Dear Associates, Students and Friends:
Is your soul immortal? No, it is not. Life and death is the subject of this month’s article. The particular topic is the nature of the soul within each person. However, the belief that it is immortal developed through a process that this article will discuss. New Testament scholar Oscar Cullmann wrote:
“If we were to ask an ordinary Christian today (whether well-read Protestant or Catholic, or not), what he conceived 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.’ Yet this widely-accepted idea is one of the greatest misunderstandings of Christianity.”
Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection from the Dead? 1
The basis of this month’s Doctrinal Report for January 2006 is an article written by Dr. Martin in March 1963 titled “Pagan Doctrine of the Soul – Deliberate Deception.” It was in a monthly magazine called The Good News published by the Church of God, which later changed its name to the Worldwide Church of God. This was one of Dr. Martin’s earlier published writings. 2
I requested permission to reprint the article from the Worldwide Church of God. They initially gave me that permission and granted full ownership of the article to ASK. It was later discovered they had granted the rights to another organization and the permission was withdrawn. Therefore, I am using portions of Dr. Martin’s writing under the Fair Use Doctrine of the United States copyright laws. Those portions cited from the original article are in indented quotes. The majority of quoted materials are from original sources derived from out-of-copyright sources.
This month’s article show that non-biblical ancient religion is based on lies, fraud, and was used by rulers for social control over their people. Christianity of the 4th century fell victim to that same methodology of control when the official state religion became Christianity. Church leaders quickly saw the logic in such control over evil and uneducated populations. The result, as historian Will Durant puts it, was that:
“Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it ... From Egypt came the ideas of a divine trinity, the Last Judgment, and ... reward and punishment.”
Will Durant, The Story of Civilization 3
He also could have included the idea of the immortality of the soul, although that is intimately linked with reward and punishment. Christianity therefore incorporated the false pagan doctrines of the trinity, immortal soul, and a threat of hell as an afterlife punishment to reduce people’s tendency for evil.
Many of the early philosophers and wise men knew better. They knew that man did not have an immortal soul, that there was no punishment in a hell, and that the gods were human beings elevated by reputation to be divine (at least since the time of Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah). However, they perpetuated the pagan lies and those same lies were incorporated into Christianity.
As explained by Cullmann, the false immortal soul concept of the Greek philosopher Plato is this:
“Our body is only an outer garment which, as long as we live, prevents our soul from moving freely and from living in conformity to its proper eternal essence. It imposes upon the soul a law which is not appropriate to it. The soul, confined within the body, belongs to the eternal world. As long as we live, our soul finds itself in a prison, that is, in a body essentially alien to it. Death, in fact, is the great liberator. It looses the chains, since it leads the soul out of the prison of the body and back to its eternal home. Since body and soul are radically different from one another and belong to different worlds, the destruction of the body cannot mean the destruction of the soul, any more than a musical composition can be destroyed when the instrument is destroyed.”
Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection from the Dead?
As shown in many ASK articles (and as Cullmann points out), this concept is totally alien to the biblical idea of the relationship of the body, spirit, and their combination to form the soul, and the necessity for a bodily resurrection. The soul is not immortal: all men are sinners (Romans 5:12); all who sin must die (Ezekiel 18:4), all men will be resurrected through the Messiah, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:21–24). Resurrection is central to the concept of salvation, both for Jesus and for you and me. The concept of an immortal soul makes the resurrection, at best, an interesting gesture on God’s part, almost an afterthought.
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The material presented on the ASK website will be useful in preparation for the time period called the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) which will occur just before the time of the end. The time of the end will itself be a period of time just before the return of Christ to this earth. That “restitution of all things” will be an exciting time to be alive, during which all of the reliable information about the Bible and its teachings will be available to the Elijah to come for the conversion of Jerusalem spoken about in Zechariah chapters 12–14. Those many Jews (the majority?) and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem who accept the resurrected Jesus as their Messiah will have available to them non-sectarian, unbiased biblical and historical studies that demonstrate God’s Word is true and His salvation is certain for all human beings. May God speed that day.
David W. Sielaff
1 From the Introduction. Oscar Cullmann’s entire book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?: A Witness of the New Testament (London: Epworth, 1958) is available online at http://www.geocities.com/pastorkeith/cullmann.html, Jan. 2002.
2 Dr. Martin’s original 1963 article is contained in vol. 12, no. 3 of the March 1963 edition of The Good News, pages 5–6 and 12, that can be found at www.herbert-w-armstrong.org/Good%20News%201960s/Good%20News%201963%20(Vol%20XII%20No%2003)%20Mar.pdf. The article alone can be found at www.godstruthfortoday.org/Library/martin/PaganDoctrineOfTheSoul.htm.
3 Part 3, Caesar and Christ, a history of Roman civilization and of Christianity from their beginnings to A.D. 325 (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1944), p. 595.
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