The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: I

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Immortal emergence

The BASF lists these beliefs as "Doctrines to be Rejected":

15. That the tribunal of Christ, when he comes, is not for the judgment of saints, but merely to divide among them different degrees of reward.
16. That the resurrection is confined to the faithful.
17. That the dead rise in an immortal state.
Based on the study of what constitutes "first principles" (see Lesson, Apostolic statement of faith), the clearly essential doctrines concerning this subject include:

  1. When Christ returns, he will first raise the dead, faithful and unfaithful (Act 24:15,21; 26:8).
  2. Then these will be brought to his Great Judgment along with the living responsible, faithful and unfaithful, where all will be judged together (Act 10:42; cp also Rom 14:10-12; 2Co 5:10).
The "Doctrines to be Rejected", above, are plainly the negative restatements of these positive "first principles".

One Scripture passage presents a significant problem. The Bible teaching that the dead do not rise in an immortal state seems to be contradicted by the words of Paul to the Corinthians: "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1Co 15:52,53).

However, in 1Co 15, Paul is equating "resurrection" with the whole process (resurrection, judgment, and glorification) culminating in the Kingdom of God. That is (letting v 53 interpret v 52), 'the dead shall be raised... to put on incorruption'! Paul's own words elsewhere (ie, Rom 2:6-8; 1Co 4:5; 2Co 5:10; 1Th 4:14-17; 2Ti 4:1) give the step-by-step details of this process, and should be studied alongside 1Co 15.

There are other examples of the Bible speaking of "resurrection" as a finished work, with no indication of any judgment whatsoever or any rejection of the unworthy: Luk 20:33,35; Joh 5:29; Phi 3:8-11; Heb 11:35; and prob Rev 20:6.

It is possible that a "statement of faith" may quote 1Co 15:53,54 without teaching false doctrine. (How can the direct quoting of Scripture ever be false?) But, to be consistent with other plainly essential teachings, the words "raised incorruptible" (1Co 15:52) would have to mean something like: 'raised, then judged, and then glorified' -- even if such process were almost instantaneous after the literal coming forth from the grave.

It should be said, moreover, that there is no real Bible proof for the length of time (no matter how long or how short) involved in the process of resurrection, judgment, and reward. But any theory which denies that a literal resurrection will be followed by a literal judgment is -- by the earlier tests -- plainly a false doctrine.

Finally, it must be noted that there is no conclusive Bible proof for any specific procedure of judgment; it cannot be proven as a first principle, for example, that every responsible person has, one by one, his or her own individual "trial". Certain "judgment" verses indeed might be interpreted this way (Rom 14:10; 2Co 5:10), but other "judgment" verses imply very much otherwise (Mat 13:48,49; 24:40,41; 25:32; Luk 17:34-36). But, once again, the true "first principles" passages require a literal judgment -- no matter how the details are arranged by Christ and his angels.

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