In 1 Corinthians 15, do immortal souls, after death, exist as conscious people?

PURPOSE

Most Christians believe that, when Christ returns, His people will be resurrected with wonderful new bodies.  However, most Christians also believe that people have immortal souls, and that, between death and resurrection, their souls will exist in heaven without bodies, but as fully conscious thinking and feeling persons.  At the same time, the lost will be eternally tormented in hell.

This website agrees that the Bible teaches that each human being has an immaterial part.  Sometimes the Bible refers to that immaterial part as ‘soul’ and sometimes as ‘spirit’.  In the Bible, similar to everyday English, the words “soul” and “spirit” has each developed a range of related meanings.  In this way, both ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ are sometimes used for the immaterial part of the human being. 

We also agree that the immaterial part of man survives death.  Stephan, for example, just before he died, said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  The immaterial part of man also returns to the body when the person is revived from death.  Elijah, for example, prayed that the child’s soul may return to him.

Eternal Torment

But we do not agree that the lost are eternally tormented, for we do not believe that the immaterial part of the person is immortal.  Jesus said that God is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.  Paul consistently warned sinners that they will die, for example, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).  This refers to eternal death.  In the end, God will be “all in all” (1. Cor. 15:28).  This does not allow for an eternal hell where creatures curse God. For a discussion of this, see Eternal Life and Eternal Torment

State of the Dead

We also do not agree that the Bible teaches that the immaterial part of the person continues to exist in heaven, after the death of the body, as a thinking and feeling person.  

Paul writing1 Corinthians 15 is Paul’s famous resurrection chapter, in which he provides comfort with respect to the Christian’s life after death.  It deals with both the final outcome for the human being (individual eschatology) as well as the final outcome for the world (general eschatology).  It mainly discusses the resurrection of Christians, when Christ returns.  It addresses both the CERTAINTY of the resurrection as well as the TYPE OF BODY with which God’s people will be resurrected. 

The purpose of this article is to analyze this chapter to determine whether Paul thought that people have immortal souls that, after death, are alive in heaven as conscious persons.

This article, like all others on this website, uses the NASB translation as default.

SYNOPSIS OF 1 CORINTHIANS 15

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s famous resurrection chapter, do the immortal souls of God’s people, after death, exist as conscious people?

Some Christians (probably ex-Sadducees) challenged Paul and said that there is no resurrection from the dead (v12).  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul responds by saying that if there is no resurrection, then Jesus was also not resurrected, and then our sins are not forgiven.  Then we only benefit in this life from serving God, for those who have died, have been utterly destroyed (v17-19).  Neither the challenge nor Paul’s response shows any awareness of an immortal soul.  On the contrary, Paul’s response shows that the soul is mortal.

The purpose of 1 Corinthians 15 is to provide comfort with respect to the Christian’s life after death.  Paul talks about when and how Christians will be resurrected.  Today, most Christians put their hope in an immortal soul.  If this also was what Paul believed, he would have stated that in this chapter clearly and loudly, but there is no trace of such a thought.  To the contrary, 1 Corinthians 15 claims that:

The dead sleep (e.g. v51), which implies that they are unconscious. 

Resurrection means that the dead will wake up, which confirms that they are sleeping, and therefore unconscious. 

Resurrection also means that the dead are to be made alive (v20-22), which means they are currently not alive. 

It is not the old body that sleeps or wakes up or is made alive.  The old body turns into dust.  A major purpose of 1 Corinthians 15 is to explain that the immortal and spiritual resurrection body will be totally different from our current mortal, natural bodies (v42-49).  Further evidence in 1 Corinthians 15, against the concept of an immortal soul, include:

God’s people—both the living and the dead—will become immortal when Christ returns, but only Christ’s people will become immortal (v51-54), which means that people do not already have immortal souls that are able to exist consciously in heaven after death.

Paul describes death is the last enemy which God will abolish (v26; cf. v54-55); not a friend that takes Christians to God in heaven. 

People who trust in an immortal soul for life after death put their trust in themselves.  Paul, in contrast, put his trust in God to resurrect His people by His creative power.

OVERVIEW

Sleep

1 Corinthians 15 describes death four times as “sleep,” for example, “We will not all sleep” (v51; cf. v6, 18, 20). In this, Paul simply followed Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus revived two people from death (Lazarus and a little girl).  In both instances, He purposefully explained death as “sleep.”  “Sleep” is only a metaphor, but it implies that:

1. The person STILL EXISTS;
2, Death is TEMPORARY; and
3. The person is UNCONSCIOUS. 

The person, consequently, experiences the transition to the resurrection body as instantaneous. For the individual, there is no time between death and resurrection.

Wake up

1 Corinthians 15 describes resurrection 18 times as egeiró, which the NASB translates as “raised,” but which Strong’s Concordance defines as “to waken, to raise up.” Since 1 Corinthians 15 uses “fallen asleep” for death (v6, 18) and “sleep” to describe the state of the dead (v51), and since the primary meaning of egeiró is the opposite of “fallen asleep,egeiró is better translated as “wake up.”

It is not the old body that wakes up.  The old body turns into dust.  A major purpose of 1 Corinthians 15 is to explain that the immortal and spiritual resurrection body will be totally different from our current mortal, natural bodies (v42-49).  On resurrection day, God creates a new and much more glorious body.  It is the entire person that wakes up and, therefore, the entire person that sleeps. 

Perished

Some Christians (probably ex-Sadducees) challenged Paul and said that there is no resurrection from the dead (v12).  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul responds by saying that if there is no resurrection, then Jesus was also not resurrected, and then our sins are not forgiven.  Then we benefit in this life only from serving God, for those who have died, have perished (v17-19).  “Perished” means destroyed utterly and refers to the entire being—body, soul, and spirit. Neither the challenge nor Paul’s response shows any indication of an awareness of an immortal soul.  On the contrary, Paul’s response shows that the soul is mortal.

Made alive

In verses 20 to 22, Paul explains that to resurrect God’s people is to make them alive, which means they are currently not alive.  Again, it is not the old, natural body that is made alive, for that body has returned into dust; never to return.  It is, rather, the entire person that is “made alive.”  “Made alive” implies that the person was not alive or conscious after death.

Tomorrow we die.

If the dead are not raised,
let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die
” (v32).

The point is the same as before, namely, if the dead are not raised, then there is no existence after death.  This shows that Paul did not think of dead Christians as already in heaven in conscious existence.  This verse also shows that Paul put his hope in the resurrection.  In contrast, most Christians today put their trust in the immortality of the soul.

Death is our enemy; not our friend.

He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
THE LAST ENEMY that will be abolished is death
” (v25-26).

The Greek philosophers explained death as a friend—the liberation of the immortal and divine soul from the prison-house of the corrupt body.  Soon after the disciples died, the church, that became increasingly dominated by Greeks Christian, accepted this non-Biblical notion.  We, their spiritual children, today we read the Bible with that mind-set.  However, since “He must reign until He has” abolished death, death is our enemy; not our friend that takes us to God.

Paul nowhere said that dead Christians are in heaven.

In this important chapter Paul explains dying and death on the one hand, and waking up, making alive and resurrection on the other.  He explains that our current bodies are mortal and perishable, while the resurrection body will be imperishable, immortal and spiritual.  (v42, 54) 

Given this, and given that most Christians today put their hope in the immortality of the soul, is it not strange that Paul nowhere says that Christians, or the immaterial part of them, are in heaven?  Would that not be a massive omission, given that the purpose of this chapter is to give comfort with respect to life after death?

“We” become immortal when Christ returns.

This section discusses verses 51-53.

Who will be changed?

We will not all sleep,
but we will all be changed
” (v51).

We” refers to the Christians of Paul’s day.  Paul wrote that “we will not all sleep” because he and the disciples thought that Jesus will return before their entire generation has died off (Mt. 23:36; 24:34).  See The Lord is coming soon.  “We will all be changed means that both living and dead Christians will be changed.

When will “we” be changed?

at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound,
and the dead will be raised imperishable,
and we will be changed.
” (v52).

Also elsewhere in the Scriptures, we read that the trumpet will sound when Christ returns and the dead are resurrected:

 “The Lord Himself will DESCEND from heaven
… and with the trumpet of God,
and the dead in Christ will RISE first

(1 Tim. 4:16; cf. Mt. 24:30-31).

How will “we” be changed?

 “For this perishable must put on the imperishable,
and this mortal must put on immortality
” (v53).

It is NOT only the body that is raised immortal and imperishable.  “We will all be changed” (v51), including the living in v52 and “the dead” in verse v52.  It is, therefore, the ENTIRE HUMAN BEING that will become immortal when Christ returns.

Both the living and the dead become immortal when Christ returns, but only Christ’s people will become immortal.  People who reject Christ will never become immortal, which means that they will not live forever.  In other words, human beings are NOT ALREADY IMMORTAL.  As we already read in verse 23, “In Christ all will be made alive … at His coming.”  They do not have immortal souls that can survive death as conscious persons. 

What is the immaterial part of human beings?

If the soul is not the conscious part of the individual, what survives death?

God exists without cause but is Himself the Cause of all things.  He also continually and intimately maintains all things through the power of His Word.  God, in an unexplainable way, maintains every person every second of every day.  Every thought, desire or deed is made possible by God’s continual preservation.  God does not exist somewhere far away, rather “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28).

Most Christians trust in the immortality of the soul. That means that they do not depend on God for eternal existence.  Paul, in contrast, trusts God’s promise of the resurrection, which depends on God’s creative power.

The immaterial part of the person, that remains after death, is the essence of the person, including the character, and thoughts.  We may call this the person’s soul or spirit.  It goes to God in the sense that we depend on God—on His trustworthiness creative power—to resurrect us exactly as we were, but immeasurably better.

These concepts are now discussed below in more detail.

ARE THE DEAD CONSCIOUS – 1 CORINTHIANS 15?

Sleep

1 Corinthians 15 describes death four times as “sleep:”

We will not all sleep,
but we will all be changed
” (v51; cf. v6, 18, 20). 

In this, Paul simply follows Jesus’ teachingThe Old Testament several times refers to death as a sleep, but when Jesus walked this earth, the Jews, generally, did not think of death as such.  However, Jesus revived two dead people, and in both instances, He purposefully explained death as “sleep:”  

After Lazarus died, Jesus said to His disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep” (John 11:11).  The disciples responded that if Lazarus sleeps, he will get better.  “Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’” (v14).

In the account of Jesus raising the little girl, He said to the mourners, “the girl has not died, but is asleep” (Mt. 9:24).  The people did not understand, and they laughed. 

In other words, Jesus purposefully explained death as “sleep.”  “Sleep” is only a metaphor, but it implies:

Firstly, that the person STILL EXISTS;

Secondly, that death is a TEMPORARY condition from which the person will awake; and

Thirdly, that the person is fully UNCONSCIOUS. 

After the last thought of the dying person, the next conscious thought will be in the new and powerful resurrected body, at the return of Christ.  The person, therefore, experiences the transition to the resurrection body as instantaneous.  It is therefore completely valid for Paul to say he will be with the Lord immediately after his death (Phil. 1; 2 Cor. 5).

Waking Up

1 Corinthians 15 describes resurrection 18 times as waking up (egeiró).  The NASB translates the Greek word egeiró as “raised,” for example:

Christ “was raised on the third day” (v4, 12, 14-16, 17, etc.) and
The dead will be raised imperishable” (v52; cf. v15, 16, 29, 32, 35, etc.). 

But Strong’s Concordance defines egeiró as “to waken, to raise up.” And the first meaning of this word, in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, is ”to arouse from sleep, to awake.”  Since 1 Corinthians 15 uses “fallen asleep” for death (v6, 18) and “sleep” to describe the state of the dead (v51), and since the primary meaning of egeiró is the opposite of “fallen asleep,egeiró is better translated as “wake up.”

Although 1 Corinthians 15 uses egeiró many times, it never says that bodies wake up.  Our current BODIES CANNOT WAKE UP after death.  The old body turns into dust.  On resurrection day, God creates a new and much more glorious body. 

Paul therefore always says that the ENTIRE PERSON wakes up.  (I.e. Christ and “the dead” – See the examples quoted above.)  “The dead” refers to the entire being of the person; not a part of the person. Since the entire person wakes up, it is the entire person that sleeps after death. 

Perished

Paul thought of the soul as perishable, for he wrote:

If Christ has not been raised …
you are still in your sins.
Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ
have perished.
” Then
we have hoped in Christ in this life only” (v17-19).

The Greek word translated “perished” is apollumi.  Strong’s Concordance defines it as “to destroy, destroy utterly.” 

In other words, according to Paul’s argument, “if Christ has not been raised,” then our sins are not forgiven, and then the dead in Christ have been destroyed utterly.  Then there is nothing for us beyond death.  Obviously, Paul was not referring to the body, for we all know the body perishes at death.  Paul was saying that THE ENTIRE BEING—body, soul and spirit—HAS PERISHED.

This means:

That the entire human being is perishable.  In other words, the soul is NOT IMMORTAL.  

That the souls of “those also who have fallen asleep in Christ” do NOT already exist consciously and immortally in heaven, for if that was the case, then Paul could not have raised the possibility that they “have perished.”

Made alive

In verse 22, Paul uses the phrase “made alive,” as a synonym for “resurrection of the dead” (v21) and for “raised from the dead” (v20):

As in Adam all die,
so also in Christ all will be made alive
” (in verse 22).

It is not the old, natural body that is made alive, for that body has returned into dust; never to return.  It is, rather, the entire person that is “made alive.” 

If the essence of the individual (the immortal soul) lives as a conscious person in heaven after death and is implanted into the new body when Christ returns, then “made alive” is the wrong wording.  “Made alive” implies that the person was not alive or conscious prior to resurrection.

Tomorrow we die.

In verse 32 Paul wrote something similar:

If the dead are not raised,
let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die
.” 

In other words, if the dead are not raised, then there is no existence beyond death.  Death is the end.  This means that:

Paul did not think that Christians, who have already died, are in heaven in conscious existence; and that

Paul put his hope in the resurrection.  In contrast, most Christians today put their hope in the immortality of the soul; on the hope that they will go to heaven at death.  

Paul nowhere said that dead Christians are in heaven.

Given that the hope in Christianity, in general, is on the immortality of the soul, is it not remarkable, in this important chapter, that Paul nowhere says that Christians, or the immaterial part of them, are in heaven?

In this chapter Paul deals with two challenges to his teachings:

The first is that “some among you say that THERE IS NO RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD” (v12).  These were probably the Sadducees that became Christians.  In response, Paul mentions dying and death on the one hand, and waking up, making alive and resurrection on the other, but he never mentions a conscious existence in-between. 

The second is the related question, probably from the same skeptics, “How are the dead raised? And with WHAT KIND OF BODY do they come?”  Paul responds by writing that our current bodies are perishable and mortal, while the resurrection body will be imperishable and immortal (v42, 54).

Is it not strange that, in the first place, there is no question from these skeptics about the conscious existence of the soul in heaven?  And secondly, since Paul explains the resurrection body by comparing it to the natural body, is it not profoundly strange that there is no mention of the intermediate stage?  Would that not be a massive omission, given that the purpose of this chapter is to give comfort with respect to what happens after death?

We” become immortal when Christ returns.

This section discusses verses 51 to 53 of 1 Corinthians 15.  These verses explain when human beings will become immortal, and when.

Who will be changed?

We will not all sleep,
but we will all be changed
” (v51).

We” refers to the Christians of Paul’s day.

Paul wrote, “we will not all sleep” because Jesus used “sleep” to explain the nature of death, as discussed above.  This statement also indicates that he and the disciples expected Christ to return before their entire generation has died off (Mt. 23:36; 24:34).  For a discussion of this, see The Lord is coming soon.

The “we” in “we will all be changed still refers to the Christians of Paul’s day.  “All” includes both those that “sleep” (the dead – v51), as well as those that “remain” (the living – v6) will be changed.

When will “we” be changed?

at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound,
and the dead will be raised imperishable,
and we will be changed.
” (v52).

Paul already earlier in the same chapter indicated that the dead will be resurrected when Christ returns:

in Christ all will be made alive …
those who are Christ’s at His coming
” (v22-23).

Also elsewhere in the Scriptures, we read that the trumpet will sound when Christ returns and the dead are resurrected:

Last TrumpetThe Lord Himself will DESCEND from heaven with a shout,
with the voice of the archangel
and with the trumpet of God,
and the dead in Christ will RISE first
” (1 Tim. 4:16).

They will see the SON OF MAN COMING
… with power and great glory.
And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet
and they will gather together HIS ELECT
from the four winds
” (Mt. 24:30-31).

How will “we” be changed?

For this perishable must put on the imperishable,
and this mortal must put on immortality
” (v53).

Christ’s people only become immortal “at the last trumpet,” when “the dead will be raised.

It is NOT only the body that is raised immortal and imperishable.  “We will all be changed” (v51), including the living in v52 and “the dead” in verse v52.  It is, therefore, the ENTIRE HUMAN BEING that will become immortal when Christ returns.

Both the living and the dead become immortal when Christ returns, but only Christ’s people will become immortal.  People who reject God will never become immortal, which means that they will not live forever.  In other words, humans are NOT ALREADY IMMORTAL and they certainly do not become immortal when they die. As we read in verse 23, “In Christ all will be made alive … at His coming.”  They do not have immortal souls that can survive death as conscious persons.

Death is our enemy; not our friend.

He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
THE LAST ENEMY that will be abolished is death
” (v25-26).

The Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato explained death as a friend—the liberation of the immortal and divine soul from the prison-house of the corrupt body.  Soon after the disciples died, the church, that became increasingly dominated by Greeks Christian, accepted this non-Biblical explanation.  Today we read the Bible with that mind-set.  However, since “He must reign until He has” abolished death, death is our enemy; not our friend.

Death is also God’s enemy.  Death never was God’s will.  Death is the consequence of rebellion against Him.  When He has “abolished all rule and all authority and power” (v24) that set themselves against Him and His laws, and thereby eradicated sin, death will also be eradicated.

The immaterial part of human beings

What is the immaterial part of human beings?  If the soul is not the conscious part of the individual, what survives death?

God exists without cause but is Himself the Cause of all things.  No being exists unless it is God’s will for that being to exist.  He “calls into being that which does not exist” (Rom. 4:17). 

God also continually and intimately preserves all things through the power of His Word (Hebr. 1:3; cf. Col. 1:17).  In an unexplainable way, He preserves every person every second of every day.  Every thought, desire or deed depends on God’s continually supplied power, even when we use our God-given abilities for evil purposes.  It is, therefore, impossible to distinguish God from His creation:

 “There is but one God, the Father,
from whom are all things …
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things,
and we exist through Him
” (1 Cor. 8:6).

In Him we live and move and exist
(Acts 17:28; cf. Rom. 4:17; Rev. 4:11).

As stated, most Christians today trust in the immortality of the soul for life after death. That means that they do not depend on God for eternal existence.  Paul, in contrast, trusted God’s promise of the resurrection, which depends on God’s and trustworthiness and creative power.

The immaterial part of the person, that remains after death, is the essence of the person, including the character, and thoughts.  We may call this the person’s soul or spirit.  It goes to God in the sense that we place our reliance on God—on His love and creative power—to resurrect us exactly as we were, but immeasurably better.

This explains the state of the dead from the human perspective.  There is also the perspective from infinity.  God created time and space, but He, Himself, exists outside time.   Time is something which we experience as linear because we exist within time.  For us, existing within time, there is time between death and resurrection.  However, when a person dies, the immaterial part of the person goes to God, and God exists outside time.  The immaterial part of man then exists without time.  There is, therefore, in reality, no time between death and resurrection.

 

Ignatius of Antioch described the Son as our God, immortal and being life.

This is the fourth article in the series on the historical development of the Trinity doctrine.  These first articles discuss the views of the church fathers in the first three centuries to determine whether they understood God to be a Trinity; One Being but three Persons.  The previous articles were An Introduction, which defined the Trinity, followed by analyses of the teachings of Polycarp and Justin Martyr.  The current article reflects the thoughts of Ignatius of Antioch.

Triad

Ignatius of Antioch (died 98/117) wrote

“In Christ Jesus our Lord, by whom and with whom be glory and power to the Father with the Holy Spirit for ever” (n. 7; PG 5.988).

Trinitarians quote this because it mentions the triad of three Persons together.  However, as previously stated, mentioning them together does not mean that they are one or that they are equal.  It only means that they are related.  In Ephesians 4:5, Paul mentions “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.”  That means that these four form a logical group; not that they are equal or the same.

One God

Ignatius contradicted the Trinity theory earlier in the same work when he identified the Father alone as God:

Thou art in error when thou callest the daemons of the nations gods. For there is but one God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are in them; and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, whose kingdom may I enjoy. (Martyrdom of Ignatius 2)

Ignatius here seems to interpret 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, which reads:

Even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth … yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

These statements explicitly identify the one God as someone distinct from the one Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words, the Father is the one God.

The only true God

Ignatius further wrote:

There is only one true GodBut our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son
We have also as a Physician the Lord our God Jesus the Christ;
the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began,
but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’
Being incorporeal (intangible), He was in the body;
Being impassible (incapable of suffering or feeling pain), He was in a passible body;
Being immortal, He was in a mortal body;
Being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.
(Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 1, p. 52, Ephesians 7.)

Pre-existence

According to this quote, before the Son became human, He was the only-begotten Son and Word, incorporeal, incapable of suffering, immortal and being life.  To say that He was incorporeal and incapable of suffering seem to be speculations, for such things are not mentioned in the Bible:

The description of the Son as “being life” is perhaps explained by the statement, “Just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).  On the one hand, it means that He received “life in Himself” from the Father, which means that He is subordinate to the Father.  On the other, there are only two Beings who have “life in Himself,” which testifies of a close relationship and similarity.

The statement that the Son was immortal seems to contradict the statement that the Father alone “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16), but there are two kinds of immortality; conditional and unconditional.  The Father alone is essentially (unconditionally) immortal, while humans will become immortal “when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:54).

Before time began

For Ignatius, as per the previous quote, the Father is “unbegotten” and the “Begetter of the only-begotten Son.”  This is an important distinction between the Father and Son.  Later Arius would conclude that the Son, therefore, had a beginning; that there was a time when the Son was not.  For Ignatius the Son was begotten “before time began,” which implies that He existed as long as time existed.  But this does not mean that the Son is equal to the Father.  To explains:

Time was created.  There exists an infinity outside time, for God exists beyond time.  In that infinity beyond time, the Son was Begotten, according to Ignatius.  If we use the word “before” not in a literal time sense, then we can say that the Father existed “before” the Son.

“Begotten” is human language for something that humans are unable to even begin to understand.

In the quote above, both the Father and Son are called physicians.  Later in the quote, Ignatius describes the sinner as “diseased” and the work of the Physician is not to judge, but to “heal … restore … to health.”  “Physician” is a most appropriate description of God’s attitude towards sinners, for He is not an independent Judge, but a kind Father.

Our God Jesus the Christ

In the quote above, Ignatius describes the Son as “our God.”  Some apologists use such phrases to argue that the church fathers before Nicene believed Jesus is God. But in the previous sentence, Ignatius described the Father as “the only true God,” which means that the Son is not “true God.”  This confusion does not exist in the original text but is caused by the translation.  To explain:

In modern English, we use the word “God” to identify one specific being.  It functions as a proper name for the Almighty.

The ancient languages did not have the modern differentiation between lower and upper case letters.  They only had words (theos in Greek) that are equivalent to our word “god.” The word “god” does not identify one specific being, but a category of beings.  The Christian God was regarded as one of the gods.

The following are examples from the Scriptures to show that the Hebrew mindset had no problem applying the word for “god” to:

Moses (Exodus 7.1),
● Angels (Psalm 8.5; cf. Hebrews 2.7),
● The divine council (Psalm 82.1, 6),
● Israel’s judges (Exodus 21.6, 22.8),
● The Davidic king (Psalm 45.6),
● Appetite (Philippians 3.19),
● Those who receive the word of God (John 10.34-35), and even to
● Satan (2 Corinthians 4.4).

Also outside the Bible, in the Greco-Roman world, they had a plethora of gods, including the emperors.  Paul confirmed, “indeed there are many gods and many lords” (1 Cor. 8:5).

In other words, during the early centuries of Christianity, the word theos (god) had a flexible meaning.  And since “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11), it was quite natural and appropriate for the first Christians to refer to the Son as theos.

Translation causes confusion

So the original text is clear.  All we have in the Greek Bibles is the word theos.  It says that the Father is the only true “god” and the Son is our “god.”  The confusion is caused by the theology of the translators.  When translators think that the Almighty is intended, they translate theos as “God.”  Since most translators are Trinitarians, they also translate the instances, where Jesus is referred to as theos, as “God.”  When theos does not refer to the Father or to the Son, they translate the same word as “god.”

Ignatius’ translator similarly assumed that Jesus is God, in the Trinitarian sense of the word.  Therefore, the translation refers to Him as “our God.”

However, the phrase “only true God” is illogical, for the word “God” is not a category name.  It would have been more logical to translate this phrase as “the only true god” or as “the only God.”  The same applies to John 17:3, where Jesus says that the Father is “the only true god.”

Similarly, the translations should refer to the Son as “our god” (small “g”).  A more literal translation would have reduced the confusion significantly.  For a more complete explanation, see The Meanings of the Word THEOS.

Summary

The word “God” did not exist in ancient times.
Which instances of theos are translated as “God” is substantially dependent on the theology of the translator.

Ignatius describes only the Father as “unapproachable.”  This is a quote from 1 Tim. 6:16, which says that the Father “alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.”  Since, for Ignatius, the Father is “the only true god,” unbegotten and unapproachable, the Father is in a category all by himself.   For him, the Father and Son are not equal, as Trinitarians propose.  Rather, the Son is subordinate to the Father.

Conclusion

Ignatius condemns by Trajan. Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius all died for their faith.

Ignatius made a clear distinction between God and Jesus Christ: The Father is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, who “made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are in them.”  He is ”the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.”

Trinitarian Arguments

There are a number of statements in the quotes from Ignatius that people use to prove that the Son is equal to the Father:

Ignatius describes the Son as “our God,” but he identified the Father as “the only true God,” which means that the Son is not “true God.”  As explained, the word “God” did not exist in ancient times.  Literally translated, the original text describes the Son as “our god” and the Father as “the only true god.” Which instances of theos are translated with a capital “G” (“God”) depends on the theology of the translator.

Ignatius wrote that the Son was begotten “before time began.”  This means that He existed as long as time existed.  But this does not mean that the Son is equal to the Father, for there exists an infinity beyond time, in which the Son was begotten by the Father.

Ignatius describes the Son as “immortal,” but this also does not mean that He is equal with the Father, for the Father “alone possesses (essential) immortality,” being immortal in terms of His being.

Ignatius wrote that the Son is “life,” but He received that life from the Father.

Finally

For Ignatius, the Father and Son are not equal, as Trinitarians propose.  Rather, the Son is subordinate to the Father.  There is no evidence in the quotes above that Ignatius thought that the Holy Spirit is self-aware, that the three Persons are equal, that they consist of one substance, that they are one Being or that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature.

Eternal Life and Eternal Torment according to Paul, Jesus and Revelation

Overview

The traditional view in the church, with respect to Eternal Life, includes that:

All people have IMMORTAL SOULS, and
Sinners will suffer in hell for ALL ETERNITY.

The purpose of this article is to show that the wicked will not suffer eternally, for they will die an eternal death.  To prove this, this article shows the following:

Only God’s people will receive eternal life.
God promises to give eternal life ONLY when Jesus returns and ONLY to those who persevere in doing good.  Sinners will not receive eternal life. That implies that sinners will die.

Paul never wrote that sinners will suffer in hell for eternity.
He does NOT use the word “hell” even once.

Paul consistently warns sinners that they will die:
For example, he explicitly wrote, “if you are living according to the flesh, you must die.”  And, “the wages of sin is death.

The opposite of death is Eternal Life.
The opposite of the death, which sinners will die, according to both Paul and Jesus, is Eternal Life.  This means that their death will be an Eternal Death.

This article also discusses eternal torment according to Jesus and according to the Book of Revelation.

Only God’s people will receive Eternal Life.

Some Bible statements promise eternal life without mentioning death as the alternative.  In these instances, eternal life is promised only to God’s people:

God, who will render to each person according to his deeds:
to those who by perseverance in doing good
immortality, eternal life;
but to those who are selfishly
wrath and indignation” (Rom. 2:5-8).

Immortality and eternal life, according to this verse, is not something which people already have, but something which God will, in the future, on “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (v5), “will render to those who by perseverance in doing good.”

The following are further indications that we do not yet have immortality, and that only believers will receive eternal life:

 “We believe in Him FOR eternal life“ (1Tim 1:16).

We are heirs according to the HOPE of eternal life“ (Titus 3:7).

Take hold of the eternal life
to which you were CALLED
“ (1Tim 6:12).

God … PROMISED eternal life long ages ago” (Titus 1:2).

Since eternal life is promised only to those who persevere in doing good (Rom. 2:7), such verses imply that “those who obey unrighteousness” will NOT live eternally.  That means that they will die.

Paul consistently warns sinners that they will die.

Unrighteousness, wickedness, greed …
those who practice such things
are WORTHY OF DEATH
” (Rom. 1:29-32).

 “If you are living according to the flesh,
YOU MUST DIE;
but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body,
YOU WILL LIVE
“ (Rom. 8:13).

You are slaves of the one whom you obey,
either of sin RESULTING IN DEATH, or of
obedience resulting in righteousness”
(Rom. 6:16).

The WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH  (Rom. 6:23).

The opposite of death is Eternal Life. 

In Paul’s writings, the opposite of this death, which sinners will die, is explicitly and consistently Eternal Life:

As SIN REIGNED IN death,
even so GRACE WOULD REIGN … to
eternal life” (Rom. 5:21).

 “You are slaves … either of SIN RESULTING IN death, …
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God …
THE OUTCOME,
eternal life.” (Rom. 6:16, 21-22)

The wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
” (Rom 6:23).

The one who sows to his own flesh
will from the flesh reap corruption,
but the one who sows to the Spirit
will from the Spirit reap
eternal life” (Gal. 6:8).

The Greek word translated “corruption” in this verse is phthoraStrong’s concordance defines this word as “destruction, corruption.”  In 1 Corinthians 15:42 it is used to describe our existing mortal bodies as “perishable.

The following is another verse to show that the opposite of the death, which sinners must die, is eternal life:

Our Saviour Christ Jesus abolished death
and brought life and immortality to light
” (2Tim 1:10).

This verse does not refer to “eternal life” as such, but “life and immortality” have the same meaning.

Conclusion

Since the opposite of “death” is “eternal life,” the death that Paul consistently warns about, is not the temporary death that faces all people.  It is, rather, eternal death; that awful and irreversible death which only sinners will suffer. 

Revelation refers to it as the second death:

This is the second death, the lake of fire.
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life,
he was thrown into the lake of fire
” (Rev 20:14).

Jesus contrasted Eternal Life with Death.

He who … believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life,
and does not come into judgment,
but has passed out of death into life
” (John 5:24)

An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs
will hear His voice, and will come forth;
those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life,
those who committed the evil deeds
to a resurrection of judgment
” (v28-29).

in verse 24, Jesus, similar to Paul, refers to eternal life, which He also contrasted with “death” and “judgment.”  “Judgment” here, is therefore not the process of decision-making, but the execution of the judgment, namely that horrible and irreversible, eternal death.

In verses 28-29, Jesus said that all people who ever lived will be resurrected.  Some will be resurrected to “life,” which is the eternal life of verse 24.  But the others will be resurrected to “judgment,” which is the opposite of eternal life.  Since life here is eternal, death here is also eternal.

Jesus, furthermore, said that God “is able to destroy BOTH BODY AND SOUL in hell” (Mat. 10:28).  Here He did not mention man’s spirit, but the intention seems to be that God is able to destroy human beings entirely.  Is that not also fairly obvious?  How could it be impossible for God to destroy something which He created Himself?

Jesus Explained Eternal Hell

But if Jesus said that sinners will die an eternal death, why did He speak about eternal torment?  Paul never mentioned the “hell”, but Christ most certainly did (Mat. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 12:5).  He called it “the fiery hell” (Mat. 5:22; 18:9); “the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48).

It is often assumed that Jesus, with these words, taught that the wicked will be tormented in hell for all eternity, but what Jesus said was that the worm is immortal; not the man.  These are symbols.  In ancient times people sometimes destroyed corpses by fire, but when wood was in short supply, a portion of the body remained.  And due to the dry conditions, corpses sometimes dried up and the worms died before the corpse was fully consumed.  Therefore the expression, the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched,” simply means that nothing will remain; “both soul and body” will be consumed (Mat. 10:28).

Eternal Torment in the Book of Revelation

Some of the strongest evidence for eternal torment, as proposed by some, comes from the book of Revelation.  This book does not use the word “hell” either, but it does say that the person who “worships the beast and his image:”

“… will be TORMENTED with fire and brimstone
in the presence of the holy angels
and in the presence of the Lamb.
And the smoke of their torment goes up FOREVER AND EVER;
they have no rest day and night
” (14:9-11). 

This “fire and brimstone” refers to the “lake of fire and brimstone,” where “the devil … the beast and the false prophet … will (also) be tormented day and night FOREVER AND EVER” (20:10).  How do we reconcile this with Paul’s consistent view that sinners will die, and with Christ’s statement that God will destroy body and soul in hell?

Our response is that Revelation is a book of symbols, and the following shows that the eternal torment in revelation is symbolic:  

(1) Smoke rises forever.

It is not the people that will be tormented forever and ever.  Rather, it is the smoke of their torment that goes up forever and ever. 

Babylon’s smoke will also go “up forever and ever” (17:18; 19:3), but she is not a literal person that can be tormentedBabylon is a symbol of the anti-God religious system that has ruled over the kings of the world of all ages. 

Furthermore, the “ten horns … will burn her up with fire” (17:16), which means that she will be fully and completely destroyed. This happens even before the return of Christ. 

The ever-rising smoke is, therefore, a symbol. It means that the horrific destruction of people, who are loved by God and His people, will never be forgotten.  People will remember it for as long as they live, and they will live “forever and ever.”

(2) Beast tormented forever

As a further example of the figurative nature of this eternal torment, the beast will also be “tormented day and night forever and ever” in “the lake of fire and brimstone” (20:10), but the beast is not a literal person.  It is a symbolic representation of worldly powers that have opposed God for thousands of years. (Compare Revelation 13:2 with Daniel 7).  The beast, therefore, cannot literally be tormented forever in an eternal hell.  This eternal torment must be understood as a symbol.

(3) Lake of Fire

The people with the mark of the beast are “tormented with fire and brimstone” (14:9).  “Fire and brimstone” is the lake of fire (19:20) into which these people are thrown (20:15).  This lake of fire is twice identified as “the second death” (20:14; 21:8).  This means that this death is different from the first death.  All people are resurrected from death (Rev. 20:5; John 5:28-29).  Therefore, all people live twice.  But the worshipers of the beast also die the second death (19:21; 20:9).  After the judgment of the dead (20:11, 12), their death becomes final and irreversible when they are thrown into the lake of fire (20:15).

Furthermore, once a being is cast into the lake of fire, he is never again seen doing anything.  For example:

The beast and the false prophet “were thrown alive into the lake of fire” when Christ returns (19:11).  Thereafter they never again do anything in Revelation. 

The devil is cast into the lake of fire one thousand years later (20:10) and never again seen. 

The same applies to the people with the mark of the beast, who are cast into the lake of fire after the judgment (20:15; cf. 20:11).

(4) Tormented in the presence of the Lamb

revelation 14:10 says that the worshipers of the beast “will be tormented … in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”  Literally interpreted, this means that the Lamb and His angels will remain in hell forever, which is ridiculous. God gave Christ “authority to execute judgment” (John 5:27), and this is what He will do.  “The end” will only come “when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24).

Summary of this article

Do people have immortal souls?  This article shows that the wicked do NOT have eternal life inherently and will NOT be tormented eternally, justified as follows:

Firstly,

Only God’s people will receive eternal life; and
They will only receive eternal life when Christ returns.

This means that people are not currently or inherently immortal. It also means that the wicked will not become immortal, which implies that they will die.

Secondly, Paul never wrote that sinners will suffer in hell for eternity.  Rather, he consistently:

Warned that sinners will Die, and he
Contrasted this death with Eternal Life

This implies that sinners will die; not the temporary death that faces all people, but an Eternal Death; that awful and irreversible death which only sinners will suffer, which Revelation refers to as the second death.

Jesus and hell

Thirdly, Jesus also contrasted “death” and eternal life.  He said that all people who ever lived will be resurrected.  Some will be resurrected to eternal life, but the others will be resurrected to death, which is also eternal, for God “is able to destroy BOTH BODY AND SOUL in hell” (Mat. 10:28). 

But then, why did Jesus speak about “the fiery hell,” “the unquenchable fire,” “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched?”  It is often assumed that Jesus, with these words, taught that the wicked will be tormented eternally.  However, this is symbolic.  In ancient times people sometimes destroyed corpses by fire, but when wood was in short supply, a portion of the body remained.  And due to the hot, dry conditions, the corpse sometimes dried up and the worms died before the corpse was fully consumed.  But when God destroys the body and soul in hell, the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”  These human beings will be completely destroyed.

Revelation and hell

Revelation claims that the worshipers of the beast:

“… will be tormented with fire and brimstone
in the presence of the holy angels
and in the presence of the LAMB.
And the SMOKE of their torment goes up
FOREVER AND EVER
” (14:9-11). 

This also is symbolic.  Revelation is a book of symbols.  This is true of the book in general, but the following shows in particular that this eternal torment is symbolic:

Smoke – Babylon’s smoke will also go “up forever and ever,” but she is not a person.  Babylon is a symbol of the anti-God religious system. Furthermore, she will be totally destroyed by the ten horns. The ever-rising smoke symbolizes that the horrific destruction of people, who are loved by God and His people, will never be forgotten.

Tormented – The beast will also be “tormented day and night forever and ever,” but the beast is not a literal person and therefore cannot literally be tormented.

Fire and brimstone – This is the lake of fire, and is twice explained as “the second death.”  Once a being is cast into the lake of fire, he is never again seen doing anything.

Presence of the Lamb – The worshipers of the beast “will be tormented … in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”  Literally interpreted, this means that the Lamb and His angels will remain in hell forever, which is ridiculous.

Conclusion

The idea of immortal punishment results from the concept of the immortal soul.  That man has an immortal soul was the generally accepted Greek philosophical view in the world in which Christianity arose.  Although it is foreign to Judaism and Christianity, it soon became accepted in the church and is today defended in the Church as orthodox.  However, it is actually the first lie recorded in the Bible, when the serpent said to Eve, “You surely will not die” (Gen. 3:4).  

An immortal soul is illogical.  How can there be anything which God created which He cannot again destroy?

The concept of an immortal soul is also a rebellion against God.  The promise of the Bible is a resurrection from death, which depends on God’s miraculous power, but the concept of the immortal soul says that we do not need God.