The British Evangelical Alliance ACUTE report states the doctrine is a “significant minority evangelical view” that has “grown within evangelicalism in recent years”. In the 20th century, conditional immortality was considered by certain theologians in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Proponents of conditional immortality (“conditionalists”) point to Genesis 2 and Revelation 22, where the Tree of Life is mentioned. It is argued that these passages, along with Genesis 3:22-24 teach that human beings will naturally die without continued access to God’s life-giving power.
As a general rule, conditionalism goes hand in hand with annihilationism; that is, the belief that the souls of the wicked will be destroyed in Gehenna (often translated “hell”, especially by non-conditionalists and non-universalists) fire rather than suffering eternal torment. The two ideas are not exactly equivalent, however, because in principle God may annihilate a soul which was previously created immortal.While annihilationism places emphasis on the active destruction of a person, conditionalism places emphasis on a person’s dependence upon God for life; the extinction of the person is thus a passive consequence of separation from God, much like natural death is a consequence of prolonged separation from food, water, and air.
In secular historical analysis, the doctrine of conditional immortality reconciles the ancient Hebrew view that humans are mortal with the Christian view that the saved will live forever.
Belief in forms of conditionalism became a current in Protestantism beginning with the Reformation, but it was only adopted as a formal doctrinal tenet by denominations such as early Unitarians, the churches of the English Dissenting Academies, then Seventh-day Adventists, Christadelphians, the Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Mortalist writers, such as Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, have often argued that the doctrine of natural (or innate) immortality stems not from Hebrew thought as presented in the Bible, but rather from pagan influence, particularly Greek philosophy and the teachings of Plato, or Christian tradition. Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright noted that 1 Timothy 6:15-16 teaches “God… alone is immortal,” while in 2 Timothy 1:10 it says that immortality only comes to human beings as a gift through the gospel. Immortality is something to be sought after (Romans 2:7) therefore it is not inherent to all humanity.
These groups may claim that the doctrine of conditional immortality reconciles two seemingly conflicting traditions in the Bible: the ancient Hebrew concept that the human being is mortal with no meaningful existence after death (see שאול, Sheol and the Book of Ecclesiastes), and the later Jewish and Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead and personal immortality after Judgment Day.
- Evangelical Alliance; Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals (2000). “Conclusions and Recommendations”. In Hilborn, David (ed.). The Nature of Hell. London: Paternoster Publishing. pp. 130–5. ISBN978-0-9532992-2-5.
- Florovsky, Georges (February 13, 2004). “The ‘Immortality’ of the Soul”. Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission.
- Evangelical Alliance; Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals (2000). Hilborn, David (ed.). The Nature of Hell. London: Paternoster Publishing. p. 74. ISBN978-0-9532992-2-5.
- Springborg The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’s Leviathan Page 380 “It is Plato, not Moses, who taught the existence of an immortal soul.”
- N. T. Wright Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters : 1 and 2 Timothy 2004 Page 74 “But he never states this in terms of people having an immortal soul, for the very good reason that he doesn’t believe it. Only God possesses immortality (verse 16).”
- Pearce F. After Death What?
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