Differences Among the Apostles (Bible Interpretation)

I explained the purpose of this post in yesterday’s post.

We tend to think of the Bible as one book. It’s not. “Bible” is from the Greek and Latin words for “books.” The books of the Bible were written by many different authors, and even though they were inspired by God, those authors varied in their terminology and expressions.

An example is the use of “eternal life” by the apostles Paul and John. It is true that “the Bible” says that we have eternal life now. However, it is also true that “the Bible” says that eternal life is something we will not receive until the judgment.

Through John, “the Bible” says that we who believe have eternal life already. Through Paul (and Matthew), “the Bible” says that eternal life is a future gift handed out at the judgment (e.g. Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:7; 6:22-23; Gal. 6:7-9).

Does “the Bible” contradict itself?

Well, frankly, yes. It uses eternal life two different ways.

However, Paul and John don’t contradict each other. They just talk differently.

Paul speaks of a life that comes from God, which we have on this earth. He just doesn’t call it eternal life. He simply says “life.” For example, in Galatians 2:20, he writes, “I am crucified with the King, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but the King lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Hmm. That’s not a good verse to use because it doesn’t have “life” in it, but it’s such a good verse I’m going to leave it quoted there. Let’s try this one: “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). That has “life” in it and goes pretty well with Gal. 2:20.

So Paul believes that we have the life of Jesus in us already, and that Jesus lives through us.

John agrees. He just calls it eternal life already. In fact, he refers to Jesus as the embodiment of eternal life (1 Jn. 1:1-2).

So how do we reconcile their two different ways of speaking? For me, John explains how their terminology is reconciled in 1 Jn. 5:11-12:

This is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one that has the Son has the life; the one that does not have the Son does not have life.

Eternal life is in the Son of God. If we have the Son, we have eternal life because he is eternal life. The reward offered at the judgment, however, is immortality. Eternal life will not only be in the Son and our possession of it determined by whether we have the Son or do not have the Son. Instead, God will reward us with eternal life, and we will become immortal.

According to the early Christians, that is one of the reasons that there is a judgment and that only the worthy will walk with Jesus in white (Rev. 3:4). Giving us immortality—eternal life as a possession of our own—is the equivalent of Man in the garden eating from the tree of life and living forever. God stationed a cherubim with a flaming sword to keep sinful Man away from that tree.

At the judgment, he will admit the righteous to that tree. Immortality will be ours. It is a tremendous gift that cannot be given to the race of Adam. It is given only to those who overthrow Adam and become part of the new Man, the new creation brought about by Jesus Christ.

Quotes & References

[God] will repay everyone according to his works; to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good, he will repay eternal life. (Rom. 2:5-7)

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when the corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then the saying shall be brought to pass that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:53-54)

Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life. (Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp 2, c. AD 110)

Having through patience overcome the unjust governor and thus acquired the crown of immortality, [Polycarp] now, with the apostles and all the righteous, glorifies God with joy. (Martyrdom of  Polycarp 19, c. AD 165)

How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness! … Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for him, in order that we may share in his promised gifts. (1 Clement 35, AD 95-96)

[Jesus] shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by his angelic host, when he shall also raise the bodies of all men who have lived and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality. (Justin, First Apology 52, c. AD 155)

About paulfpavao

I am a church historian and pastor, but I do occasionally play APBA baseball for fun.
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