Monday, May 11, 2015

Paul’s Gospel and the Death-Denying Doctrines that Contradict It

Truth matters to God. In fact, truth is so important to God that he has made a belief in certain truths the criteria by which people are justified, become members of the body of Christ and inherit eonian life.[1] But what are the truths which must be believed in order to qualify as a believer? The answer is provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. There, Paul summarizes his gospel (or "evangel") with the following truths concerning Christ:

(1) Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures;
(2) Christ was entombed;
(3) Christ was raised from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

None of these facts of Paul’s gospel are difficult to understand and believe – unless, that is, one is holding to other beliefs that complicate or contradict them. Unfortunately, this is exactly the case for most people who identify themselves as Christian. Most professing Christians – sincere as they may be - unknowingly hold to beliefs they’ve been taught which complicate, distort and outright contradict these fundamental facts of Paul’s evangel. Although long-established in Christian tradition and deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of many who hold to them, such beliefs ultimately prevent people from being able to truly understand and intelligently embrace the simple truths of Paul’s evangel. 

The Immortality of the Soul

The fact that Christ died (as affirmed in Paul’s evangel) can be grasped by anyone who has even a basic understanding of what it means for something to be alive. According to both Scripture and common sense, death is simply the absence of life. Thus, in order to understand and define what death is, one must have some basic understanding of “life.” Then, with this understanding in place, one can easily deduce the meaning of death by negation (e.g., “Death is the opposite of life, and since this is what it means to be alive, the opposite is what it means to be dead.”).

Fortunately, it doesn't take any special insight or unusual degree of intelligence to understand what it means to be alive, for this knowledge is immediately and intuitively available to every living, self-aware being. Every human being who knows himself or herself to be alive intuitively understands that consciousness and life always occur together. No one has ever experienced a single moment in which this has not proven to be the case. Thus, when we understand death to be the absence of life, it requires no special insight to arrive at the conclusion that those who are dead are not conscious or involved in any kind of conscious activity.

The Concordant Literal New Testament Keyword Concordance defines “life” (zoe) as "the activity of spirit, especially as manifested in the organic creation." I think this is a pretty good definition of life. To be alive is to be that in which spirit is active and manifesting itself (hence we're told by James that “the body apart from spirit is dead”). Moreover, God is frequently referred to as the “living God.” Since God “is spirit” (John 4:24) and the only necessarily existent being, God is essentially alive (hence we're told by Christ that "the Father has life in Himself," John 5:26). When we consider God as the absolute standard by which we can know what it means to be alive and living, we can conclude that consciousness - something which God necessarily has - is inseparable from being alive, and that anything with consciousness has it by virtue of having spirit and thus being alive. Thus, to die necessarily involves a loss of consciousness (among other things).

For beings whose existence is at least partly “organic,” having spirit means it can move, grow and self-regulate internal conditions. For human beings, having spirit means we have a capacity for self-awareness, rational thought, and volitional activity. In contrast, something that is dead – i.e., something that is without spirit - has completely ceased to be functionally active. It has lost the capacity for all functional activity, including consciousness.

We know that syncope (a temporary loss of consciousness) is due to a shortage of oxygen to the brain because of a temporary reduction of blood flow. But what happens when there is a permanent reduction of blood flow to the brain and all neurological activity ceases? Is there any observable indication that a person whose brain has stopped functioning completely is more functionally active or more conscious than a person who has simply experienced a temporary reduction of blood flow to their brain? Do not our own God-given senses indicate otherwise? 
Since, for beings such as ourselves, being alive entails having a capacity for consciousness and other functional activities, death necessarily entails a loss of this capacity. And Scripture confirms this view of what appears, from our perspective, to take place when death occurs: those who are dead are said to be unable to engage in the sort of conscious activities that the living are able to do - activities such as thinking, remembering and worshiping God (Eccl. 9:5-6, 10; Psalm 6:5; 30:9; 88:10-12; 115:17).  

In contrast to this common-sense and Scriptural understanding of what it means to be dead, the popular Christian doctrine of the "immortality of the soul" denies that human beings are the sort of things that actually die and lose their capacity for conscious activity. According to this belief, man is actually an immortal (i.e., undying) being that survives the death of his body and continues to consciously exist somewhere in a "disembodied state." Since it denies that any human being truly dies (only the body dies, according to this view), it consequently denies the reality of Christ's death. And yet, Paul wrote that it was Christ himself - not merely some part of Christ - who "died for our sins." While undergoing the torture of Roman crucifixion, it was the man, Jesus Christ - not merely his body - who breathed his last and died.

Like all mortal human beings (beginning with Adam), Christ's existence as a living being with a capacity for sentience/consciousness (i.e., his being a "living soul") was dependent on the union of (1) a body consisting of earthly elements (i.e., "dust" or "soil") and (2) a "spirit" given by God (this life-sustaining spirit from God is given to both humans and animals, and is first spoken of in Genesis 2:7 as the "breath of life"). When Christ died, the union of body and spirit that made Christ a "living soul" was broken, and our Lord was introduced into a lifeless state - i.e., a state of complete functional inactivity and (thus) utter oblivion. As is the case for all human beings who die, Christ lost the capacity to sense, think, speak, breathe or do anything at all. 

Included in Paul's summary of his evangel are the words, "He was entombed." Just as the post-resurrection appearances of Christ mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:5-8 are included as proof that Christ was roused by God, so Paul mentions Christ's entombment as evidence that Christ actually died. This part of Paul’s evangel summary is consistent with the fact that, throughout scripture, those who have died are consistently spoken of as being wherever their body is, or wherever the remains of their body may be (see, for example, Gen. 3:19; 23:19; 25:10; 1 Kings 2:10; 2 Chron. 9:31; Job 14:10-12; Ps. 146:3-4; Dan. 12:2; Isaiah 26:19; John 5:28; 11:17, 43; Acts 2:29; 8:2). Our bodies are where we are last present when we die and cease to be "living souls," and they are where we will be present again when we are restored to a living, conscious existence. Being essentially bodily beings - i.e., beings who are dependent on a living body to be alive - we cannot be said to be somewhere that our body is not. Scripturally speaking, it cannot be said that a human being whose body is lying dead in a grave is, at the same time, experiencing the joys of heaven (see Acts 2:29, 34). The very idea is completely contrary to what scripture teaches about the nature of man and of death. 

But what about the spirit of man, which we're told departs from him at death? Does this support the traditional Christian position that human beings survive their death as "immortal souls?" Let's consider the request of the faithful Jewish believer, Stephen, shortly before he was martyred: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). Did the Lord receive Stephen when he died, or did he receive Stephen's spirit? We're told by Luke that it was Stephen – the human being - who was "put to repose" (i.e., fell asleep) as he was being stoned to death. If "Stephen" = Stephen's spirit, then it would mean that it was Stephen's spirit that cried out in a loud voice while kneeling, and then fell asleep as it was being stoned to death. But that, of course, is absurd. It was not Stephen's spirit that did these things, but Stephen himself - the human being. And it was not Stephen whom Christ received when Stephen died, but rather something which belonged to Stephen, and which will have to be restored to him in order for him to enjoy any kind of "life after death." But Stephen, by faith, knew his spirit would one day be returned to him; it was for this reason that he entrusted his spirit to Christ (for Stephen knew that it was Christ to whom God had given the authority to raise the dead on the "last day," when all believing, faithful Israelites will be resurrected).

In Luke 23:46, we read, "And shouting with a loud voice, Jesus said, "Father, into Thy hands am I committing My spirit." Now, saying this, He expires." The spirit that Christ committed into the hands of his God and Father is that which, we are told in Ecclesiastes 12:7, "returns to God who gave it." But was this spirit which Christ committed into God's hands Christ himself? Or was it something that rather belonged to Christ? Obviously, the spirit that Christ committed into his Father's hands was something that belonged to Christ - hence, Christ's words, "..am I committing MY spirit." Consequently, this spirit cannot, by itself, be identified with Christ himself. But if that's the case, then this spirit - as essential to Christ's personal identity and conscious existence as I believe it was (and is) - cannot be, in itself, the conscious person we know as the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Man, Jesus Christ, who was (and is) the conscious being to whom this spirit belongs, and who entrusted it to his Father for safe keeping just before he died. Notice that Christ entrusted to his God and Father what Stephen entrusted to Christ. Why the difference? Answer: Because Christ knew he was about to enter into a state in which he would be utterly helpless to restore himself to a living, conscious existence. When Christ died, his God and Father was the only One who had the power and authority to save him from death (Heb 5:7). And, thank God, save him he did.

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul denies that Christ was in any need of being saved by God from death, since it denies that human beings really die; according to this view, it is only a person's body (rather than the person himself) which actually dies. As such, this doctrine - as popular as it is - contradicts Paul's evangel.


The Trinity/Deity of Christ  

Like the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, there is another doctrine that also undermines the idea that Christ actually died, and thus contradicts an essential element of Paul's evangel. Ironically, this doctrine is considered an essential doctrine of orthodox, mainstream Christianity. In its most popular (and so-called "orthodox") form, the doctrine of Christ's deity affirms that Christ is one of three members of a "tri-personal" (or "triune") "Godhead." But one doesn't have to hold to the doctrine of the Trinity in order to affirm the doctrine of the deity of Christ; for example, this view of Christ is shared by those who hold to both a "modalist" and a "binitarian" view of God. What all of these positions have in common is their shared commitment to the idea that Christ possesses the same divine status and nature as the Father, and is thus "God" in the same sense that the Father is God, without any qualification.

Its overwhelming acceptance among the majority of Christians notwithstanding, the doctrine of Christ’s deity results in a perplexing (and, I believe, insurmountable) problem for those who affirm it. For if Christ died – and if Christ is also God - then it would mean that God died. But anyone who has even the slightest understanding of who and what God is knows that this can’t be right. God - the uncreated Creator whose years have no end (Psalm 102:27) - cannot, by virtue of his divine nature, die. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the "Living God." He is (and always has been) immortal and incorruptible. Paul explicitly affirms the immortal and incorruptible nature of God elsewhere (Rom. 1:22-23; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:13, 16). 

Since God has always been (and always will be) inherently and necessarily immortal, this can mean only one of two things: either (1) Christ did not really die, or (2) Christ is not the same divine being as the Father. Since (according to Paul) Christ did die, the second option is clearly the correct one. Christ is not God – at least, not in the same sense that the Father is God. Rather, Scripture teaches that Christ is a created being who was uniquely and miraculously begotten by God himself. Being made fully human, Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, died for the sins of the world, was raised from the dead by God, and now sits exalted at God's right hand as Lord over all. Christ is the "image of the invisible God," and perfectly revealed to the world the heart and character of God through his life and death. He is also the first human to have ever been vivified (made immortal), and was given power and authority from God that no other created being - whether terrestrial or celestial - has ever possessed.   

Since Scripture is clear that Jesus was (at one point) a mortal human being like you and I, and that he did, in fact, die (and remained dead for three days), the only possible conclusion is that Jesus Christ is not God. Many Christian apologists think they have a way out of this dilemma, however. Consider the following excerpt from the website of Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, in which he tackles the question of how Christ could die while at the same time being God (emphasis mine):

"It is helpful to speak of what Christ does or how he is relative to one of his two natures. For example, Christ is omnipotent relative to his divine nature but he is limited in power relative to his human nature. He is omniscient with respect to his divine nature but ignorant of various facts with respect to his human nature. He is immortal with regard to his divine nature, but mortal with regard to his human nature…Christ could not die with respect to his divine nature but he could die with respect to his human nature."[2] 

In Craig’s response, he relies on the orthodox Christian view that Christ has two distinct “natures” – one that is fully human, and another that is fully divine. This philosophical position is thought by Craig to solve the dilemma of how it can be said that Jesus, while being “fully God,” was yet able to die. But this response is entirely inadequate. To see why, all we need to do is understand what, exactly, a “nature” is, and what it means to say that Christ has two of them. Once we clarify this issue, Craig’s argument crumbles. 

So, what exactly does Craig mean he says that Christ has “two natures?” What is a “nature?” Well, a “nature” is simply the essential properties, attributes or qualities that belong to something, and without which it would be something other than what it is. Christian apologist Matt Slick (of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) explains the meaning of the term as follows:

"In philosophy, [nature] can refer to the essence of something. Likewise, theologically, the nature of something is that which makes something what it is. It is the most basic essence of something. We would say that the nature of God is good, holy, just, immutable, etc. If we were to take any one of these properties away from God in describing his nature, he would cease to be what he is. The nature of something deals with the essential properties that make something what it is."[3]

So according to Slick, the “nature” of something refers to its “essence” - i.e., the essential properties (or “qualities”) that it has, and which make it what it is.[4] According to this understanding of what a “nature” is, what makes a dog a dog (rather than, say, a cat) are the distinctively canine properties, attributes or qualities that it has. A dog’s distinctively canine properties, attributes or qualities make up its canine “nature” or “essence.” So if a dog’s distinctively canine properties were changed to those of a cat, it would cease to be a dog. It would be a cat. Regardless of what one may want to call it, an animal that possesses all the essential properties of a cat simply cannot be a dog. It would be impossible for any animal to possess all of the essential properties of both a cat and a dog, and if there existed an animal that shared an equal percent of some (but not all) of the properties or qualities of both a cat and a dog, the animal would be neither a cat nor a dog, but a different animal entirely. 

Now, to say (as Craig does) that Christ “is immortal with regard to his divine nature” is simply to say that Christ is immortal with regard to his divine properties, attributes or qualities. In other words, it is to say that Christ has the divine property, attribute or quality of immortality (meaning that Christ is immortal rather than mortal). And to say that Christ is “mortal with regard to his human nature” is simply to say that Christ is mortal with regard to his human properties, attributes or qualities. In other words, it is to say that Christ has the human property, attribute or quality of mortality (meaning that Christ is mortal rather than immortal). Thus, after clarifying what is meant by the term “nature,” we discover that what Christian philosophers such as Craig are actually saying (that is, once their words are stripped of all ambiguity) is that Christ was both mortal and immortal - that he both died and didn’t die. But this is nothing more than contradictory nonsense. 

Thus, it turns out that the entire argument is a subterfuge. It’s a contradiction cloaked in the robe of mystery and ambiguous language. While some Christians may believe there to be something “paradoxical” or “mysterious” about the position that Christ was both immortal and mortal at the same time, that he was both omniscient and “ignorant of various facts,” and that he both died and didn’t die, the fact is that these are just contradictions. Claiming that Christ was, before his death, “immortal with regard to his divine nature and mortal with regard to his human nature” is no different than asserting that a single shape can be both a circle and a triangle. In neither case is one really making a meaningful claim. 

Moreover, not only is this contradictory position regarding Christ mistaken, but holding to it makes it difficult – if not impossible - to affirm the essential truths of Paul’s evangel. For if Christ is God - and thus has the divine property or attribute of immortality - then Christ didn't really die. He just appeared to die. In the same way, if Christ is God, then he was not really raised from the dead, since God (being immortal) has never had any need of being restored to life. But if (as Paul heralded) Christ actually died for our sins, was entombed, and was raised from the dead by God, then it follows that Christ wasn’t - and isn’t - God.

Conclusion

Most Christians profess to believe - and may sincerely think they believe - that Christ died on the cross and was raised from the dead three days later. But if you ask them whether they think Jesus Christ was, during the time of his death, just as lifeless as the dead body which lay in the tomb for three days, it will quickly become clear that, contrary to what they think they believe or profess to believe, they do not, in fact, actually believe that Christ truly died. Instead, they believe that it was only Christ's body that died and laid in a tomb for three days, while Christ himself - the sentient, thinking and volitionally active person - was actually introduced into a different form of life. Contrary to the truth of Scripture, most Christians believe (and would likely brand as heretics those who deny) that Christ survived the death of his body, and continued to consciously exist somewhere other than where his body was. But if this is the case, then Christ didn't really die. Only his mortal body died. And what happened three days after the death of his body wasn't the resurrection of the man himself. No, it was merely the restoration of an immortal being to an embodied existence.


Note: The following are some articles on my blog concerning the subject of the “immortality of the soul”:







[1] "Eonian life" is a more accurate translation of the expression rendered "eternal life" in the most popular translations of the Bible. This expression refers to the gift of life that certain people will enjoy during the coming ages (or "eons") of Christ's future reign. While an amazing blessing to be sure (many people will be dead during this time), it does not refer to anyone's final, eternal destiny. Those who do not receive this "eonian salvation" will not be lost for all eternity. For more on this subject, see my seven-part blog series: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2015/01/eternal-or-eonian-part-one_17.html



[4] Consider the following definitions from Merriam-Webster:
“Nature: the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing : ESSENCE.”
“Character: a set of qualities that make a place or thing different from other places or things.”
“Essence: the basic nature of a thing : the quality or qualities that make a thing what it is.”

17 comments:

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  3. Hi Robin, thanks for commenting. With regards to "free will," I think the problem is the popular Christian view that man - not Christ - is the "final arbiter" of his salvation, that Christ's death alone was not sufficient, and that something more needs to be added to the equation (i.e., our contribution). I see no problem with the idea that someone could believe in some degree of "free will" and still become members of the body of Christ, as long as it's ALSO their view that nothing anyone does or doesn't do can change what Christ accomplished through his death. What Christ accomplished through his death is a done deal, and "free will," I believe, has nothing to do with it. Does that make sense?

    With regards to the lake of fire/second death, I'm not sure how being mistaken on this could "disqualify" one from becoming a member of the body of Christ, unless one's belief concerning it somehow prevented them from believing that Christ died.

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  5. Robin, I can't speak for Martin. However, in his defense, I think that, for most professing Bible-believers who think we have "free will," their belief in free will is inseparable from the belief that Christ's death for our sins was not sufficient, and that we must exercise our "free will" in some way in order for Christ's sacrifice to "work" for us (of course, they'd never say that Christ's death wasn't sufficient, but their belief entails this). In other words, a belief in "free will" is, for most Christians, inseparable from their explanation for why some people are saved and others aren't. And to believe this is, I believe, to essentially deny the sufficiency of Christ's death for our sins. Even if one believes that everyone will eventually be saved, it still follows that, IF their reason for believing in universal salvation ISN'T based entirely on what Christ accomplished (but is rather Christ PLUS our contribution), then I'm not sure how it can be said that they understand or believe Paul's gospel.

    I don't see any good reason - Biblical or otherwise - to believe in "free will." But is it possible for someone to become a member of the body of Christ if they believe that we have "free will" in every area of life EXCEPT with regards to our justification and salvation? I think so. As mistaken as I think such a belief would be, I *don't* think it contradicts Paul's gospel. But again, in Martin's defense, this is NOT what most Christians believe. For most Christians, their belief in "free will" is not just with regards to the "mundane" choices we make every day (e.g., when I choose to get out of bed). Rather, they believe that our justification and eternal salvation depends on the right exercise of our "free will" as well. And it is THIS belief, I believe, which contradicts Paul's gospel and prevents people from becoming members of the body of Christ. So while I could be wrong, I have a feeling that when Martin says that one can't believe Paul's gospel if one believes in "free will," he has in view the popular and traditional Christian view expressed above.

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  8. I was wrong, I spoke out against what I see happening, but I spoke unlovingly. in Jesus Christ's name, Fathetr, I am sorry. There is a deceiving spirt loose among us, but we should not be pointing fingers, and taking sides; we need to pray for insight and unity among the Body of Christ. May the Father give all of our few teachers the spirit to seek truth and unity ...maybe first unity and then truth, I'm not sure which comes first. But I was wrong, I spoke out, rightfully so, but I did this unkindly, unlovingly, I'm sorry.

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  10. To be honest, Robin, I have neither the time nor the motivation to discuss Ted's article. I have so little free time as it is to spend studying and writing, and so I really have to prioritize. The question of whether the Thessalonian epistles were written early or late in Paul's ministry (while interesting, to be sure) just isn't very high on my priority list. However, if you have thoughts you'd like to share on this particular subject, and want to post them somewhere else (such as on your own blog/website), I will definitely try to check them out!

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  11. Thank you for your interesting article, but I can’t help thinking there is more to death, than it being a unconscious, disembodied state.

    If I understand what you are saying correctly, in death, the body returns to the earth, the spirit to God and the soul ceases to exist, because the soul is a result of the fusion of body with spirit, and now the fusion ends.

    You stress that when Christ died, Christ died and not only His body. He died because His soul ceased to exist. His body was not Him and His spirit was not Him. We can only speak of a person if there is a living soul.

    If this is what you mean, than we can only speak of death if the soul is dead and we can only speak of life if the soul is alive.

    This raises a question with me.

    Wasn’t Christ a person before His incarnation? You explained that His body is not Him, His spirit is not Him and that there is no such thing as an disembodied soul. So, technically speaking, He could not have existed before His incarnation, because He wasn’t a soul. But … He did exist.

    Jesus claimed that He existed, that He was alive before He had a soul, that He was clothed in glory, while being in that state. This also suggests that, even in His disemodied state, He was conscious of it.

    He said,

    “Before Abraham was, I am.” – Joh 8:58
    “You are from beneath, I am from above” Joh 8:23
    He claimed to be sent by the Father – Joh 8:26, 27, 42
    “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” – Joh 17:5

    Doesn’t this imply that there is a kind life beyond how we define life and death in earthly terms?

    What I can think of, this can mean different things:
    a. Perhaps, pre-incarnate Jesus proves that life in a disembodied state IS possible... Maybe our spirit IS who we are? Or maybe our soul IS immortal?

    b. We can not limit the definition of life and death to the earthly components of body, soul and spirit. There is more to it then only these three parts. Maybe the biblical definition of life and death is not the same as you explain it. Maybe death doesn’t mean ‘absence of life’ as we experience it on earth, but absence of communion with the source of life. As Adam didn’t immediately physically die after He sinned, but was blocked from the tree of life and became mortal.

    In a sense, after the Fall, Adam and all his descendants were dead, though being alive. And, also in a sense, all mortal men who eat from the tree of life (Jesus Christ), live, even when they die.

    It’s all confusing to me. I hope you can clarify things up for me. Thanks.

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    1. You write, “As far as I can tell, Scripture teaches that death for human beings involves a condition or state in which all consciousness and functional activity has ceased (Eccl. 9:4-6, 10), and in which our only hope for "life after death" is resurrection.”

      This is certainly true from the perspective of the living. Nothing in Sheol/Hades is seen or heard by the living. Nothing noticeable reaches the living from that place. It seems to them that the dead know nothing…

      The Greek word for the realm of death is Hades, meaning unseen or hidden. This is also how the Concordant Version translates Hades, for example in Mat 16:18.

      So, Ecclesiastics 9 is the logical expression resulting from the meaning of the word Sheol/Hades and the experience that the living have with the dead. It doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing is happening ‘on the other side’ of the grave.

      1 Sam 28 seems to confirm this. In this portion of scripture, Samuel the prophet is already dead, but Saul consults him through a woman possessing a familiar spirit. Samuel actually appears to Saul and not only that, he also answers Sauls question.

      How is this possible if the disembodied state of Samuel was also an unconsciuous state. Samuel could present himself with a consciousness, while his body was in the grave and without being a living soul. The scripture doesn’t say Samuel was resurrected, his decaying body was lying in his grave. With a decaying body in his grave, Samuel could not be a living soul. So, as Samuel did not appear to Saul in a body, and could not appear as a living soul, he must have appeared in spirit to Saul and/or the woman.

      This incident makes me wonder if your view of the soul is correct. It seems to me that the soul is not the determing factor to define a person, but our spirit is. The function of the soul is to be the earthly invisible canal through which our spirit can express itself. It comprises of our mind, our emotions and our will. So the soul seems to be the determing factor, but it is not. It is merely receiving input from the spiritual realm and translating it to earthly concepts, thus giving expression to the spirit in the earthly/natural realm.

      The function of the body is to be the physical canal through which our soul can express itself. Our spirit determines how we think, feel and decide. For example, if we have an unclean spirit we have unclean thoughts. These thoughts do not originate in our soul, but in our spirit, and our soul shows what kind of spirit we are. If our spirit is filled with the righteousness of Christ, we experience emotions like peace and joy in our soul.

      Because of the fact that we have a body, we can express our thoughts and emotions through our mouth and behaviour, being controlled by our will. We can act on our emotions and thoughts (or not) by excercising our will.

      Without a body there is no soul, without a body and soul there is no expression of our spirit in the physical world, resulting in a state of ‘unseen’ or ‘hidden’ for the living, i.e. dead.

      In viewing death this way, it is not a state of unconsciousness, but a hidden state, a state of unseen (all from the perspective of those who are left behind). This explanation makes it possible for Samuel to appear to Saul and for Moses and Elia to appear with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, while speaking with Him.

      By looking at the meaning of the word Hades, we can understand the nature of death, i.e. something hidden or unseen, not necessarily a state of unconsciousness. It helps us to not make more of death than it is. If death is a state of unconsciousness than Samuel could not have appeared to Saul and Moses and Elia could not have appeared and spoken to Jesus.

      Concerning Adam I would like to respond that he must have been immortal before the Fall, because Paul says in Romans 5:12 that “death entered the world through sin.” Before sin (it all started with Adams sin) there was no death, no mortality.

      I am looking forward to your response on this. Thank you.

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    2. Hi rlsikken,

      You said: "This is certainly true from the perspective of the living. Nothing in Sheol/Hades is seen or heard by the living. Nothing noticeable reaches the living from that place. It *SEEMS* to them that the dead know nothing…" (emphasis mine)

      Unfortunately (at least, for your position), God didn't inspire the Biblical author to inform the reader that it merely "SEEMS" to the living that the dead know nothing, whereas this is just an *appearance* and NOT the reality. So it "seems" to me as if you're reading your own death-denying position into the text (and yes, your view of "death" is simply a different form of life - life in a disembodied state). What God inspired the author to say is simply and plainly that "the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing." I've written pretty extensively on this subject elsewhere on my blog, and since I'd rather not cut and paste everything I've said there just to respond to everything you've said, please see my most recent blog post from June 19th (it's part 3 of a series, and includes links to parts 1 and 2). I have a good bit to say about Sheol/Hades in part 2, btw.

      (Response continued below)

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    3. As far as Samuel and the medium, here are my thoughts on this interesting passage:

      If, when Samuel died, his "spirit" (i.e., the "breath of life" mentioned in Gen. 2:7, which is the same "spirit" in all living, breathing things - Eccl. 3:19) "returned to God who gave it" (as does the spirit of all "living souls"), what was "it" doing in the ground? For that's where Samuel is described as coming from when the medium sees him. Do the immortal, conscious spirit-people that you believe return to God after they leave their dead body behind go underground to meet Him? Is that what it means for them to "return to God?" Or do you perhaps think these disembodied, immortal spirit-people leave their dead body, go to heaven (where God is said to sit enthroned, and where Christ is at present) and THEN go underground?

      Then there's the fact that Solomon (who would have undoubtedly been very familiar with this story about his grandfather Saul) expressed a view concerning the state of the dead that is very much inconsistent with the interpretation of 1 Samuel 28 which presupposes that a dead prophet could do or know anything. Apparently, Solomon did not understand this account to reveal anything about the dead that conflicts with his inspired declarations that both man and beast return to the dust after death (Eccl 3:19-20), that "the dead know nothing" (Eccl 9:5), and that "there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol" (v. 10). It follows, then, that Solomon probably interpreted this passage quite differently than you do.

      Moreover, if Samuel was actually present when he spoke to Saul, then it follows that he wasn't in Sheol at the time. And if he wasn't in Sheol then what he was able to do while not in Sheol is no indication of what those in Sheol can or can't do. And there is nothing said in Scripture about the dead being able to leave Sheol while remaining dead. To be in Sheol is to be in the state of death, and to be delivered from Sheol is to be delivered from death (Ps. 89:48). And in 1 Sam. 2:6 we read the following in Hannah's prayer: "Yahweh kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up." The Hebrew parallelism in this verse is clear: those who are killed are brought down to Sheol, and those who are brought to life are raised up from Sheol. If you believe Samuel had been raised up from Sheol to appear before the medium, then, according to what we read in 1 Sam. 2:6, Samuel must have been restored by God to a living existence. That is, if Samuel was actually present before the medium (as I believe he was) and thus not in Sheol, then there is nothing in Scripture which suggests that he was still dead; rather, the implication would be that he had been (temporarily at least) brought back to life by God.

      (Continued below)

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    4. To this it may be objected that Saul is represented as being unable to see Samuel; thus, Samuel must have been invisible and in a "disembodied state." But we know the medium could see him (she cried out in surprise when he appeared), so apparently what she saw was NOT a "disembodied spirit." Saul's inability to see Samuel can easily be accounted for by the fact that the medium was likely using a "conjuring pit" (or ob). Mediums at this time used large holes in the ground from which they pretended to summon the ghosts of the dead during their séances (the word for this ritualistic hole in the ground used by ancient mediums is an ob). According to Vine's Expository Dictionary, "In its earliest appearances (Sumerian), ob refers to a pit out of which a departed spirit may be summoned. Later Assyrian texts use this word to denote simply a pit in the ground. Akkadian texts describe a deity that is the personification of the pit, to whom a particular exorcism ritual was addressed. Biblical Hebrew attests this word 16 times." Similarly, the Journal of Biblical Literature has this to say on the word ob: "Initially, the term may have hinted of a "hole" from which dead spirits ascended from the spirit-world to earth's environment to communicate with the living, with the word eventually being used for the spirits themselves." (Hoffner, 385-401).

      Thus if Samuel had indeed been temporarily restored by God to a living, embodied existence within this pit (as I believe he was), then Saul would not have been able to see him initially unless he was looking down into it (as the medium would have been). So while it's true that the text doesn't explicitly say that Samuel was raised from the dead, it's *implied* by the fact that the medium describes him as having a physical, embodied form (i.e., as an "old man" wrapped in a "robe"). Do the disembodied, immortal spirit-people (or should I say "ghosts") in which you believe look like old men? Would they be naked without any clothes on? The more closely we analyze your position, it seems the more absurd it gets. I think the most reasonable interpretation of this passage is simply that God miraculously re-created Samuel's body within the medium's "conjuring pit" and temporarily restored him to a living existence (surely you don't think this would've been too difficult for God to do).

      (Continued below)

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    5. You said: "Concerning Adam I would like to respond that he must have been immortal before the Fall, because Paul says in Romans 5:12 that “death entered the world through sin.” Before sin (it all started with Adams sin) there was no death, no mortality."

      We're not told that "mortality" entered the world through sin, but rather death. There is a difference. Had soilish (and soulish) Adam not disobeyed God, the implication is that his mortal existence would've been prolonged indefinitely, as long as he ate from the tree of life. But because Adam disobeyed, he was cut off from the only means of prolonging his mortal life, and death was the inevitable result ("to die you shall be dying"). To be mortal means you CAN die, but it doesn't mean you necessarily WILL die (in fact, some mortal human beings - and I'm thinking primarily of the final living generation of the body of Christ that will on the earth - will never die; they'll simply be changed into immortals at the "last trump"). In contrast, being immortal means you CAN'T die. Consider, for example, what Christ told the Sadducees in Luke 21:36 regarding the state of those in the resurrection: they are "equal to angels" since they "CANNOT die anymore." That's the difference between mortality and immortality. So there CAN be mortality without there necessarily being death. For example, I believe it can be reasonably inferred that the new earth of the final eon will be (at least partly) populated by mortal human beings. But since mankind will have full access to the trees (literally "logs") of life (Rev. 22:2), there will be no death. We're even told that the leaves will be for "the healing of the nations" - something that would make little sense if everyone there was immortal and incorruptible, as our Lord Jesus Christ presently is.

      Aaron

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    6. Aaron, thank you for taking the time to respond.

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