We understand you believe in the soul’s immortality. Is this correct?
“Christian” cults are usually united in one central doctrine — the complete and utter mortality of man. “The soul that sins, it shall die” they exuberate, quoting from the prophet Ezekiel. Or, they quote with relish from the Psalms, “His breath goes forth [at death]… in that very day his thoughts perish.” Or from Solomon, “The dead know not anything.”
But the Bible has much more to say on the subject of mortality and immortality than cultists — who are conditioned to expound only on certain Russellite “proof text” arguments — even realise. There are some principles we all need to inculcate as we pursue our biblical studies.
Firstly, we need to repent of possessing a too limited view of the Scripture. In this Messianic Ministry it is a standard feature at the beginning of lectures and Bible studies to start with, “Let us now open the pages of the Bible and expand the para-meters of our ignorance.”
This is usually standard procedure because I want to imprint upon the minds of my Yeshiva students the fact that none of us knows it all, and therefore none of us can smugly claim to really have a corner on the market of biblical understanding.
Yet smugness continues to have its converts who look upon such a spiritual aberration as a virtue.
One of the areas that produces such smugness is in the proclivity of the sects to unduly emphasise certain Bible quotations to the silence of other, perhaps more important, texts. A case in point is the doctrinal negation of man’s immortality replete with proof-texts which, in their own words, “cannot be gainsaid.”
Secondly, we need to take the Scripture as it is written (after carefully checking translations against the original Hebrew or Greek, or by comparing it with other English translations and versions). We need to examine closely its context. A text taken out of context is a pretext. Certainly, unlike the New Age Movement, the cults on the fringes of the Christian Community espouse man’s innate mortality. Their literature is saturated throughout with biblical references to man’s extinction at death, in the hope of resurrection.
What we need to do, however, is ask a few poignant questions about the text we are reading or studying, ask what the writer actually had in mind when he wrote these statements, ask what his background was, and ask whether he had anything else to declare in his same book which might just throw more light on his previous comments.
This lecturer was told, during a fine meal in the home of some believers a few years ago, that “all the Jews in Yeshua’s time believed only in soul sleep.” When I politely disagreed, the term “all the Jews” suddenly reduced to “I meant to say the Pharisees.” I again politely disagreed, quoting Josephus almost verbatim to establish that the Pharisees and Essenes accepted, believed in, taught, and promulgated the doctrine of reincarnation — the transmigration of the soul. Both interest and Christian hospitality suddenly froze over, and we left shortly thereafter.
Thirdly, we all should STOP calling each other “false prophets” when someone disagrees with us. It is a most unkind approach.
One Christian historian I admired immensely (and I have absolutely no doubt as to this American gentleman’s conversion and calling of God) called anyone who taught man’s immortality a “false prophet.” While I respected his right to believe that I was a “false prophet” I shall always endeavour to account people the way I find them when I meet them. I recall doing a lot of work here in Australia in the ’70s and ’80s to help build up his mailing lists and I have never thought twice about it. I just think he needed to reflect on a few things seriously, and to completely cut the ties he still had to a certain sectarianism.
Indeed, as he also knew quite well, current studies of the Second Temple Period covering the Intertestamental era, and the later Procuratorships of Judaea, (including the time of the Zealot revolution), are shedding much needed light into the belief systems that permeated Judaea. Even the idea of the “resurrection” has to be re-evaluated in the light of this new understanding.
The Jewish sects — the Judaisms [plural] of the Intertestamental Period right up to the destruction of the Jewish Common-wealth in 70 CE — clearly espoused man’s immortality. There is even evidence within the pages of the so-called “New Testament” (really, they ought to be more properly assessed as the Jewish Messianic Scriptures) that this is indeed the case. There is plenty of evidence that the original converts to the Mashiach accepted reincarnation without question and that it slotted perfectly into the theology of Shaul (Paul), Yaakov (James) and Yochanan (John).
Well, as I mentioned, the lunch which I referred to earlier was abruptly terminated in what appeared to be microseconds and “brotherly love” started to freeze over with conversation waning so I eventually left, with my family, to return home. Strange how love turns suddenly cold when there are religious disagreements! Such is the hostile, suspicious nature of cultism (in whatever form it may appear).