Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Adam & Eve

Question. Minus the fall, do you think Adam & Eve would have lived forever? We discussed this question last night at M.O.S.T. (my small group). Basically, are humans by nature immortal? Opinions differed in our discussion. I'm of the opinion that, hypothetically, they would have lived forever had they remained in Eden and continued to eat from the 'tree of life.' In other words, I don't believe that mankind is immortal by nature, but must continue to partake of God's gift in order to live eternally. The true gift is, of course, Christ. And only 'in Christ' do we have eternal life. Death is not so much a punishment for sin as it is a natural consequence of being separated from God. What do you think?


Dancin' said...

If man "must continue to partake of God's gift in order to live eternally" then may humans still fall after entrance into heaven and glorification ?

Also if "mankind is (not) immortal by nature" then wouldn't that mean man was initially created to die and by Adam's first partaking in "God's gift" began to live eternally, then through sin lost his ability to live eternally?

if "mankind is (not) immortal by nature" then at some point God must have bestowed must have bestowed immortality upon humanity, if we are now to live eternally (either in heaven or hell). This brings theodicy into play because the question arises: What reason would justify a good God causing temporal beings to become immortal thus heaping eternal torment upon humanity?
This seems to vindictive rather than an act of justice, mercy, or grace.

Jecca said...

My question would be whether or not you mean live eternally as humans (flesh and blood) or live eternally as souls/spirits?

Aaron Perry said...

Hi Matt,

I would say that humans are mortal, always have been mortal, and can be nothing but mortal. That comes necessarily by being 'created.' That we may not die does not mean we are immortal, only that our mortality is being overcome--as you say, by God's gift. Only God is immortal, which is why for humans to have life at all, God breathes into us. God enlivens us by his breath, or Spirit (Gen. 2).

Connected with this is Christ breathing on his disciples in John 20, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. That being said, I think death is both a punishment from God and a natural consequence of being separated from God. Apart from God and his Spirit, we have no life. However, at times God acts decisively via death to enact his punishment.

matthew said...

Dave asked some good questions which I will share some thoughts on...

1. I don't think humans will fall after glorification b/c I think free will will have been actualized. But that's a different subject to some degree.

2. I wouldn't say Adam was created to die b/c it was God's desire for him to stay in Eden and continue eating from the tree of life (God's gift)

3. I am glad you brought up the 3rd point b/c that was my reason for posting what i posted. Since I agree with AP that man is by nature mortal, I believe an 'eternal' hell would be God actively keeping people alive as a means of punishment. This is one of the reasons I am leaning toward a conditional mortality view in regards to the fate of the wicked (as opposed to universal reconciliation & eternal torment views)

Jessica: I believe that the soul lives after death either in paradise or torment. But only until judgment day when there will be a restoration of the physical.

AP: I agree. 1 Tim 6:16, among others, states clearly that God alone is immortal. We do not possess immortality, but can 'seek' it by persistence in doing good (Romans 2:7) and thus receiving the gift of eternal life.

And I thank you for your comment about death being a punishment & a consequence. I suppose I was stressing the latter b/c the former gets so much attention.

Dancin' said...

In your I Timothy 6:16 & Romans 2:7 reference the word used for "immortal" or "immortality" can actually be translated eternal, which I would think is more accurate because I do not equate immortal with infinite or eternal. To be eternal or infinite is to be beyond measure in all all aspects (including time- no beginning or end). In other words immortal is a being who has a definitive beginning, but no end.

I would agree man is finite with a definitive beginning and thus able to measure existence (even if that measure grows).

1. Since, humans being able to fall after glorification is a "different subject" I won't continue to pursue it further, but will assert based on your post and your argument thus far humanity being able to "fall" after glorification seems to be the logical bi-product of your argument.

2. You stated in your post "I don't believe mankind is immortal by nature", but in your response to me you wrote: I wouldn't say Adam was created to die. How can this be?! I'm sure you will appeal to eternal life by embracing God's gift, but the fact remains that if man is not immortal by nature, initially man was created to die. Even if as soon as he breathed he embraced God's gift, that minuscule moment between breathe and life he was bound for death (ceasing of existence).

If man is not created immortal how can he not be created to die? If I understand it you correctly "death" as you use it is a ceasing of existence, not just physically but in all manner. Physical death, as I understand it, is not the end of a human's existence, but merely a transition from the finite to the eternal.

I would agree our "immortality" is bound up in God that because God is eternal and the sustainer of all life. Thus all things created are dependent upon him for their existence.

When God created, brought things into existence, he declared it good. Thus existence is good and consequently it's logical opposite, non-existence, must be bad. All we have ever known is existence. I would argue sustaining humanity’s life, even in hell, is an act of grace because even the most painful of existences is better than not existing.

Temporary punishment is also hard for me to reconcile with Scripture because of verses such as Matthew 25:46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." This verse comes after Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and goats. It’s evident that eternal punishment and eternal life are placed paralleled to emphasizes the contrast between punishment and life. If eternal is intended to express the horror of the punishment then eternal must be serving to express the awesomeness of life. If we conclude that punishment is only temporary then we must conclude life is only temporary as well.

matthew said...

Hey Dave, thanks for the feedback :)

I would disagree that 'eternal' would be a better rendering of what Paul is communicating in 1 Timothy 6:16. The word (athanasia) seems to mean "undying, immortality, everlasting" (strong's). The emphasis is on the end of one's existence (in this case the lack thereof), not on the beginning (the idea of having existed forever). This fits perfectly with Paul's other usage of this greek word in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 where he contrasts mortality with "athanasia." If 'eternal' was a better translation, then I think a major translation would have translated it as such (but I can only find a sympathetic rendering to your suggestion in the Contemporary English Version) whereas the KJV, NIV, NASB, NLT & NKJV render it as immortal or 'who alone can never die.' So I would agree that immortal is not the same as eternal (since an immortal man will live forever, but didn't necessarily exist eternally), but I can't agree that that is what Paul had in mind when he used the term "athanasia." I don't believe the term speaks toward one's beginning at all (it doesn't indicate whether the person in question had a beginning or not), it only addresses the lack of an 'end.'

I think your first point is a good one. I haven't spent enough time thinking about my answer to the dilemna (an 'actualized' will), but I assume the same is true of the angels who, apparently, had free will, but no longer seem to be interested in changing their once made up minds.

I don't see the problem you have with my 2 statements that a) man isn't immortal by nature and b) man wasn't created to die. It is God's will that none shall perish and we had to be aggressive in acting outside of His will do accomplish perishing. It seems our conflict is found in the idea that you believe created man starts off as separated from God, whereas I believe created man starts off in relationship to God. Thus, I have no split second of a fatal forecast. Or am I mis-reading your paragraph?

I don't equate death with ceasing to exist in a rigid manner. I believe there will be further punishment for the wicked soul. I just am not convinced it extends beyond judgment day (the second death, as I see it, is the death of the wicked soul).

I don't agree with the logic that if 'A' is good then the opposite of 'A' MUST be bad. Perhaps it's not so much that I disagree with the logic, but that I disagree that they are necessarily opposites. I don't believe bad is the opposite of good, but simply the lack of good. Darkness is not the opposite of light, but simply the absence of light. Non-existence is not the opposite of existence, but simply the lack of existence. It's not 'bad' so much as it is not 'good.' Just my thoughts on that.

I don't you'd have many real-life (non-theological) supporters for the idea the eternal torture is better than ceasing to exist. Nor do I think it's so easy to connect eternal torture to God's grace.

In regards to Matthew 25:46, a punishment of death (and the eventual removal of existence) last forever. In other words, once you cease to exist, there is no turning back. That's an eternal punishment. I'd be more convinced if the passage said eternal torment or eternal misery, but 'punishment' doesn't demand the person remain alive. The contrast of 'eternal life' seems, even, to further support conditional mortality. Or why not render the passage something like "they will go to eternal negative life and the righteous to eternal positive life?" I believe 'eternal' is used to express the length. The punishment, death, stands forever. The reward, life, stands forever as well.

matthew said...

After I commented I stumbled across a response to this verse from Steve Gregg:

Matthew 25:41 & 46 actually DO use the expressions "everlasting fire" and "everlasting punishment", but as in every case of the use of "eternal" or "everlasting", the Greek word for these terms, "aionios," (according to many scholars) literally means "unto the ages" or "age-enduring." While such an expression may certainly refer to something that is endless, it might also simply speak of something of very long duration.

There are instances in scripture where aionios does not mean "eternal." In Romans 16:25, the words "chronois aioniois" [times eternal (unto the ages)] is traditionally translated "since the world began" (NKJV). This is talking about the fact that the mystery of the gospel was “forever” previously kept secret, but is now revealed to the apostles. The point is that this “hiddenness” was not an endless condition, but one that ended with the revelation of the same mystery to the apostles. The expression "before time began" (2 Tim.1:9/Titus 1:2 NKJV), is actually "apo chronon aionion" [before time age-abiding]. This seems to speak of "duration...undefined but not endless' (Vine).

Sodom and Gomorrah, according to Jude, suffered the vengeance of "eternal (aionios) fire" (Jude 7), which, in the parallel statement in 2 Peter 2:6, is simply described as "destruction."

Of the wicked, in general, we are told that their "end is destruction" (Phil.3:19) and their "end is to be burned" (Heb.6:8). Both passages speak of the wicked having an "end." In my opinion, it would be possible to find some way of harmonizing these verses with the idea of eternal torment, but I don't think it is their most natural meaning.

In other words, if a totally uninitiated reader, who had never heard of the eternal torment view, were to read these verses, I do not think he would derive such a view from them. They can be read in light of such a view only if there are straightforward statements elsewhere that determine that this is the correct view.

It is often argued that, since aionios is the word that speaks of God's gift of “everlasting” life to believers (e.g., John 6:40), and since possession of this life means we will "never die" (John 6:50), that this establishes the usage of the word aionios to mean "endless" or "eternal." But this really only establishes this meaning in the case of "aionios life." It does not prove that the word cannot in other instances speak of something "abiding unto the ages"—yet having some end eventually. Something that lasts for thousands of years, and something that lasts forever, might both justly be referred to as "abiding unto the ages." At least it seems so to me.