discussions. The world into which Christianity was born was a Hellenistic world, dominatedby Plato and paganism.One of these pagan ideas was the belief that the human body was little more than a shell,housing an eternal life force alternately called a spirit or a soul. (Quite obviously, what Paulmeant by those terms was very different.) At death, then, the spirit was free to fly away intothe heavens to whatever gods truly existed, or to float down into the nether regions for eternalpunishment.The Good News that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and had conquered death once and for allmade little sense to the Greeks, who viewed death not as an enemy to be conquered but ratheras a friend to be embraced. Hence Paul's frustration with the philosophers in the Acts of theApostles. No, Christians maintained that each person, each body,
a soul, and of sacred worth.The Church maintained this doctrine strongly in its earliest years, although pagan ideasalways lurked in the background. St. Augustine's powerful influence combined Biblicaltradition with Greek thought, and redefined our terms to a degree. In the late nineteenth andearly twentieth century came the rise of "premillenial dispensationalism", which had beenunknown to Christians dating back to Paul. As the premillenialists so strenuously embracedthe idea of a "rapture" (the faithful will vanish one day, rather than rise with Christ's return),pagan ideas seemed more attractive. While others have decried the cancer of extremefundamentalism (perhaps second only to pluralism as the greatest enemy of contemporaryChristians), I will merely say that the greatest victory of this movement has been its injectionof pagan notions of the soul into the Christian dialogue.On April 26, 1955, Oscar Cullmann, a theology professor at the University of Basel and at theSorbonne in Paris, delivered the Ingersoll Lecture on the Immortality of Man at HarvardUniversity's Andover Chapel. The lecture was subsequently published as IMMORTALITYOF THE SOUL OR RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD?: THE WITNESS OF THE NEWTESTAMENT. Cullmann, a traditional Reformed theologian, was at the time a well knownNew Testament scholar, noted especially for his works on the early Church.IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL OR RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD? was to be hisfinest work, proclaiming the Christian truth in a culture which had forgotten it. It not onlyaffirmed my own views but challenged them and enhanced them as well. He states thetraditional Christian view far more capably and eloquently than I ever could. This book is notfor the weak at heart, for the truth it espouses is far more exciting than any pagan notion of flying spirits...it is the Good News that Jesus Christ has conquered death and is aliveforevermore...and because he lives, we too shall live.I present this Internet edition of Cullmann's brief masterpiece to the Church with the prayerthat the Church may experience renewal in examining the work, that the Body of Christwould be built up, that we could recapture some of the sense of urgency of the early Church,and that some may come to know Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father now andforevermore. Amen.
Rev. Keith H. McIlwain, May 1998
Internet Edition completed January 2002