(Part II will appear in the next issue)
If we were to ask today’s average Christian (whether he be Protestant or Catholic, intellectual or not) what he conceived to be the New Testament teaching concerning the fate of man after death, with few exceptions we would get the answer: “the immortality of the soul.” Nevertheless, this idea in just this form is one of the greatest misunderstandings of Christianity. There is no point in attempting to hide this fact, or to veil it by means of a reinterpretation of the Christian faith. Rather it should be discussed quite candidly whether the concept of death and resurrection as anchored in the Christ-event (to be developed in the following pages), precisely in its incompatibility with the Greek belief in immortality, precisely in its orientation in Heilsgeschichte which is so offensive to modern thought, is not such an integral element of the early Christian proclamation that it can neither be surrendered nor reinterpreted without robbing the New Testament of its substance.
But is it really true that the early Christian resurrection faith is irreconcilable with the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul? Does not the New Testament, and above all the Gospel of John, teach that we already have eternal life? Is it really true that death in the New Testament is always conceived of as “the last enemy” in a way that is diametrically opposed to Greek thought, which sees in death a friend? Does not Paul write, “O death, where is thy sting?” We shall see at the end that there is at least an analogy, but first we must stress the fundamental differences between the two points of view.
The widespread misunderstanding that the New Testament teaches the immortality of the soul was actually encouraged ...1
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