From, “What Is Conditional Immortality?” (Miscellaneous Comparisons with the Greek Doctrine of Natural Immortality) by Pastor Sidney A. Hatch, Brief Bible Studies: Vol. 20, No. 2, p.9-18.
Many times, over the years, I have remarked to people that I believe in conditional immortality. However, oftentimes, the response has simply been, “What is conditional immortality?” Perhaps, then, a few words of explanation will be in order.
There are, essentially, only two views of man’s nature, the primitive Biblical view, and the ancient philosophical view. The primitive Biblical view is the foundation of the doctrine of conditional immortality. The ancient philosophical view may be called natural or innate immortality.
Natural or innate immortality says that man is born with something immortal in him. Conditional immortality says just the opposite, there is nothing in man that is immortal.
Natural immortality says that this something in man lives on after death. It may be called “soul, spirit, ghost,” or something else, but it lives on as a conscious, thinking, immaterial entity.
Conditional immortality says that nothing lives on after death. The body returns to dust, and the “spirit” or “breath of life” returns to God who gave it (Eccles. 12:7). This spirit or breath of life is not a person or conscious entity. Rather, it is simply the life-force in man.
Natural immortality says that after death, during the so-called intermediate state, man’s “soul” or “immaterial entity” goes somewhere. Christians who profess faith in natural immortality say the soul goes to heaven, hell, or purgatory.
Others suggest various places (and here the doctrine of natural immortality fragments into many pieces): Elysium, Valhalla, the underworld of hades, a happy hunting ground, etc., etc.
Still other believers in natural immortality solve the problem by saying that the soul is reincarnated in another living creature, a human being, or one of the lower animals.
Conditional immortality says that a “soul” is a person. During the immediate state, his resting place is the grave, and, as God Himself says, he returns to dust (Gen. 3:19). But the Scriptures also describe this immediate state as “sleep” (Jn. 11:11: Lk. 8:52; I Thess. 4:13). This is because it will be interrupted someday by the return of Christ and the resurrection (awakening) of the dead.
Natural immortality claims to believe in the resurrection of the dead. But, in reality, its resurrection is simply the reincarnation someday of a man’s “soul” or “ghost” in a body.
According to conditional immortality, resurrection is that great moment when a re-creation takes place. The individual is brought back from the dust and “formed alive” again (Jn. 5:21; Rom. 8:11; I Cor. 15:22).
Natural immortality says that in the eternal state “lost souls” live (burn) in the fires of hell forever. This idea is so incomprehensibly horrible that some believers in natural immortality tone it down to “eternal separation” from God.
Conditional immortality says that “death” means death, the loss and deprivation of all life (Rom. 6:23). Since there is no such thing as “an immortal soul,” there is no such thing as eternal torment. In the judgment, the lost person is simply destroyed. This is the meaning of “perish” in John 3:16. This is the “second death” (Rev. 20:14).
Conditional immortality recognises that such a thing as the eternal torment of humans never entered the mind of God (Jer. 7:31). It is contrary to His holiness which includes a perfect justice (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 7:9; Rom. 2:5; I Pet. 1:16).
Natural immortality says that “hell” is a spirit-world of the dammed. “Sheol” and “hades” are regions of sorrow where the wicked are fully conscious. Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom where the refuse of Jerusalem was burned, denotes or signifies the place of eternal torment. Eternal torment, we are told, is the second death.
Conditional immortality says that “hell,” that is “sheol” and “hades,” are the grave. The grave– not a spirit-world– is the realm of the dead. Gehenna represents the destruction of the wicked, not their eternal torment.
Natural immortality creates a problem for itself when it says that the second death is eternal torment or eternal separation from God. Christ died for our sins, but He did not endure eternal torment. Who, then, has fully paid the penalty for sin? No one, according to natural immortality.
Conditional immortality has no such problems. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3). Full atonement has been made! The blood [=death] of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (I Jn. 1:7).
Throughout history, natural immortality has had a tragic effect on society, organized Christianity, and even the human psyche. Traditionally, believers in natural immortality have persecuted those who rejected their doctrines.
Queen Mary of England (“Bloody Mary,” 1516-1558) burned heretics at the stake. She argued that the “souls” of heretics are hereafter to be eternally burning in hell. Hence, she added, there can be nothing more proper than for her to imitate the divine vengeance by burning them on earth (J.H.Petingell, The Unspeakable Gift, p. 278).
Even today, I have observed, believers in natural immortality can become very upset, even angry, when told that there is no such thing as eternal torment. Why, we may ask, this inexplicable loyalty to such a horrible doctrine? Certainly Satan would rejoice in the eternal torment of a victim, but not God, or a child of God.
The doctrines of conditional immortality are conducive to a Christian life that is kind, loving, and tolerant. The God of the conditionalist is both just and merciful, not a monster or fiend operating a torture chamber for all eternity somewhere in the universe.
The conditionalist often finds himself in a “minority status.” He recognises the practical need for tolerance, that men may live together in peace, and have liberty to study the Scriptures.
Natural immortality says that a person’s eternal destiny is settled and begins at death. He therefore begins his punishment before he appears before God to be judged. Obviously, a judgment day has been reduced to a judicial farce. (Theories of a purgatory only serve to complicate this!)
Conditional Immortality says that future judgment for all men takes place after a resurrection from the dead. While there may be different judgments, they all take place after one is raised from the dead (I Cor. 15:21-28; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:4-6, 11-15).
Natural immortality says that salvation is by faith in Christ. However, by this it means that at death a Christian’s “soul” will go to heaven and not to hell. Christ is, therefore, the umpire or director of a great host of “immortal souls” which must, at death, travel through the invisible world, en route to heaven or hell.
Conditional immortality believes in salvation by faith in Christ. Christ alone is the worker of resurrection and the giver of immortal resurrection life (Jn. 11:25). At Christ’s return the believer is raised from the dead and given immortality. Conditional immortality is based on 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory [over death and the grave] through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Natural immortality does not know when a person receives his “immortal soul” or natural immortality. Is it handed down from generation to generation (“traducianism”)? Or is it created in the individual at conception, during pregnacy, or at birth (“creationism”)?
Conditional immortality knows exactly when a person receives immortality: It will be in the resurrection at the second coming of Christ– and not before. At that moment, this mortal will “put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:54).
Natural immortality cancels out the need for Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead. If there is no return of Christ and resurrection of the dead, it will still be all right, for the “soul” is enjoying the bliss of heaven!
Conditional immortality makes the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead an absolute imperative. It agrees with Paul that if the dead rise not, “then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (1 Cor. 15:16-18).
Natural immortality says that man is worth saving because he has an “immortal soul” or he is an “eternal spirit.” He offers to God his “immortal soul” as a head-start on immortality and eternal life. Thus natural immortality compromises the grace of God.
Conditional immortality says that man is made of the soil of the earth and is a “living soul” (Gen. 2:7), not an “immortal soul.” As Abraham said, man is “but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). He has nothing in himself to offer to God; he is utterly unworthy, both as to person and works (Isa. 64:6). He is completely dependent on Christ’s work on the cross, and God’s love and grace, to save him. Conditional immortality, therefore, is a message of pure grace.
Natural immortality exalts man to the point of blasphemy. The Scripture says that “[God] only hath immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). Thus natural immortality claims for man a divine attribute. It comes close to the sin of Lucifer who said, “I will be like the most High” (Isai. 14:14).
Natural immortality cannot claim that man received his immortality at creation. The Hebrew term for “living soul” is also used of all the other animals at creation. According to the Hebrew text, they too are “living souls” (Gen. 1:20-21, 24, 30; 2:19). They too have the same “breath of life” or “spirit” that was breathed into man (Gen. 7:22).
Nor can natural immortality claim that “image of God” means that man is, in some way, immortal. In Genesis 1:26, the Hebrew words for “image” and “likeness” (tzelem and demuth) refer to form, shape, or physical likeness, not to some spiritual or moral attribute in man. Compare also such passages as 1 Corithians 11:7 and James 3:9.