Romans 2:7—Is immortality acquired or possessed?

Problem: Paul speaks here of “seeking” immortality. He also refers to acquiring it at the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:53). However, Jesus taught that the soul is immortal, that is, it cannot be destroyed by death (Luke 12:5). Paul also insists that the soul survives death (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; cf. Rev. 6:9). But which is it—do we already possess immortality or do we only acquire it at the resurrection?

Solution: The Bible reserves the term “immortality” for humans in their resurrected state. It is something acquired, not possessed before the Resurrection, since Christ, who was the first one to attain an immortal resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:20), “brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10) for the rest of the race.

Nevertheless, the fact of immortality includes the human soul as well. For the soul is not destroyed by physical death, just as Jesus said (Luke 12:5). It survives death and goes into either God’s presence (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23), if it is saved, or into conscious hell (Luke 16:22–26; Rev. 19:20–20:15), if it is lost. Since the soul (and/or spirit) is not mortal, as the body is, in this sense it is proper to say the soul is immortal. However, the whole person—soul and body—is resurrected to immortality. So in this sense, the soul gains immortality at the resurrection of the body.

However, in the biblical sense of living forever in an immortal body, human beings do not possess immortality before the resurrection. Even so, only God is intrinsically immortal (see comments on 1 Tim. 6:16); whatever immortality humans have, they derive from God. The matter can be summarized as follows:

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.