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Death be not Proud

The Problem of the Afterlife


Mark Corner

Might people one day live for ever? Would they want to? What sense can be made of ideas commonly referred to in terms of an ‘afterlife’? What about notions of Heaven and Hell, of Purgatory and reincarnation? And in what sort of state are human beings expected to be during this ‘afterlife’ – immortal souls or resurrected bodies (and does either notion make sense)? What about the fact that any ‘afterlife’ concerns not just the fate of individuals but of society (‘communion of saints’) and even the physical universe itself?
This book tries to survey some of the existing arguments about life ‘after’ death, with chapters on material from Christian tradition (particularly the New Testament and the Early Church) and from the philosophy of religion. It then attempts to reach its own conclusions, drawing on Kant and Barth in order to suggest that death is to be overcome rather than survived.


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Chapter Nine Paul and the ‘Afterlife’ 141


Chapter Nine Paul and the ‘Afterlife’ The last chapter suggested two problems with belief in an ‘intermediate state’. One was the question of ‘what’ was in that state, and in particular whether or not it could be described as a ‘disembodied soul’. The other was whether focusing upon an ‘intermediate state’ narrowed the focus of under- standing the ‘afterlife’ to that of tracking the fate of an individual soul. Both of these matters come to the fore in discussing the theology of Paul. Paul’s view of resurrection is dif ficult to assess. This is partly because a number of texts are attributed to him, some of which are not considered to be authentically Pauline. Even when there is a consensus concerning which works are by Paul himself, it is clear that they are written at dif ferent times and in dif ferent circumstances; a change of opinion is therefore possible. Moreover, there is always the danger of a circular argument whereby one dates the letters on the basis of some presumed development in Paul’s think- ing, and then justifies belief in the development itself by appealing to the presumed dating. Furthermore, Paul’s letters address dif ferent communi- ties with dif ferent needs, communities who misunderstand the gospel in dif ferent ways and who show dif ferent failings in their practical lives. The fact that Paul’s letters appear at dif ferent times and in dif ferent circumstances is often stressed in one particular context – the delay in the Parousia. The argument...

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