Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality?

By COGwriter

Are humans immortal? Do humans possess an immortal soul that cannot be destroyed? Do Christians become God after the resurrection?

These are questions that philosophers have wrestled with for ages.

This article will briefly mention some passages from the Old and Testaments, plus some writings of early church writers to determine what the early Christian church understood on this subject. (There is a related YouTube video titled Are humans immortal?)

Old Testament Passages from Ecclesiastes and Ezekiel

The terms immortal and immortality are not found in the Old Testament (NKJV).

Notice what the Book of Ecclesiastes records:

5 For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, (Ecclesiastes 9:5)

Interestingly, Ezekiel recorded:

4 Behold, all souls are Mine;
The soul of the father
As well as the soul of the son is Mine;
The soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).

Notice that Ezekiel says that souls that sin shall die.

The "soul," nephesh in Hebrew, is a reference to the "life" or the "life essence"--that which makes us living beings. The same term is used of animals in the Bible--actally it is used for non-humans more than humans in the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 1:20,21,24).

Just like animal "souls" die, so do human "souls."

But since it is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews 9:27), is this talking about the first or second death (Revelation 2:11;20:6,14;21:8)?

Well, notice the next several verses from Ezekiel:

5 But if a man is just And does what is lawful and right; 6 If he has not eaten on the mountains, Nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, Nor defiled his neighbor's wife, Nor approached a woman during her impurity; 7 If he has not oppressed anyone, But has restored to the debtor his pledge; Has robbed no one by violence, But has given his bread to the hungry And covered the naked with clothing; 8 If he has not exacted usury Nor taken any increase, But has withdrawn his hand from iniquity And executed true judgment between man and man; 9 If he has walked in My statutes And kept My judgments faithfully — He is just; He shall surely live!" Says the Lord God. NKJV (Ezekiel 18:5-9).

Ezekiel is obviously talking about the first death.


Notice that the just man shall live. This is in contrast to the one who practices sin, who shall die. And, think about this point, the just man was already alive, hence the fact that he shall live suggests that God will resurrect him so that he can live forever.

Ezekiel basically continues and again warns:

20 The soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:20).

These writings in the Old Testament seem to set the stage for the writings in the New Testament.

The New Testament

The New Testament teaches the same basic doctrines as the Old Testament, but tends to expand on them.

Jesus confirmed that souls can and will be destroyed when He taught:

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell {Gehenna} (Matthew 10:28).

If souls were truly immortal, then they could not be destroyed. Jesus taught that death was like sleep:

11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up."

12 Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well." 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.

14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead" (John 11:11-14).

Consider the following:

16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"

17 So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."

18 He said to Him, "Which ones?"

Jesus said, "'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 19 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

20 The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?"

21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:16-21)

Jesus did not tell the man that he already had eternal life.

Notice also that Jesus taught that eternal life was given at a later time, in the age to come:

28 Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You."

29 So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Mark 10:28-31)

29 Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come everlasting life (Luke 18:29-30).

Thus, humans do not possess that eternal life now. The dead are asleep now:

14 Therefore He says:

"Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light." (Ephesians 5:14)

Perhaps the most famous passage in the New Testament is John 3:16. It states:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Notice the contrast above. Humans would perish (and this means eternally, since all die physically) if God had not loved the world enough to send Jesus so that the believers could have everlasting life.

Paul clearly understood this concept as here is some of what he wrote about immortality:

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." NKJV (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).

Notice that Paul is saying that we must be changed in order to possess immortality, and that the sleeping dead will be raised. And that this occurs at the resurrection. No human has immortality now.

Nor did Paul as he taught:

I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended (Phillipians 3:8-13).

Thus, the immortality attained at the resurrection is not something that Christians have today.

Furthermore, all humans cannot possible possess immortality now. Look at what the Apostle John taught:

...you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15).

Since many people are or have been murderers, this proves that not all humans possess immortality.

Currently, look at who only has immortality:

He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

Thus, Jesus is the only one who was born human that who alone currently possesses immortality.

Other than the quotes above, the following are all the remaining times the NKJV uses the terms immortal or immortality:

...who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality (Romans 2:6-7).

...our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).

However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal (1 Timothy 1:16-17).

Note that every passage in the Bible that uses the terms immortal or immortality say that Jesus has immortality, that humans do not have it, that Jesus came so that humans can have it, and that He came to abolish death.

Why would this even be an issue if humans were already immortal?

Furthermore although some have used the term "soul sleep" in a negative manner towards those of us who believe that death is like sleep, notice what the Apostle Paul was inspired to write:

16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (1 Corinthians 15:16-18)

It is proper for Christians to teach and believe that death is like sleep. Those who condemn "soul sleep" are also condemning Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

Who gets eternal life? Why that is a gift of God:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

What do those works include? Notice:

9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, (Hebrews 5:9)

So, eternal life is given by God to those who obey Him!

Otherwise, one does not attain it.

Humans who are granted eternal life will make eternity better for themselves and all others. Your purpose in this life is to build character so you can maximize your potential and increase how much better you can improve eternity. God made YOU so that you will be able to use your unique talents (Matthew 25:14-23; Luke 19:11-19) to give love in order to make eternity better! See also the free online booklet: The MYSTERY of GOD’s PLAN: Why Did God Create Anything? Why Did God Make You?

(Some have wondered about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. For details, please check out the article The Rich Man and Lazarus.)

The Second Death Destroys the Wicked as They Will Be Burnt Up

The wicked who will not repent will be totally destroyed:

1 Do not fret because of evildoers,Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. 2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,And wither as the green herb. ...
9 For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord,They shall inherit the earth. 10 For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, But it shall be no more. ...
20 But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the Lord,Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish.Into smoke they shall vanish away. ...
28 For the Lord loves justice, And does not forsake His saints They are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. ...
38 But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; The future of the wicked shall be cut off. (Psalm 37:1-2,9-10,20,28,38)

2 As smoke is driven away,
So drive them away;
As wax melts before the fire,
So let the wicked perish at the presence of God. (Psalm 68:2)

1 "For behold, the day is coming,
Burning like an oven,
And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.
And the day which is coming shall burn them up,"
Says the Lord of hosts,
"That will leave them neither root nor branch.
2 But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings;
And you shall go out
And grow fat like stall-fed calves.
3 You shall trample the wicked,
For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet
On the day that I do this,"
Says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 4:1-3)

The Bible calls this the 'second death':

11... He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (Revelation 20:14)

8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)

Thus, it is a type of death, but permanent. It is not eternal torturing like many claim. Jesus came so we would not have to PERISH, but have eternal life:

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Since it is appointed to people to die (Romans 3:23), the PERISHING has to do with what happens after the resurrections.

For more, see also Beliefs of the Original Catholic Church: Could a remnant group have continuing apostolic succession?.

(Some have asked about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. For details, please check out the article The Rich Man and Lazarus.)

Second Century Church Writings

But what about the early Church? After the apostles died (John being the last around 100 A.D.), there were early church writers who continued to teach what the apostles taught, which is what is in the Old and New Testaments. Many of the second century writings here are from true Church of God saints, and most of these writings are accepted as coming from "saints" according to the Greco-Roman churches.

Here is something from what is believed to be "the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived" (Holmes M.W. Ancient Christian Sermon. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004). This Ancient Christian Sermon (note it is also called 2 Clement, but scholars, including Catholic ones, do not believe that Clement wrote it) contains these statements about it:

15:1 Now I do not think that I have given any mean council respecting continence, and whosoever performeth it will not repent thereof, but will save both himself and me his councilor. For it is no mean reward to convert a wondering and perishing soul, that it may be saved.

17:1 For if we have received commands, that we should make this our business, to tear men away from idols and to instruct them, how much more is it wrong that a soul which knoweth God already should perish!

Souls that can perish cannot be immortal. Notice also that the immortality was believed to take place after the resurrection:

19:3 Let us therefore practice righteousness that we may be saved unto the end. Blessed are they that obey these ordinances. Though they may endure affliction for a short time in the world, they will gather the immortal fruit of the resurrection. (Lightfoot J.B. Edited and completed by J.R. Hammer. The Apostolic Fathers: Revised Texts with Short Introductions and English Translations. Macmillan, London, 1891. With any Greek retranslated was based the Greek text as shown in Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 127)

The letter from the Romans to the Corinthians, a probably late first century document, otherwise known as 1 Clement, states:

Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] says in a certain place, You shall raise me up, and I shall confess unto You; and again, I laid me down, and slept; I awoke, because You are with me; and again, Job says, You shall raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things. (Chapter 26. Translated by John Keith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 9. Edited by Allan Menzies. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1896.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1010.htm>).

Notice this from Ignatius' Letter to the Ephesians (early second century):

For this end did the Lord suffer the ointment to be poured upon His head, that He might breathe immortality into His Church (Chapter 17).

Especially [will I do this] if the Lord make known to me that ye come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ (Chapter 20).

Ignatius is essentially teaching that Christ suffered to give immortality to the Church and we in the Church when we properly partake of Passover can live forever in Christ--otherwise we would die.

Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life, of which you are also persuaded (Ignatius. Letter to Polycarp, Chapter 2).

Polycarp of Smyrna (mid-2nd century) taught that the body and soul were to be resurrected, hence he taught against the immortality of the soul doctrine:

I bless you for because you have considered me worthy of this day and hour, that I might receive a place among the number of martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 14:2. In Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers, Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Books, Grand Rapids (MI), 2004, p.239).

Though the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch now lists him in their succession list, around 170 A.D. Theophilus of Antioch wrote a position that seems to differ from current Eastern Orthodox doctrine on immortality:

When thou shalt have put off the mortal, and put on incorruption, then shall thou see God worthily. For God will raise thy flesh immortal with thy soul; and then, having become immortal, thou shalt see the Immortal, if now you believe on Him; and then you shall know that you have spoken unjustly against Him (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter VI. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God...so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God...For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XXVII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

But God at least, the Father and Creator of the universe did not abandon mankind, but gave a law, and sent holy prophets to declare and teach the race of men, that each one of us might awake and understand that there is one God. And they also taught us to refrain from unlawful idolatry, and adultery, and murder, fornication, theft, avarice, false swearing, wrath, and every incontinence and uncleanness; and that whatever a man would not wish to be done to himself, he should not do to another; and thus he who acts righteously shall escape the eternal punishments, and be thought worthy of the eternal life from God (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XXXIV. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Probably prior to 180 A.D., Melito of Sardis, a famous church leader and writer, wrote:

He killed death which had put man to death (Melito. Homily On the Passover, Verse 66. Translation from Kerux: The Journal of Online Theology, http://www.kerux.com/documents/KeruxV4N1A1.asp 09/14/05). .

And by this, Melito is teaching that Jesus could provide immortality, as humans did not possess it (he obviously is not referring to physical death, as Christians have died throughout history).

Even though he held some heretical views, Irenaeus is considered to have been an important early theologian by Greco-Roman Catholics and Protestants (around 180 A.D.) wrote, that:

Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King...may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book 1, Chapter 10, Verse 1. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Thus Irenaeus did understand the idea that humans do not possess immortality and that it is a gift of God. And this gift is only given to those that have kept His commandments.

He also understood that the resurrection was physical:

We therefore have formed the belief that [our] bodies also do rise again. For although they go to corruption, yet they do not perish; for the earth, receiving the remains, preserves them, even like fertile seed mixed with more fertile ground. Again, as a bare grain is sown, and, germinating by the command of God its Creator, rises again, clothed upon and glorious, but not before it has died and suffered decomposition, and become mingled with the earth (Irenaeus. Fragments of Irenaeus, Fragment VII. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc.).

And even though he was not part of the true Church of God, Justin wrote:

Justin also stated, "For I choose to follow not men or men's doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians" (Dialogue. Chapter 80).

While those of us in the Continuing Church of God would agree that souls die (Ezekiel 18:4) and are not taken to heaven upon death (Job:14:14; John 3:13), those in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches would seem to disagree with Justin here.

The second century apologist Tatian and associate of Justin wrote:

The soul is not in itself immortal, O Greeks, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die. If, indeed, it knows not the truth, it dies, and is dissolved with the body, but rises again at last at the end of the world with the body, receiving death by punishment in immortality (Tatian. Translated by J.E. Ryland. Tatian's Address to the Greeks, Chapter XIII . Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Polycrates of Ephesus in the late second century wrote and told the Roman Bishop Victor:

Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapter 24, Verse 5. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Thus immortality was something to be obtained, not something inherent. And the idea of man's destiny to become God was known in the second century.

Those were documented beliefs of the original church. For more, see also Beliefs of the Original Catholic Church: Could a remnant group have continuing apostolic succession?.

Third Century

The Roman Catholic bishop Hippolytus was a third century religious leader outside the Church of God. And although he held doctrines that we in the COGs would find to be heretical, he is considered to have been one of the greatest early theologians by Roman Catholics.

Hippolytus wrote:

Let us believe then, dear brethren, according to the tradition of the apostles, that God the Word came down from heaven, (and entered) into the holy Virgin Mary, in order that, taking the flesh from her, and assuming also a human, by which I mean a rational soul, and becoming thus all that man is with the exception of sin, He might save fallen man, and confer immortality on men who believe on His name (Hippolytus. Against Noetus, Chapter 17. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

Notice that Hippolytus taught that Jesus needed to come in order to confer immortality on men. He would not have to do that if humans were immortal.

Hippolytus also wrote:

For concerning the general resurrection and the kingdom of the saints, Daniel says: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." And Isaiah says: "The dead shall rise, and those in the tombs shall awake, and those in the earth shall rejoice." And our Lord says: "Many in that day shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live" (Hippolytus. On the End of the World, Chapter XXXVI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

Notice that Hippolytus is showing that death is like sleep and the dead must be raised.

The third century North African Bishop Commodianus taught:

XLIV We shall arise again to Him, who have been devoted to Him. And they shall be incorruptible, even already living without death.

XXXV Adam was the first who fell, and that he might shun the precepts of God, Belial was his tempter by the lust of the palm tree. And he conferred on us also what he did, whether of good or of evil, as being the chief of all that was born from him; and thence we die by his means, as he himself, receding from the divine, became an outcast from the Word. We shall be immortal when six thousand years are accomplished.

LXXX This has pleased Christ, that the dead should rise again, yea, with their bodies; and those, too, whom in this world the fire has burned, when six thousand years are completed... (Commodianus. On Christian Discipline, XLIV. Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0411.htm>).

Commodianus clearly taught that immortality did not happen until the resurrection, which happened at the end of the 6000 years (more on the 6000 years is found in the article Does God Have a 6,000 Year Plan? What Year Does the 6,000 Years End?).

The Greco-Roman Catholic bishop Victorinus (ca. late third century) wrote:

"To him that overcomes I will give the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone." The hidden manna is immortality; the white gem is adoption to be the son of God; the new name written on the stone is "Christian." (Victorinus. Commentary on the Apocalypse. Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0712.htm> viewed 12/27/08)

There would be no reason to give immortality if it was possessed upon birth.

Pertaining to peoples in the third century, Eusebius about wrote that some in Arabia:

They said that during the present time the human soul dies and perishes with the body, but that at the time of the resurrection they will be renewed together (Eusebius. Church History, Book VI, Chapter 37).

The immortality of the soul doctrine seemed to enter the Greco-Roman churches from compromises with paganism and likely originated in Egypt. A spurious document apparently from the second or early third century may have been used to introduce the immortality heresy into the Alexandrian Orthodox:

Now, the proof that the soul is immortal will be put past doubt, not from what it says, or from what I hear, but from what I see: for seeing it with my eyes, I shall ever after hold the surest conviction of its immortality; and no fallacy of words or uncertainty of hearing shall ever be able to disturb the persuasion produced by sight. (The Recognitions of Clement, 1.5. In the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors, Vol. VIII. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted 1995. Note: This text is considered to have been spurious and probably not written by Clement of Alexandria. It seems to be a second century document and could have impacted the views of Gregory the Wonder Worker and others.)

Notice that the claim for immortality above is NOT based on the Bible, but what the author claims to see. The Bible teaches that we are to "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7)--yet perhaps the first "pro-immortality" Greco-Roman writing does not appeal to scripture, unlike the future immorality writers generally did.

Since it is believed that Origen referred to this Recognition work c. 231, he would have been familiar with it, though some believe passages may have been added to it in the fourth or even later centuries (Smith T. Introductory Notice to The Recognitions of Clement. ANTE-NICENE FATHERS VOLUME 8. The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, The Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages Edited by ALEXANDER ROBERTS, D.D., and JAMES DONALDSON, LL.D. Revised and Chronologically Arranged, with Brief Prefaces and Occasional Notes by A. CLEVELAND COXE, D.D. T&T CLARK EDINBURGH, pp. 73-74).

But it should be noted that in the mid-late third century a mystic often now referred to as Gregory the Wonder Worker, claimed the soul was immortal. Gregory studied under Origen in Alexandria Egypt. Gregory was also the first to claim to see "Mary," he helped introduce heretical doctrines, and he may have been the first of the Greco-Roman bishops to teach that the soul was immortal:

We prove, then, that the soul is simple...that what is simple is immortal...If, therefore, the soul is not corrupted by the evil proper to itself, and the evil of the soul is cowardice, intemperance, envy, and the like, and all these things do not despoil it of its powers of life and action, it follows that it is immortal. (Gregory Thaumaturgus. On the Soul, Chapters 5, 6. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0608.htm> viewed 06/05/11)

Sand is simple, but that does not make it immortal, yet the simplicity argument is supposedly proof of the false doctrine.

And while this doctrine was not commonly accepted for a while, his change did get accepted (though to a significant degree because of others, but also likely some he at least indirectly affected). But it never should have been accepted. in Ezekiel 18:4 the Douay-Rheims Bible (a well known Roman Catholic rendition of scripture into the English language) teaches " the soul that sinneth, the same shall die" and "The soul that sinneth, the same shall die" in Ezekiel 18:20.

Fourth Century

Athanasius was a fourth century religious leader outside the Church of God. And although he held doctrines that we in the COGs would find to be heretical, he is considered to be a major saint and historical figure by the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

But even he understood the concept that after the resurrection, that Christians were to become God and that they had to inherit immortality, as man otherwise is mortal. Notice what he wrote:

...that by death immortality has reached to all, that by the Word becoming man, the universal Providence has been known, and its Giver and Artificer the very Word of God. 3. For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality (Athanasius. On the Incarnation of the Word, Chapter 54, Verses 2-3. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1892. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

...for us, that us who are mortal and temporal, the Lord, become man, might make immortal, and bring into the everlasting kingdom of heaven? (Athanasius. Discourse I Against the Arians, Chapter 48, Verse 1. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1892. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

'The Word became flesh,' that He might make man capable of Godhead...He created us, the Economy of our salvation; that though by the serpent's deceit we fell from Him, we might not remain quite dead, but having in the Word the redemption and salvation which was afore prepared for us, we might rise again and abide immortal, what time He should have been created for us 'a beginning of the ways,' and He who was the 'First-born of creation' should become 'first-born' of the 'brethren,' and again should rise 'first-fruits of the dead.' (Athanasius. Discourse I Against the Arians, Chapters 59,75. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1892. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

The fourth century Catholic apologist and teacher Lactantius wrote:

For since man consists of two parts, body and soul, of which the one is earthly, the other heavenly, two lives have been assigned to man: the one temporal, which is appointed for the body; the other everlasting, which belongs to the soul. We received the former at our birth we attain to the latter by striving, that immortality might not exist to man without any difficulty. That earthly one is as the body, and therefore has an end; but this heavenly one is as the soul, and therefore has no limit. We received the first when we were ignorant of it, this second knowingly; for it is given to virtue, not to nature, because God wished that we should procure life for ourselves in life.

For this reason He has given us this present life, that we may either lose that true and eternal life by our vices, or win it by virtue...For other animals incline towards the ground, because they are earthly, and are incapable of immortality, which is from heaven; but man is upright and looks towards heaven, because immortality is proposed to him; which, however, does not come, unless it is given to man by God. For otherwise there would be no difference between the just and the unjust, since every man who is born would become immortal. Immortality, then, is not the consequence of nature, but the reward and recompense of virtue...God seeks to be worshipped, and to be honoured by man as a Father, that he may have virtue and wisdom, which alone produce immortality. For because no other but Himself is able to confer that immortality, since He alone possesses it, He will grant to the piety of the man, with which he has honoured God, this reward, to be blessed to all eternity, and to be for ever in the presence of God and in the society of God (Lactantius. Divine Institutes, Book VII, Of a Happy Life, Chapter 5).

The fourth century, Bishop Ambrose of Milan wrote:

The third death is that of which it is said: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” In that death not only the flesh but also the soul dies, for “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” For it dies to the Lord, through the weakness not of nature but of guilt. But this death is not the discharge from this life, but a fall through error...The heathen mostly console themselves with the thought, either of the common misery, or of the law of nature, or of the immortality of the soul. And would that their utterances were consistent, and that they did not transmit the wretched soul into a number of ludicrous monstrosities and figures!

But what ought we to do, whose reward is the resurrection, though many, not being able to deny the greatness of this gift, refuse to believe in it? And for this reason will we maintain it, not by one casual argument only, but by as many as we are able...The blossom of the resurrection is immortality, the blossom of the resurrection is incorruption (Ambrose of Milan. Book II. On the Belief in the Resurrection, verses 37, 50, 54).

It is a cause for wonder that though they do not believe in the resurrection, yet in their kindly care they make provision that the human race should not perish, The immortality of the soul may be believed by those who deny the resurrection of the body, and was taught by many philosophers amongst the heathen. The resurrection of the body is a matter of divine revelation, and the very highest and best amongst the heathen seem not to have admitted it even as a speculation. and so say that souls pass and migrate into other bodies that the world may not pass away. But let them say which is the most difficult, for souls to migrate, or to return; come back to that which is their own, or seek for fresh dwelling places. But let those who have not been taught doubt. For us who have read the Law, the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Gospel it is not lawful to doubt. For who can doubt when he reads: “And in that time shall all thy people be saved which is written in the book; and many of them that sleep in the graves of the earth shall arise with one opening, these to everlasting life, and those to shame and everlasting confusion. And they that have understanding shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and of the just many shall be as the stars for ever.”Well, then, did he speak of the rest of those that sleep, that one may understand that death lasts not for ever, which like sleep is undergone for a time, and is put off at its time; and he shows that the progress of that life which shall be after death is better than that which is passed in sorrow and pain before death, inasmuch as the former is compared to the stars, the latter is assigned to trouble...We have seen, then, how grave an offence it is not to believe the resurrection; for if we rise not again, then Christ died in vain, then Christ rose not again (Ambrose of Milan. Book II. On the Belief in the Resurrection, verses 65-66,102).

Thus even into the fourth century, the immortality of humans was not taught as is now accepted by Catholics and Protestants. But this seemed to change as many who professed Catholicism ended coming from a background in Mithraism (such as Emperor Constantine).

Mithraism Taught the Immortality of the Soul

In the fourth century, there was a sort of merging between the Greco-Roman churches and many who had been followers of the sun-god Mithras. And while the Greco-Romans did not adopt everything associated with Mithraism, they did adopt some practices and beliefs that those who followed Mithras had.

While many Roman emperors had been followers of Mithras, they tended to distain forms of Christianity. However this changed with Emperor Constantine.

The Catholic Encyclopedia reports:

…it was especially in the western part of the empire that the veneration of Mithras predominated. Would it not be possible to gather all the different nationalities around his altars? Could not Sol Deus Invictus, to whom even Constantine dedicated his coins for a long time, or Sol Mithras Deus Invictus, venerated by Diocletian and Galerius, become the supreme god of the empire? Constantine may have pondered over this. Nor had he absolutely rejected the thought even after a miraculous event had strongly influenced him in favour of the God of the Christians…As pontifex maximus he watched over the heathen worship and protected its rights…It is true that the believers in Mithras also observed Sunday as well as Christmas. Consequently Constantine speaks not of the day of the Lord, but of the everlasting day of the sun.

(Herbermann, Charles, and Georg Grupp. "Constantine the Great." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 1 Sept. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04295c.htm>)

It should be mentioned that the coins dedicated to Mithras still were produced for years after Constantines' alleged acceptance of "Christianity".

Mithraism taught the immortality of the soul. And though that was not the original position of the Greco-Roman churches, scholars recognize that both Mithraism and mainstream Christianity ended up with a similar teaching on this subject:

The resemblances between Mithraism and Christianity may be quickly summed up,—belief in the immortality of the soul (Aiken C.F., Mithraism and Christianity. The Catholic University bulletin, Volume 19, 1913. Original from the University of Michigan, Digitized Dec 19, 2008, p. 380)

They both admitted the existence of a Heaven inhabited by beatified ones, situate in the upper regions...they both, finally, believed in the immortality of the soul (Cumont, Franz. Translated from the second revised French edition by Thomas J. McCormack. The Mysteries of Mithra. Chicago, OThe Catholic University bulletin Author Catholic University of America Publisher Catholic University of America., 1913 Item notes v. 19 Original from the University of Michigan Digitized Dec 19, 2008pen Court [1903] p. 193).

Because of Emperor Constantine's strong influence (perhaps also combined with Gregory the Wonder Worker's writings), it should be little surprise that the Greco-Romans began to change to accept a teaching that they original taught against. But for a while, the "immortality of the soul" view was in the minority.

Others also noticed some of this. Here is some of what the late Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about it in a paper dated November 23, 1949:

In Avesta, Mithra was the genius of celestial light...The doctrine of the immortality of the soul was another view which was very prominent in Mithraism...Of all the mystery cults, Mithraism was the greatest competitor of Christianity...That Christians did copy and borrow from Mithraism cannot be denied (King ML. The papers of Martin Luther King, Jr, Volume 4. Clayborne Carson, Ralph Luker, Penny A. Russell editors/compliers. University of California Press, 1992, pp. 213-214, 217, 222, 224).

So, immortality of the soul was a prominent view within Mithraism and the Greco-Romans adopted it for their form of "Christianity". (For more on Mithraism, please check out Do You Practice Mithraism?)

Fully Developed in the 13th Century, But With Questions

Although it took some time from its introduction, by the end of 13th century, the immortality of the soul view was clearly predominant.

The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

Immortality...The doctrine received its complete philosophical elaboration from St. Thomas. Accepting the Aristotelean theory that the soul is the form of the body, Aquinas still insists that, possessing spiritual faculties of intellect and will, it belongs to an altogether higher plane of existence than other animal forms...St. Thomas holds that we can prove the fact of the soul's conscious life when separate from the body (Michael Maher. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Immortality. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thomas Aquinas wrote:

It would seem that no souls are conveyed to heaven...immediately after death...On the contrary, It is written: "If our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved, that we have . . . a house not made with hands, but reserved in heaven" (Aquinas Thomas. Summa Theologica. Question 69. Matters concerning the resurrection, and first of the place where souls are after death).

It should be pointed out that "St. Thomas" (Aquinas) died in 1274 A.D. Hence, the Roman Catholic Church admits that the doctrine of immortality as now understood by the Roman Catholics was a relatively late development.

However, it should be pointed out that Thomas tended to base his position on early writings and traditions. And the idea of the immortality of the soul did not come just from Aristotle, it also was part of Mithraism-- a religion that shared many doctrines that the Church of Rome (as well as many other churches) adopted.

Protestants also accepted change. Protestants may wish to consider what Martin Luther wrote on 13 January 1522:

It is probable, in my opinion, that, with very few exceptions indeed, the dead sleep in utter insensibility till the day of judgment... On what authority can it be said that the souls of the dead may not sleep out the interval between earth and heaven... (Luther M. Translated by W. Hazlitt. The life of Luther written by himself. M. Michelet, ed. Bohn's Standard Library. G. Bell, 1904, p. 133)

The Bible teaches “the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).

Yet, both Catholics and Protestants now almost universally claim that the soul is immortal--and many condemn the idea of "soul sleep."

18th and 19th Centuries

Sadly, even some who were sabbath-keepers opposed the sabbath-keepers who taught against the concept of the immortality of the soul.

A recorded letter of William Davis, a Sabbatarian Baptist, in apparently the 1700s states the following:

"Now all this enmity among seventh-day men arose against me originally from a noted seventh-day man and soul sleeper in this country, who above twenty years ago opposed me about my principles of immortality of human souls, and afterward proceeded to differ with me about my faith in Christ and the Trinity, who, having poisoned several other seventh-day men with the mortal and atheistical notion, and set them against me, he secretly conveyed this drench over to Westerly to the persons beforenamed, who, complying with him in their judgments in the Socinian and Anti-Trinitarian error, drank it greedily down before I came among them . . . ." -- Idem, p. 108, Vol. 2, No. 3. (Dugger AN, Dodd CO. A History of True Religion, 3rd ed. Jerusalem, 1972 (Church of God, 7th Day). 1990 reprint, p. 277).

In 1825, the Seventh Day Baptist church also temporarily put out of the ministry, one who taught against the immortality of the soul (Randolph C.F. A History of the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia, 1905. Reprint 2005. Heritage Books, Westminster (MD), p. 87).

Another reported:

...the Cottrell family left the Seventh Day Baptists because the Cottrells refused to believe in the immortality of the soul. Original Sabbatarian Baptist (Church of God) leaders were outspoken against the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and were derisively termed "soul sleepers" by their opponents (Nickels R.C. Six Paper on the History of the Church of God. Giving & Sharing, Neck City (MO), 1993, pp.161-162).

According to A.N. Dugger, there were three unique doctrines that separated the COGs from Protestant sects: The observance of the seventh day Sabbath, nontrinitarianism, and teaching against the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

According to A.N. Dugger, only the COGs held ALL three of those doctrines (Dugger AN, Dodd CO. A History of True Religion, 3rd ed. Jerusalem, 1972 (Church of God, 7th Day). 1990 reprint, p. 278). And he may have been correct in that.

The Continuing Church of God believes:

"Glorification"—putting on immortality—is the final step in receiving salvation (1 Corinthians 15:53). Ultimate salvation for mankind comes at glorification in His Kingdom (Ephesians 5:27; Philippians 3:21; 2 Timothy 2:10). It is not something that Christians start out with, but instead attain after the resurrection.

For those who wish to learn what happens to the incorrigibly wicked who are resurrected, please see the article Are The Wicked Tormented Forever or Burned Up?

For those who wish to learn what happens to those that were not saved and not incorrigibly wicked in this life, please see Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis.

The Immortal Soul Idea Originated with Satan and the Pagans

So where did the idea of the immortal soul come from?

According to the Bible it came from Satan and was part of the first lie to humans! Notice this account:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.
And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden;
but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.' "
Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die..." (Genesis 3:1-4).

Here is some of what Herbert W. Armstrong wrote about it:

The Creator's book reveals, contrary to fallible humanist teaching, that man was made from the dust of the ground, and this dust thus becomes soul, mortal--like all vertebrates. Man has continued to accept the first lie in human history--Satan's lie to mother Eve that man is immortal and cannot die...

The world of traditional Christianity has been deceived into supposed Christian teaching of the immortality of the soul, of those who "profess Jesus" going immediately upon death into a heaven of eternal idleness, freedom from responsibility and bliss in ease and laziness; in those who fail to "accept Jesus" going at death to a definite place of eternal continuous burning fire...in indescribable pain and agony forever and ever without hope.

The teaching has been that man is an immortal soul and already has eternal life. It denies (Rom. 6:23) that the penalty for sin is death and that man can have eternal life only as the gift of God...

They have taught Satan's first lie that man is an immortal soul (Armstrong HW. Mystery of the Ages, 1983).

It was Greek philosophers, such as the the pagan Plato, who taught that humans are “immortal souls” living in a fleshly body which is merely a temporary cloak that has been put around us.

Sadly, non-COG groups have tended to accept various doctrines that pagan Greeks held in preference to those of the Bible. And the truth is still known in the 21st century. Notice the following (bolding mine):

Plato, most influentially, separated the soul, or psyche, from the material body and argued that this reasoning part of our being was immortal. His idea was so powerful and attractive that it has kept philosophers intimately engaged with it to this day. Then, too, because so many influential Christian theologians were part of this philosophical tradition, Platonic ideas have left a lasting imprint on Christian beliefs. The body may die, many Christians hold, but the soul lives on, presumably extending into eternity those qualities that we associate with our conscious minds and our sense of selfhood...

Malcolm Jeeves, an honorary professor of psychology at the University of St. Andrews, is one of many believing scientists..."The immortality of the soul is so often talked about that it is easy to miss that the Jewish view did not support it," Jeeves says. "Furthermore, the original Christian view was not the immortality of the soul but the resurrection of the body." But Platonism did creep in, Jeeves acknowledges, winning over such influential Christian theologians as Augustine and John Calvin. (Tolson J. Is There Room for the Soul? New challenges to our most cherished beliefs about self and the human spirit. US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT, October 23, 2006).

So there you have it. Some of the leading non-Church of God scholars got what people now accept from paganism. And some non-Church of God scholars do understand that the original Christians did not accept the immortality of the soul, but taught the resurrection of the body.

It may be of interest to note that the false idea that humans could not die as they possessed immortality was, according to Justin, believed by false Christians who descended from Simon Magus:

"To Simon the holy God." And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him. And a man, Meander, also a Samaritan, of the town Capparetaea, a disciple of Simon, and inspired by devils, we know to have deceived many while he was in Antioch by his magical art. He persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die, and even now there are some living who hold this opinion of his...All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians; just as also those who do not agree with the philosophers in their doctrines, have yet in common with them the name of philosophers given to them...But I have a treatise against all the heresies that have existed already composed, which, if you wish to read it, I will give you (Justin. First Apology, Chapter XXVI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

What About Enoch?

Did Enoch possess immortality?

Some seem to think so based primarily on two biblical passages.

The first is in Genesis:

24 And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:24).

The second is in Hebrews:

5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

Because of these two verses, many believe that Enoch must have already been resurrected, or at least that he did not die.

However, notice:

27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Now was Enoch (or anyone else) an exception?

No. Enoch was a man, hence he died.

Notice what Hebrews 11 also specifically teaches:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11:13).

Since Enoch was listed in verse 5 of Hebrews 11, he is included among those who all died in faith who understood that the promises were afar off. Hence, Enoch did not possess immortality and is not a biblical exception. The fact that God apparently mercifully took him (probably to prevent some cruel death by his enemies), is simply not proof that Enoch did not die.

Doesn't Revelation 5 Show that the Saints Are Already Alive?

Some have suggested that Revelation 5 shows that the saints are alive before the resurrection, hence they are immortal and/or do not need to be resurrected.

But that is not what Revelation teaches.

Let's start by looking at what the late John Ogwyn wrote:

We then find a description of the vastness of the heavenly court, including the presence of millions of angels (Revelation 5:11). There is a great crystalline expanse upon which the throne sits. From Revelation 15:2, we will learn that the expanse, called a sea of glass, has the appearance of fire embedded within it. Also present are four strange-looking creatures with six wings and the faces of a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle (4:6–8). John's readers, familiar with the Old Testament, would recognize the similarity of the description of the seraphim recorded in Isaiah's vision (Isaiah 6:1–2). There are 24 elders who sit on 24 smaller thrones surrounding God's throne. Many have tried to imagine who these elders are and some have tried to identify them with certain men mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, however, these elders are part of the angelic realm. They play an important part in God's government (the number 24—12 doubled—makes this plain), probably in managing the millions of angels. God is not the author of confusion, and in heaven has a highly organized realm that is responsive to His will. Revelation 4:5 mentions "seven lamps" before the throne, defined as the seven spirits of God, whom we are told in Revelation 5:6 are sent forth into all the earth. The ancient prophet Zechariah alluded to the same in Zechariah 4:10, referring to the seven "eyes" that God sends to run to and fro throughout the entire earth. Hebrews 1:7, referring to this created angelic realm, tells us that God "makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire." In some way that we cannot fully fathom, God uses these spirit creatures, which looked to John like flames of fire, to gather information from all over the earth.

And while that makes a lot of sense, it is verses 9 & 10 that can seem problematic. But interestingly, the margin of the NKJV instead of "us" says "them," which is consistent with the angelic theory. Other translations, however, also support the idea of "them" (meaning Christians) as opposed to those in the angelic realm.

Here are some for verse 9:

New International Version (©1984) And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

New Living Translation (©2007) And they sang a new song with these words: "You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

English Standard Version (©2001) And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,

New American Standard Bible (©1995) And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

New Jerusalem Bible They sang a new hymn: You are worthy to take the scroll and to break its seals, because you were sacrificed, and with your blood you bought people for God of every race, language, people and nation

Here are more for verse 10:

New International Version (©1984) You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

New Living Translation (©2007) And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth."

English Standard Version (©2001) and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

New American Standard Bible (©1995) "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

International Standard Version (©2008) You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on the earth."

Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010) “And you have made them a Kingdom, Priests and Kings to our God, and they shall reign over The Earth.”

GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995) You made them a kingdom and priests for our God. They will rule as kings on the earth."

English Revised Version and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.

American Standard Version and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon earth.

Weymouth New Testament And hast formed them into a Kingdom to be priests to our God, And they reign over the earth."

New Jerusalem Bible and made them a line of kings and priests for God, to rule the world.

Anyway, there might be another explanation, but the above angelic identity is consistent with the COG view of the 20th and 21st centuries, and perhaps farther back as well.

The Bible Shows that While Humans Are Mortal, There is a Spirit In Man

But does not the Bible indicated that there is something spiritual about humans?

Certainly, but this is not well understood outside of Church of God circles.

The Bible says that there is a "spirit in man" that gives basically human intellect. 

The spirit is different from the soul as Hebrews 4:12 teaches:

12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Polycarp of Smyrna taught: "Him every spirit serves. He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead" (Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, Chapter II. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson; American Edition, 1885; Reprint Hendrickson Publishers, 1999, pp. 33-36). Since God is coming just to judge humans, it is clear that this is those with the human spirit that Polycarp is referring to.

Consider also something from the Psalms:

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. (Psalms 51:10-11, KJV)

Notice that there a distinction between spirits was known in King David's time. Notice the following from the late first century A.D.:

Chapter 18. But what shall we say concerning David, to whom such testimony was borne, and of whom God said, "I have found a man after my own heart, David the son of Jesse; and in everlasting mercy have I anointed him?" Yet this very man says to God, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, according to Your great mercy; and according to the multitude of Your compassions, blot out my transgression. Wash me still more from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against You only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight; that You may be justified in Your sayings, and may overcome when You are judged. For, behold, I was conceived in transgressions, and in sins did my mother conceive me. For, behold, You have loved truth; the secret and hidden things of wisdom have You shown me. You shall sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; You shall wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. You shall make me to hear joy and gladness; my bones, which have been humbled, shall exult. Turn away Your face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and establish me by Your governing Spirit. I will teach transgressors Your ways, and the ungodly shall be converted unto You. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation: my tongue shall exult in Your righteousness. O Lord, You shall open my mouth, and my lips shall show forth Your praise. For if You had desired sacrifice, I would have given it; You will not delight in burnt-offerings. The sacrifice [acceptable] to God is a bruised spirit; a broken and a contrite heart God will not despise."

Chapter 19. Thus the humility and godly submission of so great and illustrious men have rendered not only us, but also all the generations before us, better; even as many as have received His oracles in fear and truth. (Letter from the Romans to the Corinthians, often called I Clement. Translated by John Keith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 9. Edited by Allan Menzies. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1896)

So, in the late first century, the distinction should have been known. Notice the following from the second century:

Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. (Ignatius. Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 11. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885)

Chapter 8. Homer, to wit, and Hesiod, being, as they say, inspired by the Muses,— spoke from a deceptive fancy, and not with a pure but an erring spirit.

Chapter 34. And, for the rest, would that in a kindly spirit you would investigate divine things (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus Book II, Chapters 8, 34. Translated by Marcus Dods. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885)

Notice the following, from the early second century:

My spirit salutes you, and the love of the Churches that have received me in the name of Jesus Christ, and not as a mere passer-by. (Ignatius. Letter to the Romans, Chapter 9. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885)

And Isaiah himself also says: Thus says the Lord God who established the heavens, and founded the earth and all that is therein, and gives breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein. This is the Lord your God. (Theophilus of Antioch. Autolycus Book II, Chapter 35. Translated by Marcus Dods. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885)

Herbert W. Armstrong taught, "Next the human spirit IN man. No other Church knows about that. That has been revealed to the Church. That is knowledge that has been restored to the Church of God. And this Church has that knowledge" (Mission of the Philadelphia Church Era sermon on December 17, 1983).

Herbert Armstrong also wrote, "This 'human' spirit imparts the power of intellect to the human physical brain" (Mystery of the Ages p. 105).

Humans have the spirit of man in them, whereas animals, including the other primates, do not.  The reality that there is a spirit in humans is taught in both the Old and New Testaments:

8 But there is a spirit in man,
And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding. (Job 32:8)

11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?  (1 Corinthians 2:11)

God gave animals instinct, but not the type of understanding that He gave humans. This spirit grants an understanding which God did not give to the animals (e.g. Job 39:13-17).

This spirit is not the same as the spirit of God which humans need to understand the things of God, but this spirit is needed to understand the things of humankind (Job 32:8; 1 Corinthians 2:11).

But this spirit is simply not an immortal soul.

Does Not Human Will Prove an Immortal Soul?

One argument that I have heard in favor of the idea of an immortal soul goes something like, humans have a type of will that the animals do not, thus this is proof that humans are spiritual and have an immortal soul.

Of course, as those of us who have worked with animals know, animals do have a will. But that does not make them spiritual with an immortal soul. Thus the argument in invalid.

Furthermore, as quoted earlier, 1 Corinthians 15:53 states, "this mortal must put on immortality." We would not have to put on immortality if we already possessed it.

Also notice something else the Bible teaches:

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)

Therefore, the Bible does not teach that unconverted humans are essentially spiritual. Thus, one should not conclude that God considers that humans are basically spiritual with an immortal soul.

What is the State of the Dead?

The dead are currently in their graves awaiting one of three resurrections (see What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection?).

But some still have questions.

The Apostle Peter taught something related in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost: "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.… For David did not ascend into the heavens…" (Acts 2:29, 34).

Notice that David did not go to heaven. Peter, speaking many centuries after David's death, taught that David was still in his grave where he had been placed at death, and was still awaiting the resurrection.

This differs from the common and mistaken belief that people like David went to heaven upon death or upon Jesus' death and/or resurrection.

Jesus Himself explained, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:13).

So, only Jesus has been to heaven.

Some may wonder what the dead are now doing? The dead are dead. They are simply "sleeping" in their graves, unconscious, waiting to be called to resurrection.

What will happen when Christians are resurrected? The Apostle Paul explains: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18).

Some wonder about communications with the dead. That does not happen as the dead are not conscious. Now some have pointed to an event in 1 Samuel 28:8-15 about Saul calling up Samuel. But notice how that was understood in the middle of the third century by Pionius of Symrna:

14. "For my part, this lie that is repeated now as though it were recent, I have heard uttered by Jewish people since I was a child. It is written that Saul inquired of a diviner, and that he said to the woman who was performing the necromancy, Bring up for me Samuel (1 Sam 28:11), the prophet. And the woman saw a man rising up wrapped in a robe, and Saul recognized that it was Samuel, and put to him the questions that he wanted.

"Well, then, was the diviner able to bring up Samuel or not? If they say she was, then they admit that wickedness has more power than righteousness, and then they are accursed. If they say that she did not, then they should not assert it of Christ the Lord. But the explanation of this story is as follows. How was this wicked diviner, herself a demon, able to bring up the soul of the holy prophet that was resting in the bosom of Abraham ? For the lesser is commanded by the greater. Surely then Samuel was not brought back, as these suppose ? Of course not. The truth is somewhat as follows. Whenever anyone revolts from God he is followed by the rebel angels, and demonic ministers assist him with every sort of drug, magician, priest, and wizard. And no wonder: for the Apostle says: Even Satan disguises himself us an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness? (2 Cor 11:14-15). Indeed, even the Antichrist will appear as Christ. So then Samuel was not brought up from the grave; but rather demons from Hell disguised themselves as Samuel and thus appeared to the diviner and to the faithless Saul. The Scriptures themselves will show you this. For Samuel in the apparition says to Saul: You too shall be with me today. How is it possible that the idolatrous Saul is found together with Samuel? Rather is it clear that he is with the wicked demons who have deceived him and have become his masters. Hence it cannot have been Samuel. But if it is impossible to bring back the soul of the holy prophet, how is it possible to see rising from the earth Jesus Christ who is in heaven, whom the disciples saw being taken up, and they died because they would not deny him.

"And if you are unable to maintain this against them, tell them: However it may be, we are stronger than you, who committcd fornication and worshipped idols without being forced to. Do not yield to them in despair, my brethren, but cleave to Christ by repentance; for he is merciful in receiving you back as his children." (The Martyrdom of Pionius and his Companions, Chapter 14. Text from H. Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford, 1972), 137-167. http://archive.is/abf7S accessed 10/17/15)

The demonic spirit(s) lied to Saul, and while Saul did die, he was not conscious with the demons once he did.

No one led by God prayed to the dead nor communicated with the dead. The dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and also are not aware of treats or offerings brought to their graves. They neither hear nor benefit from prayers made to them, or on their behalf.

Of course, we can look forward to seeing our beloved friends and relatives in the resurrection! And it is certainly right to honor the memory of a deceased family member or friend at a funeral service, especially for the sake of the mourning relatives. We "honor the memory" of our deceased parents and grandparents not by leaving trinkets at their graves, but rather by trying to by bring honor to their memory by how we live.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

What Happens After Death? Is death like sleep, or is that a cultic idea? Can you speak to the dead? Here is a link to a related sermon: What really happens after death?
What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection? Is there more than one future resurrection? Did early Christians teach a physical resurrection? Did early Christians teach three resurrections?
Are The Wicked Tormented Forever or Burned Up? How does one explain Revelation 14:11 in light of Malachi 4:3? What happens to the incorrigibly wicked?
Did the Early Church Teach Purgatory? Is there a place called purgatory? Does God have a plan to help those who did not become saints in this life?
What is Limbo? Is There Such a Place as Limbo? What Happens to Babies When They Die? When did Limbo start being taught? What is the truth about dead babies?
What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons? What about the use of the cross, by the early Church?
Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis Do you believe what the Bible actually teaches on this? Will all good things be restored? Will God call everyone? Will everyone have an opportunity for salvation? Does God’s plan of salvation take rebellion and spiritual blindness into account?


Death is equated to sleep in the Bible. Although many do not seem to understand this, the simple truth is that the Old and New Testaments reveal that human souls will perish and that eternal life (immortality) is something that God wants to give.

This concept is confirmed by early Christian writers of both the first and second centuries. And even later by Athanasius and some others. Those who teach otherwise simply do not teach the original Christianity as shown in the Bible. They, as even some of them acknowledge, are following the teachings of heretics and pagan Greek philosophers.

True early Christians did not believe that humans possessed immortality. And they believed that those who would remain wicked would persish.

When we die we essentially go to sleep in the grave and await resurrection (see also What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection?). That has long been the historical position of the Church of God and remains the position of the Continuing Church of God.

We are granted immortality at the first resurrection if we are true Christians in this age.

And for what purpose?

A onetime Church of God writer wrote:

If eternity is to be spent gazing blissfully up into God's face, or having our every wish immediately fulfilled — as many religions teach — after a few months (or after a few octillion years, it doesn't really matter), life would get boring. And once life got boring, it would be sickeningly and fiendishly terrifying. Because there would remain nothing but an unending eternity of boredom to come — with death a wonderful but impossible way of escape (see Luke 20:35-38). This would indeed be the ultimate torture. But our Eternal Father has a better idea. He has designed a plan in which eternity will not grow progressively more boring. But, as unbelievable as it seems, eternity will grow progressively more exciting, more scintillating, and more enjoyable as each eon follows eon. (Kuhn RL. The God Family - Part Three: To Inhabit Eternity. Good News, July 1974)

Yes, God made what He did so that eternity could be better. Eternity will not be boring.

Notice something from a deceased Church of God writer:

The God who put this world together did so with a plan in mind. That plan was not the hopeless Nirvana of one major religion of the world which promises you will become an unconscious part of the great whole of nothing with no worries forever — because you have no individual consciousness forever. It is not the bliss of slumbering in a hammock slung between two date palms in an oasis, being fed by voluptuous maidens forever, the promise of which the followers of Allah are assured. It is not walking the golden streets with golden slippers, strumming on a harp with your only worry being how to keep your halo straight, as seems to be the promise of the majority of Protestant groups. It is most certainly not the promise of finally being able to look into the face of God and appreciate the beatific vision (whatever that is), as is the promise to those who follow the Catholic faith: What the God who created everything proposes is to bring you into His very family. To be God as God is God! Not just to be a God in the euphemistic sense of us all being brothers and sisters with God as our figurehead Father, but to share His divine nature completely. …

God's real plan is practical. He says of His family Kingdom that there will never be an end to its expansion. His plan is to continue adding sons and daughters who look, feel, act like Him and who are composed of the same self-regenerating eternal spirit life as He is, forever! That is why the goal God has set before Himself is a hope that not even He will ever fulfill. Endless, eternal, forever creating an ever-expanding family to enjoy and rule the great creation He has already made — and to have you and me share in future creations without end. A busy, practical, interesting, challenging, ongoing plan that gives an eternal reason to live. There is no boredom in that plan. Never a time when your interest will run out. No mythical, religious-sounding folderol about some spiritual never-never land where you do nothing forever — but an eternal job of creating, governing! problem-solving with visible benefit. … He has the power to resurrect you … (Hill DJ. What the World Needs Now Is...HOPE. Plain Truth, February 1979)

Notice something from another late Church of God leader:

“If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). This should be a time of HOPE, because even if THIS WORLD dies — and it shall — there will follow a RESURRECTION of a new and better world — a world at PEACE — a world of contentment, happiness, abundance, JOY! God help us to comprehend! Not merely continuous existence — but the full, happy, interesting, ABUNDANT life! Yes — and that for ALL ETERNITY! (Armstrong HW. What Is the Purpose of the Resurrection? Good News, March 1982)

Because many do not fully understand scripture, they have promoted views about immortality and other matters that are not fully consistent with God’s plan.

God has a great plan, and granting immortality to those who will obey Him is part of it.

Eternity will be more glorius than we can imagine:

9 But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)

We all need to continue to obey Him to be granted the glorious immortal future God has waiting for us.

Three articles of related interest may be The First Lie and Its Implications for Christians, Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis, and What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection?. There is a related YouTube video titled Are humans immortal?

Thiel B., Ph.D. Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality? www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007/2008/2009/2010/2011/2012/2013/2014/2015/2016/2017/2018 /2022 /2023 0919

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