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Table of Contents


Chapter  1

Part I
Chapter  2
Chapter  3
Chapter  4
Chapter  5
Chapter  6
Chapter  7
Chapter  8
Chapter  9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Part II
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17

Chapter 18


Part I: Embodiment — and The Incarnation

Chapter 4

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 3:22—24 reads as follows:

     And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now

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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 the emergency.
     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.

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     But 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, 1980.

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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 order.

     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 accident.
     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 appear.
     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.

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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 intelligence!
     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)!
    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 and

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, 1955, p.5.
39. Huxley, Julian, "The Meaning of Death" in Essays on Popular Science, London, Penguin Books, 1938, p.107, 108.

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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 or not.
     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 naturally born.
     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 [1936], translated and edited by Geoffrey Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Eerdman/s, 1964, vol. 2, p.285).  

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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 to a

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resurrected body, a body as real as the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
     Augustine (340—430) 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:

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)

     In summary, 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 injunctions.
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.

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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.

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     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.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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