Table of Contents
Part I: Embodiment and The
The Immortality of a Human Body
Biologically and Theologically Considered
When Adam and
Eve ate the forbidden fruit they did not merely shorten their
lives and so die prematurely. They introduced into their
bodies an entirely new and foreign element MORTALITY.
Does this mean that if they had
not eaten this fruit they could have lived on FOR EVER, in the
same body? The answer from Genesis 3:22 is, Yes! But this
affirmative answer needs qualification. Because, while they COULD
have thus lived on for ever, we learn from passages of Scripture
elsewhere in the Bible that these bodies of ours have yet a further
state of being awaiting them, a state which involves a transmutation,
a kind of "graduation," to a still higher level of
wholly indestructible bodily existence. There are thus two levels
of immortality: one which signifies that the body need not die
though it can be deliberately put to death; and one which
signifies that the body cannot die under any circumstances whatever.
Genesis 3:2224 reads as follows:
And the Lord God said, Behold,
the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now
lest he put forth his hand, and take
also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever. . . .
Therefore the Lord God sent him
forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence
he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east
of the garden of Eden . . . a flaming sword which turned every
way to keep the way of the tree of life.
Now this tells
us that although the forbidden fruit had already done its fatal
damage in the bodies of Adam and Eve, this damage could still
have been undone so long as they remained in the Garden and had
access to the Tree of Life. For by eating from the Tree of Life
they could evidently have been healed of their acquired mortality
and gone on living for ever. By which means their bodies would
have been healed but not their corrupted spirits. The
Tree of Life re-appears in Revelation 22:2 and we are informed
that its leaves were for healing. . . .
The precaution cannot have been
to prevent recovery of spiritual life from the Tree of
Life (as some have proposed), for surely this would not have
been any greater danger than we are in at the present moment
with our spirits regenerated even while our body yet remains
to be redeemed. It must therefore have been the danger of physical
healing without spiritual healing. This was what created
That it was an emergency seems
clear both from the fact that Genesis 3:22 is one of the very
few unfinished sentences in Scripture as though the divine
Author caught his breath at the very thought of the consequences;
and from the fact that expulsion is emphasized in verses 23 and
24 by the words sent forth and drove out. Thus
two physically immortal creatures had now become mortals, and
their very mortality was a measure of protection against the
effects of their fallen nature, for death was now not merely
a penalty but a remedy. It rid them of their "body of sin,"
as it will deliver us also.
one may ask, In the light of modern biological knowledge, is
it really likely that a physical body of any kind could
be so constructed that it would live on and on and on for ever,
never to wear out and break down? And, surprisingly, the answer
is, Yes, it is perfectly possible!
Let us look more closely at this
almost incredible fact and set forth the evidence for the assertion
that a physical body really can have the inherent potential for
unending life barring accidents.
Since the subject has been discussed
at considerable length in another volume by the author,* it will
only be treated briefly here, sufficiently to enable the reader
to perceive the nature of the evidence and how it is to be applied
in the present case.
It is most important
to recognize that physical immortality does not mean that a body
with such a constitution cannot die. An immortal creature CAN
be killed. The basic distinction between a mortal creature and
an immortal creature is that a mortal creature will die in due
time as a matter of course, whereas the immortal creature can
die by beng killed but NEED NOT die if certain conditions of
life are maintained.
Of course, you may say, "Well,
that's not what I understand by the word immortality". And
the remark is quite justified since immortality is commonly used
to mean deathlessness of the spirit rather than the body. But
for the biologist, physical immortality means only that death
is not inevitable, not the natural consequence of being alive,
not the destiny of a living organism, but something purely
external to its possession of life.
In biblical parlance there is a bodily
immortality of a lower order, a contingent immortality dependent
upon certain conditions, which exists as a prior stage to a bodily
* See Seed
of the Woman, Doorway Publications, Brockville, Ontario,
immortality of a higher
order that is absolute and beyond commutation. The higher order
of immortality belongs not to biology but to theology.
It will be helpful to illustrate
this by specific reference to living organisms which exemplify
the lower order of physical immortality and then to show how
the higher order of absolute immortality differs from this lower
There are billions
of living creatures in the world today which are strictly immortal
in the biological sense. These creatures never die a natural
death as far as is known. When they grow to a certain size
(approximately twice their beginning size), they simply split
in two and go merrily on their way as two individuals never experiencing
death nor leaving any corpse behind. They are their own parents:
the "father" does not give birth to a son but becomes
his own two sons. The process involves no birth, only
a simple division of one living organism that divides and becomes
two; and the process goes on unendingly. These creatures are
unicellular and well known to biologists as amoeba and paramecium,
and some other forms.
Since each one divides into two
and then grows to double size and splits again, they could soon
overwhelm the earth were it not for accidents that happen to
them, chiefly physical injury or predation. But they do not die
for inherent reasons and are considered by biologists to be strictly
immortal on that account. There are billions of them in the world,
creatures who live without any prospect of dying barring a fatal
Now it may be objected, "Well,
that's all very well. But they are little blobs of life and exceedingly
simple unicellular creatures. . . . That's very different
from a higher animal like a man, for instance." (34) Quite true: yet neither
the amoeba nor the paramecium is as simple an animal as it would
These small creatures have been
studied for over a
34. Example of complexity of a small creature:
see re bacteria, Robert Jastrow, The Enchanted Loom, New
York, Simon & Schuster, 1983, p.22.
century. One of the most
famous investigators of their behaviour was H. S. Jennings who
in 1910 published a book on his findings. He had been observing
them for some years, spending hours on end with his eye glued
to a microscope. His conclusions are remarkable. (35)
He discovered that amoebae displayed
signs of highly advanced forms of behaviour which, as he put
it, were they to be magnified to the size of a dog they could
only be interpreted as anger, determination, frustration,
hesitation, attentiveness, and according to Jennings, even
Another much more recent observer,
J. Boyd Best, fully confirmed Jennings' conclusions, and added
to the list such emotions as boredom, rebellion, and even
"cognitive awareness" (which effectively is
simply consciousness)! (36)
Such immortal creatures do indeed display
a remarkable measure of individuality which could almost be termed
personal identity, and yet they go on living indefinitely. And
remember that we are speaking of living forms of animal life
which are, despite their unicellular nature and microscopic size,
very much alive. We should not be deceived by their size
for as Nicolas Malebranche remarked when he looked through a
microscope for the first time, "This is the end of size"!
(37) After all,
how big is life?
Thus we can easily establish a
point that comes as a surprise to many people: a creature of
such sensitivity can still be immortal. . . . It demonstrates
unequivocally that physical immortality is "a fact of life."
As Professor H. J. Muller put it, very simply, "Natural
death is not the expression of an inherent principle of protoplasm."
(38) And Julian
Huxley re-affirmed this when he wrote, "Functioning protoplasm
is not in itself mortal." (39)
By protoplasm is simply meant the
stuff of life, and when it is said that protoplasm appears in
forms that are effectively immortal, it does not mean that such
forms cannot die, it only means that such forms need
not die. Protected from mortal hazards external to them,
these creatures simply do not die. They just go on dividing
35. Jennings, H. S., "Behaviour of Lower
Organisms," Columbia University Biological Series, X,
Columbia University Press, 1915.
36. Best, 3. Boyd, "Protopsychology," Scientific
American, Feb., 1963, p.62.
37. Malebranche, N., quoted by John Taylor, Man in the Midst,
Highway Press, London, 1955, p.15.
38. Muller, H. J., "Life", Sciience, vol.121,
39. Huxley, Julian, "The Meaning of Death" in Essays
on Popular Science, London, Penguin Books, 1938, p.107, 108.
multiplying ad infinitum.
It is only accidental death that prevents them from overwhelming
the earth. They do not die of old age as we do and as most
animals familiar to us do as a matter of course, including our
pets. They never die a "natural" death.
Now in the case
of Adam, God evidently endowed his body with just such a property
as this, a potential for endless continuance. The processes of
self renewal and repair could have gone on for ever. It is clear
that he could die, since we know that he did die
though not without first surviving for almost a thousand
years. But it is equally clear that he would never have died
if he had not sinned. If this were not true, the penalty threatened
for disobedience would have been no threat at all. One cannot
discourage disobedience with a threat of "punishment"
in a form that will happen anyway whether there is disobedience
It has been suggested that perhaps
the threat was not death per se but rather premature
death. But this interpretation is entirely unsatisfactory
because it would imply that the death of the Last Adam was also
premature and nothing else. Any life given prematurely
is not life given vicariously but merely a life shortened. But
we know that the Last Adam was, like the First Adam, made after
the potential (Greek: dunamis *) of an endless life (Hebrews
7:16), and this forces us to conclude that the First Adam must
also have been in this position. It was not premature death that
Adam introduced; it was death itself. "By one man sin entered
into the world and by sin death. . ." (Romans 5:12), and
this acquired mortality became the lot of all of Adam's descendants
Adam and Eve had to be created
with bodies capable of
* So Professor Walter Grundmann of Dresden,
who suggests the words 'possibility,' 'capacity,' 'ability,'
i.e., "according to the potential of." (in Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel
, translated and edited by Geoffrey Bromiley, Grand Rapids,
Eerdman/s, 1964, vol. 2, p.285).
endless continuance and
under no necessity of dying in order that the Redeemer of man's
body might Himself likewise be under no necessity of dying, while
yet remaining truly representative of man as created.
In the strictest sense, therefore,
we must re-define immortality as it applies to the body of the
First Adam and the body of the Last Adam. It was contingent
immortality, an immortality dependent upon the fulfillment
of certain conditions, but a real immortality in the true biological
sense. However, the contingent condition for its realization
was lost in the Fall, but restored in Christ by the Virgin Birth.
While the contingency hinged upon
obedience, it also hinged upon the fact that our bodies, like
those of the humble amoebae, are vulnerable. We can be
fatally injured. We are not impervious to mortal wounds. The
processes of life which in Adam could have continued to function
for ever were nevertheless open to irreparable damage.
Both Adam and Eve could, and did,
die in due course: but had they been obedient, such a terminal
event need never have occurred. Their death was not an accident
in the sense that it is for the amoebae, it was a penalty
imposed for deliberate disobedience, the penalty being a
newly introduced internalized defect in their constitution. They
died for inherent reasons, from damage to the machinery of life
resulting from ingesting a fruit with fatal consequences
and inherited by all their descendants, save One.
So much, then,
for the lower level of immortality which we have referred to
as contingent immortality, which is both a biological and a biblical
concept. But there is another and higher form, an immortality
to be achieved when we are raised from the dead in a more glorious
and wholly in-vulnerable body. This higher form of immortality
is absolute: we shall be placed in the position of neither
needing to die nor even being able to die! Death
will be a thing of the past. This is no longer, of course, a
biological concept but a theological one: yet it applies strictly
a body as real as the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus
Augustine (340430) thought
deeply about these things. In his characteristic way and by the
effective use of aphorism he wrote of the nature of Adam's body
as created: (40)
It was not impossible for Adam to die
but it was possible for him not to die.
As he later
reflected further upon the matter, he realized that there is
an even higher form of immortality awaiting man, at which time
we shall find that:
It is not only possible not to die
but it will be impossible to die at all!
Such is the
goal for all the Lord's people, for "He that wrought us
for this very thing is God Himself."
(2 Corinthians 5:5)
then, Adam's body was endowed with a potential for unending continuance.
As the biologist would say, his life was not "spanned,"
no limits were placed upon it provided that he obeyed certain
This potential or contingent immortality was necessary in order
that in the event of disobedience he could still be redeemed
by provision of a Saviour who would be in a position to taste
of death in his place. For this purpose, the Redeemer's body
must (1) be truly representative of Adam's body and therefore
truly human, and at the same time (2) under no necessity of dying
for any inherent reason.
The latter was as important a requirement
as the former. The Saviour must fulfill both conditions. The
first, in order to be truly representative of Man as God intended
him, and the second in order to be able to offer himself by a
death that was vicarious and not merely premature. This situation
predetermined the nature of the First Adam's body.
Evolution holds that all higher
organisms have built-in
40. Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram, Bk.
I, 25, note 35.
spanned lives and are
programmed to die after a certain length of time in some
way determined by the nature of the species. This is necessary,
they hold, in order to allow evolution to work, since it is essential
to keep the way open at all times for the new and more advanced
forms to survive in their initial stages of development if they
are to compete and replace the older and more established forms.
Only so can there be guaranteed the linear progress believed
to characterize the evolutionary process. Without death there
would be no room for replacements, and without replacement there
would be no evolutionary advance.
Evolution cannot account for the
emergence of man. For man alone possesses a constitution
which guarantees his continuance permanently in the web
of life if certain conditions of obedience are fulfilled.
Now, the death
of the Redeemer must be vicarious, not merely premature. Premature
death is a death which may, for example, take the form of a soldier's
sacrifice at the front, or a suicide, or a youth in a car accident
each dying "before the time expected". Vicarious
death in the theological sense never has any element of dying
"before the time expected". Death is never "expected"
in the sense of being normal, for One who is to die vicariously.
This is true of vicarious death
because it can only be applied to the death of an immortal creature
who has no expected time of dying. Premature death presupposes
something inevitable in due course, and therefore applies only
to a mortal creature. Such a death is a mere "cutting short"
in the midst of life. Substitutionary death is not a cutting
short but a "cutting off" (Daniel 9:26), the sudden
cessation of a life which could have continued for ever but was
deliberately terminated for the sake of someone else.
Since death was in no sense inevitable
for the Last Adam, it cannot have been inevitable for the First
Adam. Otherwise the Last Adam was not truly representative of
the First Adam, i.e., of MAN as God created him.
To be executable was essential, in order that He might
die substitutionally: but this executability was related to what
could be imposed from outside, not what was programmed from inside.
A vicarious death is never the same thing as a premature death.
These are entirely different categories of experience.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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