Platonic Philosophy or Scripture?: E. Earle Ellis and Conditional Immortality

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“The New Testament teaching on the punishment of those outside Christ rests upon and arises from the Old Testament teaching on the nature of man and the nature of death. The Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, represent individual personality as a complex and totally mortal monism, a unity that can be viewed from different perspectives, but that cannot be broken into separately existing parts. The biblical view is compatible with an outer/inner distinction or even a matter/thought or matter/will distinction, as long as both aspects are recognized as mortal and as a part of the present fallen creation and thus subject to the natural death processBut it is incompatible with an anthropological dualism in which one part, i.e., the soul or spirit, is considered to have immortality from the processes of the present natural order and thus to be exempt from death, i.e., from a cessation of existence. This kind of dualism has departed from a biblical understanding to a conception rooted in Platonic philosophy, a reading of the New Testament with glasses ground in Athens, resulting in a reconceptualization and redefinition of all the New Testament terms and concepts used for the punishment of the unrighteous. It thereby excludes a priori the meaning (in an active sense) of extinction of being, i.e., annihilation, or (in a reflexive or passive sense) of cessation of being” (E. Earle Ellis, “New Testament Teaching on Hell,” from Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, page 128). Bold font emphasis mine.

The Essential Church stands opposed to conditional immortality, a claim we’ve made in our doctrinal statement, but many want to know why we oppose the view. It’s not good enough to say “I disagree with something” without giving proper reason why. When it comes to the subject of conditional immortality and its opposition to the traditional view of Soul Immortality (or the Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul), it doesn’t do justice to any discussion to disagree without reason.

So, with that said, the words of E. Earle Ellis will engage the discussion once more.

Conditional Immortality: The Soul, Like The Body, Is Mortal

In Ellis’s quote above, he says that the New Testament doesn’t posit the view that the soul outlives the body; that thought, according to Ellis, stems from Platonic Philosophy rather than Scripture. According to Ellis, who is a proponent of conditional immortality, if there is a dual distinction of persons in Scripture, “both aspects are recognized as mortal.” In other words, if there is a body and soul distinction, the soul is mortal as the body is mortal. What this means is that the soul and the body die; when the body goes back to the dust, so does the soul. This is a statement leading conditionalist/conditional immortalist Edward Fudge makes in his work, The Fire That Consumes (I tackle Fudge’s view in my upcoming work now on Amazon pre-order, Terror Of The Lord: Critiquing Conditional Immortality, Answering Annihilationism’s Apologists).

And yet, there is one verse that disagrees with Ellis and the entire group of conditional immortality advocates. What is it? The answer is found below.

Matthew 10:28 and the body/soul distinction

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus tells us the nature of the soul and the nature of the body, and He distinguishes between these two. Read the words of Scripture:

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28, NKJV)

Here Jesus distinguishes between the body and soul, contrary to E. Earle Ellis; Jesus says that man can kill the body “but cannot kill the soul.” If the soul is mortal as the body is mortal, then humans would be able to kill it. Since man cannot kill the soul, and the body, which can be killed, is mortal, then the soul is “not mortal” or “im-mortal” (immortal).

Next, Jesus says that He alone is “able to destroy both soul and body,” in contrast to humans who can only kill the body. Notice that “kill” and “destroy” aren’t the same thing. Again, the soul is the opposite of mortal, which is im-mortal (the prefix “im” means “not”). The soul, despite its hidden existence from man, is seen by God, and only God can destroy it. The soul is immortal, yet destructible.

The human soul is not the only thing in existence that is both immortal and destructible; angels are immortal, not mortal, not human, yet destructible. Everything God makes, whether mortal, immortal, or inanimate object, is destructible to God. Man can kill the body, but God can destroy the body and soul in Hell.

As for “destroy body and soul,” we can’t know what this means unless God reveals it, since man cannot destroy the body and soul; God didn’t give man this ability. And from what we know, God destroys the body and soul by delivering wicked unbelievers over to eternal, conscious torment, as recorded in Revelation 14 and Revelation 20.

Putting It All Together

E. Earle Ellis says that the soul must be mortal, but Jesus says that humans cannot kill the soul (which means it isn’t mortal). Ellis says that traditionalists who hold to Soul Immortality are adopting Platonic Philosophy, but the Scriptures teach the Immortality of the Soul. Even Jesus upholds the soul’s immortal nature in Matthew 10:28.

So, who do you believe? E. Earle Ellis and Conditionalists/Conditional Immortalists, or Scripture? Perhaps it is adherents of Conditional Immortality that hold to vain philosophy, rather than those holding to the Immortality of the Soul.