Issue #551 -------
October 11, 2012
Millions long for immortality who don't know what
to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
With respect to 2 Corinthians 5:8 it has been declared, "No passage in 2 Corinthians has prompted more discussion than this. As a consequence, the diversity of scholarly interpretation is rather bewildering" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 346]. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi observes, "This passage is rightly regarded as the crux interpretum, primarily because the figurative language is cryptic and open to different interpretations. Unfortunately, many interpreters are eager to derive from this passage, as from Philippians 1:22-23, precise anthropological, chronological, or cosmological definitions of life after death. Such concerns, however, are far removed from Paul, who is using the poetic language of faith to express his hopes and fears regarding the present and future life, rather than the logical language of science to explain the afterlife. All of this should put the interpreter on guard against reading into the passage what Paul never intended to express" [Immortality or Resurrection? A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 180-181].
A wise word of caution is sounded by Dr. Leroy Edwin Froom, "It is both illogical and unsafe to build any major doctrine on isolated passages, apart from the general tenor of Scripture. It is to be remembered that enormous errors have been built upon isolated verses" [The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 1, p. 324]. In other words, if one's interpretation of a particular passage is in conflict with the remainder of biblical teaching on that subject, then that particular interpretation becomes suspect. Difficult passages must be interpreted and clarified in light of the entirety of God's Word, not isolated from the whole in order to try and "proof-text" a personal theological preference. "God's message to us is consistent. To put it differently, we should interpret the various parts of Scripture in a way that accords with its central teachings. We may not pit one part of Scripture against another, nor may we interpret a detail of Scripture in a way that undermines its basic message" [Kaiser & Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search For Meaning, p. 24].
There is no question but what some interpreters have taken a couple of statements by the apostle Paul and have tried to use them to promote the pagan concepts of the traditionalist positions on the nature of man and the fate of both the righteous and wicked following physical death. These interpretations, however, stand in clear opposition to the overwhelming bulk of biblical teaching on the true nature of man and his ultimate destiny. Thus, to seek to build a theology upon a handful of passages which is contrary to revealed Truth throughout the remainder of God's Word is unconscionable. This is exactly what some traditionalists have done with passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23. They have ignored the remainder of biblical teaching and sought to derive a doctrine of "immortal soulism" from these isolated passages which do indeed, when viewed out of context with the rest of God's Word, appear to promote what they proclaim.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 -- Paul declares that "while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord." Thus, he "prefers rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."
Philippians 1:23-24 -- Paul knew that to one whose life was totally focused on Jesus, death would be "gain" for that one in Him (vs. 21). However, to "live on in the flesh" would result in further profitable service to the Lord. Thus, Paul was "hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake."
Helmut Thielicke correctly points out that the New Testament is not concerned about a "state" which exists between death and resurrection, but for a relation that exists between the believer and Christ through death. This relationship of being with Christ is not interrupted by death because the believer who sleeps in Christ has no awareness of the passing of time [Living With Death, p. 177]. In other words, Paul was not anticipating some meeting with Jesus in some so-called "Intermediate State," but rather was confidently looking forward, past the moment of physical death, to the resurrection which, for the dead, would be perceived as instantaneous. We close our eyes in death and we open them in victory when we are awakened by the trumpet at the Parousia. We will not be conscious of the passing of any time. It is similar to the "sleep" brought about by the anesthesiologist prior to an operation. We close our eyes and "instantly" we awaken in the recovery room. Those who sleep in the dust of the ground "do not know anything" (Ecclesiastes 9:5), "for there is no activity or planning or wisdom in Sheol where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
The Bible is filled with striking imagery, but we should not formulate theology based on literal interpretations of images, figures and symbols. To do so will lead to some unbelievably bizarre doctrine. In figurative language Paul simply declares a struggle to know which is personally preferable: to remain alive, serving the Lord and His people, or to rest from one's labors in death (knowing that the next conscious moment, which will seem but an instant, will place one in the presence of the Lord at His coming). Paul longed to lay aside the flesh (physical death) and to "sleep." It's like the child on Christmas Eve who wants to go to bed earlier "because then it will be morning and Santa will have come." They know that the span of time will be "bridged instantly" by sleep, and they long for sleep to come so they may experience the joys of the morning.
The Expositor's Bible Commentary points out that "not all at Corinth shared Paul's view of the Christian's destiny. There were some who taught that resurrection lay in the past, accomplished spiritually and corporately for all believers at the resurrection of Christ or else personally experienced at the moment of baptism." Thus, Paul had "in mind these 'proto-Gnostics' who denied any future, bodily resurrection but envisaged a disembodied immortality" [vol. 10, p. 347]. Paul's hope, as indeed is the hope of all disciples of Jesus, was in the resurrection on that final day, a day when the dead in Christ shall be called forth from their sleep in the dust of the ground, when this mortal shall "put on" immortality, and when the redeemed of all time shall thusly dwell forever with Him in the new heavens and earth. Paul longed for that day, even though he understood the value of remaining physically alive on earth to continue preaching the gospel; he longed for that day so much that "falling asleep" sounded wonderful, for it would hasten that glorious morning when all would be made new and we would be with Christ Jesus and the Father forevermore.
This is all that is being taught in the above passages. It does not declare, as some think, that immortal souls fly off to some intermediate holding area to await the day when they will be zapped back into their bodies. That is a pagan absurdity nowhere taught in Scripture. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible states that the 2 Cor. 5 passage "cannot with any consistency be interpreted of the moment of death" [vol. 4, p. 52]. I agree whole-heartedly. "Paul's words must be understood in the light of his own uniform and repeated teaching on the nature of man, not on a concept never held either by Paul or by any of the other apostles, much less by any group in the Christian church for nearly two centuries thereafter. This mortal body does not enclose an immortal principle or entity, which is released by the stroke of death, and then flies away in glad release. This is simply thinly disguised Platonism" [Dr. Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 1, p. 325].
One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism
(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE
Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice
(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE
Chaplain at an Execution -- If you haven't yet done so, I would urge you to visit the web site of New Wineskins. The October issue deals with the theme: "God's Choice/Our Choice." There are some wonderful articles this month from some very talented writers (with more articles to come in the next few days and weeks). My article for this issue is: Chaplain at an Execution, which recounts the intimate details of my most difficult choice in my 36 years of fulltime ministry. I think you will find the thoughts shared in that article, as well as in the others, challenging and thought-provoking. New Wineskins is also now very interactive in design, allowing the readers to comment upon the various articles, as well as converse on site with one another and the authors. New Wineskins also links the reader to a number of prominent blog sites within our heritage, so you are able to follow the regular writings of such leaders as Rubel Shelly, Edward Fudge, Keith Brenton, Mike Cope, Patrick Mead, Jay Guin, Josh Graves, Trey Morgan, and many others (including my own Reflections). Why not add the New Wineskins site to your list of "Favorites" on your computer, and then visit it often. You will be enriched for the experience.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Would you please send me your CD: A Study of Revelation, and also your two CD set on 1st & 2nd Peter: Encouragement for the End Times. My check is enclosed. I discovered your Reflections web site about six months ago, and have thoroughly enjoyed going through them. They have been such a blessing to me, as I am strongly opposed to the legalistic, exclusivistic attitude of so many within the Churches of Christ. I am so thankful for your Reflections, and have shared them with my Ladies Bible Class (and I haven't even been thrown out yet). I have also been teaching from Beth Moore materials to my Wednesday night class. To some congregations around here this is terrible, but, fortunately, the elders here (one of whom is my husband) are fine with it. I feel that in the Churches of Christ there is very little place for women, except to teach children, each other, prepare meals, clean buildings, etc. Through much study of the entire Bible, I have come to see just how wrongly I've been taught all these years! I will continue to read and share your weekly Reflections, and I look forward to the CD sets I have purchased. May God bless you!
From a Reader in Texas:
Just a note to let you know that I appreciate your book on baptism (Immersed By One Spirit) and thought it was outstanding. Reading it recently has caused me to consider the following "new" (at least for me) thoughts, which I wanted to share with you. Last week the discussion in our class turned to Jesus coming to John for His baptism. When considering the need for Jesus to be baptized, it is more than obvious that need was not for the forgiveness of His sins, even though John was performing baptism for the remission of sins. My first thought originates with John questioning the need for Jesus to be baptized, and whether Jesus might have been correcting his thought process. Is it possible that the need for Jesus to be baptized is exactly the same as our need to be baptized?! Since Jesus has forever dealt with sin at the cross for all mankind, then I am currently thinking that our baptism could simply be a witness or testimony or verification of who we are and upon what basis (the gift of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross) we are redeemed. In our act of baptism we would be making a proclamation to others that our belief is that Jesus is our path to God, who fulfilled all righteousness by putting in place God's plan (His sacrifice for sin) for our acceptance. Al, I appreciate so much the work you do and the life you give to my thinking. I only pray the stimulation of my thoughts that you and your Reflections create will guide me to a closer relationship with God.
From a Reader in Nevada:
Thank you, Al, for your article "Ancient Jewish Sectarianism." It answers many questions we have as we go through our studies, but which we just don't take the time to find the answers for. The kind of information you have given in that study may seem trivial or minor to some, but it adds growth to my faith.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
I really enjoyed your last Reflections -- "Ancient Jewish Sectarianism." You do such excellent research! Now, that's my kind of article. It just shows that I'm still not too old to learn something new. Some of the history that you gave I knew, but you then expanded/expounded on it much more than I had generally read or heard. Thank you.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Your article on the ancient Jewish sectarians was excellent. I had not thought of Paul's autobiographical statements as indicating he was a Hebraist, but clearly they do. You may be interested in the following incident. Last year I was in Jerusalem, and our tour guide was an orthodox rabbi. I asked him if he would approve of one who practiced both Judaism and Christianity. He was hesitant to answer. I told him, "You will not offend me with your answer; I just want to understand how you see things." He answered my question by saying he had read the Christian Scriptures. He complimented Jesus, but he was very negative toward Paul. I could tell that Paul's writings were a sore point with him, which to me was a telling point. I remarked that Paul had been an accomplished rabbi. Much to my surprise, he disagreed. I then pointed out that Paul had studied in one of the most elite (if not the most elite) religious schools of his day: the school of Gamaliel. My tour guide had no rebuttal, and he changed the subject. It was a fascinating conversation! Shalom.
From a Reader in California:
Al, I really liked your article today ("Ancient Jewish Sectarianism"). I had always believed that Paul was referring directly to the Sadducees when he reminded Timothy that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). I know it is fashionable to preach that this verse is the "proof text" for the Reformation concept of Sola Scriptura, but it seems to me that buried in the admonition to continue in the things which you have learned from childhood and knowing the Holy Scriptures is the concept that there is more to learn than what is found in the Torah alone (i.e., a jab at the Sadducees). Besides, the most likely "All Scripture" for Paul and Timothy would have been the complete Septuagint, which included the seven books removed by the reformers of the 16th century, so even Paul's OT would have been different than the one found in the modern Bible.
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