Natural Immortality Unsupported by Hebrew and Greek

A Discussion of Walter Martin's Comments Relative to the Immortality of the Soul.

Secretary, Ministerial Association, General Conference

IN THE study of God's Word and especially in an­alyzing the great doctrines of the Christian faith, it is always helpful to appeal to the original languages of Scrip­ture. But to appeal for sup­port to the Hebrew and Greek and then to misread or misapply the words is tragic. But that is just what our friend Martin, in his book The Truth About Sev­enth-day Adventism, has done in a number of places in his effort to refute the scrip­tural teaching of life only in Christ. This we have already mentioned in our previ­ous article. We would not be unkindly crit­ical, but his misuse of the original lan­guages is all too evident, and in several places even the words he uses are mis­spelled. These are probably typographical errors, but he also reveals an inability to be completely objective in his study. It may be difficult to be completely objective, especially where theology is concerned, but when one, critical of the beliefs of others, tries to defend his case by the aid of Hebrew and Greek, and then misunder­stands and consequently misapplies the very scriptures he uses, the result cannot be other than confusion.

To cite one simple example. He uses "soul" and "spirit" as though they were exact synonyms. That certainly is not the case. Then, too, his strict adherence to the K.J.V. in certain places, while appearing perhaps to prove his point, leads him at times far from the clear meaning of the original. To illustrate: In support of his claims that the soul departs at death, he quotes Genesis 35:18 about Rachel, "And it came to pass, as her soul was in depart­ing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni." Now the word translated "soul" in this text is nephesh in Hebrew. It is translated 428 times "soul" in the K.J.V., and 119 times "life." Comparing the different usages of this word nephesh and applying them to Martin's theory makes interesting reading. Take, for ex­ample, David's prayer for protection from his persecutors. He says, "Deliver me: lest he tear my soul [nephesh] like a lion, rending it in pieces" (Ps. 7:1, 2). Would anyone contend that the "soul" here men­tioned is something "immaterial" and "in­destructible"? some ethereal vapor that leaves the body at death? If so, how could it be torn by a lion? One does not have to be a scholar to know that David is here talking about his body, his person, and not about some "immaterial" or "immortal" soul.

And again the Hebrew poet sings, "Be­hold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him ... to deliver their soul from death" (Ps. 33:18, 19). This would be meaningless if at death the soul soared away to some place of bliss. Some other translations simply render nephesh as "life" or "the person." Moffatt's reading is, "That he may rescue them from death." Fenton*: "from death to deliver their life." Many other passages could be cited show­ing the folly of trying to establish a doc­trine by a loose use of texts.

As far as Rachel's "departing soul" is concerned, it simply means that she was dying. Other translations make it clear, for nephesh is sometimes translated "life," "breath," "person," et cetera. The Berkeley Version (a new, conservative but scholarly translation) renders it, "With her last breath—for she expired—she named him Benoni." The Moffatt ** translation reads, "As her life went from her (for she died), she called the child Benoni." Fenton says, "But she breathing out her life—for she was dying—named him Son-of-my-anguish." The Hebrew merely states that Ra­chel was breathing her last, and her soul, nephesh (that is, her life, her person), in­stead of being wafted into Paradise, was soon to be laid away in the sepulcher, where she remains to this day.

It may be said that these references are from the Old Testament, to which we re­ply that it was Martin who introduced Ra­chel's experience. All we are doing is show­ing the weakness of his argument, an ar­gument that cannot be supported by either the New Testament or the Old. To build a doctrine on some particular translation while ignoring the original often leads to embarrassment.

Take another example of that Hebrew word nephesh. In Leviticus 17:14 we read, "The life of all flesh is the blood." Here nephesh is translated "life," one of the 119 times it is rendered "life" and not "soul." It would therefore be as correct to translate it "the soul of the flesh is the blood." Would our friend accept that translation? Yet he knows, as does every other student of Hebrew, that both are equally correct. But even more important, this is not re­ferring to human blood, but to the blood of animals. Do animals have souls? If so, is the soul, nephesh, of the animal in the blood? Or is the soul of man in his blood? Certainly not if "the immaterial nature of man (soul or spirit) is separate from the body," and if "it is independent of man's material form, and departs from that form at death."—Page 128.

Unscriptural Claims

But in an endeavor to further support his position he cites a number of scrip­tures from both the Old and New Testa­ments. Space forbids our reviewing all of them, but we will notice at least one. He quotes Revelation 16:3, "Every living soul died in the sea." This, of course, is in the New Testament, and the word soul in Greek is psuche. It is variously translated, 58 times "soul," 40 times "life," 3 times "mind," as well as "heart," et cetera. Any Greek authority will state simply that it means animal life, with no suggestion whatsoever of immortality. The irrele­vance of this scripture is seen at once. It could not refer to men, for men do not live in the sea. The Berkeley Version reads, "And every living creature that was in the sea met its death." The R.S.V. reads, "Every living thing died." We do not be­lieve that even Martin would contend that fish have immaterial souls that depart from their bodies at death. It is not diffi­cult to show that the very texts the author uses actually undermine his arguments. Could it be that the Hindu in his concept is actually more consistent than some Christians?

Martin declares: "To be dogmatic one must have a sound scholarly basis for his dogmatism." We agree; but it is this "sound scholarly basis" that we find so of­ten lacking in this author's review of the doctrine of conditional immortality. In­stead of discovering the strong foundation of the Word of God, we find his claims are too often just carry-overs from the false philosophy of Plato. Only as we see this issue in its true perspective can we grasp the significance of the clash between con­ditional immortalists and innate immortalists.

More than once our friend appeals to "historic orthodoxy" and wonders why Adventists do not line up with "historical scholarship." Seventh-day Adventists have only one court of appeal—the Bible. What is in the Word of God we gladly accept, for that is the only source of sound theo­logical truth. But what does he mean by "historic orthodoxy"? If this includes the baptism of babies, then on this point at least we cannot line up with it, and for the same reason that Walter Martin, him­self a Baptist clergyman, cannot, for he knows that infant baptism is nowhere taught in the Scriptures. The fact that for nearly fourteen centuries Christians be­lieved and practiced something that the apostles never taught is no reason for well-informed students of God's Word to con­tinue doing something we were never com­manded to do, while neglecting to do what the New Testament distinctly enjoins.

But, we ask again, What is the teaching of "historic orthodoxy" on this question? Martin says "the historic position of the Christian Church" is that there is "con­scious presence of the believer with Christ at the death of the body" (page 124). There is no doubt that following the great

apostasy of the third and fourth centuries, the "falling away" of the church (2 Thess. 2:3), many accepted the pagan teachings on the immortality of the soul, as well as many other errors, but this definitely was not the teaching of the Bible writers.

Let us think of man as he was created. In Genesis 2:7 we are told God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." The word "breath" is often translated "spirit." Jesus said, "God is a Spirit," or more correctly, "God is Spirit." As such He is the source of all power—the Author of life, in whom "we live, and move, and have our being." When the Creator breathed that spirit of life into man, he became a living soul, or a living being. Paul speaks of man as spirit (pneuma), soul (psuche), and body (soma). The word pneuma is found 388 times in the New Testament, but never once is it trans­lated "soul." At death the pneuma returns to God who gave it, and then that person who for years had been a living organism, returns to the earth, his flesh decomposes, he goes back to the dust whence he came. It was the union of inanimate dust with the spirit of life that produced a living soul, that is, a living person. When that spirit of life or the power by which he lives, departs, as it does at death, then the body can no longer function; the person ceases to be a man in the full sense of the word. God did not breathe a soul into man; He gave to the form of dust the power to function, and the result was a living soul or a living man. Body and soul are not opposites. Platonism teaches that the body is the soul's prison and death is the soul's friend, because, that philosophy claimed, at death the soul is liberated. Paul declares death is an enemy. He says: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:26).

The Death of Christ and of Stephen

Death, according to the Biblical defini­tion, is the yielding up of the spirit, or breath, of life. When our Lord died as one of the human family, He gave up the pneuma, the spirit of life. When Stephen died he did the same. After saying: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," we read "he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59, 60). To state, as Martin does, that only "his physical body took on the appearance of 'sleep,'" and that "he as a unit did not die; he merely experi­enced separation of the soul from the body" is, to use a theological term, plain eisegesis—reading into Scripture that which is not there. The Inspired Record does not quote Stephen as saying: "Lord Jesus, receive my soul," but "receive my spirit." That is vastly different. The psuche, soul or life of man, is always set forth in Scripture as mortal and perish­able. Greek philosophy, on the other hand, taught that man's psuche, the soul, was immortal and imperishable, an entity res­ident or imprisoned in his bodv. When death occurred, this soul departed to some other sphere. And that is precisely what Martin and thousands of other good Chris­tians believe. But whence comes this teach­ing? Not from the Word of God, we repeat, but from pagan philosophy.

The "historic" position of New Testa­ment Christianity is definitely the doctrine of the resurrection and not the immortal­ity of the soul, as Dr. Oscar Cullmann of Basel, Switzerland, so ably points out. In his recent book Immortality of the Soul, or Resurrection of the Dead, this out­standing scholar emphasizes how "wide­spread is the mistake of attributing to primitive Christianity the Greek belief in the immortalitv of the soul."—Paare 6. "1 Corinthians 15 has been sacrificed for the Phaedo."—Page 8. Then he says: "This inability to listen is equally surprising on the part of intelligent people committed to the principles of sound, scientific exegesis and on the part of believers who profess to rely on the revelation in Holy Scrip­ture."—Page 6.

Our friend's inability to see the obvious on this question emphasizes the truth of Cullmann's observation. Martin speaks of "contextual analysis," "linguistic exegesis," and "Biblical hermeneutics," and declares that they should guide us in our study of Scripture. This is true, but it surely is strange that he himself ignores these very principles. Take for example the word "life" which is translated from three dis­tinct Greek words: psuche, zoe, and bios. He refers to these but fails to distinguish clearly between them. Bios, he claims, "is the union or communion of body and soul."—Page 120. This is amazing. Where can such a definition be found? Lexicog­raphers such as Liddell and Scott, and Parkhurst, as well as authorities such as Young and Strong in their analytical con­cordances, all declare that bios simply means "natural life" or "living," "the means of subsistence," et cetera. It is found eleven times in the New Testament, five times translated "life," five times "living," and once "good." In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father "divided unto them his living [bios]" (Luke 15:12). He did not divide soul and body, nor did he unite soul and body, but simply di­vided the family fortune. Then too, we read of the woman who spent all her living (her livelihood—bios) on physicians (Luke 8:43). And again in 1 Timothy 2:2, we are admonished to pray "for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life [bios]." By what twist of linguistic exege­sis can such texts be made to teach that bios means "union or communion of body and soul"?

This is just one of many unwarranted statements this author makes in his en­deavor to support a crumbling case. Let us notice another on page 120. In reference to the experience of Lazarus, he states that "eternal life" is "unaffected by physical death," a truly bold assertion for which he gives no Scriptural evidence.

We agree with him that Christ "was able to give life, even though death had actu­ally occurred." Of course He was, for He is the Author of life, and He came to the tomb "to give life" to His friend who was in the sleep of death. Now if Lazarus was not really dead, then why did Jesus come to give him life? Concerning the actual state of Lazarus there was no question, for Jesus had said plainly, "Lazarus is dead." But the Master who declared Himself to be the "resurrection and the life," know­ing what He was about to do, said to Mar­tha, "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).

Lazarus was certainly a believer in Christ, and as such had already received the hope of eternal life. But that life "is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). In his mortal body he had been revealing that life, but through disease his body had ceased to function. He had simply "fallen asleep" in death.

A simple illustration of the abiding life of the Christian is that of a tree with its twigs and branches. In the growing season the inner life is revealed in leaves and fruit. When winter comes, the life, which is the basis of growth, disappears; the tree "dies back." But where has the life gone? The answer, of course, is that it is in the trunk of the tree. So the Christian, in com­mon with other men, lives his life in a mortal body, yet possesses at the same time the hope of eternal life. That eternal or everlasting life, while his by faith, is never­theless in God's Son (1 John 5:12). Only as he, like Paul, lives his life "by the faith of the Son of God" (Gal. 2:20) is he able to express that inner life in words, deeds, and attitudes. The teaching of Seventh-day Adventism on this is clearly expressed by Ellen G. White:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life." Through the beloved John, who listened to these words, the Holy Spirit declared to the churches, "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life." 1 John 5:11, 12. And Jesus said, "I will raise him up at the last day." Christ became one flesh with us, in order that we might become one spirit with Him. It is by virtue of this union that we are to come forth from the grave,—not merely as a manifestation of the power of Christ, but because, through faith, His life has become ours. Those who see Christ in His true character, and receive Him into the heart, have everlasting life. It is through the Spirit that Christ dwells in us; and the Spirit of God, received into the heart by faith, is the beginning of the life eternal.—The Desire of Ages, p. 388.

The Christian dies like other men, but when he does, the eternal life he possesses, having received it when he was "born again," remains "hid with Christ in God"

(Col. 3:3). But, says the apostle, "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory"

(Col. 3:4). We would re-emphasize that the eternal life which we receive now in Christ is entirely dependent upon these bodies of ours for expression, just as the tree's life is dependent for expression upon its branches. When physical death occurs as it did in the case of Lazarus, the transi­tory life (psuche) goes to sleep, but the everlasting life (the hoped-for zoe aionion of Titus 3:7) is "hid with Christ in God." Without a fully functioning individual body, no life of any kind can have individ­ual conscious expression. That is why "sleep" is so expressive of death, because in sleep there is no consciousness.

Walter Martin claims that this word sleep is a "grammatical metaphor" and warns against developing "a doctrine from a figure of speech." No student of God's Word would attempt to build a doctrine on a figure of speech. But who gives Mar­tin the authority to claim that a Biblical expression used by the prophets from Mo­ses to Paul, and emphasized by Jesus Christ Himself, is nothing more than "a figure of speech"? This robs Christ and the Word of God of a great truth. Death is not only like sleep, it is sleep in that the individual is unconscious. Man's condition in death is very clearly stated in the Word of God. "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Ps. 146:4).

In case the author complains that this is taken from the Old Testament, we would simply remind him that the Old Testa­ment was the only Bible the apostles knew as they went forth to preach the truth of God and raise up churches. But the New Testament uses the same phraseology. Paul says: "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep" (1 Thess. 4:13). And again: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51). And that change does not come at death but "at the last trump" verse 52. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" (1 Thess. 4:16).

Then, speaking of "the children of light," the apostle says: "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him" (1 Thess. 5:9, 10). The Amplified New Testament*** reads: "Whether we are still alive or are dead [at Christ's appearing] we might live together with Him and share His life." If we have died, that is, "fallen asleep," we shall be raised, that is, "be made alive" when Christ returns. "Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's" for "they also which are fallen asleep in Christ" have not perished, they are merely awaiting the day when they will be awak­ened out of sleep. Lazarus was just as dear to the Lord in death as he was in life, but he needed to be resurrected before he could function.

Describing death, the Word of God says: "So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. . . . All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come" (Job 14: 12-14). David said: "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (Ps. 17:15). Paul said: "We look for the Sav­iour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body ["the body of our humiliation," A.R.V.], that it may be fash­ioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:20, 21).

The Bible states emphatically in both Old and New Testaments that when a be­liever dies in the Lord, he is not out of the universe, he is simply "asleep." He is not praising God, for "the dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down intosilence" (Ps. 115:17). "In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?" (Ps. 6:5).

When Jesus came to give life to Laza­rus, He did not call him from heaven or from any celestial place. He called him from the grave. He did not call some "im­material," "indestructible," "never-dying" soul from a habitation of bliss. He called His friend from the tomb. And he who was asleep in death heard the voice of the Life-giver and came forth a whole man— body, soul, and spirit. If Lazarus were not dead but alive somewhere else, then why did Jesus say, "yet shall he live"? He was not living when Jesus arrived at the tomb, but he was living when He left. Only birth and the resurrection are doorways to con­sciousness.

Martin's contention that when our Lord returns in glory the souls of the believers will come with Him to be reunited with their resurrected bodies is absolutely unsup­ported by Scripture. Moreover, this inter­pretation is out of harmony with the con­text. Paul is writing about "them which are asleep" (1 Thess. 4:13), "which sleep in Jesus" (verse 14), "the dead in Christ" (verse 16), who will rise, not descend. The emphasis is that the living saints "shall not precede those who have fallen asleep" (R.S.V.) but all will be caught up "to­gether ... to meet the Lord in the air" (verses 15, 17). Whoever these are that our Lord brings, the Scripture emphatically states that they are or have been "asleep." Would our brother contend that there are sleeping souls in heaven?

The Greek word ago ("bring") is more correctly translated "lead," "lead out of," or "lead away." In illustration of the resur­rection of the righteous, Paul says that just as Jesus died and rose again, so it will be with His people. They too will rise, "Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (1 Cor. 15:23). Jesus said, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself." When our Saviour re­turns He will not bring disembodied souls with Him from heaven, but will lead resur­rected saints from this earth to their heav­enly home.

A number of well-trained scholars, Ad-ventists and others, have expressed deep disappointment over what they consider a rather superficial treatment of this impor­tant question. We regret that this author has laid himself open to severe criticism, by reading into Greek words that for which he has no proof, for it is bound to mislead lay members and those who are unac­quainted with the original languages of the Bible.

The Apostle Paul's Predicament

Before concluding our examination we should turn our attention to another state­ment of the great apostle in Philemon 1: 21-23. Martin says, "We need to pay strict attention to what he says" for "this one [text] alone gives us Paul's mind on the subject." This statement is as amazing as it is erroneous. One wonders where this au­thor's mind has been while reading the score of other references on life and death in Paul's writings. Sound scholarship re­quires that a statement made by any au­thor must be read and understood in the light of all the other statements made by the same author. Death and the resurrec­tion was a favorite subject with Paul, for he deals with it in nearly every one of his Epistles.

In this letter he states his earnest expec­tation and hope that Christ shall be magni­fied in his body; or as the Berkeley Version gives it, the "honor of Christ may be en­hanced in my body, either through living or through dying" (verse 20). Then he adds: "For on my part to live is Christ and to die is gain" (verse 21). He expresses his determination that come what may, "Christ shall be magnified in my body." But he finds himself in a "strait betwixt two." This "strait" (sunechomai) means being pressured. The two alternatives are: to live, or to die. He clearly states that if his work is done and he could magnify his Lord by dying, that would be "gain" for him, for death would bring release from toil and pain. Yet, he says, "my being alive physically means for me fruitful service" (verse 22, Berkeley). He certainly can magnify Christ by his service, so he finds him­self in a dilemma. If he were given the choice to live or to die, he does not know which it would be, life or death. "I feel the pressure from both sides," he says (verse 23, Berkeley). As far as he personally is concerned, life and death were just about in balance. "For me to live is Christ," he says. And yet living means shackles and hardships. That is why death would be gain. He knows that death is only a sleep, and in sleep there is no awareness. As soon as he lost consciousness then, as far as he was concerned, the next instant he would hear the call of the Life-giver. His letter to the Thessalonians tells how the Lord Himself would descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God.

Our Saviour's coming was very real to him. In his two short letters to the Thessa­lonians he refers to the Second Advent no less than twenty times. He pictures the translation of the saints who will be living to see their Lord return in glory; how they will be caught up with the resurrected ones to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4: 16, 17). It is a thrilling prospect. If only this could happen to him, if only he could be caught away with his Lord as was Elijah who went to heaven without seeing death —that is Paul's real desire or yearning. He interjects this thought as a third alternative which, however, had not been offered him, as he says: "I have a yearning to take my leave and to be with Christ, for that is by far the better part" (verse 23, Berkeley). It surely would be "far better." Yes, better than this earthly life with its hardships, and certainly better than a martyr's death. He does not long dwell on the thought, however, for he says: "Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you" (verse 24). It is somewhat of a soliloquy, unusual but beautiful.

Now Martin's interpretation of this is that Paul "desired to depart from his body." This seems a strange misconstruing of Paul's statement. But he goes even far­ther and says that "the context indicates that Paul expected death—and instanta­neous re-union with Christ." That surely is amazing, because Paul clearly states the very opposite. He says: "I am confident of this, I know that I shall stay and keep near you all to promote your advancement" (verse 25, Berkeley). "That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ . . . by my coming to you again" (verse 26).

Nothing could be clearer than that Paul expected to live and visit them again. For Martin to read into this that "Paul ex­pected death—and instantaneous re-union with Christ" is beyond comprehension. "Contextual analysis" and "hermeneutics" have certainly been no guide to him here. He charges Adventists with teaching doc­trines that are not supported by the Word of God. But what shall we say to an attempt to make Paul say the very opposite of what he so clearly states? The old apostle cer­tainly was not expecting death in the im­mediate future; much less was he desiring "to depart from his body," whatever that may mean.

We know our friend Walter Martin and have nothing but love for him in our hearts. We have enjoyed prayerful fellowship to­gether with the Lord. But that does not blind our eyes to the truth of God's Word. We close this review with an appeal to him to be more objective in his study of the precious truth of God. David said: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may . . . behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple" (Ps. 27:4). Many who desire the Lord and rejoice in His love, fail to inquire of Him.

Earnest inquiry into the Word of God brings a rich reward in clearer understand­ing of our blessed Lord and Saviour, through whom alone we have eternal life. How glorious is the thought that He "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel"! Concluding his case against the doctrine of conditional immortality, our friend re­fers to Dr. Francis Pieper, a prominent Lutheran theologian. Then he says: "Sev­enth-day Adventists would do well to heed Dr. Pieper's observation." We simply reply that we do not rest our case with modern scholarship nor on the opinions of promi­nent theologians, past or present. While we do not discount scholarship, yet when theopinions of men clash with the clear state­ments of the Word of God, we stand by the Scriptures, which alone are able to make us "wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

* The Bible texts in this article credited to Fenton are from The Holy Bible in Modern English by Ferrar Fenton (London: S. W. Partridge & Co., Ltd., 1925).

** The Bible texts in this article credited to Moffatt are from The Bible: A New Translation bv James Moffatt. Copy­right 1922, 1935, 1950, by Harper and Brothers. Used by permission.

*** Used by permission of The Lockman Foundation. La Habra, Calif.


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Secretary, Ministerial Association, General Conference

February 1961

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