the logic of conditionalism

jd at beach


Conditionalist theologians believe that the Bible presents a complete and verified doctrine of human nature.  We do not believe that God has left out pieces of the puzzle from the scripture that have to be supplied by pagan philosophy.  Augustine believed that God gave him insight into human nature through the writings of Plato, but we reject that.  We trust the Bible alone to explain who we are.

Thus we find it illogical to make faith-statements like this:

“I am eternal.

Not this flesh that your eyes can see

But the soul that lives inside of me;

Not this body that soon shall expire

But the sanctified soul that cannot die.

I am eternal.”1


Such statements sound spiritual and encouraging, until one dares to actually look into the Bible to find support for them.  It is there that one comes face to face with an astonishing absence of proof for such an eternal soul.

One would expect that if God had endowed all humanity with an eternal immaterial essence, it would have been prominent in the creation account in Genesis.  Here is what God says about our creation:

The LORD God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.2

Our identity does consist of two parts: this “flesh that your eyes can see”  and life from God.  There is no indication from the text that the life is the person.  The life animates the person.  If the life goes back to God, the person returns to the soil.  Death is not the separation of body and soul, but the separation of life from the person. 

The man (Adam) was formed not from some spiritual substance in heaven, but from the soil of the earth.  God animated that combination of soil-elements and the animated substance became “a living being” – literally, an alive soul.3 Before God animated him, he was already a soul, but was not yet alive.

The reason this is important to conditionalists is that we believe that life is not a right. It is a gift bestowed upon humanity by God’s grace, but conditional upon our proper use of the gift.  If we abuse the awesome gift of life, God is not compelled to keep us alive for eternity.  Life was a gift at creation, an opportunity to live forever, but that opportunity was soon lost.

That is why God warned Adam:

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 die4

What God actually said was “dying, you shall die.”5  He gave a very accurate description of the human species — after the fall.  We have become a dying species, and each individual who is part of the species shall eventually die.

Again, God does not insert any notion that this death sentence refers only to a part of us.  He does not whisper to Adam “of course, this excludes your soul, because it cannot die.” 

Whose idea was it that human beings are incapable of death?  We first hear the words “You won’t die!” from that crafty serpent in the garden.6 Should we trust him to give us an accurate theology of human nature?  Surely he has a lot to gain by convincing us that death is not real.  But what do we gain by believing it? 

Conditionalists believe that death is a reality for everyone was in Adam when God warned Adam not to eat of the forbidden tree.  That includes Eve, since she was part of Adam at the time.  That includes you and me, since we were still part of Adam as well.  So, everyone, regardless of their spiritual condition will experience this death. 



Just look around at all the cemeteries scattered throughout the planet.  You will see that God’s threat was real.  Death is a reality for all of us.

The good news of the gospel is not that Satan was right and God was lying.  The good news is that God in his grace offers us hope beyond death: a resurrection of the whole person unto eternal life. 

Jesus said: “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.7

This resurrection to eternal life is the true hope of the believer, not going to heaven as a disembodied spirit.  In fact, Jesus says that if he does not raise you from the dead, you will be lost!

Now this is the will of the one who sent me–that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day.8

This would make no sense whatsoever if believers are already with Jesus in heaven for thousands of years before the resurrection.  It is only logical if believers are in their graves awaiting a resurrection when Christ returns.

This also explains why the apostle Paul argued strenuously for a physical resurrection to the Corinthians.  These Corinthians had been exposed to the pagan philosophical notion of the immortal soul.  In explaining the gospel, Paul had to convince them that this notion was wrong.  He had to show them that the resurrection is necessary.This is what Paul says to them:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.9

Nowhere in Paul’s argument does he concede that death is not real.  He argues for the absolute necessity of a resurrection. In fact, he says that if there is no resurrection, believing in Christ is futile.  If there will be no resurrection, we are all still in our sins.  If there will be no resurrection, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Why? Because those who die have fallen asleep.  They are not alive somewhere up yonder or down there.  They are not alive anywhere. 

Jesus experienced that state of death – from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.  Paul says that Christ was the first to be awakened from that sleep.  The rest of us await his coming. It is then that we will be made alive again. Paul argues that until that takes place, our hope in Christ is only that. It is a hope.  If Christ does not return to raise us, that hope will be in vain.

200px-Plato_Silanion_Musei_Capitolini_MC1377Plato’s philosophy of the innate immortality of the soul had permeated the western world. Surely all the Greeks in Corinth would have been aware of it.  If Paul had agreed with Plato, this would have been a logical place to indicate it.  Instead, Paul argues against the popular notion of a continued conscious existence at death. He argues that unless and until the resurrection takes place, the Christian hope of eternal life will not be fulfilled. The popular Christian teaching today borrows Plato’s notion of continued conscious existence and reads it into the Bible.  The result is that the resurrection takes second place to “going to heaven when I die.”  The biblical hope is never death, but always resurrection.

Jesus knew that each one of his disciples would go to that dark place of death and experience that sleep for millennia before his return. His message to them was not “you will come to me when you die”  but “I will come again and take you to be with me.10 He comforted them by assuring them of their resurrection and reunion with him at his return.  Surely, if they were going to already be with him in heaven for thousands of years, that would have been the logical message to give them.  Why would he omit that if it were the truth?

The popular theology of conscious existence at death teaches that people go to their reward or experience their punishment immediately after death.  The Bible teaches that both reward and punishment will take place after Christ returns. 

“For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done.”11

God has appointed a day in which every believer will receive the blessings of his faith and every unbeliever will receive the consequences of his unbelief.  That day is not the day of our death but the day of Christ’s return.  By following the pagan teaching of immediate rewards and punishment at death, we are in effect rejecting what the Bible says.  We are choosing to believe what the world teaches instead of what God says in his word.  Conditionalists believe that it makes a difference. 

The logic of conditionalism says that God will not judge before the day in which he has set to judge: the judgment day.

For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.12

The parables Jesus taught his disciples that refer to his return indicate that his return is the time in which he will “settle accounts” with his followers and his enemies.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory…Then the King will say …take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 13

After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them.”14

If Jesus had intended to settle accounts with us at death, why would he mislead his disciples by teaching something different?  Why would he allow these teachings to be placed in holy Scripture to further the misleading?  Conditionalists see the teaching that people go to their reward or punishment at death as a clear misrepresentation of what the Bible actually says about how and when God will bring about justice.

Jesus also taught the disciples to be hospitable toward the poor, who will not have the means to repay them for their hospitality.  He said that they would be repaid, not when they die and go to heaven, but “at the resurrection of the righteous.”15  Surely if believers go to their reward at death, then they would be repaid for their good deeds then.  But the Bible says otherwise. 

The consistent and systematic emphasis of the apostles also concurs that believers will be rewarded, not at death, but at the second coming:

let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.16

Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay17

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.18

Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.19

“So now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears we may have boldness and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.20

“…that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.21

Each of these apostles taught that the hope of the believer was the return of Jesus Christ, accompanied by the resurrection of all in their graves, the reward of those in Christ, and the punishment of those not in Christ. 

If the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is correct, all of these apostles (James, Peter, John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews) were misinformed.  They placed their hope in the coming of Christ when they should have placed it in the death of the believer. 

But it gets worse.  Even Jesus was apparently just as mistaken.  He told believers “hold fast till I come” when he should have said “hold fast till you die.”22

SDC11135It is the Bible’s teaching about the second coming that is at stake when one surrenders to the innate immortality theory.  The Bible teaches that Christ’s return is the single most important event of all history.  The doctrine that people’s spirits remain alive at death and begin eternity then subverts this truth. That doctrine makes the second coming practically unnecessary.

The logic of conditionalism returns the second coming to the forefront of Christian doctrine.  It says that immortality is conditional. Only those who are given eternal life by Jesus when he returns will live for eternity.  All others will suffer their appropriate punishment for their sins, and die forever.

The logic of conditionalism returns Jesus Christ to the center of Christian theology.  Our hope is not in ourselves – in something intrinsic within our nature.  Our hope is in our Lord.  We await a Savior who will take away the death that we deserve and give us life by his grace.  Our hope is not that we will get what’s coming to us when we die but that he will bring an inheritance we do not deserve when he comes.  We wait on our Lord to fulfill his promise. We promise to hold fast ‘till he comes.

1Alfred T. Mitchell, “I Am” in Tome of the Universal Poet (Xlibris Corporation, 2010), 166.

2Genesis 2:7 (NET)

3Hebrew nephesh chayah

4Genesis 2:17 (ESV)

5a literal rendering of the Hebrew mot tamut

6Genesis 3:4 (NLT)

7John 5:28-29 (ESV)

8John 6:39 (NET)

91 Corinthians 15:16-23 (ESV)

10John 14:3 (NET)

11Matthew 16:27 (HCSB)

12Acts 17:31 (NLT)

13Matthew 25:31,34 (NIV)

14Matthew 25:19 (NET)

15Luke 14:14 (NIV)

16Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

17Hebrews 10:35 (ESV)

18James 5:7-8 (ESV)

191 Peter 1:13 (NLT)

201 John 2:28 (HCSB)

211 Timothy 6:14 (NASB)

22Revelation 2:25 (KJV)













the heart of Jeremiah

Heart-Centered Human_thumb


Jeremiah 1:11-19

I would have hated to be Jeremiah.  He was a prophet during a time when people were actually listening to prophets. But he did not have much to say about his generation that was positive.  He had access to the divine will, and what he found out is that God was angry at his people, and things were going to get very bad, and then get worse. 

I hate reading books or watching movies where everyone dies in the end. 


I was really excited to watch the Sci-Fi film, KNOWING, starring Nicholas Cage.  I was fascinated with the idea of (spoiler warning) finding a time capsule with information about all the major disasters that will happen in history.  But then the movie turned me off.  It was not going to have an ending where somebody discovers how to make things better.  The whole human race (except for a couple of kids) was going to be destroyed.  Oh, come on.  Something inside me says that is not fair.

I can imagine that there was something inside Jeremiah who felt the same way when he read the script that God gave him. 

God gave Jeremiah a vision with some visual aids. 

“What do you see, Jeremiah?”



“I see a SHA-KED — an almond branch, LORD.”



“You, have seen well, Jeremiah, for I am SHO-KED – watching to see that my word will be fulfilled.”

That may sound like good news, but in Jeremiah’s case it was not. God’s word was about judgment upon his own people. 

“What do you see now, Jeremiah?”

michelangelo_jeremiah  “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.”

“Right again, Jeremiah. I am going to send invaders from the north.”

“Really, Lord. Is that what I have to tell the people who are looking for good news?”


“But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.  And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land.  They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:17-19 ESV).

 God’s message to Jeremiah was that there was going to be no rescue in his lifetime.  That had to hurt. 

What kind of faith stands up after a calling like that and says OK Lord, if that’s what you want, I am going to do it!  (?)

Answer: the kind of faith that God is looking for in his people today.  What if you preach revival and it does not happen in your lifetime?  What if people accuse you of just spouting a lot of religious nonsense? 

What really matters is that the message that we are called to preach (the gospel of Jesus Christ) is our calling.  It does not matter if nobody listens, as long as we are are being faithful in proclaiming the message.  That is not an excuse for being outdated or inefficient in our communication.  It is merely an acceptance that the Holy Spirit is going to regenerate whomever he decides to reach.  Our job is to be faithful so that he can use us when he wants to. 

The long-term message of Jeremiah is much more comforting.  He predicted that God would make a new covenant and that his new people would follow him.  Jeremiah never lived to see that part of his message come true.  Those of us who have been born again through faith in Christ now celebrate Jeremiah’s words.  His own generation largely resented his words. 

Thank you LORD for prophets like Jeremiah, who dared to proclaim an unpopular message, because they knew the message was from you.




the waiting station




Solomon taught that “the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing” (Eccl. 9:5).  For him, the intermediate state between death and resurrection was not a time to look forward to.  Like all other biblical authors, he looked forward to the resurrection unto eternal life.  He never denied the reality of death.  Indeed, he taught that all people now living know that their death is coming.  But after death, no one knows anything. 

He taught that the intermediate state is universal.  everyone will experience it, and all will experience it the same: a state of unconscious survival.  It is not non-existence. It merely is a state of existence where one is not conscious or aware of the passage of time and cannot know anything.

This was Solomon’s view, and he held that view with other Old Testament writers:

“Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all their wealth behind” (Psalm 49:10 NLT).

Death happens to everyone, and no one can “take it with them.”  It is a universal event that all will experience.  Being wise will not keep you from experiencing death.  The wise will join the foolish in that one place.  The Hebrews called it Sheol

MAXX DC 4369 @ Papakura

It was the place of waiting on God.  Sooner or later, we will all meet at that station and await the resurrection train to take us to our next destination.  The station (Sheol) itself is not our destination.

“But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol”” (Genesis 42:38 ESV).

Jacob did not want his sons bringing Benjamin down to Egypt.  He thought he had already lost Joseph to Sheol, and didn’t want to lose Benjamin as well.  Such a loss would only mean death for Jacob, and joining his sons in Sheol. 

But – wait a minute.  Isn’t Sheol just another word for hell?  No, it is not.  The Hebrews did not see Sheol as a place of punishment for anyone.  Sheol is the station where everyone waits in an unconscious state for resurrection to their final state: either eternal life or eternal death.  Jacob expected to one day go to Sheol.  He would never have expected to go to hell, and he would have never expected Joseph to go to hell.

“Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!” (Job 14:13 ESV).

Job actually looked forward to death and the intermediate state (Sheol).  He wanted to forget the pain and unfair treatment he had experienced in life.  His hope was not that he would be rewarded at death, but that death would be hidden (in a state of unconsciousness) and the resurrected back to life at an appointed time when God remembered him.  That is the hope of the New Testament as well. 

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29 ESV).

We are all waiting for that hour.  For some of us, we will be alive when the train comes in.  Others are in their tombs, and waiting at the station. The Greeks called the station Hades.  And it corresponds to the Hebrew Sheol.  It is a state of unconsciousness where the dead wait for life.  It is not the final state.  Ears which have long since crumbled to dust will one day hear again. They will hear their master’s voice, calling them to their eternal destiny.

Even Jesus himself waited at the Hades station between his death on Good Friday and his resurrection to life again on Easter Sunday. 

“For David says concerning him, “‘ I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:25-32 ESV).

Peter preached that Jesus waited at the Hades station, but was not allowed to wait long.  After three days God raised him from his state of unconscious sleep and gave him life again.  Unlike everyone else who has gone there, Jesus was not abandoned to Hades, and his body never saw corruption.  His resurrection is our guarantee that we, too,  will one day be raised to life.

Paul put it this way:

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ESV).

Paul knew very well when the resurrection would come.  It would take place “at his coming.”  He was using a harvest metaphor to explain what happens at death.  Death is a kind of planting of a person in Hades until the time of harvest comes.  For Christ, his time of harvest has come, for he was the Firstfruits.  For us, we await our time of harvest, which will happen at the second coming of Christ.  The point is, our reward does not come at death.  We are planted in the ground, and await the one who has the power to raise us up again.  Until that happens, we sleep.  Christ experienced this sleep as well.  He did not cease to exist, but he did cease to function, and was absolutely dead from Good Friday until Easter Sunday.

The intermediate state is not a time of purgatorial purging of sin, nor is it a time of reward or punishment.  Jesus told a story where he seemed to be saying that (Luke 16:19-31) but he was not teaching his disciples doctrine about the intermediate state. He was teaching the Pharisees about true riches (16:11).  He adapted a story from their own folklore and twisted the ending so that the Pharisees “who were lovers of money” ((16:14) could see that God cares more about people like Lazarus than he does about their money.  Jesus never intended this story to contradict all that the Bible teaches about the unconscious state of death.  To use this story in that way is to take it out of its original context intended purpose.1

The Bible teaches that the waiting station of Sheol/Hades is a time when the eyes see no light:

“Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Psalm 13:3 ESV).

There is no awareness of things that are happening.  There is no consciousness of either good or evil.  And that is how it really should be.  God’s people could not experience joy if they saw their loved ones suffering and falling into the devil’s traps. 

The Bible teaches that absolutely no worship takes place in Sheol/Hades:

“For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (Psalm 6:5 ESV).

If you want to worship God, you had better not wait until you die.  You will be invited to no angelic choruses.  That is all the more reason for you to raise your voice in praise to the God who promises you a resurrection unto eternal life – a chance to praise his name for eternity in a resurrected body with resurrected lungs that can shout, and resurrected hands that can clap, and resurrected feed that can dance! 

Death is a waiting station.  It is not a time of reward.  It is a time where we all pay the price for our ancestor’s rebellion, because the wages of their sin is death for all.  But the waiting station is not the end of the journey.  Thanks be to God who promises a resurrection unto eternal life at Jesus’ second coming.  See you there!

1For more information about the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, see Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes (Cascade Books, 2011) chapter 14: Jesus: Fire (Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus).


the heart of Habakkuk

I promised a friend that I would post the rest of this series when I started preaching regularly again.  Well, it looks like that may be a while from now.  So, I have decided to finish the series as blog posts.  I hope that you get as much out of reading these sermons as I am getting from writing them – JV.

Heart-Centered Human

Habakkuk 1:1-12.

You might think that it would have been great to be a prophet – to have the very words of God come out of your mouth.  But it was not easy for these guys.  Their gift was a burden as well as a blessing.  They could not just say what their listeners wanted to hear.  More often than not, they were saying the very things their culture did not want to hear.  They did not have the luxury of editing out the offensive parts.

Also, they didn’t always understand what God was saying through them.  And when they did understand it, they often wished that they didn’t.


Consider, for example, Habakkuk.  He is probably known best for a statement he made that the New Testament quotes: “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). 

Paul quotes that when he talks about how the gospel is for everyone.  All it takes is faith in Christ whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, because faith in Christ is what God wants (cf. Rom. 1:17). 

He explains to the Galatians that access to God is not through the Law, because the Law is about doing good things.  Salvation comes through putting your faith in a good God (cf. Gal. 3:11).

The author of Hebrews uses Habakkuk’s slogan when he talks about how we must endure through this time while we wait for our Savior to come, and live by our faith in him (cf. Heb. 10:38). 

I think that in each of these cases, the New Testament authors accurately understood what Habakkuk wanted to say, and quoted him in context.


Let’s look at Habakkuk’s context more closely.  He probably wrote between 640-615 BC.  That means that when he was writing Israel had already been taken over by the super-power of Assyria.  Judah alone was left to represent the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

The people of Habakkuk’s day were probably very interested in knowing why God had allowed that to happen.  Habakkuk and the other prophets had told them that God was all-powerful.  Now, he sits in shame because it appears that the gods of Assyria were more powerful than him.  The people are ashamed of what has happened, and they want answers.


They are not alone.  Habakkuk himself begins his prophecy from God with an earnest prayer to God.  He says…

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

God’s people had witnessed the collapse of Israel.  Moreover, the evil empire of the Assyrians seems unstoppable.  No law and no power seemed able to stop them.  Habakkuk is living in a time when “justice goes forth perverted.” 

Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever read about some crime being committed and ask “Where is the God of justice?”  That was where Habakkuk was.  That was where his heart was.

Personally, I am glad that he was allowed to ask that question.  If God never wanted us to ask questions like that, he would never have had one of his prophets ask a question like that. Since God, by his Holy Spirit inspired Habakkuk to ask a question like that, I feel much better confessing to you that my prayer life is often riddled with similar questions.

It might be that for our spiritual lives – Habakkuk’s questions are more important than God’s answers.  They reveal that life is going to be filled with things that happen that we do not expect.  Living by faith does not mean ignoring the unfortunate realities around us.  Living by faith means being able to cope with those unfortunate realities because we have someone to go to who has answers.

That does not mean – however – that the answers are going to be easy to take.  Notice God’s specific answer to Habakkuk’s prayer:

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!  (Habakkuk 1:5-11).

The short answer is that God intended to defeat the Assyrians by bringing in the Babylonians, who will swiftly destroy the Assyrian empire and take control of its lands.  These were not godly men.  They were a people “whose own might is their god.”  But God was going to use them to do his bidding and bring justice.

It was going to take about three decades before this took place.  We know from the Bible, and from history, that it did.  Habakkuk probably never saw it.  It was going to have to be enough for Habakkuk to know that God – in his time – would bring about justice against the Assyrians.  Meanwhile, God’s message to him and to the people he ministered to was something like this: “Keep believing in me, even if you are not living in a time when I choose to manifest my power.” 


Are you willing to trust in God even if you don’t get the answer you were hoping for, or if it does not come in your lifetime?  Are you willing to let God be in charge of how he answers your prayers?  That is hard.  It is not easy to surrender control of your destiny, but God often requires that we do it – to manifest our faith in him.  His message to Habakkuk was:

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

And Habakkuk’s words of faith in response were:

I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:16-18).

No matter what happens.  No matter how contrary life seems to be compared with God’s vision of the future – faith trusts that God will fulfill his promise.  That is faith in Christ.  That is the heart of Habakkuk.

LORD, we choose to trust in you. We choose to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is going to return and bring about true and complete justice upon this earth.  Until that happens, we choose to endure this age of uncertainty with faith in you. We choose to quietly wait for our Savior, and rejoice in the LORD.


God is Different


1 Timothy 6:16 is one of the foundational verses for conditionalists. In it, we see a theological principle that we are not ready to relinquish in favor of popular teachings. It is the principle that God is the only being in the universe who has immortality. His immortality is exclusive. In that respect, he is different from all other beings.

“The only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; no one has seen or can see Him, to Him be honor and eternal might. Amen” (HCSB).

The verse is the second part of a doxology: a pause to praise the God of whom the author is writing. In its context, Paul is encouraging Timothy to keep pursuing eternal life to which he was called, but has not yet attained. It is a promise from the only one capable of making that promise: God, who alone possesses that thing that Paul urges Timothy to pursue.

Comparing 1 Timothy 1:17 to 6:15-16 has led some scholars to suggest that Paul did not originate this text. He may have been quoting an already existing liturgy. That would explain how Paul quotes the text as if it is already known by Timothy and his companions at Ephesus. The principles found in those texts would have already been accepted as part of the Christian message.

Paul asserts four things about God here:

1. God’s Power is Eternal.

The phrase kratos aionion (just before the “Amen”) asserts that God’s battery never runs out. He never needs to be recharged. What a contrast this is to what Paul says about himself. He tells Timothy that when he was facing his lion’s den “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”[1]

But Paul said that now that his work was done, he was about to die. His battery was running out.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”[2]

He speaks of an ending of his life, and a new beginning, at the resurrection when Christ appears. These are not the words of someone convinced that he has eternal life already. They are the words of one who realizes that God alone possesses unending power and life.

2. God’s Authority is Eternal.

He is to be honored for eternity. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (6:15). That suggests, that everyone who has authority now derives that authority from him. It also suggests that the same is true of anyone who will ever be in authority. All honor will go to him. But all honor does not presently go to him. Perhaps that is why the adjective aionios (eternal) does not apply to the noun time’ (honor) in this verse. But someday, God’s chosen king will return. Then the kingdoms of this world will “become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). So, from the standpoint of eternity, his authority is the only one that will last forever.

3. God is different from the other “gods.”

The “gods” of the first century Roman empire are idols made of stone or wood or metal. Those idols sometimes represent spirit beings, but have limitations that the God of the Bible does not have. They can be seen. God cannot. They can be approached by anyone with the ability to fashion them, or the means to procure them. The God whom Paul praises in this doxology does not dwell inside an image. His dwelling is in unapproachable light (fos aprositon). God is not a good luck charm to be manipulated by humans for their own desires and prosperity. He is distant.

Paul is not saying that God never approaches us. The gospel tells us that God came near in the person of Jesus Christ, and chose to make his dwelling among us (John 1:14). The Holy Spirit dwells inside believers, who are his temple (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). The author of Hebrews tells us that by prayer we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

So, what Paul affirms in 1 Timothy 6:16 applies to God’s nature. There is a fundamental difference between the Christian God and the pagan Gods. The pagan gods are things to be manipulated. They can be used to bring a person good luck or prevent bad luck. But the God of the Bible will not be put to the test. His power can never be used for anything other than accomplishing his will at his prompting.

4. God’s Life is Immortal.

In the Bible, this word athanasia is never used as an attribute of anyone else but God this side of the resurrection at Christ’s second coming. It is never used to describe a human soul or spirit. Yet it has come to be popular and “orthodox” to make all kinds of concessions to God’s exclusive immortality. Matthew Henry, for example, says that God “only is immortal in himself, and has immortality as he is the fountain of it, for the immortality of angels and spirits derived from him.”[3] So the hypothetical “box” in which we might put all immortal beings is actually not exclusive at all. It contains not only God, but all of those sentient creatures created by him, both human and angelic. Perhaps we should be grateful that cats and dogs did not make the grade.

Lately evangelical scholars see the dilemma in accepting what Paul said about God in 1 Tim. 6:16. Their conclusions, however, are ultimately the same as Matthew Henry’s. Peterson, for example, states the “orthodox” position quite well in his recent debate with Fudge. He said that “Plato held to the soul’s natural or inherent immortality. By contrast, evangelical Christians hold that God alone is inherently immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and that he confers immortality to all human beings.”[4] But once the “and that he confers” is added to the equation, the dilemma begins. 1 Tim.6:16 says nothing about God conferring his exclusive attribute to all human beings. Either that attribute is exclusive or it is not. Conditionalists see no clear contrast between the view of Plato and that of our brother evangelicals who hold Peterson’s view.

The onus is ours, however, as conditionalists, to back up this bold claim that God’s immortality is exclusive. Ours is the minority position. That is why a study of the terms used in the Bible to imply immortality is helpful. The study shows that the concept of immortality does not apply to angels and human beings by default. This adds justification for our being obstinate enough to hold to the exclusive immortality of God in spite of its being an unpopular doctrine.

The noun athanasia only appears three times in the canonical Bible. It makes no appearance in the entire Old Testament. Besides 1 Tim. 6:16, it only appears in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

The ESV translators, normally sticklers to word-for-word accuracy, betray their theological bias here by supplying the word body twice in verse 53, even though there is no Greek equivalent in the original. Paul actually agrees with what he stated in 1 Tim. 6:16. Since God alone is immortal, something will have to change in order for human beings, who are perishable and mortal, to become immortal. That change will take place at the resurrection. There is no indication in the text itself that human mortality pertains only to our bodies. That is a concept that is assumed by the proponents of natural or inherent immortality, and denied by conditionalists, who propose that immortality is only potential. 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Tim. 6:16 both serve as evidence for the potential immortality position. While 1 Cor. 15 shows that immortality (athanasia) is not currently a present possession (even for the saved), 1 Tim. 6:16 identifies the one being who is the exception to that rule, and presently has athanasia.

The Apocrypha provides seven more instances of the term. While we cannot rely on the Apocrypha as a standard for proof of a doctrine, we can consult it in order to establish how certain terms were used, which is a reflection of their understood meaning. Were we, for example, to find numerous references to athanasia as a natural human attribute it might show that intertestamental Jews viewed humans as naturally immortal beings.

4 Maccabees 8-18 contains an account describing the torture of seven young men and their mother by the Tyrant (Antiochus IV). Instances of the term athanasia occur in two places. In 4 Maccabees 14:4-5 the writer says that “none of the seven youths proved coward or shrank from death, but all of them, as though running the course toward immortality, hastened to death by torture” (RSV). From this we can infer that intertestamental Jews did have the concept of immortality, but saw it as something to be earned through diligent faithfulness to God. It was certainly not an attribute taken for granted as the natural possession of all human beings.

The second occurrence of athanasia refers to the mother, who, “as though having a mind like adamant and giving rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion” (4 Maccabees 16:13). The mother is pictured as encouraging her sons to stay true to their faith in God with such zeal that it is like she was giving birth to them all over again, this time for immortality instead of mortality (as it was in the first instance of her giving birth to them). Again, there is no innate, inherent immortality described here. Immortality is something to be gained by a martyr’s death for the seven sons. Their mother, who gave them natural birth, did not in so doing impart to them immortality.

All the other instances of the term athanasia occur in The Wisdom of Solomon. Notice this revealing statement about the destiny of the righteous:

Wisdom 3:1-4 RSV

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.

As in 4 Maccabees, athanasia is seen as potential for humans, because the righteous will be resurrected, but athanasia is not an inherent attribute.

Wisdom 4:1-7 RSV

… in the memory of virtue is immortality, because it is known both by God and by men. When it is present, men imitate it, and they long for it when it has gone; and throughout all time it marches crowned in triumph, victor in the contest for prizes that are undefiled. But the prolific brood of the ungodly will be of no use, and none of their illegitimate seedlings will strike a deep root or take a firm hold. For even if they put forth boughs for a while, standing insecurely they will be shaken by the wind, and by the violence of the winds they will be uprooted. The branches will be broken off before they come to maturity, and their fruit will be useless, not ripe enough to eat, and good for nothing. For children born of unlawful unions are witnesses of evil against their parents when God examines them. But the righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest.

Here is no denial of the reality of death, but a glimpse beyond it, to a resurrected virtuous person, known both by God and by men. The ungodly, though they might produce a prolific brood, will be uprooted. Notice, again, that there is no mention of athanasia as a common trait held by all humans. A resurrection unto immortality is only the hope of the righteous.

Wisdom 8:13-17 RSV

Because of {wisdom} I shall have immortality, and leave an everlasting remembrance to those who come after me. I shall govern peoples, and nations will be subject to me; dread monarchs will be afraid of me when they hear of me; among the people I shall show myself capable, and courageous in war. When I enter my house, I shall find rest with her, for companionship with her has no bitterness, and life with her has no pain, but gladness and joy. When I considered these things inwardly, and thought upon them in my mind, that in kinship with wisdom there is immortality…

Wisdom, as defined by the wisdom literature of the Bible and related works like The Wisdom of Solomon is the ability to make correct moral choices which lead to God’s favour. In the Bible, those correct moral choices usually led to a long healthy life, but by the time The Wisdom of Solomon was written, one’s eternal destiny was also seen as a consequence of living wisely. It is the route to eventual athanasia. It is a narrow path that does not include everyone on the planet. It is not innate, nor is the immortality it produces.

Wisdom 15:1-3 RSV

But thou, our God, art kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy. For even if we sin we are thine, knowing thy power; but we will not sin, because we know that we are accounted thine. For to know thee is complete righteousness, and to know thy power is the root of immortality.

In the New Testament we found that athanasia was an exclusive attribute of God, but a hope for humanity. In this final reference to athanasia in the Apocrypha, we see a relationship with God as the only means of obtaining to that hope.


In the Apocrypha, there are a few instances of the corresponding adjective that we would translate immortal as well. Although this word does not appear in the New Testament, it is helpful to see how it was used.

It is said of Eleazar that “in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory” (4 Maccabees 7:3). The most that can be inferred from this metaphorical statement is that Eleazar is counted among those who finished the course of faith, and awaits a resurrection unto immortality. It does not imply that Eleazar was already immortal by nature. It is said of the aforementioned seven young men that “just as the hands and feet are moved in harmony with the guidance of the mind, so those holy youths, as though moved by an immortal spirit of devotion, agreed to go to death for its sake” (4 Maccabees 14:6). All this implies about these youths is that although their devotion was undying, they were not. You cannot prove that people are immortal from a passage that records their deaths.

Later, the author of 4 Maccabees does state that these “sons of Abraham with their victorious mother are gathered together into the chorus of the fathers, and have received pure and immortal souls from God” (4 Maccabees 18:23). There is a hint of some kind of rewarded state here, but perhaps the reward is merely the certainty of a resurrection unto immortality. At any rate, 1 Corinthians 15 states that the resurrection is when the reward will be realized. If some intertestamental Jews imagined a conscious intermediate state, they were mistaken.

One use of athanatos is found which draws a distinction between God’s

righteousness (which is said to be immortal) and secular man’s covenant with death.

Wisdom 1:12-16 (RSV)

Do not invite death by the error of your life, nor bring on destruction by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal. But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his party.

Here again, there is no mention of a man, or even a part of man, which is immortal by nature. In fact, immortality belongs to the righteous One. Human beings are mortal.

Athanatos is also found in The Wisdom of Sirach:

For we cannot have everything, human beings are not immortal. What is brighter than the sun? And yet it fades. Flesh and blood think of nothing but evil. He surveys the armies of the lofty sky, and all of us are only dust and ashes (Sirach 17:30-32 New Jerusalem Bible).

Here is perhaps the clearest expression of human mortality in the Apocrypha. It says that men do not have the attribute that Paul said only God has. He will always last, but we are “dust and ashes.” The statement is in perfect agreement with the New Testament.


Another adjective – sometimes translated “immortal” in versions of the New Testament – emphasizes the unfailing, imperishable, or incorruptible nature of the noun it modifies. If this adjective were found applied to beings other than God, it would serve as evidence that the NT authors assumed that these beings possessed immortality. In Romans 1:23 Paul explained that idolatrous humanity “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Notice that only God is placed in the “beings having immortality” box. Man and animals are comfortably placed in the “all others” box.

In 1 Tim. 1:17 Paul ascribes “honour and glory for ever and ever” “unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” If the term immortal applies to all other created beings (or at least the higher ones: angels and humans) one wonders why Paul would bother mentioning the attribute. But if the attribute is exclusive to God alone (as Paul later states in chapter 6), his mentioning it here makes perfect sense.

Some might argue that the term “immortal” is appropriate to describe men’s

spirits or souls, but not their bodies. As such it might be appropriate to speak of God being immortal in an absolute sense. He has no body to corrupt or perish. This logic only applies if the principles of Platonic anthropology are true. Plato argued that the soul of man is immortal because it is simple, and cannot be divided into composite parts. The notion of human immortality is the result of combining this principle from pagan philosophy with biblical theology. One question conditionalists ask is “can the Bible be left alone to answer the question of human mortality, or must we borrow from pagan theology to do it?”

All other references to afthartos in the New Testament[5] use the term to describe the hope of believers after the resurrection, or some kind of character trait that is imperishable in the sense that it does not fade away with time. There is not one single use of the term applied to human nature itself, body or soul. If this attribute is such an essential part of human identity, one would expect this adjective to be used repeatedly throughout the New Testament in reference to human nature itself.

God’s Identity

Often when God is identified in the Bible, this exclusive attribute is part of his title, identifying him as different from all other beings. He is the Living God.[6] He is the eternal God.[7] He is the immortal God.[8] He is the everlasting God.[9] His name and attributes endure forever.[10] By contrast, humans are God’s creatures. As such they are dying.[11] They are mortal.[12] They are perishable.[13] They fade away like the color on a leaf.[14] They return to the dust from which they were made.[15]

God is different. He is exclusively immortal. This, as well as his other exclusive attributes – like holiness and omnipotence – make it appropriate for us to worship him exclusively. Conditional immortality is – at the heart of the issue – a doctrine which seeks to preserve what the Bible says about God.

[1] 2 Timothy 4:17.

[2] 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

[3] Matthew Henry – The Matthew Henry Commentary on the Bible (1 Tim. 6:16).

[4] Robert A Peterson, in Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 88.

[5] 1 Cor. 9:25; 15:52; 1 Pet. 1:4, 23; 3:4

[6] Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10; 1 Sam. 17:26, 36; 2 Kgs 19:4, 16; Psa. 42:2; 84:2; Isa. 37:4, 17; Jer. 10:10; 23:36; Dan. 6:20, 26; Hos. 1:10; Matt. 16:16; 26:63; Acts 14:15; Rom. 9:26; 2 Cor. 3:3; 6:16; 1 Tim. 3:15; 4:10; Heb. 3:12; 9:14;10:31; 12:22; Rev. 7:2.

[7] Deut. 33:27; Rom. 16:26.

[8] Rom. 1:23.

[9] Gen. 21:33; Isa. 40:28.

[10] 1 Chr. 16:34, 41; 2 Chr. 5:13; 7:3, 6; 20:21; Ezra 3:11; Psa. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 111:3, 10; 112:3, 9; 117:2;118:1ff, 29; 119:160; 135:13; 136:1ff; 138:8; Eccl. 3:14; Jer. 33:11; 2 Cor. 9:9.

[11] Gen. 35:18; 2 Chr. 16:13; 24:22; Job 24:12; Luke 8:42; John 11:37; Heb. 11:21.

[12] Job 4:17; Rom. 1:23; 6:12; 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:53f; 2 Cor. 4:11; 5:4; Heb. 7:8.

[13] 1 Cor. 15:42, 50, 53f; 1 Pet. 1:23.

[14] Psa. 37:2; Isa. 64:6; Jam. 1:11.

[15] Gen. 3:19; Job 10:9; 34:15; Psa. 90:3; Eccl. 3:20.