IS MAN THE PHOENIX? A STUDY IN THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINES OF HUMAN MORTALITY AND IMMORTALITYAn Initial Comment From the Rebbe Concerning this Series of Lectures.
by Les Aron Gosling, Messianic Jewish Rebbe
Copyright © BRI 1994, 2008
All Rights Reserved Worldwide
The Biblical Research Institute (BRI),
P.O. Box 6523, South Tweed Heads 2486
"Though all dies, and even gods die, yet all
death is but a phoenix fire death, and new
birth into the greater and better."
My vocation as a lecturer in biblical studies really began in 1981, after I had a personal 'Damascus Road' encounter. While I do not discuss the factors of that encounter I do readily admit that it substantiated in my own mind that there is an essence or spark of divinity in each of us, and it confirmed within my heart a knowledge of doctrine which I had been contemplating for over ten years.
Originally I had believed, somewhat tenaciously and due to my association with a Christian church after my expulsion from a synagogue, that eternal life was something that would be accomplished by the power of God at the resurrection of the righteous dead with Messiah's return, and that in the 'first resurrection' the total personality of the individual would be transformed – not just the 'soul' but everything that is distinctive about the person.
It was not until mid-1995 that I began to publicly teach and preach what were the apparent spiritual fundamentals of a biblical immortality. In doing so, I have faithfully and consistently refused to surrender my own view of immortality to pagan dualism, no matter in what form it appears. The historic Church has been plagued for centuries with a non-biblical anthropology giving in to doctrines which divide man into two separate and distinct parts, body and soul. This I have consistently desisted to do. Dualism teaches us that we are divided not only in ourselves but from life and, to be “happy,” we must unite ourselves with it. The truth is of course, we are already united.Life lives us
; we do not live life
. This is authentic Jewish thoughtform.
Certainly, many of my own talmidim
(students) had to grapple with unlearning what had been surreptitiously channeled into their belief system by previous educators regarding man's natural propensity to mortality and “soul sleep.” Some failed to adjust to this new understanding of the biblical revelation, and choked. Others accepted it, but only gradually.
Overcoming was never promised to be a rose garden. A few students joyfully and spontaneously surrendered to the implications of inner immortality. My own dear wife, the Rebbetzin
Glenys, for a long time refused to accept the picture I painted of the beliefs of the disciples of the Lord Yeshua. I was delighted when she finally capitulated, but this momentous moment of enlightenment from the holy Spirit came only after hundreds of hours of thoughtful Bible study and inner contemplation on the bloodied tree of Golgoleth. But in such painful introspection comes the release of true enthusiasm. It is born of agonised deliberation.
I am appreciative of the giving of her wise counsel as she analysed the completed text of this series of lectures which we hope will one day be produced in book form. I am deeply thankful to her, as always, for her authentic discipleship. She follows after Yeshua as one who truly believes He is at her side, holding her hand, encouraging the Walk to a pristine Destiny. Would that all of those who claim conversion to the Lord be His disciples indeed. I have found with profound sadness that most are content with talk and criticism than with actually DOING something constructive like following their Lord in a spirit of self-sacrificial love.
Regarding the section on Lazarus and the Rich Man
I pay a debt of gratitude to (the late) historian and author in his own right, Dr Ernest L. Martin, who has clarified so much pertaining to this parable of the Messiah. Many of the exegetical and geographic-interpretative details included in this section of the lecture are, as far as I know, original to him. It is a pity however, and in my own view, that Professor Martin did not go far enough with the parabolic inclusions to realise the awesome implications. This is due, without any doubt, to the fact that he followed what I believe to be the basic Russellite misinformation about the nature of man's mortality. Nevertheless, doctrinal differences aside, I have always considered “the Doc” a scholar of merit and I always appreciated his generous friendship.
I am also indebted to certain insights of the sacred Scripture which were shared with me in class with another of those I consider with humility to have been my mentors, in this case Dr Ken Chant. No doubt, if this series of lectures ever gets published and he reads it as a book, he will recognise some incidents and phrases which not only impressed me, but imprinted themselves indelibly on my heart. Certainly, differences in views ought not impede our comprehension of the spiritual alignment Mashiach won for us so brutally at Golgoleth.
It was a radical ex-Adventist theologian, Robert Brinsmead, who initially introduced me to a better understanding of the Gospel than did any of my peers. Whether he knows it or not he taught me to think about what I was actually reading in the Bible. While it is doubtful that he would be enthusiastic, let alone charitable, with many of the implications of this volume, he grasped as very few have the fundamentals of justification with a clarity that shook thousands to their knees with a wonder and amazement at the “glory of the cross of Christ.” While I was never a Seventh-day Adventist, I was one of those thousands. Because of his ministry of those days, the Gospel is greater, broader, and more all-encompassing than I had ever imagined it to be.
What is termed “Christianity” – the churchianity of the past 1700 odd years – is now being enveloped in yet further division and is looked upon by the general happy healthy pagan public with an attitude of indifference. The church brought this on itself. But a spirit of Messiah is in the breeze, and one trusts that same breeze is the gentle rhythm of the Ruach HaKodesh
(holy Spirit) “fluttering” in an ecstasy of charism as the Jewish thoughtform is gradually being restored to its proper place in the biblical revelation.- Les Aron Gosling
Tweed Heads, AustraliaINTRODUCTION TO THIS SERIES OF LECTURES ON HUMAN IMMORTALITY
Peter Pan said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”
I loved reading J.M. Barries' Peter Pan
as a child, usually when I was home in bed from school sick with a cold. It inevitably cheered me up. It was a huge thick book with large print and exquisite colour plates. The large print, I think, was designed especially to impress on the memory each page of excitement and wonder. No matter how often I read Pan
it was everlastingly new. It remained with such a quality as this as I read it anew to each of my own children, as they in turn came along. Then my own little girl closed her eyes and slept. She was now on her own big adventure. My heart was broken, for no father should outlive his children. I despaired of even life itself. My own “Peter Pan” left, looking for his shadow and never came back, although I continue to yearn for him. But Pan's view of death has a rich relevance to each and every one of us who understands the quest for adventure of the Child within.
And so, I well remember the first funeral I ever attended. It had stormed all weekend, but at last the sun broke through. I was still very much a child, yet I recall the sense of overwhelming grief that shaded me on all sides. I huddled to the side of my mother as the gathering of the extended family stood, uneasily, in a vast puddle of mud surrounding the official mourners. There was a polished coffin suspended menacingly over a deep, dark pit. Men and women were weeping, the snorts of hankies filling with soggy wetness from eyes and running nasal passages, and the elderly woman slightly behind me (and to my immediate right) implored like a broken record, “But why, why her, so young, so young?” I possibly recall these events as if they were yesterday due to the deplorable fact that her green mucous plug hung suspended like an earthworm out of her left nostril and it kept sliding in and out of sight with every snorted sniffle. Even though the sight was making me queasy my eyes were riveted to that left nostril more than to the coffin. To add to the misery of the day the sky suddenly broke open and we were all drenched with an unexpected shower. It seemed that even the angels were crying.
Death is inevitable.
Very few experiences can be considered universal, but death is such an experience. None of us can escape it's icy clutches. It occurs to all living organisms with absolute certainty. The spectre of death reaches with greed into every home, every town, every city, every nation on earth – both primitive and technocratic. Whether one is a wealthy banker, or a street child, makes no difference. Death is the great leveler of men.
Before the scythe sweep of the Great Shade we all meet the fate of an often-times unexpected execution. Some of us meet that moment with gratitude, and suddenly. Others of us try in vain to flee it's grasp, and linger in a mad attempt to breathe yet again, one last breath. For, “death is a punishment to some, to some a gift, and to many a favour” (Seneca).
But death is always the victor in the struggle for our survival. Happiness may reign in our home one minute and the next moment that home be filled with overwhelming grief. The child might be cooing in the morning, and at night be ice-cold in the depths of the Big Sleep.
What happens when a person dies? If he is an unbeliever does that person stay dead until the coming Great Judgment of the Messiah? Do the believing dead patiently sleep until “the final seventh trumpet call”? Do Christians remain dead until the Messiah comes for them, or do they enter immediately into heaven when they “cross over”? What about “hell” for those who rejected the altar-call to “give their heart to Jesus”? And what about the subject of reincarnation? Does the Bible refer to reincarnation? Does it teach transmigration? In most churches the subject of reincarnation remains the most significant taboo of our modern times. What does happen when we die?
Most organisations that follow the teachings of a certain Pastor Charles Taze Russell (such as the Bible Students, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the cluster of Armstrong sects) hold to the doctrine of 'soul sleep' and the complete and utter mortality of man. Even some scholars of the Protestant faith have accepted this notion, and claim from a mere surface reading of the Bible that it is biblical. Other scholars have allowed their denominational or sectarian bias to shape their biblical world-view and to impose their sect's doctrinal derangement onto the sacred texts themselves.
We shall show plainly, however, that such teaching was decidedly not held by some of the very apostles of the Messiah. We have “NT” evidence that at least one of the intimate disciples of the Mashiach, the one Yeshua is said to have specifically 'loved,' held to a belief in reincarnation. And such a doctrine presupposes immortality, at least in an immortality of sorts.
Yet if we are immortal by nature – if we do in fact possess something, or are something – that is called an “immortal soul” the question should be put: Who or what – were we before our human birth? After all, the notion of an immortal soul or spirit implies by its very nature an essence of eternality. That is what immortal means. Yet nobody thinks to ask the obvious.
But, let us at this juncture understand something of absolute importance. In no way do I teach reincarnation as a doctrinal belief essential to merit salvation!
True, there are some students associated with my teaching who hold to the doctrine. And they are tenacious in their theological stand. But we also have students who believe in the utter mortality of man. They believe adamantly that when man dies he stays dead until “the resurrection day.” At the same time we have students who are quite dogmatic when it comes to a belief in the immortality of the soul, although they reject the teaching of the soul's transmigration.
This reflects the rare openness, the true liberty and the authentic freedom all students, no matter what their academic orientation, should be experiencing. Indeed, all churches, denominations and educational institutions should wallow in such an atmosphere. Students of the biblical revelation ought to hold to the proposition that where the Spirit of the Lord is there – in that place – is true liberty (2 Corinthians 3.17
We cannot argue that the proposition of reincarnation, as such, is right or wrong. All we are doing is researching the Scriptures and the age which brought us the final documents that are presented to us as the holy Bible. And we are in this light considering what people of faith of that day and age accepted as the truth of God. We are certainly not making value judgments on people who may wish to differ in their beliefs today.
One thing for sure, for far too long Christians have been content to read into the Word of God their own preconceived ideas and beliefs which they have inherited from previous nescient religious traditions. Presumptuous Constantinian churchianity has fast become an irrelevant backwater.
Clichés have replaced a grasp of true biblical doctrine. Inarticulate religious slobberdrool has usurped authentic discipleship. Religion, if it is anything, is (as eloquently articulated by J.A. Froude), often-times “the dominion of absurdity.” Most Christians today are both biblically and theologically bankrupt. This is not just the assessment of those of us associated for any length of time with my own teachings. Some of the most profound Christian theologians (like Carl F.H. Henry) and philosophers (such as Jacques Ellul) have said the same thing.
This deplorable condition exists primarily because the Christian Church during the days of the emperor Constantine literally jettisoned anything and everything considered Jewish from the thinking of the Christian community. Israel was unceremoniously replaced in God's economy with the Church. Replacement theology, always just below the surface of the Gentile Church, was finally born during the period of Augustine in the late fourth/early fifth century. Articulated in the original 'Satanic Verses' – The City of God
– this Gentile theology was penned during a time of great spiritual darkness and apostasy. The outcome was that first century beliefs of the Jews were discarded in favour of a Babylonian 'no frills' brand of sensuous, pagan churchianity, accompanied by a romanticised, sanitised perversion of the horrors of Golgoleth.
Changing currents in the study of the Jewish people of the first century of our common era, and especially of the suspiciously-silent period dominated by the Fifth Procuratorship of Judaea, make it hard enough for specialists to stay abreast of new findings. For student and scholar alike, and other specialists in complementary fields, it becomes virtually impossible. Today, as we hurtle through the first years of the new millennium, our prayer is that the Bible can be properly assessed in the light of modern research by those who claim to be enlightened educators of the Christian masses.
But not all biblical educators are honest men. Scholars they may claim to be, but scholarship has a strange way of sometimes hiding, and not always illuminating, the truth. Being economical with the truth has been a charge often leveled in the direction of those who have been tempted to strut about as little Napoleonic Pontiffs telling us what we can or cannot believe. Frankly, it would come as a surprise to me personally to discover that any Christians realised that the annals of the church reveal that a belief in reincarnation was rife in the early Yeshua Party (and was held to be a prime belief among Jews in the Second Temple Period and, prior to that, dating back to the Davidic and Solomonic age) and that it was once part of Christian dogma until a cabal of bishops at a council at Constantinople as late as 553 C.E. voted the transmigration of the human soul, as a legitimate concept, out of Christianity. The bottom line seems to be that continued acceptance of, and adherence to, the doctrine of reincarnation was not an economically viable proposition as too much revenue could rather be made by Indulgences through the substitution of a refined doctrine of purgatory.
The plain truth is, of course, that the Bible is a collection of man's wisdom (inspired to be sure by the Ruach haKodesh
) but the record still reflects man's growth in understanding on a variety of subjects, not the least the nature of immortality. We shall attempt to show that the Bible incorporates not just one view of the afterlife, but three. And all of them can be held together equally in a balanced tension.
The Bible includes a variety of such factors that merit our consideration, especially as it relates to the unfolding of historical events. It contains, as an example, two very different accounts of the initial meeting of David with Saul. Any Sunday school student knows that Saul knew David who strummed his lyre for the mad king, but in the other incident their meeting is on the field of battle involving Goliath of Gath! Ezra (who compiled a canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, saving some documents and ruthlessly destroying others) collected two popular traditional accounts from the divided states of Israel and Judah. He then proceeded to weave them together as one official document. This brilliant intertwining of the two traditions, one cherished by the northern kingdom of Israel and the other close to the heart of the southern kingdom of Judah, was a clever ruse to give some stability in faith to a hopelessly segmented nation coming to terms with the consequences of civil war. The unity of the faith was guarded, at least for a time. Certainly, we come across similar compilations of different traditions in the question of the death of Goliath of Gath (2 Samuel 21.19; 1 Chronicles 20.5
) and in the sin of king David in his numbering of Israel (2 Samuel 24.1; 1 Chronicles 21.1
Unpopular though it may be to admit it, the Bible is nonetheless man's word containing the Word of God. True, Peter wrote “that no prophecy of the Scripture is of its own origination. For the prophecy came not at any time by the exercise of the will of man: but men of God spoke as they were moved by Ruach HaKodesh
” (2 Peter 1.20,21
). And Paul recognised that the Word of God was breathed out onto the parchments (2 Timothy 3.16
Yet while this is true, men still wrote down in their own words and in their own way their perception of what the Spirit had revealed to them. Is there evidence for this assessment? Evaluate the following texts, but prior to so doing let us comment on the fact that biblical contradictions – which do exist – come in basically four types.Firstly
, there are those which are essentially due to scribal error in copying from a previous manuscript text or a translator's preference for a variant reading from a minority text (which, although obscure, may be authentic). Secondly
, there are contradictions due to an apologist and/or adaptionist approach. Luke's sermon on the plain is probably the correct incident for Yeshua's lecture about the beatitudes (Luke 6.17ff
), while Matthew desires Yeshua to be the new Moses as he places him, like the original Moses, on a mountain (Matthew 5.1ff
). When comparing Luke's account with Matthew's this principle begins to stand out over and over. The occasion of Pilatus washing his hands at the trial of Yeshua is clearly apologetic, for this is a Jewish custom, not a Roman custom (Matthew 27.24
). It is difficult to believe that Pontius Pilatus, described not only as arrogant and ruthless when it came to matters involving Jewish public unrest and political disturbance, would be so accommodating to the Jewish authorities when we read of his temperament in contemporary historical accounts. There was no love lost between the representative of Imperial Rome and the Jewish people.
The adaptionist case is seen in the healing incident during which an ill person is lowered through a roof to get to Yeshua due to crushing crowds. In Mark's chronicle desperate men strenuously dig through a mud thatch roof (Mark 2.3-8
Gk) but in Luke's account they effortlessly remove tiles (Luke 5.19
Gk). Luke has adapted to his Gentile audience for his readers would not have known what was meant by a mud thatched roof! Thirdly
, we have the more problematic. Example: Yeshua clears the Temple. We all agree it happened – but when? At the conclusion of His ministry as made clear in the Synoptic Gospels and which incident evoked a revolution which helped put the nails into His tree (Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 19
), or was it in fact at the very start of His ministry (John 2.13ff
)? Were there, as some scholars speculate, two actual cleansings of the Jerusalem Temple? This approach hardly seems warranted. The Bible is not “one” book – it is several books linked together by man's inadequacy of human expression as presented in his various “scientific” disciplines as he submits to Deity. Man's disciplines and man's submission in honour to God is ever little more than half-hearted, even in his best state and motivated by holy Spirit.
Fourthly, there are what we would term true contradictions. Similar inconsistencies as those involving the meeting of David and Saul, and those entailing the mysterious death of Goliath, are also to be found frequently throughout the four remaining Gospels in the Messianic Scriptures of the Yeshua Party. These virtual contradictions usually reflect nothing more than different elements accepted in divergent circles of the One Christian Faith. Jewish rabbinic thinking in the days of the Fifth Procuratorship of Judaea was “inerrantist”: that is, they viewed every word of Scripture as equally revelatory (Rowland Croucher, Recent Trends Among Evangelicals: Biblical Agendas, Justice and Spirituality
, 1986, 19). Yeshua rejected such a position, claiming that certain texts of Scripture revealed the will of God more perfectly than others (Matthew 23.23; Mark 10.4-9; John 7.22
Consider questioning your favourite authority concerning the following (and be prepared for vivid and fiery expostulations). There may well be legitimate answers to these questions:Matthew 8.26; Mark 4.39,40; Luke 8.24,25
Did Yeshua rebuke the disciples before or after He calmed the storm?Mark 10.10-12; Luke 16.18; Matthew 5.32; 19.9
Saying there are no grounds at all for divorce is not the same as saying porneia
is the only grounds for divorce.2 Samuel 6.23
(Heb); 2 Samuel 21.8
(Heb) Michal had no child.2 Kings 8.25; 2 Kings 9.29
Ahaziah began to reign in the 12th year of Joram.Genesis 25.1; 1 Chronicles 1.32
Keturah was Abraham's wife.Hebrews 11.17; Galatians 4.22
Abraham had only one begotten son.2 Samuel 24.9; 1 Chronicles 21.5
The number of fighting men of Israel was 800,000 and of Judah 500,000.1 Kings 15.5; 2 Samuel 24.10
David sinned only in the matter of Uriah.2 Samuel 24.13; 1 Chronicles 21.11,12
One of the penalties of David's sin was 7 years of famine.2 Samuel 8.4; 1 Chronicles 18.4
David took 700 horsemen.2 Samuel 24.24; 1 Chronicles 21.25
David purchased a threshing floor for 50 shekels of silver.Psalm 89.35-37; 89.44
David's throne was to exist for as long as the sun.Genesis 25.1,2
(note “then again”); Hebrews 11.12; Romans 4.19; Genesis 21.2
Apparently Abraham begat six more children after he was 100 years old without any interposition of providence. 2 Timothy 3.16; 1 Corinthians 7.6,12; 2 Corinthians 11.17
All Scripture is inspired.Numbers 12.3; 31.15-17
Moses was a very meek man. Matthew 11.2-5; John 3.2; Exodus 14.31; 7.10-12; Deuteronomy 13.1-3; Luke 11.19
A miracle is a divine proof of a divine missionMatthew 19.16,17 cf Mark 10.17,18; Luke 18.18,19
The question of “the rich young ruler” and Yeshua's response to it in Matthew's account is substantially different from the question and answer in Mark and Luke.2 Peter 1.19; Jeremiah 18.7-10
Prophecy is certain.James 1.2; Matthew 6.13
Temptation is to be desired.John 13.27; Luke 22.3,4,7
Satan entered into Judas while the supper ended.Matthew 27.6,7; Acts 1.18
The potter's field was purchased by the chief priests.John 20.1; Matthew 28.1
('two'); Mark 16.1
('three'); Luke 24.10
('three plus') There was only one woman who came to the tomb. Matthew 15.22; Mark 7.26
A woman of Canaan besought Yeshua.Matthew 20.29,30; Luke 18.35-39; Mark 10.46-49
Two blind men besought Yeshua, or was it only one? As Yeshua approached Jericho, or when he already had departed, or was it as he was in the process of leaving?Mark 1.12,13
(with surrounding texts); John 2.1,2
(with surrounding texts); Messiah was tempted 40 days in the wilderness immediately after his baptism. So where was he 3 days after his baptism – in the wilderness or some place else? Mark 1.14; John 1.43; 3.22-24
John is imprisoned when Yeshua goes into Galilee. Or was he? Exodus 2.14,15,23; 4.19; Hebrews 11.27
Moses feared Pharaoh.Genesis 1.25-27; 2.18,19
Man was created after the other animals.Exodus 9.3,6; 14.9
All the horses and cattle of Egypt died.Deuteronomy 25.5; Leviticus 20.21
A man may marry his brother's widow.Genesis 22.1; 2 Samuel 24.1; Jeremiah 20.7; Matthew 6.13; James 1.13
God tempts man.Hebrews 6.18; 2 Thessalonians 2.11; 1 Kings 22.23; Ezekiel 14.9
God cannot lie.2 Samuel 21.8,9,14; Genesis 22.2; Judges 11.30-32,34,38-39; Deuteronomy 12.30,31
God accepts human sacrifices.Exodus 15.3; Isaiah 51.15; Romans 15.33; 1 Corinthians 14.33
God is warlike.Proverbs 15.3; Psalm 139.7-10; Job 34.22,21; Genesis 11.5; 18.20,21; 3.8
God is everywhere present; sees and knows all things.Jeremiah 32.27; Matthew 19.26; Judges 1.19
God is all-powerful.2 Chronicles 7.12,16; Acts 7.48
God dwells in chosen temples.1 Timothy 6.16; Psalm 18.11; 97.2; 1 Kings 8.12
God dwells in light. Matthew 28; Mark 16; John 21 cf Luke 24.49; Acts 1.4
Matthew, Mark and John all ascribe post-resurrection appearances of Yeshua in Galilee where he meets with the disciples. Yet immediately after the resurrection Yeshua instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the holy Spirit.
We hold therefore that the holy Bible, although inspired by the holy Spirit, was written onto the parchments by fallible human beings subject to the constraints and restraints of their own day and age. The Bible contains
the Word of God. Inspired by the Spirit it remains a human literary garment that both hides
This becomes the more apparent when we evaluate the texts on mortality and immortality.
Clearly, the onus is on fundamentalism to establish otherwise.
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