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Christian conditionalism

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Not to be confused with "Conditional salvation." For other uses, see Conditional immortality
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In Christian theology, conditional immortality or conditionalism is a concept of special salvation in which, the gift of immortality is attached to (conditional upon) belief in Jesus Christ. This doctrine is based in part upon another theological argument, that because the human soul is naturally mortal, immortality ("eternal life") is therefore granted by God as a gift. This viewpoint stands in contrast to the more popular doctrine of the "natural immortality" of the soul.

The British Evangelical Alliance ACUTE report states the doctrine is a "significant minority evangelical view" that has "grown within evangelicalism in recent years". [1] During the last six decades, conditional immortality has been widely accepted among the theologians of the Eastern Orthodox Church.[2]

Proponents of conditional immortality ("conditionalists") point to Genesis 2 and Revelation 22, where the Tree of Life is mentioned. It is argued that these passages, along with Genesis 3:22-24 teach that human beings will naturally die without continued access to God's life-giving power.

As a general rule, conditionalism goes hand in hand with annihilationism; that is, the belief that the souls of the wicked will be destroyed in Gehenna (often translated "hell", especially by non-conditionalists and non-universalists) fire rather than suffering eternal torment. The two ideas are not exactly equivalent, however, because in principle God may annihilate a soul which was previously created immortal.[3] While annihilationism places emphasis on the active destruction of a person, conditionalism places emphasis on a person's dependence upon God for life; the extinction of the person is thus a passive consequence of separation from God, much like natural death is a consequence of prolonged separation from food, water, and air.

In secular historical analysis, the doctrine of conditional immortality reconciles the ancient Hebrew view that humans are mortal with the Christian view that the saved will live forever.

Arguments against natural immortality

Conditionalists commonly argue that the doctrine of natural (or innate) immortality stems not from Hebrew thought, as presented in the Bible, but rather from Greek philosophy and the teachings of Plato in particular.

It is further noted that St. Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 6:15-16 that "God ... alone is immortal," while in 2 Timothy 1:10 he writes that immortality only comes to human beings as a gift through the gospel. Immortality is something to be sought after (Romans 2:7) therefore it is not inherent to all humanity.

Eastern Orthodox view

For many centuries inherent immortality, supported with the Platonic arguments about the simplicity of the soul, was accepted among many famous Fathers of the Eastern Church, such as Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa or John of Damascus. But current Eastern Orthodox theologians, who hold that the Incarnation united the Divine and human natures, and hold that each man is a hypostasis comprising spirit and body, deny inherent immortality and profess "immortality by grace" (κατὰ χάριν ἀθανασία kata charin athanasia). Beyond using Biblical verses that present immortality as a result of Christ's victory over death and His resurrection, they also stress the witness of the patristic writings of the 2nd century, when Christian apologists highlighted the contrast between their view and the Platonists' view. A classic example is the statement of Tatian, who said: "The soul is not in itself immortal, O Greeks, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die" (Oratio ad Graecos, 13).

Nevertheless, in the view of many Eastern Orthodox theologians, there is no place for annihilationism, since the church holds that immortality is bestowed on all men by means of Christ's incarnation and resurrection, inasmuch as they participate in the nature of man. The uncreated Divine Light (ἄκτιστο φῶς aktisto fos) is offered to all, but to those who reject God's love, the light will be experienced as fire.


Biblical Scholar Edward W. Fudge has written an authoritative treatise on conditional immortality entitled The Fire That Consumes.

Secular outlook

In secular historical analysis, the doctrine of conditional immortality reconciles two seemingly conflicting traditions in the Bible: the ancient Hebrew concept that the human being is mortal with no meaningful existence after death (see שאול, sheol and the Book of Ecclesiastes), and the later Jewish and Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead and personal immortality after Judgment Day.

See also


  1. The Nature of Hell. Conclusions and Recommendations, Evangelical Alliance, 2000, 
  2. Imortality of the Soul by George Florovsky.
  3. The Nature of Hell. A report by the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals (ACUTE), Evangelical Alliance, 2000, pp. 74 

External links

  • Jewish not GreekArgues that Biblical hermeneutics prove conditional immortality and not the Greek philosophical view of innate immortality.



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