Mortal or Immortal

What testimony does the Bible bear concerning the condition of man after death? It is vain to search for an answer to this important question outside the word of inspiration. So let us consider the teaching of the good, old Book.

God said to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ ” Genesis 2:16, 17

Regarding those living since the fall, God’s ultimatum has been sent through the prophet: “The soul who sins shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4, last part. Paul tells us, “For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23, first part. And, “For as in Adam all die.” 1 Corinthians 15:22, first part

Still, we find that an opposite opinion is held regarding this question. Its origin was in the garden of Eden. Satan was its author as he appeared to Eve and invited her to eat of the forbidden fruit. He told her that God’s statement that death would be the result of eating the fruit of that tree, was not true. Satan said, “Ye shall not surely die.” Genesis 3:4

Hence, from the pulpit, and by the religious press of the day, we are told that at death man does not really die. We are told that the soul, which is claimed to be the real thinking, intelligent part of man, is immortal, and hence can never die.

To those sorrowing because of the loss of loved ones, the all-prevailing source of comfort and consolation is that their beloved dead are not really dead, but that the intelligent part, the soul, has, instead, actually entered upon a higher state of existence and enjoyment. It is explained that “There is no death; what seems so is transition.” And the poet sings,

“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.”

Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This all seems good, so far as sentiment goes, but is it true? It is not always safe to trust sentiment and popular theology too implicitly. God knows all about it, for the nature of man and his destiny were planned by Him, and human theories, be they never so popular and worldwide, and theology, be it never so positive, will not change God’s plans and purposes.

God’s word, the Bible, was given to reveal to man God’s plans and purposes regarding the human race. It tells of man’s origin, explains his present condition, and foretells what his future will be. It is, therefore, safe to rely implicitly upon the statements of Scripture for a definite settlement of a question of such vital importance.

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20

A mortal, as defined by Webster, is, “a being subject to death.” The following texts show the scriptural use of the word:

“Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?” Job 4:17
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” Romans 6:12
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15:53

The foregoing texts teach plainly that man is mortal, subject to death. Our “mortal bodies” shall be quickened at the resurrection of the just, and at that time “this mortal must put on immortality.”

“Then [at the resurrection] shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ” Verse 54, last part

Webster defined immortal as “not mortal; exempt from liability to die; undying; imperishable; lasting forever; having unlimited or eternal existence.”

If God gave man such qualities as are expressed in this definition, with power to transmit them to His offspring, as must be the case if the theory of natural immortality be true, it is reasonable to suppose He would reveal the fact in His word. Has He ever made such a revelation? No, not in a single instance is it to be found in the Bible.

In the Old Testament, the words immortal and immortality are not to be found. In the English version of the New Testament, the word immortal occurs once:

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:17. The word immortal is never applied to human beings in the Bible.

The word immortality occurs five times in the English version of the New Testament as follows:

“Eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality.” Romans 2:7. This shows that we do not now possess immortality, for if we do, why should we be instructed to seek for it?

In 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54, as quoted above, this question refers to the resurrection to take place when Christ comes to receive His own. And the statement is distinctly made that man is now mortal, but at that time immortality is to be “put on,” before he can inherit the kingdom prepared for the righteous.

“Who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:16. This verse shows that reference is here made to “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Here Paul plainly states that God alone possesses the attribute of immortality.

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Timothy 1:8–10. Here we are told that the truth regarding immortality is brought to light “through the gospel.” Reason and science cannot demonstrate it. Neither can the oracles of heathenism, the decretals [papal letter giving authoritative decision on a point of canon law] of the pope, nor the creeds of churches reveal it to us. God’s word alone can give us the desired light.

A Cornerstone

The critical clergyman and Bible commentator, J. N. Andrews, writes:

“The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is something indispensable to almost every prominent religious system.

“It is the cornerstone of heathenism. All, or nearly all, the gods of heathenism are dead men who were turned into gods by dying. They are simply the immortal souls of the dead.

“Romanism is indebted to this doctrine for all its saints are now acting as mediators with God. It is a fundamental idea in the system of purgatory. In fact, Romanism is as much dependent on this doctrine as is heathenism and is incapable of existing without it.

“Spiritualism is simply the embodiment of this doctrine of natural immortality. It is incapable of existing without it. The very mission of Spiritualism, as proclaimed by itself, is to establish the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

“Is it not strange that this cornerstone of heathenism, Romanism, and spiritualism, should also be the cornerstone of modern orthodoxy? Yet, such is the case. It is in these days esteemed the marrow and fatness of the gospel. And so prevalent is this doctrine, that the advent of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment, are rendered almost obsolete by it.”

How Applied

In the book Pauline Theology, by H. L. Hastings, are found the following statements:

  1. The apostle Paul is the only writer in the whole Bible who makes use of the word immortal or immortality.
  2. He never applies it to sinners.
  3. He never applies it to either righteous or wicked in this world.
  4. He never applies it to men’s souls at all, either before or after death.
  5. He speaks of it as an attribute of the King eternal. 1Timothy 1:17
  6. He declares that He [God] is the only possessor of it. 1Timothy 6:16
  7. He presents it as an object which men are to seek after by patient continuance in well-doing. Romans 2:7
  8. He speaks of it as revealed or brought to light in the gospel of the Son of God. 2Timothy 1:10
  9. He defines the period when it shall be “put on” by the saints of God, and fixes it at the resurrection, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear. 1Corinthians 15:52, 54
  10. Therefore, he never taught the immortality of the soul, as it is now taught, and hence, when he declared that sinners should be destroyed, or perish, or die, or be burned, or devoured by fire, he did so without any “mental reservations,” or “theological definitions;” in other words, he said what he meant, and meant what he said.

Use of Terms

In his tract entitled, “The Intermediate State,” Evangelist G. W. Anglebarger says:

“If the saints are dead they are not alive. If they are in the grave, they are not in heaven. If they have no thoughts, then they are not thinking. If they know nothing, then they are not intelligent. If they are asleep, then they are not awake. If they are to be rewarded at the judgment, they are not being rewarded now. Is this not the doctrine of the Bible?”

A New Dictionary

“It is a notorious fact that in our theological works a nondescript dictionary is made with definitions as follows: ‘To be dead,’ means to be more conscious. ‘To die,’ is to live on in woe. ‘To lose life,’ is to preserve a miserable existence. ‘Life’ means happiness. ‘To burn up,’ is to make a living salamander. ‘To destroy,’ is to preserve whole. ‘To devour,’ ‘perish,’ ‘consume,’ etc., mean to make indestructible and immortal. ‘Not to be,’ to be without end!”—Reverend Jacob Blain, Baptist minister of Buffalo.

Origin of the Doctrine

Mr. Panton Ham, of Bristol, England, in writing of the immortality of the soul, says:

“Let it be registered as the genuine genealogy, that pagan Plato was its father, and the profligate Pope Leo its foster father. Born and bred by the pagan philosophy, the protégé of popery, this notion of the soul’s immortality has become a pet dogma of popular Protestantism, which, with a strange forgetfulness of its low lineage, openly declares it to be the honorable offspring of a true orthodoxy!”

Unknown in the Bible

Olshausen, in his comments on 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ,” etc., says: “The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the name, are alike unknown to the entire Bible.”

And in explaining Luke 16:24–26, he also states: “The Bible knows not either the expression, ‘immortality of the soul’ (God is He ‘who alone hath immortality.’ 1 Timothy 6:16), or the modern doctrine of immortality.”

God’s Design

Professor Hudson, author of a valuable Greek Concordance of the New Testament, says:

“We regard man as created not absolutely immortal, but in a certain sense for immortality; i.e., immortality was his natural and proper destination. He was designed to be immortal in the same sense in which he was designed for eternal life; or, as the chief end of man is to glorify God, to enjoy Him forever. In this view, we maintain that the guilty failure of eternal life brings the penal forfeiture of immortality.”

From the Original

For the benefit of those who desire to study the original text on this subject, the following is given from the pen of the author and clergyman, Uriah Smith:

“The word, ‘immortal’ occurs but once in the English version of the Scriptures; 1 Timothy 1:17; and there it is applied, not to man nor any part of man, but to God. The original word, however, from which it comes, aphtharlos, occurs seven times in the New Testament; and in the six other instances of its use it is rendered incorruptible, but is never applied to man. Its entire use is as follows, the rendering of the word being in italics:

“Romans 1:23, the glory of the uncorruptible God.

“1 Corinthians 9:25, they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

“Chapter 15:52, the dead shall be raised incorruptible.

“1 Timothy 1:17, unto the King eternal, immortal.

“1 Peter 1:4, to an inheritance incorruptible.

“Verse 23, born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God.

“Chapter 3:4, the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible.

“It will thus be seen that in Romans 1:23, it is applied to God; in 1 Corinthians 9:25, to the crown of immortality which we seek; in 1 Corinthians 15:52, to the incorruptible bodies we receive in the resurrection; in 1 Peter 1:4, to the future inheritance of the saints; in verse 23, to the principle by which conversion is wrought in us; and in 1 Peter 3:4, to the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which we put on through Christ.

“But although man is nowhere called immortal, is not the equivalent declaration somewhere made that he had immortality? The word immortality occurs in the English Scriptures but five times; but it comes from two words in the Greek, and these occur in the aggregate eleven times. The first of these, athanasia, occurs but three times, and is every time rendered “immortality” as follows:

“1 Corinthians 15:53, this mortal must put on immortality.

“Verse 54, when this mortal shall have put on immortality.

“1 Timothy 6:16, who only hath immortality.

“In these instances the word is applied to what we are to put on in the resurrection, and to God, who, it is declared, is the only One who by nature hath it. The other word, aphtharsia, occurs eight times as follows:

“Romans 2:7, to them who … seek for glory and honor and immortality.

“1 Corinthians 15:42, it is raised in incorruption.

“Verse 50, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

“Verse 53, this corruptible must put on incorruption.

“Verse 54, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption.

“Ephesians 6:24, love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

“2 Timothy 1:10, brought life and immortality to light.

“Titus 2:7, showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity.

“In all these instances it will be seen that the word is not once applied to man, but to that for which we obtain by the resurrection, to our love to Christ, to what Christ has brought to light, and to the doctrine we are to cherish. The way in which these words are used is very significant, and should have great weight in deciding this question.”

Death has been the lot of man ever since the fall of our first parents, but Christ will destroy it. Immortality is not now possessed by the sons of Adam, but will be given to the saints “When Christ who is our Life appears.” Colossians 3:4, first part

“How has Christ brought life and immortality to light? Answer: By abolishing death. There could have been no life nor immortality without this; for the human race was hopelessly doomed to death through sin. Then by what means and for whom has He abolished death? Answer: He has abolished it by dying for man and rising again, a victor over death; and He has wrought this work only for those who will accept of it through Him; for all who reject His proffered aid, will meet at last the same fate that would have been the lot of all had Christ never undertaken the work of redemption in our behalf. Thus through the gospel—the good news of salvation by His sufferings and death—He has brought to light the fact, not that all men are by nature in possession of immortality, but that a way is opened whereby we may at last gain possession of this inestimable boon.”—Smith

According to the popular dogma of the natural immortality of man, the righteous go to their reward, and the wicked to their punishment, at death. But the Bible doctrines of the judgment, the resurrection of the dead, and the second coming of Christ, make such a theory untenable.

The Bible plainly teaches a judgment still in the future.

Paul, before Felix, “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” Acts 24:25

The scene of the judgment is described in Revelation 20:12, 13; and that it takes place at the end of the world is evident from the statements found in the nineteenth and twentieth chapters of Revelation.

The apostle Peter says, “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.” 2 Peter 2:9

In this text it is stated that the wicked are reserved “under punishment for the day of judgment.” Hence they are not immortal, and are not now receiving their chastisement.

Paul says also, that God “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world.” Acts 17:31

As an evidence that the righteous do not yet possess immortality, and are not now receiving their reward, the Bible plainly teaches that they do not receive it until the coming of Christ, and the resurrection, and the judgment.

Rewarded at the second coming of Christ:

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” Matthew 16:27

John prophesies of Christ, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work.” Revelation 22:12

Crowned at the appearing of the Chief Shepherd:

“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” 1 Peter 5:4

Recompensed at the resurrection:

“For you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:14, last part. Not at death.

Paul looked forward to the resurrection as the only hope of those who die. He said, “For if the dead do not rise, … your faith is futile; … then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” 1 Corinthians 15:16–18

In John 6:39, Christ said that He would lose nothing of all the Father had given, but would “raise it up again at the last day.” This shows that to be saved we must be resurrected.

In “Theology of the Scriptures,” Vol. ii, p. 315, Andrew Carmichael says: “It cannot be too often repeated: If there be an immortal soul, there is no resurrection; and if there be any resurrection, there is no immortal soul.”

Rewarded at the judgment:

“The nations were angry, and Your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great.” Revelation 11:18

No comment is needed upon such plain statements from the word of God. It is folly to argue that at death the wicked receive their punishment and afterward are recalled for judgment, for this is yet in the future.

It is equally unscriptural to claim that the righteous, at death, obtain their great reward in heaven, and later are to be called back to the judgment to ascertain if the reward has been rightly bestowed. And further, the foregoing quotations of scriptures prove clearly that the reward is not to be given until the judgment, the coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the just.

Past, Present, and Future, James Edson White, ©1909, 147–157