared for the devil and his angels” specifically as their eternal habitation (verse 41). As detailed in chapter 4, these wicked, rebellious angels possess unconditional immortality and therefore must be exiled to exist somewhere for all eternity. What else can God possibly do with such evil, irredeemable creatures that can never die? (Luke 20:34-36 proves that angelic beings possess intrinsic immortality whereas 2 Timothy 1:10 shows that human beings only possess immortality through redemption in Christ).
Furthermore, Jude 1:7 plainly states that Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown by “eternal fire.” Since these cities have long since been completely incinerated, “eternal fire” in this context must refer to total destruction which lasts forever and not never-ending conscious torment. As detailed in chapter 1, this complete and permanent destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah is a biblical example of what will happen to the ungodly when they suffer the second death (2 Peter 2:6). So, technically, the phrase “eternal fire” refers to literal destruction that lasts forever when applied to human beings. As always, we must resist the temptation to add our own biased interpretation to various biblical phrases and simply let Scripture interpret Scripture.
If you’re interested, breeze through HELL KNOW for scriptural details. Here’s the first chapter.
Some believe that destruction is not really a punishment, but a reward. After all, man will not have any effects anyway.
Why do most churches, even those tried and tested, believe in eternal torment in hell?
Hi Anna. Thanks for the feedback.
To answer your points:
This disagrees with the Bible, which plainly says that the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Any manner of death includes an amount of suffering, even if it’s the mental suffering beforehand or the split second it takes to die. For relevant insights see this chapter and scroll down to the section Conscious Suffering Meted Out as Divine Justice Requires.
This chapter of HELL KNOW addresses your question, scroll down to the section How Could So Many be Wrong for So Long?
Hi! Might U know of a church in Los Angeles…or in the entire nation, that holds to Conditional Immortality as one of its held beliefs?
I need to be in a church that is in sync with what the bible teaches.
I love this theological treatise!! Love it! Love it! Love it! Couldn’t be better!!
I absolutely love what you have to say on Conditional Immortality, especially since this has been verified by my own study of Scripture. However, you say something that I believe is in error, and would like to point it out with all brotherly kindness.
You state “Before the Messiah, Jesus, came, no one had a chance at immortality because of sin. If they did, then Paul’s statement would make no sense.”
I would politely suggest this is not true. For Abraham was saved by His faith in God, for he believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. If this is not so, and Abraham was not saved by his faith, as Paul states in Romans and again in Galatians, then neither are we saved by our faith. See specifically Romans 4:16 and Galatians 3:9. Shall we believe that none of the Old Testament prophets were saved? What of Enoch, who was translated directly to heaven without tasting of death, because he pleased God (Genesis 5:24)? Or Moses and Aaron? Isaiah? Jacob? Job, who’s faith was tried severely and directly by Satan himself with the approval of God, and yet refused to curse God? Did He have no chance at immortality? No, my brother – men have always been saved the same way – by faith. There is no doubt of this. You are very close, for in the big picture, very few before Christ and His gospel were saved, of that there is no doubt. But they were there nonetheless, which makes your statement as it stands, false. Besides, Scripture tells us that the gospel was preached to Abraham – see Galatians 3:8 – so it very well could have been to others also, correct?
Other than this one error, I found this work to be both Scriptural and well written, and I thank you greatly for sharing this message. I believe, as you so obviously do, that here is truth…
Your brother in Christ Jesus,
Thanks for the kind note and the spirit in which it was sent. Yes, I agree with you 100%. Those men of God were indeed made righteous – by faith. I would never argue against that. But they were also saved looking forward to the coming Messiah. In other words – if the Messiah would have never come in future history – then they would never have been saved nor gotten immortality. That is all that was meant. (And yes, perhaps the wording could have been better). Blessings to you.