Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Psychic Medium from Endor Was a Fake

What about the prophet Samuel’s disembodied soul being conjured up by the Witch of Endor? (1 Samuel 28:3-25) Isn’t that a biblical example of a ghost? No, not even that story demonstrates a ghostly afterlife, because the medium of Endor was a fake.

Let me show you that the medium from Endor didn’t really raise the Prophet Samuel’s ghost from her “conjuring pit.” Bodiless spirits were the belief of pagan cults, not the faith of Israel. Look at this prohibition in Jewish law:

NIV Deuteronomy 18:10-11 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in {Or who makes his son or daughter pass through} the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.

The Hebrew word translated by the NIV as medium is bAa 'owb {pronounced obe}. ‘Owb can refer to the medium or to the pit used by the medium to conjure up underworld spirits. For example, look at this verse about the sacrilege of King Manasseh:

NET 2 Chronicles 33:6 He passed his sons through the fire in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom* and practiced divination, omen reading, and sorcery. He set up a pit** to conjure up underworld spirits and appointed magicians to supervise it. He did a great amount of evil before the LORD and angered him.

*Ben-Hinnom is a valley just to the south of Jerusalem. Idolatry and child sacrifice were committed there. The Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna in the New Testament, was where the city’s sewage and garbage were burned day and night. Gehenna is one of three biblical terms sometimes translated as hell. The others are Sheol, Hades, and Tartarus. For definitions of hell, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus see my blogs Hell Defined 1 and Hell Defined 2.

**Pit: It’s not known what these “conjuring pits” looked like, but you would do well, should you be interested, to explore the “sacred springs” at Delphi in Greece and at Didyma in Turkey, where prophetesses (oracles), intoxicated on the fumes from the springs, would “tell the future.” I suspect that the pagan Greek rituals were as elaborate as the huge temples that housed them. The rituals of mediums at local conjuring pits in the tiny kingdom of Israel were undoubtedly more humble affairs.

So ‘owb refers to both the magic pit and the medium who conjures with it. The so-called “Witch of Endor” is such a medium:

NET 1 Samuel 28:7 So Saul instructed his servants, "Find for me a woman who is a medium (‘owb – or one who divines with a ritual pit), so that I may go to her and inquire of her." His servants replied to him, "There is a woman who is a medium in Endor."

The Endor medium story is a bit long to include in its entirety, but select verses will help you see that while the woman seems (at first reading) to raise the dead prophet Samuel’s soul or shade or ghost from the underworld or Hades,* she’s a fraud.

[*For definitions of hell, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus see my two-part blog entitled Hell Defined]

The disguised King Saul says to the woman, "Use your ritual pit to conjure up for me the one I tell you." (v. 8) But the woman expresses suspicion:

NET 1 Samuel 28:9 "Look, you are aware of what Saul has done; he has removed the mediums and magicians from the land. Why are you trapping me so you can put me to death?" (italics mine)

Could she be pretending not to know that the man before her is King Saul? Why couldn’t the king’s aid—who knew exactly where the illegal medium was—have tipped her off? You get brownie points for pleasing the king. If you supply a medium for the king, wouldn’t you want her to perform well, for your own sake? Besides, mediums weren’t fools. They made their livings fooling others. She could have seen through Saul’s disguise without any tips from an aid. By whatever means she identified her customer, I’m certain that she knows up front that the man is Saul. But—and this is important—she pretends not to know, for reasons I’ll explain in a sec.

A medium, one who uses a ritual pit to call up dead souls or shades, is an ‘owb in Hebrew. They were known tricksters and illusionists. So much so that when the Septuagint was first written—the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek in the 3rd Century B.C.—, what Greek word did they use for ‘owb? You’re not going to believe this. The Septuagint renders the Hebrew ‘owb (a medium who uses a conjuring pit) as engastrimuthos, which means ventriloquist! Why? Because that’s what an ‘owb did. The medium with the conjuring pit had to convince her customer that his dead relative or friend was present and speaking. Ventriloquism was part of the act. Mediums counted on being able to produce the illusion of a disembodied voice.

Isaiah discredits these mediums or necromancers as ventriloquists:

NKJ Isaiah 8:19 And when they say to you, "Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper* and mutter**," should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?

* tsaphaph {tsaw-faf'} means to chirp, peep, chatter, or whisper

** hagah {haw-gaw'} means to moan, growl, make a sound, or mutter

Isaiah exposes mediumship as ventriloquism. The “voices of the dead” are really produced by practiced mediums’ vocalizations—whispering and mutterings, as he calls them. Mediums create the illusion of speaking with the dead. Isaiah chides people for consulting illusionists rather than God.

Back to Endor: Could the Medium of Endor be pretending not to know that the man before her is King Saul? If she knows, she certainly doesn’t let on that she knows. Not yet. In just a moment she can use what she’s deduced to her advantage, so she holds the card close to her vest. She hides that she’s seen through his disguise so that she can impress him with her “powers.” She is about to “divine” that the disguised man is really Saul. But how? That’s where “the ghost of Samuel” comes in.

The medium asks the man (Saul in disguise) why he’s trying to get her killed. But the man reassures her by swearing an oath to the Lord. "As surely as the LORD lives, you will not incur guilt in this matter." (v. 10) Now she’s ready to do business. Now she can play her card.

The medium asks the man, "Who is it that I should bring up for you?" He said, "Bring up for me Samuel." (v. 11) The show begins right here, folks. Watch closely or she may fool you too.

The medium does whatever mumbo-jumbo she usually does over the conjuring pit. Then when the fake medium “sees” (pretends to see) the shade of Samuel, it seems that Samuel tells her something that makes her scream. She’s screaming! Very dramatic. You can imagine Saul jumping out of his skin. Her plan? When she conjures Samuel’s ghost (supposedly), the ghost tells her a secret (supposedly), suddenly she screams in horror and shock (supposedly), then she plays her card by demanding of the disguised man: "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

There it is. Give her an Oscar. She makes it seem like Samuel’s ghost had appeared to her and told her that the man in disguise was King Saul, though she knew it from the start. Bravo! Well played.

Saul was very impressed. He was probably thinking, Wow, she’s the real thing. How else could she have known who I am beneath this really cool disguise unless she really conjured Samuel and he revealed to her my true identity?

He was taken in by her first illusion—hook, line, and sinker. What happened next? The king said to her, "Don't be afraid. What have you seen?" (v. 12) The woman replied to Saul, "I have seen one like a god (or a spirit) coming up from the ground!" Don’t miss it, folks. Saul sees and hears nothing. She, the powerful medium, is the only one who supposedly hears and sees the dead prophet Samuel’s ghost. Saul doesn’t see or hear a blessed thing.

But the king’s hooked. Saul believes Samuel is there. He believes she sees and hears the prophet. Why? From Saul’s perspective, he was convinced that Samuel was there because he believed that Samuel revealed the disguised king’s true identity to the woman. (As I said before, likely someone told her the king was coming in a disguise, or maybe it was not such a great disguise. Something or someone tipped her off.) Her knowing his identity persuaded Saul that Samuel was present, and he believed that the medium could really hear and see the dead prophet’s ghost.

Saul asked the medium, "What about his appearance?" (v. 14) Do you see that this question confirms again that Saul can’t see Samuel? He asks her what Samuel looks like. Saul, seeing absolutely nothing, blindly trusts the medium to describe the dead prophet’s disembodied soul. She answered Saul: "An old man is coming up! He is wrapped in a robe!" Wow, what detail! (Pardon my sarcasm.) Don’t you think everybody knew that Samuel was an old man who wore a robe?

This “vision,” nevertheless, impresses Saul. Saul (portrayed as not too bright and easily fooled) feels that she has described Samuel perfectly, and that only someone who could really see him could have described him with such accuracy. Hebrew scholar James Orr agrees that the spirit of Samuel wasn’t really conjured:

“It is not to be credited that the saintly Samuel was actually summoned from his rest by the spells of a professional diviner. . . . [The] whole transaction was a piece of feigning on the part of the woman.” (citation)

Yet Saul throws himself on the ground prostrate before the medium and the supposed, invisible, silent ghost of the dead prophet Samuel. Saul is overcome. Worse, the king of Israel is bowing before a pagan “witch” rather than the Lord God.

In verse fifteen it says that “Samuel” asked Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" Well, what do you think? Did Samuel really speak this time? Was the spirit or disembodied soul or shade or ghost of the real dead prophet really there and was he really speaking? Of course not. Not before and not now. The medium is supplying the sights and sounds at this séance from the beginning. Only she sees him (or claims to). Only through her does “Samuel” speak (if at all). She’s providing Samuel’s voice, which leads us back to the Greek Bible’s name for her: ventriloquist.

“Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” This is “Samuel’s” question to Saul provided by the ventriloquist. And it’s a great question because it places the blame for the illegal séance on Saul’s shoulders, not hers. She’s making sure that Saul takes one hundred percent responsibility by putting words of blame on the lips of Samuel’s specter: Saul, you disturbed me. Saul, you brought me up. Why did you do it? asks the ventriloquist on “Samuel’s” behalf. Thus she protects herself from blame.

Now the duped king spills all the beans. He blurts out all the information that the medium requires to continue the ruse: "I am very concerned. The Philistines are fighting against me and God has turned away from me. He does not answer me--not by the prophets nor by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what I should do." (v. 15)

Now the medium is set. She almost certainly has news of the current events of her nation (Geographically, the battle is in her back yard. Check a Bible map.), its history, its enemies, the kings, the prophets, Saul’s previous relationship with Samuel, Samuel’s previous prophesies, and even how the prophet spoke. Add to that the specifics of what Saul wants to know, and she’s ready to drop the bomb. Again she speaks for “Samuel”:

16 . . . "Why are you asking me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and has become your enemy? 17 The LORD has done exactly as I prophesied. The LORD has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David. 18 Since you did not obey the LORD and did not carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this thing to you today. 19 The LORD will hand you and Israel over to the Philistines. Tomorrow both you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand the army of Israel over to the Philistines."

She says nothing that she couldn’t have surmised for herself given foreknowledge of the late Samuel’s public prophesies against Saul. All she does is repeat what Samuel himself said repeatedly while he was alive:

NIV 1 Samuel 15:17-23 Samuel said, . . . “The LORD anointed you (Saul) king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, 'Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.' 19 Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?” . . . Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king." (See also 1 Samuel 13:13-14)

NIV 1 Samuel 15:26-28 But Samuel said to him, ". . . You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!" 27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors-- to one better than you.”

Is it really surprising that the medium says almost word for word what Samuel had said to Saul repeatedly before? Either she’s familiar with Samuel’s public prophesies or, again, she’s used informants in preparation for the séance (knowing the king was coming) by getting information on what Saul wanted to know and what Samuel had prophesied.

All conniving and “sorcery” aside, it follows logically that if what Samuel prophesied is true, then there is no way Saul will defeat the Philistines in coming battle. And if Samuel said that David would be king, then it also follows that Saul must soon die. The Israelites are outnumbered by the Philistines, the war is going badly by his own admission, the disobedient King Saul is ripe for payback, and David stands ready in the wings. It doesn’t take ghosts and mediumship to predict this outcome. The writing was, as they say, on the wall.

Again, Hebrew scholar James Orr agrees:

“It required no great skill in a practiced diviner to forecast the general issue of the battle about to take place, and the disaster that would overtake Saul and his sons; while if the forecast had proved untrue, the narrative of the witch of En-dor would never have been written. Saul, in fact, was not slain, but killed himself. The incident, therefore, may best be ranked in the same category as the feats of modern mediumship.” (citation)

After the medium’s ventriloquism, Saul collapses, drained and terrified. So she shows him great hospitality, even killing her fatted calf and baking fresh bread. She pulled off the séance for the king, she secured her safety by passing full blame for the illegal séance to the king, and she entertained and rejuvenated the exhausted, fearful king. She covered all the bases; she’s one smart cookie.

And King Saul is both duped and doomed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Even for a guy who’s proud of sleeping with his step-mom, we should count out no one when it comes to salvation, nor should we be concerned that it’s too late when we die.

“Chloe’s people” (1 Corinthians 1:11) from Corinth went to Paul in prison with a list of problems in their church. Believe it or not, one of those problems was . . . well, you can read for yourself:

1 Corinthians 5:1-7 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal (Passover) lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. (italics mine)

Recall again that the word “saved” is used in three ways in the New Testament. One, it refers to the salvation of the world 2000 years ago on the cross. Two, it refers to our coming to knowledge of and trust in that salvation. And three, it refers to the completion of salvation on the last day.

In 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul makes reference to “saved” in the third sense, the salvation coming in the general resurrection, the day of the Son of Man. Amazingly, Paul still holds out last-day hope for a man who is “fornicating” by “having” his father’s wife. The Greek word translated usually as “fornicating” is telling. It’s porneia {pronounced por-ni'-ah}, from which we get the English word pornography.

Porneia means illicit sexual intercourse; it’s a general word that refers to any extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural acts, including adultery and prostitution. In 1 Corinthians 5:1 Paul calls the behavior of this man with his stepmother porneia. English versions of the Bible translate it as “fornication,” “sin of the flesh,” “sexual immorality,” “whoredom,” and “lewdness.” Notice that Paul uses the word twice for emphasis. 

ASV 1 Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is fornication (porneia) among you, and such fornication (porneia) as is not even among the Gentiles (pagans). . .

So this fellow, this church member in Corinth, is living with and sleeping with his stepmother. We have no details of this relationship. We don’t know their names. We only have the word “fornication” (2x) and the phrase “has his father’s wife.” He “has her” means having sex with her or living with her, probably both. 

Paul’s use of the term for fornication confirms that he is sleeping with her. I suppose the man in question could have actually married her if his father had died or divorced her, but if he had, Paul would have said so. And if he did marry her, likely Paul would have called it porneia anyway. I think Paul would have labeled this arrangement incestuous, and therefore illicit sexual intercourse, meaning porneia. Did his dad divorce her? Had his father died? Were his father and the step mom separated, or more disturbingly, were they still together? Paul doesn’t say. I think it likely that the man’s father is living and still married to the woman. Paul is obviously alarmed, however, not only by the behavior of this man and woman, but also by the church’s boasting about this matter! Apparently they were proud of it, perhaps because they thought that it demonstrated (or flaunted?) the breadth of their liberality. But Paul doesn’t celebrate it. He mourns it. And he gives the church advice on handling this distasteful state of affairs.

Paul advises the church that when they next assemble they should “turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” (No advice on what to do with the step mom.) What in the world does that mean? The New English Translation Notes call this verse one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret. But the most straightforward way to interpret this is that Paul is very concerned that the church has not mourned this immorality and removed the person or persons involved. His ruling advises that very thing. To turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is a poetic way of saying kick him out and let him keep on hanging himself if he so chooses. What these persons are doing is not the fruit of the Spirit or the kingdom. They are producing the fruit of Satan and his kingdom.

A friend told me of an incident in her parents’ church when the pastor had an affair with a married woman. The woman and her husband were both members of the congregation. The church officials met, and you’ll never guess their ruling concerning this adulterous affair. Are you ready for this? They kicked the woman’s husband out of the church! Sometimes church rulings are just ludicrous. 

I think Paul’s ruling, however, and his advice is straightforward and wise. But notice that he condemns the behavior without condemning the people involved. Far from condemning them, Paul holds out hope at two levels. The first hope is similar to Jesus’ hope that his parables will so infuriate a person who doesn’t understand them that they (the parables) might break through his hardheadedness and hardheartedness. I believe Paul hopes that by holding this man accountable for a sinful choice by kicking him out (notice that Paul never blames the woman), the man might reverse course and ask for readmittance to the congregation. If that were to happen, I feel certain that Paul would have ruled in favor of it. The second hope is that in the case of this illicit behavior continuing even after the man is confronted by and removed from the congregation, that he, as late as the last day itself, the day of the coming of the Son of Man, the day of resurrection and judgment, might yet be saved spiritually! Apparently Paul believes that the last day is not too late. Paul clearly believes concerning this man “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:5)

Not only was I taught that the last day is too late, but I was also taught that the moment of your physical death is too late. Paul certainly seems to believe otherwise, even for a man who does not hide his incestuous, illicit affair. If Paul didn’t write off this fellow, I think it’s safe to say that he never wrote anyone off. Yes, Paul wrote “I have already pronounced judgment.” (5:3) But by judgment he does not mean final condemnation. He means he has already decided or ruled on this “case,” just like a judge might do in his courtroom. Paul’s opinion was to be considered authoritative and final. He expected the church members at Corinth to abide by that ruling: Kick him out, but do so in hope for him. Never say never for anyone.

After she read the last paragraph, my friend Carrie Smith asked, “And why would we want to write people off?” She pointed back to parable characters like the older brother who resented grace given to his little brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son(s), and the all-day workers who resented getting the same pay as the one-hour workers. “Why all the scorekeeping and resentment?” she asked. “I just don’t understand why we don’t want to share our ice cream with the rest of the world!”

For more on the Apostle Paul see my blogs Paul Never Converted to ChristianityPaul Didn't Go to Heaven, and The Soul Doesn't Leave the Body at Death.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Guitar Hero Parable (or the Gospel According to Slash)

[Definition: Guitar Hero is a video game where you simulate playing lead guitar to popular rock songs. You use a guitar-shaped controller to press fret buttons that match scrolling dots on your TV screen. The more accurate you are at matching the scrolling dots by pressing the correct fret buttons at the correct time, the higher your score. The person with the highest score wins.]

A young man entered a Guitar Hero contest. The Grand Prize winner got to meet Slash, the famous lead guitarist for Guns ‘n Roses and Velvet Revolver.

He’d already beaten everybody in his family, church, and school, so he figured he had a chance to win and to meet his real life hero, Slash. He practiced like crazy. He got faster and more accurate. Finally, the day of the southeast regional contest came.

He didn’t want to appear cocky as he took the stage, but swagger and rock ‘n roll go hand in hand, so he couldn’t help it. He turned toward the giant screen, with his back to the audience, the opening Slash riffs from “Welcome to the Jungle” assaulting his senses, and our young man didn’t miss a single scroll-down dot or colored fret button on his little toy guitar.

He won. He was one of six finalists from across the country. The final in Los Angeles was to be broadcast live on MTV. The young man was pumped. They flew him to LA.

The night of the final arrived and he was scheduled to play last. He watched the other performers, and they were good. But not good enough, he thought. It wasn’t arrogance really. He just knew that if he did what he was capable of, he would likely win.

He was introduced to cheers from the audience. He strapped on the miniature fake guitar and when the song began, he matched the recording of Slash’s roaring solo note for note, scrolling dot for scrolling dot, fret button for fret button. He’d never performed so well.

He won. The master of ceremonies announced that the young man was to receive a real guitar designed and signed and presented personally by Slash himself. The tall rocker in black leather, dark sunglasses, and an explosion of long frizzy black hair, sauntered onto the stage to the screams of the audience. He had the young man’s new guitar in his hand.

Introductions were made. The young man shook Slash’s hand and said humbly to all, “Slash, you are my true guitar hero.” The audience approved.

Slash replied, “Kid, how many hours do you think you’ve spent learning Guitar Hero?”


“Really? Thousands?” Slash asked.

“Absolutely,” said the young man.

“Kid, if I were really your hero, you’d have spent those thousands of hours playing a real guitar, getting in a real band, and playing real music to real audiences. If I had inspired you to do that, you’d have been my guitar hero.”

Slash handed the young man one of the best and most expensive electric guitars ever made, one that Slash had designed himself, one that he had agreed to award to a video game contest winner.

The legend turned and walked off stage smiling, shaking his head, and muttering to himself. “Wonder how much the little faker will get for it on eBay?”

Abruptly, MTV cut to an exiting new Guitar Hero commercial promoting their latest version: “Guitar Hero VIII: Be the Real Thing.”

Monday, May 11, 2009

The soul doesn't leave the body at death

I think it’s safe to say that most Christians think that your soul leaves your body when you die. What I’m about to show you is that this is not biblical. The biblical afterlife is not the immortality of the soul but the resurrection of the body.

Second Corinthians 5:1-8 is put forward by Christians as proof of the immortality of the soul and thus the departure of the soul from the body at death. Yet in these verses Paul says that your present physical body (a flesh and blood “tent”, as he calls it) must be changed into an immortal, imperishable body (a resurrected “house”, as he calls it). Resurrection accomplishes this, says Paul, and nothing else.

2 Corinthians 5:1-8 For we know that if the earthly tent (skenos {pronounced skay'-nos} meaning tent or tabernacle) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling (house) -- 3 if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord -- 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (italics mine)

This quote, perhaps more than any other, is held up as proof of your immortal soul leaving your body and going to heaven when you die. Is that how you read it? Yes, Paul does write about being “in the body” and “away from the body.” Isn’t that proof that during your life your soul is “at home in the body,” but in death your soul is “away from the body”? And isn’t that proof that your soul leaves your body at death? Not in the least on both accounts. Take a closer look.

First, where is the word soul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8? It’s not there. If an interpretation tells me that these verses are about the immortality of the soul, and the word soul is not in those verses, then I feel pretty suspicious up front.

Second, why would Paul abandon the resurrection of the body in this one passage while holding to it everywhere else? For Paul, the resurrection of the body from the dead is key. If there is not resurrection, Paul says, then our faith is for nothing and we have no hope. (1 Corinthians 15, especially verses 14 and 19)

So, you might ask: If Paul isn’t saying that your soul leaves your body at death, then what might he be saying?

Your flesh-and-blood body (your present natural body) is an earthly tent (skenos), says Paul in verses 1-4. The destruction of the tent is death (verse 1). But we will have a heavenly house, says Paul; the flesh-and-blood physical tent will be transformed into a proper eternal home. The house will be better than the tent we have now. The tent is mortal. The result of death is that what is mortal will be swallowed up by Life (verse 4)—becoming immortal. So we have nothing to worry about, he claims. The dead tent is swallowed up by Life when raised as an eternal home. Read 1-4 again:

2 Corinthians 5:1-4 For we know that if the earthly tent (our mortal bodies) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God (our immortal bodies), a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling -- 3 if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (bold italics mine)

Paul is talking about resurrection, as always, when he speaks of the afterlife. Yes, 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 is used more than any other to argue for the immortality of the soul. And I understand why. It can easily be misconstrued. It says to be “at home in the body” is to be “away from the Lord,” and the reverse: “to be away from the body” is to “be at home with the Lord.” But again, forget immortality of the soul. It’s not there. It’s a pagan philosophy that has poisoned the Christian resurrection well.

NET Colossians 2:8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

I can show you definitively that Paul is talking about resurrection. Let me inserts phrases in brackets from elsewhere in Paul’s teaching to clarify Paul’s meaning in verses 6-8:

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the [flesh-and-blood natural] body [here and now in this earthly tent] we are away from the Lord [until the resurrection when our physical bodies are changed into spiritual bodies like his, not a mere tent but an eternal house, and we will be like him and see him face to face] -- 7 for we walk by faith [right now in the earthly tent], not by sight. 8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the [flesh-and-blood natural] body [only a tent] and at home with the Lord [in the house that is our spiritual body in the resurrection of the dead, a body like his].

We’re not leaving our bodies at death, according to Paul. Our dead, defeated tents are transformed into living, victorious houses on the day of resurrection. Our mortal bodies become immortal bodies. Our perishable bodies become imperishable bodies. Our bodies will be like Jesus’ body. We’ll have spiritual bodies. We’ll be with him and see him for the first time as he is, Paul insists.

NET 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror indirectly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.

*NET Notes (1 Co 13:12): Corinth was well known in the ancient world for producing some of the finest bronze mirrors available. Paul's point in this analogy, then, is not that our current understanding and relationship with God is distorted (as if the mirror reflected poorly), but rather that it is "indirect," (i.e., the nature of looking in a mirror) compared to the relationship we will enjoy with him in the future when we see him "face to face" (cf. G. D. Fee, First Corinthians [NICNT], 648).

The pagan idea of the immortality of the soul is entirely different and entirely incompatible with the Bible’s promised resurrection. It comes from Greek mythology and philosophy. It’s Plato’s calling card.

In the pagan philosophy of immortality of the soul . . .

1. the human body is bad and the soul is good
2. the good soul is imprisoned in the bad human body
3. the good soul escapes the bad human body at death
4. the soul’s destiny is a cycle of reincarnations

In Christian Scripture . . .

1. the human body is made by God and is not evil
2. the human body is not separable from the soul
3. the human body is not a prison for the soul which must be escaped
4. the whole person is made alive, each person once and uniquely, with body and soul together forever via resurrection from the dead in Christ Jesus on the last day

The following text is often paired with 2 Corinthians 5 to argue for the immortality of the soul:

Philippians 1:21-24 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

Paul is talking about resurrection here too, not his soul leaving his body. Now, Paul says, we live in the flesh of a physical body—a temporary tent. We depart via death and resurrection to be with Christ in a spiritual body—an eternal house. By “remain in the flesh” he means remain in the tent that is our flesh-and-blood natural bodies while mortals. To depart and be with Christ is the preferable choice (to be in face-to-face immortality with the Lord at the resurrection), but Paul puts the needs of the church first and tells them that they need him in the tent for a little longer. His service to them is not finished.

There is nothing in 2 Corinthians 5 or Philippians 1 about the immortality of the soul or the soul leaving the body. Both chapters are referring, as Paul does consistently throughout his letters, to resurrection of the whole person.

Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him (Jesus) in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

1 Corinthians 15:12-13 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

Second Peter 1:13-15 is also noted as support for immortality of the soul.
2 Peter 1:13-15 I think it right, as long as I am in this body* to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (italics mine)

*skenoma {pronounced skay'-no-mah} meaning tent or tabernacle (but is translated here as body)

Don’t miss Peter’s use of the word, “this.” “. . . as long as I am in THIS body (tent) . . .” He’s not suggesting that his soul is detachable. He’s talking about “this” old body being changed into the next body, a new body, the tent become a house. He’s talking about the resurrection of his body after his “departure,” meaning his death.

Arguably more than any other verses, 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, Philippians 1:21-24, and 2 Peter 1:13-15 are used by Christians to defend the immortality of the soul. This is indefensible. Christians believe in the resurrection of the body on the last day, as our most commonly recited creed of faith professes. The Apostles’ Creed, a listing of the essentials of biblical apostolic teaching, says nothing about the soul leaving the body at death. But it does say this:

“I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen."

For more on the Apostle Paul see my blogs The Apostle Paul Never Converted to Christianity, Paul Didn't Go to Heaven, and Porneia.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Christian Ambush: A True Story

I was once suckered into a captive audience situation. In high school I was a music lover. That’s an understatement. I suppose that’s what made me vulnerable. A girl I liked invited me to a “concert” at her church. “What kind of concert?” I asked. “I don’t know really,” she lied, “just a live band. They’re supposed to be really good.” But the lie was justifiable, her youth pastor had explained on Sunday (a friend later informed me), because the teenagers in the high schools don’t realize the precariousness of their eternal fate. When an immortal soul is at stake, sometimes you have to do or say what’s necessary to get them to church, he said.

How dumb am I? Of course it was a rat trap, and I was the rat. Things went badly for me fast. Just in case you’re wondering why I didn’t just walk out; I hadn’t driven myself, being only 15 years old. They’d picked me up, and it was a longish drive in the rain at night. I wasn't going to call my mommy to rescue me. There you have it. They were my ride, and unless I wanted to be soaked to the bone and freezing, I was stuck. 

Well, first of all the band stank. And the songs stank. I was just sitting there minding my own business when the critical moment came. I didn’t see the ambush coming. The lead singer asked everyone who was “saved” to stand up. Suddenly I had a choice to make. I felt the pressure build around me. It was in the air. I had to choose. I could stand up and avoid the humiliation that was about to be unleashed upon the poor seated “unsaved” kids, or I could risk staying seated and hope for the best. Well, the best was not to happen for me that night. I should have run to the bathroom and hid in a stall until it was over, but that option didn’t occur to my 15-year-old stupid self because my folks “raised me up” not to be rude. (Never mind the rudeness that was about to be inflicted on me!)

From my seat I looked around, and as far as I could see, I was the only one seated. I felt like a toadstool in a giant redwood forest. I sat there wondering how any of these teenagers could possibly think they knew what “saved” meant. I wondered how many of them stood up to avoid being singled out. I remember actually praying to God to help me be brave in the face of the pressure that was about to be applied to my boneheaded remaining-seated concert-going self.

“We’re going to pray now for those who are seated that they might know the Lord and accept Jesus into their hearts to make him the Lord of their lives and be born again,” the lead singer said (or something to that effect). He prayed for a long while. Yes, he started with threats of hell. There were lots of Amens and teary halleluiahs from my “friends” in the immediate vicinity. But wait, there’s more. 

They asked my friends for my name. The singer began praying into the microphone for “Bert’s” eternal soul. Entrapment and now I was betrayed by my buddies. (But it was entrapment and betrayal for a “noble cause,” they certainly rationalized.) At least I found out at that moment that there were others seated like me. My name was not the only name called. I had partners in crime somewhere else in the forest of standing, praying, weeping “Christians.” I felt a little better knowing I wasn’t alone. 

Why didn’t I just stand up? I considered it seriously but decided against it. It wasn’t that I considered my self “unsaved.” I didn’t. It was just that I resented their presumption that I was unsaved (simply because I was from another denomination I suppose), and resented their assumption that my status before God was their business, and resented their covert conniving to lure me in and “fix” me, and resented the absurd assertion that just standing up at their church somehow magically made you saved. So I sat while the lead singer prayed for my salvation. But that’s not all.

After a very long prayer supported with tears and whispers of “Yes Lord,” the singer instructed everyone to lay hands on those seated as he prayed. The first hand put on my head made me really angry. They had shanghaied me and now they were violating my personal space. I didn’t give anyone permission to touch me. But they got away with it because, I presumed, there were only two ways I could have stopped them from touching me at that point. I could physically protest in some way, push their hands away, but I worried that would draw even more unwanted attention. Or I could stand up and “get saved!” But I didn’t do either. I folded. At least a dozen hands touched my shoulders and head, and I just sat there humiliated. Surely I was the victim of the longest mercy molesting in the history of Christendom.

My “friends” didn’t talk to me on the way home. They were punishing me for something, I guess. I wondered if the silent treatment was a planned response designed to shame recalcitrant heathens who refuse to knuckle under to pressure. I couldn’t believe the hostile atmosphere in that car. No one said a word the entire way home. But I was glad in a way. I had nothing to say to them—nothing nice anyway. They dropped me off in cold silence. Maybe they took it personally, like I had held out on them so as to embarrass them in front of their church friends and youth pastor. Perhaps I robbed them of bragging rights: “We saved Bert Gary! Can you believe it? Bert Gary! It’s a miracle!” I really don’t know. But one thing was certain. They judged me as hopelessly hell-bound and never spoke to me again.

For more evangelical bad behavior:
Hell House
The Prosperity Gospel: God In a Box
Katrina - The Wrath of God?
Don't You Hate Christian Tracts

See this blog published as an article in PTM with a fantastic layout