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Living On The Edge: challenges to faith

September 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.

The book ‘Living On The Edge: challenges to faith‘ (due to be printed in November 2013), addresses those concerns. For an overview of the book, click here.

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How Paul standardized practices throughout the Christian community

Correcting Error

When correcting errors, answering questions, or providing instructions, Paul consistently appeals to universal practice in order to ensure ecclesias become aligned with the practice which is mandatory for all ecclesias everywhere.[1]

* 1 Corinthians 7:1, 17, ‘Now with regard to the issues you wrote about… I give this sort of direction in all the churches.’: answering questions from the ecclesia[2] [3] [4] [5]

* 1 Corinthians 11:16, ‘we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God’: correction of the Corinthian lack of head coverings[6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

* 1 Corinthians 14:33, ‘As in all the churches of the saints’: correction of the speaking of women in the congregation[13] [14]  [15] [16] [17]

* 1 Timothy 3:14-15, ‘I am writing these instructions to you in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God’: directing Timothy to understand how all ecclesias should be organized, a summary of the purpose of this entire letter[18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]

Paul corrects these local situations in universal terms of the Scripturally ‘right way’ of doing things, not as temporary emergency measures applied to local circumstances.[25] [26] He aims to standardize practices throughout all the ecclesias, correcting local errors by ensuring they conform to universal practices.


[1] ‘Some interpreters understand Paul’s instructions to be intended for their original Ephesian context only, for the correction of abuses specific to that church. The weakness of this view is that Paul grounds his teaching not in the local situation, as he sometimes does (Titus 1:10–13), but in two primal human events: the creation of the man first, and then the woman (1 Tim. 2:13; cf. Gen. 2); and the deceiving of the woman, not the man (1 Tim. 2:14; cf. Gen. 3:1–7).’, Ortlund, ‘Man and Woman’, in Alexander & Rosner, ‘New Dictionary of Biblical Theology’ (electronic ed. 2001).

[2] ‘Moreover, Paul assures the Corinthians that they are not alone in this endeavor, for all the churches are called and directed in this same manner, even as Paul himself lives this way.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 154 (1999).

[3]He makes this rule on the strength of his apostolic authority and applies it in all the churches (see 4:17; 14:34; 16:1).’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 230 (1993).

[4]This is my rule… : the Greek is literally “and this in all the churches I commanded” (TEV “teach”). …In some languages it may be more natural to translate “This is the rule that I teach in all the other churches as well as yours.”, Ellingworth, Hatton, & Ellingworth, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 158 (rev. ed. 1995).

[5] ‘It may be taken as an encouragement: I am not simply saying this to you at Corinth; I say it widely wherever I preach and teach. Or it may (more probably) be understood as a reminder that this (possible) lack of realism or “eschatological perfectionism” is peculiar to this idiosyncratic interpretation of the gospel. Or (pace Wire and Castelli) to mean that Paul is not being personally authoritarian, but reflecting the “ordered” realism (τάσσω) of the wider church and its varied congregations.’, Thiselton (complementarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 550 (2000).

[6] ‘Paul concludes that if any want to contend this apostolic tradition, they need to take note that neither Paul nor the churches of God have any other practice.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994)

[7]Thus, he finishes his remarks on a weighty note: Should someone object to Paul’s arguments, teaching, or reasoning; then that person must realize that Paul’s position is a universal norm, for it is the practice … [of] the churches of God, and according to the practices of those churches, what was happening in Corinth was inappropriate.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 227 (1999).

[8] ‘But Paul has no intention of arguing the matter with anyone given to wordy battles (contentious, philoneikos, means someone who loves strife). Such people are capable of prolonging an argument indefinitely. In the face of such an attitude Paul points to universal Christian custom; Christians have no other practice. Exactly who he means by we is not clear; it may mean Paul himself, or the apostles generally, or those with him when he wrote the letter. But the nor do the churches of God shows that what he has outlined is the common practice throughout the churches.’, Morris, ‘1 Corinthians: An introduction and commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 7, p. 153 (1985).

[9] ‘b. “We do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.” Paul refuses to be challenged on his teachings that are based on the Old Testament Scriptures. He knows that the rest of the apostles support him, and therefore he confidently writes the personal pronoun we. This is not the so-called editorial we, but an inclusive pronoun that embraces other leaders in the churches.’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 383 (1993).

[10] ‘Phps has “we and the churches of God generally…,” meaning “most churches.” This last is the most likely solutionA good sample translation is: “neither I nor the churches of God generally….”’, Ellington, Hatton, & Ellington, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 252 (1995).

[11] ‘Paul reserves one final argument for those unpersuaded by his former points. One philosophical group called the Skeptics rejected all arguments except an almost universally accepted one: the argument from custom—”that’s just not the way it’s done.”’, Keener (egalitarian), ‘The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament’ (1993).

[12] ‘It seems self-evident that the custom (συνήθειαν) to which Paul alludes concerns gender distinctions in public worship, which, as Murphy-O’Connor urged, are addressed both to men and to women equally. The custom is the acceptance of an equality of status in accordance with which woman may lead in public prayer or preaching (see below on prophecy) side by side with a recognition that gender differences must not be blurred but appreciated, valued, and expressed in appropriate ways in response to God’s unrevoked decree.’, Thiselton (complementarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 847 (2000).

[13]33–36 deals with an aspect of the role of wives in the church. Some commentators get round the problem by stating that this section is a later addition and not by Paul. But every manuscript includes this passage. Three points need to be noted in seeking to understand the passage, (i) Wives prayed and prophesied in Christian gatherings (see 11:5). This was a common practice in all the apostolic churches (33b). The context is crucial viz. the evaluation of prophecy (v 35). (ii) The law requires the acknowledgement of the distinctive roles of men and women (34), a reference to Gn. 2:20–24 or 3:16. Paul has already cited the former in 11:8–9. (iii) The wife is to seek the elucidation of points at home, which could well mean that it is her husband who has given the prophecy (35). While there is no absolute certainty, the present writer takes the view that wives, in this public gathering, are not to engage in the public weighing of prophecy which involved the interrogation of its content.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994).

[14] ‘The phrase does seem to fit less awkwardly with verse 34, so that one finds a reference to church custom and then an example of it in the mention of women’s silence.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 305 (1999).

[15]  ‘If As in all the congregations of the saints (cf. 4:17) goes with this verse, Paul is calling on the Corinthians to conform to accepted Christian practice.’, Morris, ‘1 Corinthians: An introduction and commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 7, p. 192 (1985).

[16] ‘However, the expression churches reflects nuances: the first occurrence (“As in all the churches of the saints”) alludes to churches in general and the second (“let the women keep silent in the churches”) to worship services. Conversely, verse 33b is not the only place in his epistles where Paul exhibits a lack of exemplary style. We assume that he is concerned not about elegance but rather about providing the churches with rules to bolster unity and harmony (compare 4:17; 7:17; 11:16)—concerns that he has emphasized throughout the epistle.’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 511 (1993).

[17] ‘One may say, for example, “This is what happens in all the churches of God’s people.”’, Ellingworth, Hatton, & Ellingworth, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 324 (1995).

[18] ‘With these two images, family and temple, Paul expresses the two urgencies of this letter: his concern over proper behavior among believers vis-à-vis the false teachers, and the church as the people entrusted to uphold and proclaim the truth of the gospel.’, Fee (egalitarian), ‘1 and 2 Timothy, Titus’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 92 (rev ed. 1988)

[19]These instructions is literally “these things,” which can be taken in a general sense as referring to the whole letter (as in TEV “as I write this letter”), or in a specific sense as referring to the instructions regarding the appointment of church leaders described in this chapter, which is what RSV seems to suggest. The first interpretation seems to be the more likely one and is recommended by this Handbook.’, Arichea (egalitarian), & Hatton, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s letters to Timothy and to Titus’, USB Handbook Series, p. 79 (1995).

[20] Paul’s prior admonitions to Timothy, especially in 3:1–13, thus serve a function analogous to the household codes of many ancient writers: providing a specific framework of wisdom for administrating the family unit and society.’, Keener (egalitarian), ‘The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament’ (1993).

[21] ‘The ἵνα clause then introduces the reason for Paul’s writing: so that Timothy and the church may know what is proper conduct for God’s household—with the implicit understanding that such knowledge will result in that kind of conduct.’, Knight (complementarian), ‘The Pastoral Epistles’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 179 (1992).

[22]In emphasizing how important it is that people conduct themselves properly in the household of God, Paul has already pointed out that the church is the house of God,’, Mounce (complementarian), ‘Pastoral Epistles’, Word Biblical Commentary, volume 46, p. 221 (2002).

[23] ‘Here Paul breaks off his direct instructions to describe the nature of the church, putting his teaching into perspective.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994).

[24] ‘Paul authorizes Timothy to instruct the Ephesian church on ‘how one ought to behave in the household of God’ (1 Tim. 3:15). Included in his instructions are guidelines for men and women in church (ch. 2). Men are to pray without anger or argument (v. 8), and women are to adorn themselves with good works rather than with extravagant dress (vv. 9–10). Moreover, a woman is to ‘learn in silence with full submission’ (v. 11). Then Paul explains more fully what this silence with full submission entails: ‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man’ (v. 12).’, Ortlund, ‘Man and Woman’, in Alexander & Rosner, ‘New Dictionary of Biblical Theology’ (electronic ed. 2001).

[25] 1 Corinthians 11:16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

[26] 1 Corinthians 14: 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says.; 37 If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command.
38 If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

Participatory atonement 3: Modern scholarship

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The dominant Christian understanding of the atonement is the ‘penal substitution’ theory, which states that Christ was punished by an angry God as a substitute for those he came to save. However, the interpretation of penal substitution came under sustained attack during the nineteenth century.[1] This continued throughout the twentieth century,[2] [3] with the result that the theory has lost considerable support among theologians over the last thirty years.

*  Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary[4]

*  New Bible Dictionary[5]

*  Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary[6] [7] [8]

*  Encyclopedia of Christianity[9]

Many liberal theologians have abandoned substitution,[10] but recently there is increasing recognition among even conservative theologians that the most the original Biblical teaching is best understood as participatory.[11] [12] [13]

Interest in historic alternatives to penal substitution has increased, and the interpretations of Abelard and the Socinians have received renewed attention. Support for participatory atonement is growing, especially in reaction to the violent nature of traditional penal substitution. [14]

It is increasingly understood that a change was required not in God, but in those who sinned against Him.[15] Likewise, the irrelevance of penal substitution to the life of the believer has been identified as a serious weakness in this theory.[16] [17] Scholarly support for participatory atonement is both widespread and increasing. [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]


[1] ‘The character of the needed reform became more and more clear: Christian thought must be brought over from the point of view of law to that of the conscience, it must be raised from legality to morality. Those even who wished to adhere as far as possible to the tradition of the past, tried to find a new foundation for the doctrine of substitution in the moral fact of solidarity. They gave up justifying the expiatory condemnation of Christ on the plea that divine justice must be satisfied; they were content to insist upon the organic bond which united the Son of man with the whole race. This method of argumentation, the first sketch of which was given by Ch. Secretan, and which was powerfully developed by so many orators, among whom should be mentioned E. Bersier, Ed. de Pressense, and Ch. Bois, has the advantage of being modem; but it remains to be seen whether, from a logical point of view, the argument does not ruin the ancient edifice it was destined to support.’, Sabatier, ‘The Doctrine of the Atonement: And Its Historical Evolution and Religion; and, Religion and Modern Culture ‘, pp. 92-93 (1904).

[2]But new challenges to the position arose in the modern period and were accepted by more and more churches. Able apologists for the penal substitutionary view also defended and developed that position against these new theories.’, Allison, ‘History of the Doctrine of the Atonement’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology ( 11.2.15), 2007).

[3] ‘On much the same basis articulated by Abelard, nineteenth-and early twentieth-century Protestant liberals advocated a version of moral influence theory over against the satisfaction theory of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. A primary example is Horace Bushnell’s use of satisfaction terminology to argue for a moral influence theory of atonement.’, Weaver, ‘The Nonviolent Atonement’, p. 19 (2001).

[4] ‘While Paul stresses the centrality of Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, the Synoptic Gospels note that Christ claimed to give his life as a “ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28 par. Mark 10:45; see Exod. 21:30). All three Evangelists record Christ’s sincere mention of his eternal sacrifice when at the breaking of the bread he referred to his own body during the Last Supper (“this is my body”; Matt. 26:26–27 par. Mark 14:22–23; Luke 22:19–20). On the other hand, the New Testament leaves no doubt that atonement is accomplished through the believer’s participation with the Lord in his death rather than merely by Christ’s death on the cross (Rom. 6:2, 6, 8; cf. Gal. 2:19–20).’, ‘Atone, Atonement’, in Myers (ed.), ‘Eerdmans Bible Dictionary’, p. 106 (1987).

[5] ‘It is agreed by most students that Christ’s death was vicarious. If in one sense he died ‘for sin’, in another he died ‘for us’. But ‘vicarious’ is a term which may mean much or little. It is better to be more precise. Most scholars today accept the view that the death of Christ is representative. That is to say, it is not that Christ died and somehow the benefits of that death become available to men (did not even Anselm ask to whom more fittingly than to us could they be assigned?). It is rather that he died specifically for us. He was our representative as he hung on the cross. This is expressed succinctly in 2 Cor. 5:14, ‘one died for all; therefore all have died’. The death of the Representative counts as the death of those he represents. When Christ is spoken of as our ‘advocate with the Father’ (1 Jn. 2:1) there is the plain thought of representation, and as the passage immediately goes on to deal with his death for sin it is relevant to our purpose. The Epistle to the Hebrews has as one of its major themes that of Christ as our great High Priest. The thought is repeated over and over. Now whatever else may be said about a High Priest, he represents men. The thought of representation may thus be said to be very strong in this Epistle. d. Substitution taught in the New Testament But can we say more? There is a marked disinclination among many modern scholars (though not by any means all) to use the older language of substitution. Nevertheless, this seems to be the teaching of the NT, and that not in one or two places only, but throughout.’, Morris, ‘Atonement’, in Wood & Marshall (eds.), ‘New Bible Dictionary’, p. 103 (3rd ed. 1996).

[6]The idea of appeasing an angry god by sacrifice is certainly present in some non-Jewish ideas of sacrifice. Much hinges on the translation of the word hilaskesthai (and cognates) in the NT, and the equivalent OT words (usually kpr). In non-Jewish Gk, the word clearly carries ideas of propitiation. However, in a classic essay Dodd (1935: 82–95) argued that Jewish and Christian usage differs from that decisively.’, Tuckett, ‘Atonement in the NT’, in Freedman (ed.), ‘Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary’, volume 1, p. 519 (1996).

[7]Thus it is unlikely that the sacrificial system was ever conceived of in such a substitutionary sense. Substitutionary ideas have been thought to lie behind much of Paul’s language, though many would argue that “representation” rather than “substitution” does far more justice to Paul’s thought.’ , ibid., p. 519.

[8] ‘Similarly Paul’s language of Jesus “redeeming” those under the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13; 4:5) can only with difficulty support the view that Jesus’ death is being interpreted as a ransom price paid in a substitutionary sense. Far more important for Paul here seems to be the representative nature of Jesus’ death (see Hooker 1971).’, ibid., p. 521.

[9] ‘Atonement is a central concept in biblical theology. Along with the traditional misunderstanding of appeasing an angry deity, the penal definition of making good an offense and the viewing of the cultus as a human work have impeded a more relevant approach., Janowski, ‘Atonement: OT and Judaism’, in Fahlbusch & Bromiley (eds.), ‘Encyclopedia of Christianity’, volume 1, p. 152 (1999-2003).

[10] ‘In the wake of Socinian attacks, Protestant liberalism and Catholic modernism rejected objective theories, especially penal substitution. The “heretical” anthropology of R. Girard has reinforced the trend. Radical feminists have expressed the strongest possible aversion.’, Blocher, ‘Atonement’, in Vanhoozer et al. (eds.), ‘Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, p. 73 (2005).

[11] ‘In the Roman Church, after the critique by Sabourin and Lyonnet and under the climate created by Teilhard de Chardin and Rahner, few scholars of note, if any, have maintained it.’, ibid., p. 73.

[12] ‘Sanders goes so far as to argue that “the purpose of Christ’s death [for Paul is] that Christians may participate in it, not that their sins may be atoned for.”.’, Finlan, ‘The background and content of Paul’s cultic atonement metaphors’, p. 117 (2004).

[13]Sanders combines the participationist passages with those that mention “dying to the law” and argues that it is not so much atonement, as it is “sharing in christ’s death” that brings salvation.’, ibid., p, 117.

[14] ‘According to Anthony Bartlett, the New Testament has no place for wrath and its propitiation. Thus the atonement can only be “saved” if it is stripped of its “violent” implications.’, Horton, ‘Lord and servant: a covenant Christology’, p. 184 (2005).

[15] ‘Thus in this view, the work of the cross affects a change in us, rather than in God. Horace Bushnell revived this view of the atonement in the nineteenth century. He regarded sin as a type of sickness from which we must be healed.’, Kuhns, ‘Atonement and Violence’, Quodlibet Journal (5.4), October 2003.

[16] ‘First, this theory emphasizes Christ’s death as a sacrifice of propitiation that turns away God’s wrath, almost to neglect of any immediate consequence of Christ’s death for the daily life of the believer.’, ibid.

[17] ‘If some of the other theories are weak in not showing why Jesus had to die, this theory, as it is sometimes expounded, fails to adequately show why Jesus spent so much time teaching and calling people to follow him.’, ibid.

[18] ‘The central thesis of this lecture now comes into view. I contend that the work of the cross is not completed until we participate in it.’, Marshall, ‘On A Hill Too Far Away?: Reclaiming The Cross as the Critical Interpretive Principle of the Christian Life’, Review and Expositor (91.2.251), 1994.

[19] ‘Reno says that, in this account, Milbank accords the activity of “interpretive creativity” an indispensable role in the act of atonement itself, which thereby gives rise to the idea of “participatory atonement.”‘, Hyman, ‘The Predicament of Postmodern Theology: Radical Orthodoxy or Nihilist Textualism?’, p. 87 (2001).

[20]Participation is a constant theme with Paul. The believer must offer up his whole self as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1; 6:13)…’, Finlan, ‘The Background and Content of Paul’s Cultic Atonement Metaphors’, p. 118 (2004).

[21]But Paul’s teaching is not that Christ dies “in the place of” others so that they escape death (as the logic of “substitution” implies).86 It is rather that Christ’s sharing their death makes it possible for them to share his death.“Representation” is not an adequate single-word description, nor particularly “participation” or “participatory event”. But at least they help convey the sense of a continuing identification with Christ in, through, and beyond his death, which, as we shall see, is fundamental to Paul’s soteriology.’ , Dunn, ‘The Theology of Paul the Apostle’, p. 223 (2006).

[22] ‘…emphasis upon the practice of accepting forgiveness and extending it to one another, a participatory atonement if you will.’, Steere, ‘Rediscovering Confession: A Constructive Practice of Forgiveness’ p. 227 (2009).

[23] ‘Participatory atonement: we become reconciled to God by participating in Jesus’ path of death and resurrection‘ , Borg, ‘Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Mark’, p. 81 (2009).

[24]In a participatory model, but contrast, God does it all and we are fully included in the doing of God. And not as puppets are we fully included, but as creatures created by the Creator God to be creative. It is we who contribute something, we who are artists participating in the artistry of God.’, Rigby, ‘”Beautiful Playing”: Motlmann, Barth, and the Work of the Christian’, in McCormack & Bender (eds.),  ‘Theology as Conversation: The Significance of Dialogue in Historical and Contemporary Theology: A Festschrift for Daniel L. Migliore’, p. 114 (2009).

Participatory atonement 2: Medieval era

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment

An accurate understanding of the atonement was practically lost during the early to late medieval era. In the 12th century Anselm’s satisfaction theory and Abelard’s moral influence theory competed; Anselm’s model however, became dominant.

Peter Lombard attempted to reconcile competing theories, [1] favouring exemplary and participatory views. Penal substitution was essential to Reformation theology as a single legal satisfaction ‘once, for all’, eliminating human involvement in the process of salvation. [2] Emphasis was placed on God’s wrath and the need for violent appeasement of His anger.[3]

Penal substitution became the standard view for Reformation groups down to the 20th century,[4] though unorthodox groups such as the Anabaptists and Socinians rejected it for exemplary or participatory models.[5] [6] [7] The Catholic Church was also influenced by penal substitution. [8]

*  1080-c.1147: Robert Pullan;[9] exemplary [10]

*  d. 1142: Peter Abelard; exemplary, participatory [11] [12]

*  1100-1160: Peter Lombard; exemplary, participatory [13] [14] [15]

*  1265-1308: Duns Scotus; exemplary [16] [17] [18]

*  d. 1562: Laelius Socinus; exemplary [19] [20]

*  1527-1700: Anabaptists; exemplary [21]


[1] ‘Peter Lombard accumulated and tried to reconcile the most widely divergent opinions. He expresses the view that the death of Jesus was both a ransom paid to the devil and a manifestation of love.’, Sabatier, ‘The Doctrine of the Atonement: And Its Historical Evolution and Religion; and, Religion and Modern Culture ‘, p. 75 (1904).

[2] ‘The Magisterial Reformers made penal expiation central and set forth the once-for-all, finished work of the cross as the foundation of justification by faith alone. Luther preached it with unprecedented force (under the influence of Gal. 3); he taught that the satisfaction of divine justice and the propitiation of God’s wrath is the basis of our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil (Eißler 128–29). Calvin marshaled the biblical evidence (Isa. 53 as a key).’, Blocher, ‘Atonement’, in Vanhoozer et al. (eds.), ‘Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, p. 73 (2005).

[3]The Reformers introduced another view of the atonement, generally called the penal substitutionary theory. In some ways, it was similar to Anselm’s satisfaction theory, but with this major difference: Instead of grounding the atonement in the honor of God—that of which God had been robbed by the sin of humanity—the Reformers grounded it in the justice of God. Because he is holy, God hates sin with wrathful anger and acts against it by condemning and punishing sin. Thus, an eternal penalty must be paid for sin. Humanity could not atone for its own sin, but Christ did: as the substitute for humanity, he died as a sacrifice to pay the penalty, suffered the divine wrath against sin, and removed its condemnation forever.’, Allison, ‘History of the Doctrine of the Atonement’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology ( 11.2.11), 2007).

[4] ‘The penal substitutionary view has come to characterize the standard Reformed/Calvinist approach to the atonement.’, Beilby, Boyd, & Eddy (eds.), ‘The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views’, p. 17 (2006).

[5] ‘Although this theory became the standard view of the atonement among Protestants, it did not go unchallenged. The heretical Socinians developed a view similar in some ways to Abelard’s moral influence theory; it is called the example theory of the atonement.’, Allison, ‘History of the Doctrine of the Atonement’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology ( 11.2.13), 2007).

[6] ‘And they insist that Christ’s atonement requires following in his footsteps and conforming one’s own will to the divine‘, Roth & Stayer, ‘A companion to Anabaptism and spiritualism, 1521-1700’, p. 268 (2007); a comment on an Anabaptist list of articles of faith.

[7] ‘While Anabaptists stressed Christ’s example in the way of martyrdom, Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrine of atonement became the heart of the evangelical message, and its so-called “crucicentrism,” down, for example, to John Stott.’, Blocher, ‘Atonement’, in Vanhoozer et al. (eds.), ‘Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, p. 73 (2005).

[8] ‘Until the middle of the twentieth century, Roman Catholics also commonly held penal substitution as one element in complex theologies.’, ibid., p. 73.

[9] Also known as Pullen, Pullan or Pully.

[10] ‘Appeal might be made to a thinker like the English theologian Robert Pullan, who rejected the ransom view and in good Abelardian fashion stressed the noetic aspect that Christ “by the greatness of the price” made known to us “the greatness of his love and of our sin” (Sent. viii.4.13).’, Bromiley, ‘Atone; Atonement’, in Bromiley (ed.), ‘International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia’, volume 1, p. 357 (1992 ed.).

[11]Abelard is known as the pioneer of the subjective, moral influence, view (though he did express the objective and penal one when commenting on Rom. 4:25; as quoted by Tobias Eißler 124n30).’, Blocher, ‘Atonement’, in Vanhoozer et al. (eds.), ‘Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, p. 73 (2005).

[12] ‘The main point for him was the teaching of Christ and the response it evoked. Christ became man in order that He might enlighten the world by His wisdom and excite it to love for Himself (Ep. ad Rom., Opera [ed Cousin], II, 207). His death was both a lesson and also an example. Its intended effect was the kindling of a responsive gratitude and love which “should not be afraid to endure anything for his sake” (pp. 766f). When the sinner was stimulated to amendment of life in this way, God could remit eternal punishment in virtue of the conversion rather than any objective or external equivalent (p. 628). The work of Christ was thus a demonstration of divine love which removed the obstacle between God and man, not by a work for man, but by the effect in him.’, Bromiley, ‘Atone; Atonement’, in Bromiley (ed.), ‘International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia’, volume 1, p. 357 (1992 ed.).

[13] ‘Peter Lombard, though far from having Anselm’s vision, is almost equally explicit in tracing the moral element in the sacrifice of Christ’s death‘, Williams, ‘Broadchalke Sermon-Essays on Nature, Mediation, Atonement, Absolution, Etc’, p. 254 (1867).

[14] ‘As Peter Lombard, a twelfth-century theologian, wrote: So great a pledge of love having been given us we too are moved and kindled to love God who did such great things for us; and by this we are justified, that is, being loosened from our sins we are made just. The death of Christ therefore justifies us, inasmuch as through it charity is excited in our hearts.’, Bartlett, ‘Cross purposes: the violent grammar of Christian atonement’, p. 221 (2001).

[15] ‘But a more representative treatment is that of Lombard, who combines several aspects. Thus a ransom is paid and the devil is caught as in a mousetrap (Sermo i.30.2). Yet Christ’s death is also seen from the standpoint of satisfaction or merit (Sent. iii.18.2). It exerts a moral influence too, for by it we “are moved and kindled to love God who did such great things for us” (19.1).’, Bromiley, ‘Atone; Atonement’, in Bromiley (ed.), ‘International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia’, volume 1, p. 357 (1992 ed.).

[16] ‘A third general group of theories is known as the moral-influence theory. Its roots, though not its completed form, go back to Duns Scotus (d.1308) (qv).’, Colby & Williams (eds.), ‘The New International Encyclopaedia’, volume 2, p. (1930).

[17] ‘Thus Scotus did not see that Christ’s death was a punishment or that God’s justice necessarily demanded it. He could regard it as in fact a (nonsubstitutionary) satisfaction, but only because God in love freely willed to accept it as such (a doctrine known as acceptilation). Nor did it have to be infinite in scope but merely sufficient to merit initial grace for man, for which implicit faith was enough on man’s part.’, ibid., p. 357.

[18] ‘There is, however, no hint that Scotus accepts any sort of penal theory of the atonement here.’, Cross, ‘Duns Scotus’, p. 205 (1999).

[19] ‘Atonement is secured instead by penitence and a will to obey. The role of Christ’s death is that of an example of obedience.’, ibid., p. 358.

[20] ‘In reaction against the exaggerations of this ‘penal theory’ arose the doctrine, first defended by the Socinians, which denied the objective efficacy of the Cross and looked upon the death of Christ as primarily an example to His followers. Notable modern exponents of this view in England were B. *Jowett and H. *Rashdall.’, Cross & Livingstone, ‘The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 125 (3rd rev. ed. 2005).

[21] ‘Unlike the so-called magisterial Reformation, the Radical Reformation gave pride of place to discipleship and the imitation of Christ rather than to justification and union with Christ.’, Horton, ‘Lord and servant: a covenant Christology’, p. 184 (2005).

 

Mortalism 6: 20th century views

February 2, 2011 2 comments

Rejection of the doctrine of hell became significant in the twentieth century,[1] and ‘soul death’[2] was widely accepted.[3] An Anglican Church report rejected the immortal soul;[4] later statements rejected hell.[5] [6]

In the 1970s soul death entered mainstream evangelical Christianity[7] [8] as a result of major theologians making their views public,[9] a trend which continued.[10] [11] [12] [13]

The number of scholars supporting soul death continues to rise.[14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] A major evangelical study[20] upheld the doctrine of hell, but expressed it in cautious terms;[21] this was described as ‘an attempt at damage control’.[22]


[1]For the past century there has been a battle for the traditional doctrine of Hell.’, Spencer, ‘The Destruction of Hell: Annihilationism Examined’, Christian Apologetics Journal (1.1.1), 1992.

[2] The belief that people do not exist at all after death, commonly referred to somewhat misleadingly as ‘annihilationism’.

[3] ‘In the twentieth century, Church Missionary Society missionary Harold Guillebaud defended annihilationism in The Righteous Judge in 1941, which was privately printed in 1961. Basil F.C. Atkinson, a prominent evangelical apologist and leader in Cambridge University’s Inter-Collegiate Christian Union and Inter-Varsity Fellowship, taught annihilationism to his students and later had his book Life and Immortality privately printed (1962). His leadership influenced several up-and-coming evangelical annihilationists (e.g., John Wenham, Robert Brow, and possibly others).’, Morgan & Peterson, ‘Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment’, pp. 197-198 (2004).

[4] ‘The Report (1945) of the Commission appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York “Towards the Conversion of England” stated: “The central theme of the New Testament is eternal life, not for anybody and everybody, but for believers in Christ as risen from the dead. The idea of the inherent indestructibility of the human soul (or consciousness) owes its origin to Greek not to Bible sources”.’, Eyre, ‘The Protestors 2 – The Source Of The Ideal’, The Christadelphian (110.1304.63), 1973.

[5]No place for hell is found in the revised prayer book psalter which a commission under the Archbishop of York, Dr. Coggan, has produced for consideration by the Convocations of Canterbury and York and which is published today. Instead of the wicked being turned into hell, the commission would substitute: “the wicked shall be given over unto the grave”.’, The Times, April 5, 1963, quoted by Sargent, ‘”Hell” In the Church Psalter’, The Christadelphian (100.1187.230), 1963.

[6] ‘The doctrinal report The Mystery of Salvation by the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England is no exception in this respect: after the brief observation that in the churches in the Western world there is “a growing sense that the picture of a God who consigns millions to eternal torment is far removed from the revelation of God’s love in Christ,” it goes on to affirm the doctrine of annihilationism instead.’, van Holten, ‘Can the traditional view of hell be defended? An evaluation of some arguments for eternal punishment’, Anglican Theological Review (2003).

[7]But the year 1974 serves as a benchmark in the debate over annihilationism in evangelical history. That year evangelical publisher InterVarsity Press published John Wenham‘s The Goodness of God (later titled The Enigma of Evil), in which Wenham questioned the historic view of endless punishment and proposed annihilationism.‘, Morgan & Peterson, ‘Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment’, pp. 198-199 (2004).

[8] ‘Annihilationist ideas have been canvassed among evangelicals for more than a century, 2  but they never became part of the mainstream of evangelical faith, 3  nor have they been widely discussed in the evangelical camp until recently.’, Packer, ‘Evangelical Annihilationism In Review’, Reformation and Revival (6.2.37-38), 1997.

[9] ‘Also in 1974, InterVarsity Press published Stephen Travis‘s The Jesus Hope, in which he questioned whether annihilationism might be the better alternative. Two years later Christianity Today included an article by Edward Fudge defending annihilationism called “Putting Hell in Its Place.” Fudge’s thorough book on the subject came out in 1982, and was an alternative selection of the Evangelical Book Club. In 1987, Christianity Today allowed Clark Pinnock to declare his belief in annihilationism in a short article entitled “Fire, Then Nothing.”’, ibid., pp. 198-199.

[10] ‘The overall concept of annihilation has recently received renewed interest, exposition, and defense from somewhat surprising sources. In the past decade a number of rather prominent evangelical theologians and leaders have affirmed they are annihilationists. Among these are Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Clark Pinnock, John R. W. Stott, Stephen Travis, and John Wenham.’, Erickson, ‘Is Hell Forever?’, Bibliotheca Sacra (152.606.260), 1996.

[11] ‘The plethora of literature produced in the last two decades on the basic nature of hell indicates a growing debate in evangelicalism that has not been experienced since the latter half of the nineteenth century.’, Mayhue, ‘Hell: Never, Forever, Or Just For Awhile?’, Master’s Seminary Journal (9.2.128), 1998.

[12] ‘Then in 1988, the issue received heightened awareness as John Stott acknowledged his openness to and tentative acceptance of annihilationism.’, Morgan & Peterson, ‘Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment’, p. 199 (2004).

[13]Other distinguished evangelicals continued this trend. In 1989 Philip Hughes resigned from Westminster Theological Seminary and espoused similar views in The True Image. In 1990 Michael Green adamantly opposed the historic view of hell in his Evangelism through the Local Church. Robert Brow followed suit in 1994, Nigel Wright in 1996, and Earle Ellis in 1997.’, ibid, p. 199.

[14] ‘Responding to criticisms of the doctrine of hell made during the modern period, a number of evangelical scholars have developed the doctrine of conditional immortality.’’, McGrath, ‘Christian Theology: an introduction’, p. 478 (2006).

[15] ‘Most notable is the blooming of conditionalism among some leading British Christians.’, Shogren, ‘Review: William Crockett, ed. Four Views on Hell.’, Ashland Theological Journal (30.143), 1998.

[16] ‘In its place, a growing number of scholars, evangelical and non-evangelical alike, have embraced a view of the destiny of the unbeliever called annihilationism or conditional immortality.’, Spencer, ‘The Destruction of Hell: Annihilationism Examined’, Christian Apologetics Journal (1.1.1), 1992.

[17] ‘Of the books that espouse annihilationism, the four best have been written during this century. Anglican missionary-translator Harold E. Guillebaud completed The Righteous Judge: A Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment shortly before his death in 1941. In the late 1960s Basil Atkinson, under-librarian in the Cambridge University library, penned Life and Immortality: An Examination of the Nature and Meaning of Life and Death as They Are Revealed in the Scriptures. Seventh-Day Adventist historical theologian LeRoy Edwin Froom’s massive two-volume work, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, was published in 1965–66. Edward Fudge, an attorney and Churches of Christ layman, produced The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of Final Punishment in 1982.’, Peterson, ‘A Traditionalist Response To John Stott’s Arguments For Annihilationism’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (37.4.551), 1994.

[18]Recently two works have stood out in offering a rationale for conditionalism. The first is David Powys’s massive monograh ‘Hell’: A Hard Look at a Hard Question. Tony Gray commended it as “the strongest and most articulate defense of the conditionalist position written thus far.”’, Morgan & Peterson, ‘Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment’, pp. 199-200 (2004).

[19]Powys’s goal is to focus on the biblical teaching because he recognizes that “the great majority of modern positions on the fate of the unrighteous may be classified and largely explicated in terms of presuppositionally-determined reactions against ‘traditional orthodoxy.'” Powys’s primary contribution lies in his breadth of coverage and attempt at serious biblical exegesis.’, ibid, p. 200.

[20] ‘Surpassing Powys’s considerable book in precision and clarity is The Nature of Hell, published in 2000. This work is a report resulting from a two-year study on hell by a working group of ACUTE, the Evangelical Alliance Comission on Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals.’, ibid., p. 200.

[21] ‘6. Hell is more than mere annihilation at the point of death. Rather, death will lead on to resurrection and final judgment to either heaven or hell (1 Cor. 15:1-58; John 5:25-9; Rev. 20:11-14). 7. As well as separation from God, hell involves severe punishment. Scripture depicts this punishment in various ways, using both psychological and physical terminology. Although this terminology is often metaphorical and although we should be wary of inferring more detail about hell than Scripture itself affords, hell is a conscious experience of rejection and torment (Matt. 8:12, 13:42, 24:51; Luke. 13:28, 16:23). 8. There are degrees of punishment and suffering in hell related to the severity of sins committed on earth. We should, however, be wary of speculating on how exactly the correlation between sins committed and penalties imposed will operate (Luke. 10:12, 12:47f.).’, Hillborn (ed.), ‘The Nature of Hell. A Report by the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals (ACUTE).’, 2000.

[22] ‘Robert Peterson aptly summarized the work as “an attempt at damage control.”’, Morgan & Peterson, ‘Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment’, p. 200 (2004).

Mortalism 4: The Early Modern Era

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Soul sleep[1] was a significant minority view from the eighth to the seventeenth centuries.[2] Soul death[3] became increasingly common from the Reformation onwards.[4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

Notable conditionalists of this era include:

l  16??: Sussex Baptists.[11]

l  d. 1612: Edward Wightman[12]

l  1627: Samuel Gardner[13]

l  1628: Samuel Przpkowski[14]

l  1636: George Wither[15]

l  1637: Joachim Stegman[16]

l  1624: Richard Overton[17]

l  1654: John Biddle[18]

l  1655: Matthew Caffyn[19]

l  1658: Samuel Richardson[20]

l  1608-1674: John Milton[21]

l  1588-1670: Thomas Hobbes[22]

l  1605-1682: Thomas Browne[23]

l  1622-1705: Henry Layton[24]

l  1702: William Coward[25]

l  1632-1704: John Locke[26]

l  1643-1727: Isaac Newton[27]

l  1676-1748: Pietro Giannone[28]

l  1751: William Kenrick[29]

l  1755: Edmund Law[30]

l  1759: Samuel Bourn[31]

l  1723-1791: Richard Price[32]

l  1718-1797: Peter Peckard[33]

l  1733-1804: Joseph Priestley[34]

l  1765: Francis Blackburne[35]


[1] The belief that people still exist in some non-physical form after death, but remain completely unconscious.

[2] ‘Harold Fisch calls it ‘a major current of seventeenth century protestant ideology‘.’, Thomson, ‘Bodies of thought: science, religion, and the soul in the early Enlightenment’, p. 42 (2008).

[3] The belief that people do not exist at all after death.

[4]Mortalism, in some form or other, had been around quite a while before the seventeenth century, but for our purposes we can begin to investigate mortalism as it appeared at the time of the Reformation.’, Brandon, ‘The coherence of Hobbes’s Leviathan: civil and religious authority combined’, p. 65 (2007).

[5] ‘we also know that such mortalist thought was fairly widespread prior to the seventeenth century.’, ibid., p. 66.

[6] ‘The status of the dead was among the most divisive issues of the early Reformation; it was also arguably the theological terrain over which in the reign of Henry VIII official reform travelled furthest and fastest.’, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England’, p. 47 (2002).

[7] ‘In fact, during the Reformation both psycho- somnolence—the belief that the soul sleeps until the resurrection—and thnetopsychism—the belief that the body and soul both die and then both rise againwere quite common’, Conti, ‘Religio Medici’s Profession of Faith’, in Barbour & Preston (eds.), ‘Sir Thomas Browne: the world proposed’, p. 157 (2008).

[8] ‘All this suggests that mortalism, and the fear of it, was widespread in England in the century after the Reformation. But the English Revolution, in particular, was a crucible out of which radical new ideas boiled. Mortalist ideas multiplied rapidly in the 1640s‘, Almond, ‘Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England’, p. 43 (1994).

[9] ‘The most common form of seventeenth-century Christian mortalism claimed that the whole individual died and was insensible until the resurrection and judgement, when the whole individual would be resuscitated and enter on eternal life. There was no continuation of an immaterial part of the individual, no feeling, thought, or suffering before the final general resurrection.’, Thomson, ‘Bodies of thought: science, religion, and the soul in the early Enlightenment’, p. 42 (2008).

[10] ‘On the contrary, mortalist views – particularly of the sort which affirmed that the soul slept or died – were widespread in the Reformation period. George Williams has shown how prevalent mortalism was among the Reformation radicals.’, Almond, ‘Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England’, p. 38 (1994).

[11]The Baptists in Italy and France had at times adopted Soul Sleeping; such an association also existed in England, for we hear that in Kent and Sussex Baptists were linked to a sect known as the Soul Sleepers.’, Burrell, ‘The role of religion in modern European history’, p. 74 (1964).

[12] ‘he affirmed that the soul sleeps in the sleep of the first death as well as the body;’, Vedder, ‘A Short History of the Baptists’, p. 197 (1907).

[13] ‘The Norwich minister Samuel Gardiner envisaged the dead ‘sleep[ing] supinely in their lockers, careless and senseless of secular affaires”, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the dead in Reformation England’, p. 213 (2002).

[14] ‘Przypkowski, like Sozzini, affirmed that those who had not been exposed to the Gospel through revelation would not receive eternal torments for their ignorance of the Gospel. Przypkowski remains consistent with Sozzini in stating that they simply would not be raised and would remain eternally dead.’, Snobelen, ‘Revelation and Reason: The Development, Rationalization and Influence of Socinianism’, honors thesis, p. 54 (1993).

[15] ‘Another convinced adherent of moderate Puritan opinion, the poet George Wither, gave mortalism even more substantial support‘, Ball, ‘The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley’, p. 73 (2008).

[16]The mortalist position, on the other hand, was defended in the Brevis disquisitio published by the Socinian Joachim Stegmann in 1637.’, Méchoulan (ed.), ‘La formazione storica della alterità: studi di storia della tolleranza nell’età moderna offerti a Antonio Rotondò’, Secolo XVI, p. 1221 (2001).

[17] ‘In 1644 he published a notorious tract, Mans Mortalitie, wherein he sought to prove ‘both theologically and philosophically, that whole man (as a rational creature) is a compound wholly mortal, contrary to that common distinction of soul and body: and that the present going of the soul into heaven or hell is a mere fiction: and that at the resurrection is the beginning of our immortality, and then actual condemnation, and salvation, and not before.’, Watts, ‘The Dissenters: From the Reformation to the French Revolution’, p. 119 (1985).

[18] ‘The seventeenth-century Socinians John Biddle and Samuel Richardson both disbelieved in eternal torment and were convinced that the wicked would be annihilated.’, Young, ‘F. D. Maurice and Unitarianism’, p. 249 (1992).

[19] ‘”Matthew Caffyn said, no man hath eternal life [immortality] now in him as possessing it, but a promise of it, I John ii. 25’, Froom, ‘The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers’, volume 2, p. 144 (1966).

[20] Richardson, ‘A discourse of the torments of hell: The foundation and pillars thereof discovered, searched, shaken and removed. With many infallible proofs, that there is not to be a punishment after this life for any to endure that shall never end’ (1658).

[21] ‘In discussing the death of the body (chapter 13), Milton espouses mortalism or Thnetopsychism, the logical concomitant of his monist ontology.’, Lewalski, ‘The life of John Milton: a critical biography’, p. 431 (2002).

[22] ‘Although he is not normally counted a Socinian, Hobbes shares their commitment to the mortalist thesis,’, Jolley, ‘The relation between theology and philosophy’, in Garber & Ayres (eds.), ‘The Cambridge history of seventeenth-century philosophy’, volume 1, p. 383 (2003).

[23] ‘ Burns presents this view as held not only by Hobbes, but also by John Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, and Richard Overton.’, Brandon, ‘The coherence of Hobbes’s Leviathan: civil and religious authority combined’, p. 66 (2007).

[24] ‘Between 1692 and 1706, Henry Layton had produced a series of pamphlets which, while endorsing the notion of a general resurrection on the last day, had asserted the mortality of the soul primarily on physiological grounds though with the aid of Scripture.’, Almond, ‘Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England’, p. 62 (1994).

[25] ‘Similarly, William Coward wrote a series of works from 1702 to 1706 in which he argued for the mortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead on the last day.’, Almond, ‘Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England’, p. 62 (1994).

[26]Locke affirmed the doctrine of mortalism in the Reasonableness in his account of the consequences of Adam’s Fall.’, Nuvo (ed.), ‘John Locke: Writings on Religion’, p. xxxiii (2002).

[27]Newton’s mortalism is of a piece with that of several Civil War sectarians,’, Wood, ‘Science and dissent in England, 1688-1945’, p. 50 (2004).

[28] ‘In the Triregno Giannone implicitly aligns himself with a materialist position: the doctrine of the soul’s immortality is presented as one of many corrupting influences that the Jews absorbed from the Egyptians.’, Suttcliffe, ‘Judaism and Enlightenment’, p. 207 (2005).

[29]He seems to have been a materialist, a mortalist (that is, a believer that the soul expires at death), and an announced foe to priestcraft; the pages of the London Review resounded with his defenses of Joseph Priesley’s unorthodoxies.’, Johns, ‘Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates’, p. 141 (2010).

[30]Edmund Law, Archdeacon of Carlisle, who (in a D.D. exercise at Cambridge in 1754, published as an “Appendix” to the third edition of The Theory of Religion [1755]) had revived the Anabaptist theory of “soul sleep”’, Outler, ‘John Wesley: Folk-Theologian’, Theology Today (34.2.154), 1977.

[31] ‘Death, when applied to the end of wicked men in a future state, he says, properly denotes a total extinction of life and being,’, Buck, ‘A theological dictionary: containing definitions of all religious terms’, p. 115 (1823).

[32] ‘He does not believe, for he cannot find in Scripture, the ‘ultimate restoration of all mankind,’ but he holds that the future punishment will consist chiefly in the annihilation of being, not in the torture of living beings‘, Stephen, ‘History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century’, p. 429 (1901).

[33] ‘Peckard, on the other hand, adopted the anti-dogmatic mortalist line that between death and final judgment, the soul lay dormant, that at death the whole man died rather than just his physical being.’, Ingram, ‘Religion, reform and modernity in the eighteenth century: Thomas Secker and the Church of England’, Studies in Modern British Religious History, p. 101 (2007).

[34] ‘I suppose that the powers of thought are not merely suspended, but are extinct, or cease to be, at death.’, Priestley, ‘A free discussion of the doctrine of materialism, and philosophical necessity’, p. 82 (1778).

[35] Blackburne, ‘A short historical view of the controversy concerning an intermediate state and the separate existence of the soul between death and the general resurrection, deduced from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, to the present times’ (1765).

Mortalism 3: The Medieval Era

January 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Conditional immortality was retained through the late medieval era and early Middle Ages by Jewish commentators such as Isaac of Nineveh[1] [2] (d.700), Abraham Ibn Ezra[3] [4] (1092-1167), Maimonides [5] [6] (1135-1204), and Joseph Albo[7] (1380-1444).

Persian Christian Ab al-Farag Hibat Allah ibn Al-‘Assal, believed souls (though conscious when dead), would not receive final reward or punishment until the resurrection.[8]

Views also changed as purgatory was rejected,[9] and defending the immortal soul from ‘Scripture alone’ proved difficult,[10] with serious consequences.[11]

Notable conditionalists of this era include:

l  -1384: John Wycliffe [12]

l  1490-1527: Michael Sattler[13] [14]

l  1527-1700[15]: Anabaptists[16] [17]

l  1494-1536: William Tyndale[18]

l  1540: Camillo Rentao[19]

l  1500-1545: Matyas Devai[20]

l  1511-1553: Michael Servetus[21]

l  d. 1562: Laelius Socinus[22]

l  1563: Faustus Socinus[23]

l  1565: Polish Brethren[24]

l  1504-1568: Dirk Philips[25]

l  1568: Gregory Paul[26]

l  1570-1800: Socinians[27]

l  1573: John Frith[28]

l  1574: George Schomann[29]

l  1576: Simon Budny[30]


[1] Also known as ‘Isaac the Syrian’, or ‘Isaac Syrus’.

[2] ‘”Isaac,” too, is convinced that the final reward and punishment for human deeds awaits the resurrection (e.g., Bedjan 724.4 from bottom). Then those who died in “peace and quiet” with the lord will find eternal peace (Bedjan 276.15), while sinners will be banished to a darkness far away from God (Bedjan 117f.). Gehenna, the kingdom of the demons (Bedjan 203.4 from bottom), is a place of fire, and on the day of judgment this fire will burst forth from the bodies of the damned (Bedjan 73.4.; 118.3-7). Until the resurrection, the dead must wait in Sheol, which the author seems to imagine as a collective grave (Bedjan 366.3 from bottom; 368.5; 369.4). Some passages in the corpus suggest that the dead continue to act, in Sheol, as they have during life (e.g., Bedjan 90.13; 366.10-18). Others declare that action for good or ill is no longer possible after death (e.g., Bedjan 392.4 from bottom), and even envisage Sheol, before the judgment, as a place of fire ruled over by Satan (Bedjan 93.4f.).’, Daley, ‘The hope of the early church: a handbook of patristic eschatology’, pp. 174-175 (1991).

[3] ‘But Ibn Ezra held that the souls of the wicked perish with their bodies.’, Davidson, ‘The Doctrine of Last Things Contained in the New Testament, Compared With Notions of the Jews and the Statements of Church Creeds’, p. 139 (1882).

[4]The medieval thinker who most approximates Maimonides’ own view is Abraham ibn Ezra (1092–1167). In his commentary to Dan. 12:2, he accepts the notion of a double dying, with the second resurrection remaining totally spiritual.’, Gillman, ‘Death and Afterlife, Judaic Doctrines Of’, in Neusner, ‘The Encyclopedia of Judaism’, volume 1, p. 206 (2000).

[5] ‘Maimonides claims that since the greatest punishment would be to lose one’s immortal soul, the souls of the wicked are destroyed along with their bodies.’, Rudavsky, ‘Maimonides’, p. 105 (2010).

[6]His view posits a theory of a double dying: we die once, we are then resurrected sometime around the coming of the Messiah (which, for Maimonides, is a period independent of and prior to “the age to come”); we then die a second time, and, after that, in the age to come, the souls of the righteous achieve the ultimate reward reserved for souls alone, as he described in Helek. Resurrection and spiritual immortality are both true, but they emerge sequentially.’, Gillman, ‘Death and Afterlife, Judaic Doctrines Of’, in Neusner, ‘The Encyclopedia of Judaism’, volume 1, p. 205 (2000).

[7]Maimonides’ views are reasserted by Joseph Albo (1380–1444) in his Book of Principles.’, ibid., p. 206.

[8] ‘The author advocated the belief that souls, though conscious of their destiny during the period between death and resurrection, enter the final state of blessedness or punishment only after reunion with the body.’, Meinardus, ‘Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity’, p. 59 (2010).

[9] ‘Beliefs and practices relating to the dead represented a thread visibly protruding from the theological and devotional apparel of traditional religion. It did not take long for both defenders and assailants of the old order to understand that if this thread were pulled upon vigorously enough, the entire fabric might start to unravel.’, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England’, p. 47 (2002).

[10] ‘As did Calvin, Martyr took upon himself a Herculean task in trying to uphold the immortality of the soul with a handful of vague New Testament texts (e.g. Luke, 23:43) against the defenders of soul sleep who had a plentiful supply of denials of immortality garnered from the early strata of the Old Testament.’, Donelley, ‘Calvinism and Scholasticism in Vermigli’s doctrine of man and grace’, pp. 99-100 (1976).

[11] ‘Beliefs and practices relating to the dead represented a thread visibly protruding from the theological and devotional apparel of traditional religion. It did not take long for both defenders and assailants of the old order to understand that if this thread were pulled upon vigorously enough, the entire fabric might start to unravel.’, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England’, p. 47 (2002).

[12] ‘During the pre-Reformation period, there seems to be some indication that both Wycliffe and Tyndale taught the doctrine of soul sleep as the answer to the Catholic teachings of purgatory and masses for the dead.’, Morey, ‘Death and the Afterlife’, p. 200 (1984).

[13] ‘He has written at length on psychopannychism, the doctrine of soul sleep, widely held in the sixteenth century by such diverse figures as Camillo Renato, Michael Sattler, and for a while, Martin Luther.’, Williams, Petersen, & Pater (eds.), ‘The contentious triangle: church, state, and university: a festschrift in in Honor of Professor George Huntston Williams’, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, volume 2, p. (1999).

[14] ‘It appears that Sattler came to hold the doctrine of psychopannychism, or sleep of the soul’, Synder, The life and thought of Michael Sattler’, p. 130 (1984).

[15] Generally accepted date of the Anabaptists’ emergence as a distinctive community, represented by the Schleitheim Confession, a statement of faith written by Swiss Anabaptists at a meeting led by Michael Sattler.

[16] ‘Many who became Anabaptists also believed that the soul is not naturally immortal but “sleeps” between death and the final resurrection. Some affirmed, further, that only the righteous would be resurrected, while the unrighteous would simply remain dead. Many denied hell. The Venice Synod affirmed soul sleep and rejected hell (ibid., pp. 871-72).’, Finger, ‘A contemporary Anabaptist theology: biblical, historical, constructive’, p. 42 (2004).

[17] ‘At a synod of 1550 in Venice, the unorthodox Italian Anabaptists denied the existence of the Devil and hell, as well as the existence of angels, the virgin birth, and the divinity of Christ.’, Russell, ‘Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World’, p. 49 (1990)

[18] ‘The belief that the soul goes to sleep at the death of the body to await eventual resurrection was held by both Martin Luther and William Tyndale’, Watts, ‘The Dissenters: From the Reformation to the French Revolution’, p. 119 (1985).

[19] ‘The Italian Anabaptist movement has been traced to the leadership of Camillo Renato, a Sicilian scholar who escaped from imminent danger in Italy to settle in southern Switzerland and who, in the 1540s, held the position “that the soul of man is by nature mortal, and dies with the body, to be raised at the last day in another forum, though the souls of the wicked will perish.”’, Simmonds, ‘Milton Studies’, volume 8, p. 193 (1975).

[20]One might add that the sleep of the dead was affirmed by the Hungarian reformer, Matyas-Biro Devay (ca. 1500 – ca. 1545).’, Vauchez, ‘The History of Conditionalism’, Andrews University Seminary Studies (4.2. 198-199), 1966.

[21]Servetus also believed the soul to be but mortal, with immortality bestowed only by the grace of Christ at the resurrection. In other words, he also held to Conditional Immortality.’, ibid., p. 115.

[22]In Poland and Lithuania the mortalist cause was advanced by Laelius Socinus, who left among his papers a work concerning the resurrection, De resurrectione corporum, which, “following Camillo Renato . . . attempted to replace the V Lateran teaching of the natural immortality of the soul”.’, Ball, ‘The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley’, p. 36 (2008).

[23] ‘Faustus himself came to hold the Paduan view of man’s natural mortality and the death of the soul with the body,’, Ball, ‘The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley’, p. 37 (2008).

[24] ‘When Sozzini arrived in Poland, the Polish Brethren already shared many of his beliefs, such as antitrinitarianism, the denial of the literal preexistence of Christ, psychopannychism [soul sleep] and the emphasis on the moral commandments of the Gospel.’, Snobelen, ‘Revelation and Reason: The Development, Rationalization and Influence of Socinianism’, honors thesis, p. 46 (1993).

[25] ‘Resurrection, moreover, would be a future historical event, not simply the soul’s entrance into heaven or hell at death. Soul sleep would apparently precede the resurrection, for this would awaken all people, who had been “at rest from death.”‘, Finger, ‘A contemporary Anabaptist theology: biblical, historical, constructive’, p. 536 (2004).

[26] ‘Gregory Paul had followed Laelius and, since 1568, had taught that the soul, like the body, is mortal, awaiting the resurrection.’, Williams, ‘The Radical Reformation’, p. 739 (1962).

[27] ‘But among philosophers they were perhaps equally notorious for their commitment to the mortalist heresy; this is the doctrine that denies the existence of a naturally immortal soul.’, Jolley, ‘The relation between theology and philosophy’, in Garber & Ayres (eds.), ‘The Cambridge history of seventeenth-century philosophy’, volume 1, p. 383 (2003).

[28] ‘Tracy had looked forward to the ‘resurrection of body and soul’, a phrase that left him open to charges of denying the soul’s immortality. Frith defended him from this, but glossed the phrase to refer to ‘the soule whiche in the meane ceason semeth to lye secret‘. According to the hostile account of Germaine Gardiner, Frith stated during his last imprisonment ‘that he thought no sayntes soule came in heven before the day of dome/but in the meane season reposed hym selfe he wiste not where‘.’, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the dead in Reformation England’, p. 223 (2002).

[29] ‘…Schomann outlined a number of distinctive beliefs, including believers’ baptism by immersion, psychopannychism, [soul sleep]’, Snobelen, ‘Revelation and Reason: The Development, Rationalization and Influence of Socinianism’, honors thesis, p. 34 (1993).

[30]There is no possible ambiguity, however, with the energetic Simon Budny, the anti-Trintiarian leader in Lithuania and Little Poland, who in 1576 openly advocated a form of thnetopsychism, declaring that the soul was nothing more than the life of the body and had no independent existence.’, Ball, ‘The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley’, p. 37 (2008).