The New Testament explicitly states that only God is immortal.1 And yet, elsewhere in the New Testament, Christians are said to become immortal.2 Even Jesus told those who believed in him that they would never die.3 How can this be reconciled?
This question is answered in Pseudo-Justin’s Questions and Answers to the Orthodox:
Eἰ μόνος ἀθάνατός ἐστιν ὁ θεὸς κατὰ τὸν ἀπόστολον, πῶς ἀληθὲς κατ' αὐτὸν τὸ Πάντες μὲν οὐ κοιμηθησόμεθα;
Μόνος ἔχων τὴν ἀθανασίαν λέγεται ὁ θεός, ὅτι οὐκ ἐκ θελήματος ἄλλου ταύτην ἔχει, καθάπερ οἱ λοιποὶ πάντες ἀθάνατοι, ἀλλ' ἐκ τῆς οἰκείας οὐσίας.
If only God is immortal according the apostle, how is it true according to him that “we shall not all sleep”?
It says God [is he who] “only has immortality” since He has this [immortality] not of His will, as all the rest are immortal, but rather, of His own essence.
Succinctly stated, God alone is inherently immortal, and all the rest who are or shall be immortal are immortal by God’s will since they are granted immortality by Him. Hence, it is written that “the Father has life in Himself.”4 Not so for all others; all others are given eternal life.5
Justin Martyr himself further elaborates the quality of the soul’s immortality in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew:6
Now, that the soul lives, no one would deny. But if it lives, it lives not as being life, but as partaking of life. But that which partakes of anything is different from that of which it partakes. Now the soul partakes of life, since God wills it to live. Thus, then, it will also not partake [of life] when [God] does not will it to live. For living is not its own characteristic property, as it is God’s.
ὅτι δὲ ζῇ ψυχή, οὐδεὶς ἀντείποι. εἰ δὲ ζῇ, οὐ ζωὴ οὖσα ζῇ, ἀλλὰ μεταλαμβάνουσα τῆς ζωῆς· ἕτερον δέ τι τὸ μετέχον τινὸς ἐκείνου οὗ μετέχει. ζωῆς δὲ ψυχὴ μετέχει, ἐπεὶ ζῆν αὐτὴν ὁ θεὸς βούλεται. οὕτως ἄρα καὶ οὐ μεθέξει ποτέ, ὅταν αὐτὴν μὴ θέλοι ζῆν. οὐ γὰρ ἴδιον αὐτῆς ἐστι τὸ ζῆν ὡς τοῦ θεοῦ·
In the prior chapter, he wrote,7
For those things which exist after God, or shall at any time exist, these have a corruptible nature, and are such as may be blotted out and cease to exist. For God alone is unbegotten and incorruptible, and therefore He is God, but all other things after Him are created and corruptible.
ὅσα γάρ ἐστι μετὰ τὸν θεὸν ἢ ἔσται ποτέ, ταῦτα φύσιν φθαρτὴν ἔχειν, καὶ οἷά τε ἐξαφανισθῆναι καὶ μὴ εἶναι ἔτι· μόνος γὰρ ἀγέννητος καὶ ἄφθαρτος ὁ θεὸς καὶ διὰ τοῦτο θεός ἐστι, τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ πάντα μετὰ τοῦτον γεννητὰ καὶ φθαρτά.
- God alone is inherently immortal; God as “life in Himself.”
- Everything else is created and not inherently immortal.
- To become immortal, God grants (gives) it immortality as He wills.
- Two types of immortality: inherent and granted.
1 1 Tim. 6:16: «ὁ μόνος ἔχων ἀθανασίαν».
2 1 Cor. 15:53–54
3 John 11:26
4 John 5:26: «ὁ πατὴρ ἔχει ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτῷ»
5 John 10:28: «κἀγὼ ζωὴν αἰώνιον δίδωμι αὐτοῖς»
6 p. 489, Ch. 6
7 p. 488, Ch. 5
Justin Martyr. Πρὸς Τρύφωνα Ἰουδαῖον Διάλογος (“Dialogue with Trpho the Jew”). Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Græca. Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 6. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1857.