I was listening to Ron Dart’s Born to Win program today, and Dart was discussing the concept of “born again” in John 3.
According to Armstrongites, “born again” means believers becoming spirit beings at their resurrection. They read Jesus’ statement in John 3:3–“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (KJV)–in light of what Paul says in I Corinthians 15:50-52: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
Whereas most Protestants interpret “born again” in terms of conversion and spiritual regeneration in the here-and-now, Armstrongites view it in terms of the body’s spiritual composition at the resurrection. For them, the resurrected body will be spirit, not flesh. Garner Ted Armstrong used to say to those who claimed to be born of the spirit, “Well, let’s get the hatpin and prove it!” In Armstrong’s eyes, if the person bled when stuck with the hatpin, that proved he didn’t have a spiritual body, so he wasn’t born of the spirit.
While Armstrongites interpret John 3 with I Corinthians 15 in mind, Protestants think of other passages when they read John 3. There’s Romans 8:9, which tells Christians, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” Christians are in the spirit, Paul? What about the hatpin test? Apparently, Paul thinks Christians can be in the spirit in the here-and-now, even while they have a flesh-and-blood body!
There are the many passages in I John affirming that Christians have been born of God (I John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18), and they have nothing to do with bodily composition. Then there is I Peter 1:22-23: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” According to this passage, Christians have already been born again, and their spiritual experience should influence how they conduct their lives.
One thing I liked about Dart’s program today is that he actually tried to place the Armstrongite interpretation into the context of John 3. According to Dart, Nicodemus was asking about the kingdom of God, and Jesus was trying to show him that his expectations of the kingdom were off. Dart maintained that the Jews had different views on the afterlife, and Jesus was staking out his position.
Indeed, Jews had different views on the afterlife. Many of them had a very physical view of the resurrection, some going so far as to state that the resurrected Jews would continue having sex. I think Dart is interpreting Jesus to mean, “Nicodemus, you have a limited view of the resurrection. God wants to make you a spirit being! Imagine the potential of that!”
At times, Dart seems to manifest a knowledge of biblical scholarship, as when he points out the diversity of Jewish views on the afterlife. At other times, he makes broad statements that ignore important factors. For example, he said today that the Jews of Christ’s day did not believe in an immortal soul that went to heaven.
Oh, I don’t know. Josephus asserts that the Pharisees thought that “that the souls of good men only are moved into other bodies,–but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment” (Jewish Wars 2:163). Josephus also describes the Pharisaic position as “souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again” (Antiquities 18:14). Maybe that doesn’t say souls go to heaven, but it’s a far cry from the Armstrongite doctrine of soul sleep!
How about Wisdom of Solomon 3, which portrays the souls of the righteous as in the hands of God, exalted to great heights after the death of the body? That doesn’t sound like soul sleep, either!
So we really can’t say that the Jews of Christ’s day didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul. Some did. And we haven’t even gotten to Philo!
I remember reading a very old Armstrongite booklet on the immortal soul, and it said that Hellenism influenced both Judaism and Christianity. That’s a good scholarly position! But there are some Armstrongites who want to tie their doctrines to Judaism, probably because they equate Judaism with “Hebraic biblical thought” (even though Dart explicitly distinguished the two in today’s program!).