immortality


immortality
Unending life, continuing after death.
1. The OT. There are several beliefs about it in the OT, and the earliest forms of future hope were for the nation's survival rather than for the individual. The focus of God's enduring covenant was on the nation as a whole. But such was the belief in the power of their God that Hebrews came to hold that death would not involve extinction even for individuals. Both Elijah and Elisha were reported to have reanimated the dead (1 Kgs. 17:17–21; 2 Kgs. 4:18–37), which was proof of God's power beyond death. The expectation, however, was of a miserable, shadowy existence, possibly in a subterranean cavern (‘sheol’). Eccles. 3:16 expresses despair about human fate after death. To be delivered from sheol was to be saved from death (Ps. 28:1; 30:3; 88:4). This survival in sheol was not a disembodied existence, for the Hebrews did not make a sharp division between body and soul. But sheol was an unsatisfactory concept, and when at last the idea of a future existence in joy and fulfilment took root in Judaism, it assumed the form of the resurrection of the body, rather than the escape of an inherently immortal soul from its bodily prison. There was a sense of urgency after the sufferings of the Maccabaean martyrs to believe that the injustices of the present would be reversed in an after-life.
Hellenistic Judaism did, however, come to adopt a Greek idea of the immortality of the soul (e.g. Wisd. 3): though some indeed rejected the belief, as does the author of Ecclesiastes (3:19–21).
Maybe Hebrews were aware of the Canaanite cult of the death and resurrection of a deity (possibly underlying a liturgical theme in Hos. 6:1 ff.) but Canaanites did not expect resurrection for themselves. In Israel the belief developed with the growing sense of individual responsibility, and with it came the hope for individuals after death apart from the merely national hope. In the OT the idea of resurrection is first clearly expressed in Isa. 26:19 and Dan. 12:2, and it is generally accepted by the time of 2 Macc. 7:9–11 and in apocalyptic writings including Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch; Qumran texts also expect a resurrection of the just. It was denied by the Sadducees (who disappeared after 70 CE) but the belief in resurrection held by the Pharisees prevailed. According to Josephus [[➝ Josephus, Flavius]], the Essenes had a belief in the immortality of the soul in a corruptible body: but he may have been deliberately clothing a Jewish doctrine of resurrection in a Greek dress in order to impress his Graeco-Roman readership.
2. The NT. Jesus concurred with the Pharisees (Mark 12:18 ff.; Luke 14:14), though it will be a different form of existence from that of this present life. The resurrection of believers (but not of this present flesh and blood, from which the Christian awaits, with ‘groaning’, that is, as though in the pangs of childbirth, to be delivered, Rom. 8:23) is part of Paul's preaching of Christ as the first fruits of the resurrection of those who are obedient to his will (Rom. 6:5–6). In John there is a doctrine of resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked to judgement (John 5:28 f.), and Heb. 6:2 mentions the doctrine of resurrection of the dead as among the rudiments of Christian faith. As to the fate of the dead pending the resurrection, there apparently existed in early Christian belief an intermediate abode divided at death for the righteous and the evil. This must imply a belief in an immediate judgement at death (Luke 16:24).
Enoch 22 has the spirit of the sons of the dead distributed into a compartment (which implies a judgement) with an independent existence while waiting to resume a bodily form at the resurrection.
The different beliefs about existence after death found in the Bible are still discussed by modern philosophers of religion. The two main views are: survival as disembodied selves; or new life in bodily form. The difficulty about the former is that a human person is a complex entity owing so much to being bodily that it is hard to claim that without a body it could still be a person. The latter view requires the entity after death to be somehow continuous with what was once present before death; it implies that a corpse buried or cremated could be empowered by God to live again—if God is a just moral agent who wills to ensure that people survive their deaths. For if in this world there is a moral order in which nevertheless the good do not always prosper or the bad suffer, then there must exist a ‘future’ state where the balance is redressed, and ultimate justice is done. Christian theologians maintain that God is able to give persons a new life after death in a new instrument which retains memories of the past and makes mutual recognition possible.

Dictionary of the Bible.

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