Saturday, August 27, 2011

Resurrection or Immortality? Annihilationism's False Dilemma

“Jesus’ quotation of the declaration, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Matt. 22:32), has often been used in support of man’s immortality. Staunch conservatives have noted, however, that Jesus uses the quotation to prove, not immortality, but the resurrection. The Lukan parallel (Luke 20:37-38) says that ‘to him all are alive,’ but both the context and the argument point to the resurrection of those who belong to God, not the immortality of every person” (Edward William Fudge, “Humankind in Biblical Perspective,” from The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011. Kindle edition).

This post will continue from the discussion given in the last post on “Humankind in Biblical Perspective” (a chapter in Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes). This post will continue to place both theology and apologetics side-by-side. Fudge tackles common biblical evidences used to argue immortality and attempts to refute them. I think that annihilationists must rebut these evidences if their doctrine is to be taken seriously. At the same time, I have a bias: I am an evangelical Christian committed to the study of God’s Word, and there are just certain things that a plain reading of Scripture provides for me that it would take major reconstruction of the text to undo. One of those concerns the doctrine of soul immortality.

In this post, I intend to tackle another passage that argues for the immortality of the soul---that is, Matthew 22:32. Let’s read this verse in its context:

“But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:29-32, NASB).

The context of these verses regards the Pharisees, who pose a question to Jesus (possibly a hypothetical one) about a woman who marries one husband (who then dies) and his brothers, subsequently. All of the seven brothers die before the woman. In the resurrection, whose wife would she be? Which of the seven brothers could legitimately claim the woman as his wife? The Pharisees likely pose this question to Jesus in order to stump Him...but, as we know, Jesus always has an answer for their clever questions.

Now, back to Fudge. In Fudge’s response to this, he separates immortality and resurrection:

“Jesus uses the quotation to prove, not immortality, but the resurrection.”

Is it not the case, however, that immortality is connected to resurrection? What else will humanity be resurrected to except immortality? Is this not the point that Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 15 when he said that “this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53b)? If resurrection and immortality are tied together, I don’t think Fudge can make them as absolutely distinct as he is trying to do.

Next, let’s tackle Matthew 22 itself. In Matthew 22:31, Jesus refers to the “resurrection of the dead,” which could easily seem to prove Fudge’s point. The problem with this is that Fudge overlooks verb tenses, which plays a huge role in the theology developed from these verses. Jesus states that the Lord’s words, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” refer not to the dead but the living. What does this mean? Did not Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all die? Yes they did. So then, if they are dead, how then can they live? Well, one could easily take one part of the interpretation (as did the Pharisees) and conclude that the dead will (future tense) live again. There is, however, another part of the interpretation, a part that the Pharisees overlooked...and a part that Edward Fudge overlooks. What is the missing part? The missing part is Jesus’ words that the dead are living.

How does the idea of living tie to the resurrection? Notice that in Matthew 22:28, the Pharisees say that the woman “will live”---this is why they ask the question, “Whose wife will she be?”. Jesus, however, wanted to demonstrate to them the problem with their thinking: not only would there be no marriage in heaven (the Pharisees were wrong about marriage)...there would also be no spiritual “coming to life” in the resurrection. Those who died in Christ would not just start to live in the resurrection...they are living now! Even though they are physically dead and their soul is absent from the body, they are present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8; Phil. 1:23; John 12:26). In Philippians 1:23, Paul contrasts “remaining in the flesh” with “departing to be with Christ,” which Paul labels as “much better.” I would have to agree: it is better to depart and be with Christ...but what a blessing it is to live on in the flesh for the sole purpose of abounding to God’s glory!!

I am thankful that Fudge attacks this passage; he has to in order to make the case for annihilationism. The problem with his critique, though, is that I just don’t think the annihilationist view can withstand this strong text. If those who have died (past tense) are called “living” (present tense) by the Lord Jesus, and the resurrection is a future event, does this not demonstrate the truth that the dead live on because of an immortal soul? Does this not show us that believers live on, apart from the resurrection? Does this not show us that, body or no body, believers live on---not because of a body, but because of the soul? What this shows us is that what makes a person a living soul is not the body, but the soul of the individual. It is this enduring life (in the absence of the flesh) that makes the strongest case for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. God bless.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand how the text you cite disproves annihilationism.
I believe in conditional immortality; I find no clear indication that the Bible teaches life immortal for the unjust after the "second death" (Revelation 20:14). The Bible does say that there will be a resurrection from death for both just and unjust persons; but the Bible describes the first death as "sleep" (e.g. Daniel 12:2, John 11:13, 1 Thessalonians 4:4-14). Where in the Bible is the "second death" described as sleep or anything else but death - literally? I would also like to point out that Daniel 12:2 says "many" will rise (it does not say "all"). It seems that many will rise to be judged after their first death (for example it seems Tyre, Sidon, and Capernaum will rise again for judgement - Matthew 11:23,24). However, the residents of Sodom already suffered the unique "eternal fire" (Jude 7) and I do not believe will ever be raised again.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for commenting. First, I really would appreciate it if, in the future, you would reveal your identity. Here at the blog anyone can see my profile and know who I am. I wish that you would do this next time, or else I will have to refrain from responding to your comment.

With that said, I will give you the benefit of doubt this time and respond. The passage involving Matthew 22:32 can not alone disprove annihilationism. However, the text is not meant to disprove annihilationism alone. Hermeneutical principles and guidelines dictate that a passage be read alongside of other passages regarding the same subject matter. That being said, to find out the whole of what the Bible teaches on resurrection, you must read Matthew 22:32 in tandem with the Book of Revelation. Revelation seems to indicate that death is removed from the ungodly, such that they are bitten with scorpions for about five months. In addition, there are also texts that talk about the ungodly burning in the lake of fire and brimstone. We are told that smoke rises from the hell's furnace, from which the scorpions ascend (who sting the ungodly for months). The torment felt with scorpions is literal, conscious torment. It is biting of the skin, which affects the human nervous system. That is a conscious kind of pain, not something metaphorical, etc.

In order to disprove the notion of unconditional immortality, annihilationists must tackle the Book of Revelation. This is where the view fails. The imagery provided in the Book of Revelation strongly indicates a conscious eternity for both godly and ungodly. If you read Matthew 25, there are only two places to go: heaven or hell. Jesus refers to Hell as "eternal punishment." My question would be, "what does this mean to you"?

If you decide to provide your identity, I will continue further. If not, it's unfortunate that I have to conclude my comments here.