How should ‘immortality’ be defined? From a Biblical perspective, what is ‘death’? What Biblical evidences exist to prove immortality? How does this doctrine of immortality benefit believers?
Definition of Terms
Immortality can be defined as the ‘eternal, continuous, and conscious existence of the soul after the death of the body’ (Fruchtenbaum 2005:4). Immortality means ‘continuous consciousness’. Biblically speaking, death refers to a separation. When a human being dies physically, the material part of that person is separated from the immaterial part (soul/spirit) of that person.
Evidences of Immortality
What is the Biblical evidence that the teaching of immortality is true? Seventeen specific evidences can be noted.
- The consciousness of the souls of Sheol: This is evidenced in Isaiah 14:9-11 where the king of Babylon entered into the hell section of Sheol and the souls that preceded him there suddenly rose in astonishment as they saw this erstwhile king entering the domains of hell. They were able to ask him questions and to carry on a conversation. Similarly, in Luke 16:19-31, when the rich man died he also went to the hell section of Sheol but when Lazarus died he went to the part where the immaterial parts of Old Testament believers went, namely Abraham’s bosom (or paradise). Notice again that all three persons (rich man, Lazarus, Abraham) are conscious and able to carry on a conversation. (As will be discussed in a future article, when Christ ascended into Heaven, he took paradise with him, that is, the immaterial parts of Old Testament believers were taken into Heaven with Christ.)
- God is the God of the living: Although Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have died physically, Jesus affirms that God is [present tense] not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:29-32). The point is that God has a continuous, living relationship with the patriarchs which is another reason why God will not leave their bodies dead. At some stage the bodies of all Old Testament saints will be resurrected but until then, God has a relationship with the conscious, immaterial parts of Old Testament saints.
- Gathered to his people: This figure of speech is found in Genesis 25:8, 17; 35:29a; 49:29, 33 where is it mentioned that someone died and was ‘gathered unto his people’. The dead person is said to have joined a company that preceded him or her. Some interpret this phrase to mean nothing more than being buried in the family cemetery, but this cannot be true for Abraham (cf. Genesis 25:8), because his family or clan was back in Haran.
- Continuous existence of Enoch: Another evidence for the doctrine of immortality is the continued existence of Enoch who has gone to exist somewhere else (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5).
- Joined the fathers: Similar to a previous evidence for the doctrine of immortality, upon death, the dead has ‘joined the fathers’. In Genesis 15:15 (cf. 47:30), ‘you shall go to your fathers in peace’.
- The assurance of Job: Quite clearly Job expected to see God after his body had physically died — ‘without my flesh I shall see God’ — as described in Job 14:14 and 19:25-26.
- The doctrine of the resurrection: The very act of resurrection implies immortality, otherwise why bother to resurrect the dead, be they righteous or unrighteous? Resurrection is noted in Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2-3; Hosea 13:14; John 5:25-29 and Revelation 20:4-6, 11-15.
- The consciousness of the soul: The immaterial part of a human being that has physically died is said to be conscious and, if that person was a believer, with God. This is taught by David in Psalm 17:15 as well as by Asaph in Psalm 73:23-25. See also Ecclesiastes 12:7; Luke 23:43; John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; and Philippians 1:22-24.
- Joining the dead: David expected to join his dead son after David’s own physical death (2 Samuel 12:23). David expected to be with his deceased son in a conscious way after his own death.
- Eternity in the heart: God has set eternity in the heart of human beings (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The heart is one of the facets of the immaterial parts of a human being. Therefore, contained within the immaterial part of every human being is the element of immortality.
- Samuel’s appearance to Saul: This strange incident shows that Samuel was conscious after physical death (1 Samuel 28:8-19).
- Through death is life: In John 11:25, Jesus says concerning Lazarus that ‘though he die, yet shall he live’. Jesus used the present tense, so though Lazarus is now dead, yet he still lives. Lazarus was certainly physically dead, but his immaterial part lives and is conscious.
- The promise of the future glory: In Romans 8:18, believers are promised future glory. The fact that believers are given this promise implies immortality because the very act of glorification implies continuous eternal existence.
- The promise of a future life: In 1 Corinthians 15:19, it is stated that a lack of future life would make the believer most pitiable. Still, as that chapter describes in rich detail, believers will receive glorified bodies and so we are promised a future life.
- The soul is renewed: While our bodies decay, the souls of believers are renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The reason why the souls of believers are renewed is because of the immortality of the soul.
- Immortality through the gospel: In 2 Timothy 1:10, Paul states that both ‘life and immortality [are brought] to light through the gospel’. One of the reasons for the gospel is the salvation of the soul in its continued existence.
- Future rewards and punishments: The fact that future rewards and punishments will be given implies immortality. These things would be meaningless after death unless immortality is true. This fact is found in Matthew 11:20-24; 13:49-50; 25:34, 41, 46; Romans 2:5-11; and 2 Timothy 4:7-8.
The Benefits of the Doctrine of Immortality
For believers, the doctrine of immortality provides us with three benefits. First, we have the hope of future joy (Philippians 1:23-24). Second, we do not need to be in despair when trials and tribulations come upon us because we are only temporary residents in this world for our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Third, this doctrine of immortality provides us with motivation for righteous living.
For a detailed refutation of false doctrines regarding immortality (namely the false doctrines of (1) the cessation of existence, (2) the transmigration of the soul or reincarnation, (3) conditional immortality and (4) annihilationism), please read Fruchtenbaum (2005:10-20).
If you would like to find out more about immortality, we suggest you consider reading the original article by Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum, ‘Immortality’.
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