Part Two

by A.E. Knoch

THE EXPRESSION "immortal soul" flatly contradicts another popular saying "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Both cannot be true. In the original there are other passages which confirm the latter. Twice a dead soul is spoken of, but in both cases the Authorized Version has altered it to "dead body" (Num.8:6; Haggai 2:13). Now where does God ever speak of the soul as being immortal? On the contrary, He distinctly denies immortality to all except Christ, now that He has been vivified, and is beyond the reach of death (1 Tim.6:15,16). The doctrine of the soul's immortality is the false foundation of our creeds. Though definitely denied by the Scriptures, it continues to be the basis on which Christianity rests. As a result the facts as to the human soul and spirit are practically unknown, and resurrection, rousing and vivification, which are vital to God's truth, are almost forgotten.


Theology is thoroughly mistaken as to every aspect of sin. It fails to see that sin is a falling short. It ascribes it to an evil "principle," instead of a lack of spirit. It transmits death through sin instead of sin through death. It refuses to acknowledge that Christ can cope with sin through His sacrifice. It makes it eternal instead of limiting it to the eons. It makes it an unwanted intruder into God's plans instead of a means to accomplish His purpose. It seeks to show that Satan originated it, and so robs God of His deity. It seats sin in human nature instead of in the flesh. Now we wish to show that theology is astray as to sin's entrance also. From this it would almost seem that theology is the greatest sinner of them all!


To understand why it was that Eve could not resist the prompting of the flesh, we may consider the same situation under the law. God's instructions to the first pair proved to be impotent, just as the law later was weak through the flesh, (Rom.8:3). Even today there are many saints who strive to keep the law (which itself is a serious sin), but they find that the flesh foils their efforts (Rom.7). Even those who are delivered from the bondage of the law still find a conflict, in which the flesh lusts against the spirit (Gal.5:17). Crucifixion, not salvation, is the fitting fate for the flesh (Gal.5:24). It betrayed Eve, it destroyed Israel, it is the weakness and the woe of humanity.


That theological stand-by, the "fall," is a term never used in this connection in the Scriptures, hence I have been suspicious of it, knowing that such words often cover a mass of ignorance, and hinder an approach to the truth. Besides, it is one of those traps which are baited with enough Scripture to snare the seeker after truth. If I had come right out and said that I did not believe in the "fall," the statement would have created a false impression, as if I did not accept what the Scriptures say with reference to the offense of Adam, which opened up the way for sin and death to all his descendents. As a fact, I did believe what they say, but not what theology has to say regarding a "fall," of which God's Word does not speak. The term was invented in order to relieve God of the responsibility of Adam's action, and so block the way to the truth, that, ultimately, all is out of God.

The idea which the "fall" is supposed to convey is something like this: God made all things perfect and never intended that Adam should transgress. He wanted Adam to enjoy a sinless, happy existence in paradise for all eternity. But, somehow, without God having anything to do with it, and without His fault, Adam spoiled His whole plan by eating an apple which He did not want him to eat. Apples are generally a healthful fruit. I usually eat one early in the morning, with no ill effects, but, somehow, it turned Adam and Eve into sinners beyond reclaim, except for who are rescued through the death of Christ by faith. We dare not speak of this as due to a mistake on God's part, so we shove it off His shoulders to those of Adam, who passed on the blame to Eve, who, in turn, passed it on to the serpent. To show that we think it was really due to something like an accident on the part of our first parents, we call it the "fall."

Few think deeply enough to ask, Why did Adam fall? Why did not God make him so that he could not disobey? God can do this, and has done it in the case of Christ, and will do it for all His saints in resurrection. Why did He plant a tree right in the middle of Eden which could cause his fall, and then forbid him to eat of it? Would it not have been much wiser and safer to root it out altogether, and not allow a single tree of this kind anywhere within his reach, not even outside of the garden? And why allow the serpent access to Eve? Why create a serpent at all if that was the kind of an animal it was? But, deeper still, what was there in Adam and Eve which responded to the suggestion of the serpent, and was tempted by the fruit of the tree? Is it not clear that, before they sinned, there was something within them which yielded to the words of the serpent and caused them to eat of the forbidden fruit? What was this? Scripture calls it the flesh.

Apart from the outward incentive to call forth the tendencies of the flesh and cause it to step over the mark, all was very good. In Eden, man's whole environment was calculated to meet his physical desires. Nothing afflicted his soul, and he knew no evil. It needed the suggestion of the serpent to stir up the flesh in opposition to God. Evidently its disposition even then, as now, was enmity to God, or Eve would have resented the insinuations of the serpent. It did not have the ability to please God. It was not subject to God's law (Rom.8:7,8). These traits are not the result of mortality and sin. They were inherent in human flesh, put there by the Creator, for the same reason, that He planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and sent the serpent into the garden. If Adam had been created immortal and sin-repellant, why plant the tree or send the serpent? It was all a part of the same plan, and was rooted deep in the heart of God, which craved the love and adoration of sinners saved by grace.


Adam was mortal and depended on food and air for his subsistence. Had these been withheld, he would have wasted away. His life was contingent upon the continual renewal of his flesh by the blood due to the vitality derived from the soil and atmosphere, which, in turn, receive their vital virtues from the sun. Hence he was by no means immortal. Shut off the air from his lungs for a short time, and his spirit would have left him. Cut off food from his stomach for a long period, and his soul would have departed. Moreover, if he should breathe devitalized air, or gas, or should eat a substance which would interfere with the operation of his internal organs, such as we call poison, even if he should not die at once, it would introduce a gradual decay which would lead to death if no remedy were used to set matters right again.

It was the flesh in Adam that was vulnerable. To us the flesh seems to be the substantial, permanent part of a human being. On the contrary, it is merely an evanescent, vitalized form of the ground on which we walk. The flesh of everyone changes continuously, so that, literally, we are not the same flesh that we were some time ago. The self-consciousness, the so-called "personality," is not inherent in the flesh at all. We certainly are the same person after having lived half a century, but we may have had seven different fleshly frames within that period. The figure "all flesh is grass" (1 Peter 1:24) expresses this most graphically. Most of us fail to find the figure and simply take it that humanity is as grass, and will pass away into oblivion. Not so. Only one feature of mankind is as evanescent as that.

The flesh is that corruptible part of man, as he is now constituted, in the first creation, which brought in infirmity, dishonor and death, and which continues to be the seat of sin. It is in contrast to other elements in man, and in conflict with them. Therefore we do not read that the corruption of all mankind brought on the deluge, but that all flesh had corrupted its way (Gen.6:12). Adam's life was limited because he also was flesh (Gen.6:3). God did not destroy all animals, but all flesh (Gen.6:17). It is startling and illuminating to read that, by works of law, no flesh at all shall be justified, yet we ourselves are justified by faith (Rom.3:20-24). Moreover, the flesh may be exterminated, yet the spirit saved (1 Cor.5:5). No flesh shall glory (1 Cor.1:29), and what a catalogue is given of the works of the flesh (Gal.5:19)! We should always distinguish between the whole man and the flesh, which is the knave, the rogue, the villain in the tragedy of humanity.

The important point to apprehend is that the flesh in the human pair, even before sin came in, was imbued with a leaning, a tendency, a disposition, a predilection, a proclivity, a proneness toward, a desire or lust for (1 John 2:16; 2 Peter 2:18) soul-satisfaction and pleasure and soulish wisdom, that amounted to a will (Eph.2:3; Rom.8:3), which was at enmity with God (Rom.8:7), which made it sin's flesh (Rom.8:3), as well as man's. It is usual to ascribe "innocence" to Adam and his wife. This term is not used of them, and must be kept out of this investigation, lest it lead us astray. The fact is that both Adam and Eve are called flesh, and this figure, rather than the literal body, or man, is used of him and the race thereafter in close connection with corruption and death (compare Gen.2:23,24 with 6:3,12,13,17).


So-called "Conditionalists" rightly claim that man is mortal, and that there is no immortality except in Christ. But the word "conditional" is not in the Scriptures, and is rather indefinite. It seems to suggest that man must do his part in securing life, so I have kept clear of it, although I was convinced that man is not immortal and the only way he can receive endless life is through Christ, not through Adam. I would prefer to use the term as applied to Adam before he transgressed, and to all who eat of the tree of life in the eons to come. Adam had interminable life under certain conditions, so we may say that he had "conditional" immortality. So long as he was supplied with the necessary sustenance, ate nothing harmful, and was not destroyed by violence, there is no question that he would continue to live indefinitely. The same is true if he had been given access to the tree of life. That would even counteract harmful food, such as he had eaten. It gives "conditional" immortality.


The favorite lesson of a Sunday school superintendent was based on the following clever words, which were put on the blackboard as he proceeded:


With this as a basis he would expatiate especially on the vileness of the "devil." As an aid to the memory it was good. As an expression of Scripture it was bad, for it suggests that Satan is the source of man's immoral sins. It calumniates the Adversary and exculpates the flesh. Satan is not associated with the unmentionable depravities of humanity. These arise out of his own heart. They are resident in his flesh.

A simple and effective method of discovering the vast difference between the works of the flesh and the efforts of the Adversary is to study all the references to each in a concordance. Then it will be seen that Satan does not tempt men to commit the crimes we usually catalogue as immoral, while these are the specialty of the flesh. In general we may classify the crimes committed by or through Satan as spiritual. They are directed against God and His great goal rather than concerned with the corruption of man. Even when they affect the flesh, they aim at the spirit.

Perhaps the most striking passage to show the difference between Satan and the flesh is 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. Corinth seems to have been a very immoral city. Even one of the saints there sank below the level of that degenerate age, and Paul, though absent, directs the ecclesia how to deal with the case. We might imagine that he had fallen into the clutches of Satan, and that the apostle would seek to deliver him from the power of the Adversary. He does the very opposite! He is not snatched away from Satan in order to be saved, but delivered to the Adversary in order that his flesh may be exterminated. So it is that his spirit was saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Satan is a spirit and is concerned with our spirits, not our flesh, except as it reacts on the spirit.

Job's case is very clear on this point. Satan did not tempt him to engage in an orgy of immorality. He filled his flesh with misery, so that Job should curse God and die (Job 2:9). The false friends did not apprehend this fact. Even Job did not understand that the real struggle was between God and Satan. Only at the end did he grasp the great truth that Satan's attack on his flesh was used by God for his highest spiritual benefit. It is thus that the Adversary fulfills his mission. It is his job to see that man is tried and tested, not, indeed, to prove his power, but to demonstrate his impotence.

When our Lord was tried by the Adversary, again it was an attack on His spiritual relationship to God, rather than any enticement to moral delinquency, and our Lord countered it accordingly. After having fasted for days, what crime could there be in turning stones into bread to assuage His hunger? Is not this miracle only the acceleration of the usual process of nature? Stone is weathered by the sun and air, and turned into soil. Plants reach down and take from it the substance and vitality which, in turn, is stored up in the grain. This is ground and kneaded and baked into bread for human consumption. He Who does this in the course of eons can do it in a second. In its place it is eminently right and commendable. Probably we shall experience an even greater miracle constantly in the glorious bodies which will be ours when vivified. Perhaps we will live directly on the sunlight which turns the stone into bread (Matt.4:1-4).

But the error here is fundamental. All life is sourced in God and it is not right to use His sustaining forces apart from His direction. Man, as he is now constituted, must, indeed, live on food which once was a stone, but not on that alone. He must eat in accord with the word of the God Who created the food, and Who sustains the eater. At present man is not constituted to eat stones, for God wishes him to experience the evil connected with the production of his food. There must be toil and trial and tears in order to put him in his proper place before His Creator, and the Model Man is not going to evade these because He has the power to do so. He was still on the way to the cross, which must precede the path to the crown. Satan's object was not to make Him a glutton or a winebibber, as His human enemies called Him on a later occasion, but to draw Him away from absolute dependence on the word of the living God.

The cleverness of the Adversary is evident in his next proposition. Seeing that Christ is determined to be guided by the Scriptures, he quotes a passage to show that his request is in accord with what is written. He takes our Lord to that corner of the temple area which is built up high above the Kidron valley. I have stood upon the wall at this point, but it made me dizzy to look down. It certainly was not a temptation for my flesh to cast myself down. Rather the opposite, for the flesh shrinks from the possible suffering which would ensue if death were not instantaneous. Yet He certainly had no need to be afraid. His hour had not yet come. If He could walk on water, why not on air? After His resurrection He went to a spot within sight of the temple, on the other side of the Kidron, on the Mount of Olives, and ascended to heights which dwarf the temple wall to nothingness.

In the ninety-first (really the 85th) Psalm there are many precious promises to the one who trusts in Jehovah and makes Him his refuge. Above all others, our Lord had a right to "claim the promises by faith." How many of the Lord's dear people try to do this today! How many are disappointed! How it has destroyed faith in the word of God! How much hypocrisy it has engendered! If they really believed this passage, many would take much pride in displaying this faith by jumping down from all sorts of dangerous places, in order to put God on trial, to see if He is true to His word. But this is not faith, but the lack of it! It would be in direct conflict with another Scripture which forbids such dealings with the Deity. The Psalmist did not write concerning such a man. The promises are for those who really trust, and do not need to try to see if it is true. Such was the nature of Satan's trial. It made no appeal to the passions.

In his third attempt to win worship from our Lord, Satan is largely on Scriptural ground, and much that he says is true. The kingdoms of this world are in his hand, and he is able to give them to the man who will worship him. On the other side, Christ is entitled to this glory and will yet take His place at the head of the nations. Nevertheless our Lord indignantly spurned the offer, and bade Satan go hence, because he had claimed the worship that belongs to God alone and to those who represent Him.

The spiritual character of these trials should help us to understand that the mission of Satan is not in the realm of flesh, but of spirit. He is opposed to faith in God, even when he artfully suggests that we put God on trial or when he produces Scripture for his suggestions and demands. Few saints, alas! are able to counter with Scripture as our Lord did, because they do not intelligently apprehend the role in which Satan has been cast by God, and confuse it with that of a mythical "devil" who inflames the flesh and leads men to vile and vicious deeds. Only indirectly, as in the case of Adam, does the Adversary influence mankind in the direction of immorality, that is by leading him into opposition to God's will, and thus away from his conditional immortality.

Satan sowed the darnel or "tares" among the disciples of the kingdom. This figure is most suggestive. An immoral man could hardly qualify, for the point lies in the outward likeness of the two plants. Immorality cannot well be disguised sufficiently to fulfill the figure. On the contrary, as the disciples would be moral and upright, it would be such characters who could keep a place among them without detection (Matt.13:19).

Judas was an acknowledged apostle of our Lord for years. No one could have occupied such a public position for long if he had even a taint of immorality about him. Yet he is characterized by the same title as the Adversary (John 6:70).

It was the self-righteous Jews whom our Lord characterized as the offspring of the Adversary (John 8:44). Such a sinister name was never given by Him to tax gatherers and sinners. He showed the sincerest sympathy for those whose flesh had led them into sin, but utmost harshness clothed His dealings with those who were under the guidance of Satan. This is reversed today. The minister in the pulpit may be far more deserving of condemnation than a gutter bum, yet we applaud the one and abhor the other. Surely God's thoughts are not ours and His ways are not our ways!

That mankind is incurably opposed to God, even without Satan's temptations, is fully demonstrated by the thousand years during which the Adversary will be bound. Such a long period of probation, under the beneficent rule of Israel, in whose hearts God's law has found a place, during which there will be physical blessings such as this earth has not yet seen, ought to cure mankind of their enmity toward God. Instead of that, it flashes into a flame as soon as Satan reappears.

Satan, as well as man, fails because of the infirmity of man's flesh. He seeks to serve man, and is on the side of reform and world betterment - apart from God. He has most cleverly deceived Christendom, even as he deluded Eve, so that it now is well organized to further his schemes for a better world, without acknowledging the sovereignty of Israel's Messiah.

[Part Three]

[Return to main indexpage]