Gnostic Doctrine

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Doctrine of Immortality in the Odes of Solomon

Review of Immortality in the Odes of Solomon 

Ode 3:8 reads, “Indeed he who is joined to Him who is immortal, truly shall be immortal.” The “Him” in this passage refers to God. Those who are joined to the Immortal One shall be immortal. This suggests that those who are not joined to God shall not be immortal.

Ode 5:14 reads, “And though all things visible should perish, I shall not die.” It is not clear at this point in the ode whether the writer is claiming that he already possesses immortality, and therefore cannot die, or if he is hinting at a future resurrection to immortality. However, we should note that this verse equates “perish” with “death.”

6:14 And souls that were near departing they have caught back from death:

Ode 6:15 reads, “Even living persons who were about to expire, they have held back from death.” In this verse we find “expire” regarded as the same as “death.” Those who still draw breath, though about to die, are held back from losing what is left of their breath and passing from the state of living to the state of death.

Ode 7:24 reads, “And let there not be anyone who breathes that is without knowledge or voice.” This is a rebuke for all who breathe (that is, for all who are alive) to acquire knowledge of God and speak boldly and joyfully of their knowledge. Those without breath are dead and have no ability to speak.

Ode 8:21-22 reads, “And you who were loved in the Beloved, and you who are kept in Him who lives, and you who are saved in Him who was saved. And you shall be found incorrupt in all ages, on account of the name of your Father.” The “Beloved” refers to the unnamed Messiah. The Messiah himself is said to be saved and those found in him are saved. This at the very least implies that those not found in Messiah are not saved.

Ode 9:4 reads, “For in the will of the Lord is your life, and His purpose is eternal life, and your perfection is incorruptible.” This verse associates the life of the believer with the purpose of God – that is, eternal life. This perfection is said to be “incorruptible.” Presumably, one who is not a believer may anticipate that his/her status before God is imperfect and therefore will be found “corruptible.”

Ode 9:7 reads, “And also that those who have known Him may not perish, and so that those who received Him may not be ashamed.” This verse equates “knowing God” with the prospect (or hope?) of not “perishing.” It further suggests a link between “perish” and “shame.” Those who know God will not be ashamed. Those who have not known Him will be ashamed.

Ode 10:2 reads, “And He has caused to dwell in me His immortal life, and permitted me to proclaim the fruit of His peace.” Here we see that God causes immortal life to dwell in the believer. The converse is implied for those who do not believe. That is, God will not cause immortal life to dwell in the unbeliever.

Ode 11:12 reads, “And from above He gave me immortal rest, and I became like the land that blossoms and rejoices in its fruits.” This passage speaks of God giving the believer immortal rest. Immortality is thus presented as something that is given, rather than something that one already possesses.

Ode 15:8-10 reads, “I put on immortality through His name, and took off corruption by His grace. Death has been destroyed before my face, and Sheol has been vanquished by my word. And eternal life has arisen in the Lord's land, and it has been declared to His faithful ones, and has been given without limit to all that trust in Him.”

This verse is speaking about the Messiah putting on immortality. One does not put on something which one already possesses. Immortality is contrasted with corruption. Death, which is said to be destroyed by Messiah putting on immortality, is destroyed by this act. Death is also associated in this passage with Sheol, i.e. the place of the dead. The clothing of Messiah introduces eternal life in God’s land. This suggests that, prior to this act, eternal life was not seen in God’s land. If there was no eternal life found in the land prior to this event, then the opposite state, i.e. mortal life, is all that existed in the land.

Ode 22:8-10 reads, “And It chose them from the graves, and separated them from the dead ones. It took dead bones and covered them with flesh. But they were motionless, so It gave them energy for life.”

Here the word “It” refers to the right hand of God, i.e. Messiah. It is the Messiah who chooses (rescues?) believers from their graves. This choosing separates the chosen from those who are not chosen. The ones who are not chosen remain behind in the grave. They are in a state of death. Messiah is said to take “dead bones,” not “live bones,” and cover them with flesh. Those who are so clothed with flesh are motionless until Messiah gives them energy (spirit?) for life, that is, reanimates them. (This sounds very much like a description of resurrection from death to life. This observation may not seem significant but it will be seen to be when compared with Charlesworth’s view, which will be given below.) In contrast, those who are not chosen are not clothed with flesh, their bones remain dead and they are not given energy to become re-animated.

Ode 23:20 reads, “Then all the seducers became headstrong and fled, and the persecutors became extinct and were blotted out.”

The “seducers” are those who have been seduced into unbelief and go about seducing others to unbelief. They flee away from, rather than running to, the source that is able to save them from death. They are said to become “extinct” and “blotted out.” This means that they will die and the very remembrance of them will be removed.

Ode 24:9 reads, “And all of them who were lacking perished, because they were not able to express the word so that they might remain.”

Those who are lacking (in knowledge and belief) will perish. As we have observed previously, the writer equates “perish” with “death.” These persons are not able to express the word i.e. the confession of faith in Messiah. Is that inability due to their lack of knowledge/faith or is it their inability to speak because they have died? Both understandings are possible.

Ode 26:11 reads, “Who can interpret the wonders of the Lord? Though he who interprets will be destroyed, yet that which was interpreted will remain.”

This is a difficult text, but it appears to be saying that although he who interprets God’s acts is destroyed in death, the interpretation itself cannot be destroyed. This appears to me to be a reflection on the mortality of even those who are righteous. In other words, all human beings, whether righteous or wicked, will be destroyed in death. As we have seen in other passages, this destruction is not final for the righteous believer, though it is for the wicked unbeliever.

Ode 28:6-8 reads, “Because I am ready before destruction comes, and have been set on His immortal side. And immortal life embraced me, and kissed me. And from that life is the Spirit which is within me. And it cannot die because it is life.”

This verse seems to be an echo of Ode 26:11. The righteous man prepares himself for the destruction that all men must endure. He is confident that he has already been assured through his faith in Messiah that he will not remain in a state of destruction. His faith places him on the side of the one who is immortal and who has the ability to grant him immortality. Because of his faith, he is embraced (or has the sure hope of being embraced) by immortality. Conversely, those lacking this faith can hold no such sure hope. The writer goes on to link immortal life with the Spirit that is within, or will be in him again when his dead bones are clothed again with flesh and energized to become capable of motion. His immortality depends on the immortality of the energizing Spirit.

Ode 28:17 reads, “And I did not perish, because I was not their brother, nor was my birth like theirs.”

The speaker in this verse is apparently the Messiah. He is not denying that he died. He is claiming that he has been rescued from the grave while his enemies either have not been (or will not be) so rescued.

Ode 29:4 reads, “And he caused me to ascend from the depths of Sheol, and from the mouth of death He drew me.”

The “he” in this verse refers to the Messiah. The writer is saying that Messiah has caused him to come out of the grave. This appears to be another example of resurrection of the believer from the grave. The writer equates “Sheol” with “the mouth of death.”

Ode 29:10 reads, “And the Lord overthrew my enemy by His Word, and he became like the dust which a breeze carries off.”

The writer’s enemy, the unbeliever, becomes like dust that is carried off in the wind. This sounds very much like the reduction of a person to ashes (in the lake of fire?) and the dissolution, or scattering, of the once united components of the body. This carries the connotation of utter destruction of the unbeliever.

Ode 31:7 reads, “And possess yourselves through grace, and take unto you immortal life.”

Immortal life is something that the writer urges his reader to take unto themselves. There is no need to urge someone to take unto themselves something they already possess.

Ode 33:9 reads, “Be not corrupted nor perish.” In this passage we find a parallel between “corrupted” and “perish.”

The writer is admonishing his readers to avoid this terrible end.

Ode 33:12 reads, “And they who have put me on shall not be falsely accused, but they shall possess incorruption in the new world.” The “me” in this verse is Grace personified. Those who accept God’s grace will possess incorruption in the age to come. This suggests that those who do not accept God’s grace will not possess incorruption in that future day.

Ode 34:6 reads, “Grace has been revealed for your salvation. Believe and live and be saved.” Salvation (from the penalty of sin, death) is found only through accepting the grace of God. Those who believe and live a righteous life will be saved. In contrast, those who do not accept God’s grace are unbelievers. They will not live righteously and will not see salvation.

Ode 38:3 reads, “And became for me a haven of salvation, and set me on the place of immortal life.” In context, it is Truth personified that sets the believer on the place of immortal life. Those who are not guided by Truth are not set on the place of immortal life. They remain set on the place of mortal life.

Ode 39:12 reads, “And they are neither blotted out, nor destroyed.” This verse is speaking of the sure path of Messiah’s footsteps. Just as his footsteps are not “blotted out, nor destroyed,” neither will the footsteps of those who follow in Messiah’s path – who place their trust in him. Those who do not obediently follow Messiah walk a different path. There is no such assurance of protection from being “blotted out, nor destroyed” for those walking another path.

Ode 40:6 reads, “And His possessions are immortal life, and those who receive it are incorruptible.” God’s possession is immortal life. It is something that belongs to Him and man must receive it as a gift from Him in order to be incorruptible. If man possessed immortal life inherently, there would be no need to receive the gift of immortality from Him. Those who do not receive the gift are corruptible.

Ode 41:3 reads, “We live in the Lord by His grace, and life we receive by His Messiah.” The “life” we receive by God’s Messiah is that of immortality. There is no immortality for man apart from accepting the grace of God. That immortal life is dispensed by God’s Messiah. Those who do not follow the Messiah do not receive life in the age to come.

Ode 41:11 reads, “And His Word is with us in all our way, the Savior who gives life and does not reject ourselves.” God’s “Word,” the “Savior,” is His Messiah. He gives (immortal) life to those who follow him. Those who do not follow Messiah will be rejected. In other words, those who will not follow Messiah will not receive (immortal) life from him.

Ode 41:15 reads, “The Messiah in truth is one. And He was known before the foundations of the world, that He might give life to persons for ever by the truth of His name.” This verse restricts the gift of life to persons who accept the truth that the person able to give the gift is God’s Messiah. Since all persons have life, the “gift of life” implies that Messiah is able in the name of his God, by His authority, to grant something that man lacks in his life. That something is immortality, but only for those who believe and follow him.

Ode 42:10-13 reads, “I was not rejected although I was considered to be so, and I did not perish although they thought it of me. Sheol saw me and was shattered, and Death ejected me and many with me. I have been vinegar and bitterness to it, and I went down with it as far as its depth. Then the feet and the head it released, because it was not able to endure my face.” The speaker in this passage is Messiah. His enemies thought they had caused him to perish. Ultimately, they have not. The place of the dead (the grave) and death were not able to hold him. This vivid imagery describes the resurrection of Messiah from the dead. As we have seen in earlier passages, the hope of mortal man is to be resurrected from the dead, by the one who defeated death and the grave.

Without question, the author(s) of the Odes of Solomon presented a view on human immortality that is clearly Conditional in nature. The description of dead bones being clothed with flesh and being re-animated by the injection of spirit is the classic description of resurrection from the dead. The author is blunt in confining this life to those who believe and follow Messiah.

Immortality is the possession of God alone. He granted it to His Messiah when He resurrected him from the place of the dead. The once mortal Messiah has put on immortality. It is this same Messiah that will resurrect from the place of the dead those who follow and obey him, and clothe them with immortality.

Charlesworth’s comments on the concept of immortal life pictured in the odes are somewhat perplexing. He writes, “The Odist professes neither the Greek concept of an immortal soul that is transmigrated from one body to another nor the Jewish concept of the resurrection of the body…The Odist rather exults in his salvation and experience of immortality because he has taken off a corrupt garment and put on a garment of incorruption…All of this language is used to state emphatically that his immortality is geographically here and chronologically now.” 12

Certainly the odes do not profess the Greek concept of an immortal soul, even without speaking of transmigration “from one body to another”. However, the odes do not fail to express the Jewish concept of the resurrection of the body.

Charlesworth understands the odist to say that the change from corruption to incorruption has literally occurred in the odist’s natural lifetime – it is something that has already been obtained by the followers of Messiah. But it seems clear that the odist is expressing the sure hope that the follower has in Messiah. It is hope held in prospect; the literal accomplishment is sure but reserved for the day when Messiah bodily resurrects the believer from the dead and clothes him with immortality.

I acknowledge both that I lack Charlesworth’s academic credentials and that my understanding of the odes may be biased by my own belief in the Jewish concept of human immortality. It is possible that I am reading something into the text that is not there. Keeping that concession in mind, I am respectfully suggesting for consideration the proposition that the odist does in fact express the Jewish concept of a bodily resurrection of mortal believers to immortal life in the age to come.

12 Charlesworth, op. cit., p. 731.

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