Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?

by Oscar Cullmann

Oscar Cullmann, D.Th, D.D., was Professor of the Theological Faculty of the University of Basel and of the Sorbonne in Paris.

The present work is the translation of a study already published in Switzerland, (Mélanges offerts à KARL BARTH à l’occasion de ses 70 ans [pubi. by Reinhardt, Bâle, 1956][Theologische Zeitschrift, N. 2, pp. 126ff]. See also Verbum Caro [1956], pp. 58ff.) of which a summary has appeared in various French periodicals.


ENTIRE BOOK) Professor Cullmann compares the Greek conception of the immortality of the soul with the early Christian conception of the resurrection, and shows that they are so different in orgin and in translation into experience as to be mutually exclusive. To the Greek, death was a friend. To the Christian death was the last enemy, but the enemy conquered by Christ in His resurrection, and conquered by all who are His.


  • Preface

    “No other publication of mine has provoked such enthusiasm or such violent hostility. Exegesis has been the basis of this study, and so far, no critic of a wide variety of kinds has attempted to refute me by exegesis.”

  • Introduction

    The widely accepted idea of ‘The immortality of the soul’ is one of the greatest misunderstandings of Christianity. The concept of death and resurrection is anchored in the Christ-event (as will be shown in the following pages), and hence is incompatible with the Greek belief in immortality.

  • Chapter 1: The Last Enemy

    Nothing shows better the radical difference between the Greek doctrine of immortality of the soul and the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection than the death of Socrates in contrast to the death of Jesus.

  • Chapter 2: The Wages of Sin: Death

    The belief in the resurrection presupposes the Jewish connexion between death and sin. Death is not something willed by God, as in the thought of the Greek philosophers; it is rather something, abnormal, opposed to God.

  • Chapter 3: The First-Born from the Dead

    Christ is risen: that is we stand in the new era in which death is conquered, in which corruptibility is no more. For if there is really one spiritual body (not an immortal soul, but a spiritual body) which has emerged from a fleshly body, then indeed the power of death is broken.

  • Chapter 4: Those Who Sleep

    Death is conquered, but it will not be abolished until the End. Nothing is said in the New Testament about the details of the interim conditions. We only hear this: We are nearer to God.

  • Conclusion

    The teaching of the great philosophers Socrates and Plato can in no way be brought into consonance with that of the New Testament. That their person, their life, and their bearing in death can none the less be honoured by Christians as the apologists of the second century have shown.