Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Ignatius an Annhiliationist?

 In a recent video, Chris Date (CD) claims that Ignatius of Antioch was an annihilationist (link).  CD generally uses the term "conditional immortality" to describe his position.  

Before getting into a discussion of Ignatius himself, CD includes the bizarre claim that Tatian of Adiabene (c. 120-180) is the "oldest Christian advocate of eternal torment" (30:45 in video) Not only do we see such teachings in 1 Clement (which CD disputes as we analyze here), Polycarp (which CD also disputes as we analyze here), and Ignatius of Antioch (as discussed below) but even more clearly in others, such as Justin Martyr.

Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), First Apology, Chapter 52: "For the prophets have proclaimed two advents of His: the one, that which is already past, when He came as a dishonoured and suffering Man; but the second, when, according to prophecy, He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by His angelic host, when also He shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality, and shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils." (link)  CDlater weakly concedes (around 43:10 in the video) that Justin Martyr seems in some places to be ECT and in some places annihilationist.  Nevertheless, the quotation above is an extremely clear statement of eternal conscious torment.  I suspect, and perhaps we'll be able to investigate this more another time, that the problem is CD's optimistically annihilationist hermeneutic of the early Christian writers.  

CD finally begins to discuss Ignatius' teaching around 47 minutes into the video (link to point). CD states that he's going to be working from what he refers to as the "middle recension" of Ignatius.  There is actually remaining debate over what exactly the original text of Ignatius is, and where there are differences amongst the recensions, relying on a variant reading is a tricky matter.

The first piece of evidence that CD points to is actually evidence in support of eternal conscious torment.  Ignatius' Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 16, states, "If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him."  The longer recension is somewhat different on this point, reading: "And if those that corrupt mere human families are condemned to death, how much more shall those suffer everlasting punishment who endeavour to corrupt the Church of Christ, for which the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, endured the cross, and submitted to death!"  The difference in meaning is not significant if Ignatius held to ECT, and indeed the reference to "everlasting fire" is a reference to ECT. The only reason to read it otherwise is based on hoping that Ignatius is just using Biblical language and that the annihilationist interpretation of everlasting fire is correct.   There is, quite frankly, no sound reason to think this.  We can and will discuss the annihilationist interpretation of everlasting fire, but for now suffice to say that this is an example of Ignatius affirming the eternal torment view.

The second piece of evidence that CD points to is Ignatius' Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter 5.  There, Ignatius writes, "Seeing, then, all things have an end, these two things are simultaneously set before us—death and life; and every one shall go unto his own place." (shorter recension)  The longer recension is more expansive but has the same core: "Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our observance [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life." (longer recension).

I should be quick to point out that "go to his own place" points to death not simply as a biological state, but rather to a place.  This view is, naturally, more compatible with the ECT view than its annihilationist alternative.

CD argues that Ignatius "consistently" uses death to mean simply biological death.  CD is wrong about that.  For example, Ignatius uses "death" to refer to spiritual death in his Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter 11: "Flee, therefore, those evil offshoots [of Satan], which produce death-bearing fruit, whereof if any one tastes, he instantly dies." (shorter) "Avoid also the children of the evil one, Theodotus and Cleobulus, who produce death-bearing fruit, whereof if any one tastes, he instantly dies, and that not a mere temporary death, but one that shall endure for ever." (longer)

Notice, by the way, that the editor who produced the longer recension affirmed everlasting punishment (as pointed out above), so the editor that says "death ... that shall endure forever" is referring to ECT.  This should be basically an aside, since the longer recension is presumably not the original.

It is a bit vexing to deal with this issue of CD claiming something is used consistently one way, presenting evidence to allegedly support that claim, and then it turning out that CD has not included the counter-evidence. 

CD even points to Ignatius' Epistle to the Smyrnaeans Chapter 2, which states: "And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits." (shorter) The longer recension doesn't discuss this divestment of bodies.

I really cannot approve of CD's excerpting of "and be mere evil spirits" in his effort to make Ignatius look more like an annihilationist than Ignatius was.

Moreover, CD refers the reader to Igantius' Epistle to the Smyrnaeans Chapter 5, which states: "But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death." (shorter - longer is essentially the same on this point)  Note that being enveloped with death once again cannot refer to biological death, because it is that they area already experiencing.

CD then points to Smyrnaeans 7, which states: "Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again." (shorter) "They are ashamed of the cross; they mock at the passion; they make a jest of the resurrection." (longer) The textual variation seems markedly significant here.  Nevertheless, even assuming the shorter recension is accurate, the sense of "rise again" is probably best understood as "rise again with Christ" as opposed to being a claim that there is only a resurrection of the just.

CD next turns to Ignatius' Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter 2, where Ignatius states: "ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death." (shorter) "ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order that, by believing in His death, ye may by baptism be made partakers of His resurrection." (longer)  I note that the longer seems to convey the sense meant by the shorter.  More pointedly, though, believers do not escape from just ordinary death in the sense of not experiencing ordinary death.  Instead, they escape from death by resurrection from the dead to eternal life.  I can appreciate why this statement, by itself, could be taken in an annihilationist sense, but it doesn't directly address the issue.

CD talks briefly about the sense of the word, life, namely that it is not necessarily a special technical term.  I suppose probably some people argue this, but since I don't, I'll pass this by, except in one particular.

On the second or third slide of his presentation about Ignatius' use of "life," CD comes to the place in Ignatius' Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter 9, where Ignatius states: "He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life." (shorter) (the longer has no equivalent statement)  Even setting aside the troubling textual variant issue, the statement "apart from whom we do not possess the true life" is a statement of the ECT position on what eternal life is, as distinct from the annihilationist/reductionist view that reduces life to biological life.

Likewise, in the keystone evidence that Chris presents, the off-quoted passage of Ignatius in Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 20: "breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ."  (Schaff only provides a single recension here, and I haven't taken the time to investigate which it is.) there is a similar expression of life that matters being life "in Jesus Christ."  CD seems to overlook this important qualifier.  CD claims that "life" and "dying" here have no special theological significance, but it should be obvious that Ignatius who longed for martyrdom did not think that the bread of the Eucharist would stop him from suffering martyrdom.  The idea that there is no special theological significance is totally unthinkable.

CD goes so far as to change Ignatius' words in the spoken part of the presentation, to go from "prevent us from dying" to "cures death and makes it possible for us to rise immortal."  That change in wording is significant to CD's claim that Ignatius' terms don't have special theological significance, but they are not the words that Ignatius used.  In point of fact, "prevent dying" means you don't die, whereas "cures death" means raises to life after you die.  Of course, Ignatius does affirm the resurrection of the believers, but one to a new life in union with Christ, which is what the ECT position teaches.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Is the Spirit Immortal?

Unlike animals, humans have an immortal soul.

Ecclesiastes 3:21

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Early Christians understood and believed in the existence of disembodied spirits.

Acts 12:15

And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.

This contrasted with Sadducee teachings.

Acts 23:8

For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.

It was not just superstitious Christians that believed that the spirit lives on after the body dies.  Jesus endorsed and argued for an anti-annihilationist view specifically against the Sadducees. 

Matthew 22:32

I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Likewise, Jesus taught us that the souls of believers immediately pass into glory.

Luke 23:43

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Nevertheless, death is something.  That is why we treat death as separation.  Indeed, James provides a clear statement to that effect:

James 2:26

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.