Posts Tagged ‘soul that sinneth’

Reason #5 – Spiritual Death In Ezekiel 18 Means A Contradiction Between Ezekiel and Christ

If Ezekiel 18 contains the “plan of salvation” for the OT saint, then there is a contradiction between the book of Ezekiel and the words of the Lord Jesus Christ.  When it comes to understanding the covenants of God, most honest Bible students will agree the “Old Testament” was still in effect during the time of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).  In fact, it was impossible for the New Testament to be activated until the Lord Jesus Christ died.

(Hebrews 9:16-17)  For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.   For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

If the Old Testament was still in effect during the earthly ministry of Christ, we would expect the mechanics of salvation to be the same as the time of Ezekiel.  Note we did NOT say the “message” of salvation.  It is important to make the distinction.  We see an abrupt change in the message given to Israel when John the Baptist arrives on the scene:

(Matthew 3:1-2)  In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,  And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Even the brethren who claim man was saved by works in the Old Testament concede the point there is a new message when John starts preaching.  These brethren also claim Mark 10 and other passages demonstrate man was saved during the time of the earthly ministry of Christ by repentance, baptism, and following the commandments.[1] If we can agree the mechanics of salvation remained the same (again, please note I did not say “message”), we must also agree the mechanics of eternal security remain the same.  In other words, God saved people either by faith plus works or faith alone in BOTH the time of Ezekiel and the time of the earthly ministry of Christ.

By necessity, the brethren who believe in faith plus works also believe Ezekiel 18 proves people lost their salvation when they sinned and failed to bring the appropriate sacrifice resolving to keep the Law.  I recently heard a preacher use Ezekiel 18:24 to “prove” a man lost his salvation in the OT when he didn’t keep up works under the Mosaic Law.

(Ezekiel 18:24)  But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.

But how does this compare with the doctrine taught by Jesus Christ?  Does Jesus Christ teach a man must “keep up” the commandments in order to remain eligible for eternal life?  Without even examining the faith plus works vs. faith alone issue, examine the aspect of security in the following verses:

  • (John 6:47)  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.
  • (John 3:18)  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
  • (John 5:24)  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
    • If a person passes from death to life, does the failure to “keep the commandments” pass him back from life to death?
  • (John 10:27-29)  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:  And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.   My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
    • If “any man” cannot pluck the sheep out of Christ’s hand, and “no man” is able to “pluck” them out of the Father’s hand, how could a man’s failure to obey the Law remove him from the hand of both the Son and the Father?

The Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that those who are saved are eternally secure.  This presents a major problem for those who believe Ezekiel’s message “proves” man lived under a conditional salvation in the Old Testament based on human performance.  God dealt with Israel under the same covenant both in Ezekiel 18 and during the earthly ministry of Christ.  There cannot be a contradiction in the Word of God so the problem must be with understanding.  Either man was eternally secure in Ezekiel 18 and the faith plus works interpretation is wrong, or man was not eternally secure and there is a contradiction between the words of Christ and the words of Ezekiel.

In case some are wondering, it is important to clarify before becoming mischaracterized.  Please also note I DID NOT STATE:

1) The message of salvation was the same for those prior to the dispensation of grace as those living in the dispensation of grace.

2) The mechanics of eternal security was the same for the Old Testament saint as it is today.

3) The ministry of the Holy Spirit was the same in the Old Testament as it is today.

God operates with man on the basis of 2 or 3 covenants (Covenant Theology)

[1] See the article Old Testament Salvation and The Rich Young Ruler for my commentary on that passage


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Reason #4 – No One Could Every Perfectly Comply With The Law

Man has never been able to live a righteous life on his own.  If man was capable of living a life that satisfied God’s Holiness, the death of Jesus Christ would not have been necessary.  But those who claim Ezekiel 18 presents the terms of salvation for the Old Testament saint must admit they believe man was at some point capable of fulfilling the terms of the Mosaic Law.  If a man was to obtain or re-obtain eternal life based on his Law-keeping, then it must have been possible at some point in his life to stand before God with all of it fulfilled.  Those holding this position must admit this based on their interpretation of this verse:

(Ezekiel 18:21)  “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”

On the other hand, the position of faith states that man was never and could never keep all the Law.  Man could never do that which is lawful and right.  The law was never made for those who could perform it.  As the Apostle Paul states,

(1 Timothy 1:9)  “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,”

Those who claim life and death in this passage are spiritual not physical must accept it was possible at some point for an Old Testament person to keep all the Law.  To this, we must say – Impossible! It insults the very nature and character of God and is an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to imply that man could ever stand righteous based on his performance.  Additionally, those who hold this position must also believe people without the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit were able to do something those who are indwelt permanently today could never do:  Keep the whole Law.

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The Proverb

(Ezekiel 18:1)  The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,

“The word of the LORD came unto me…” occurs 46 times in Ezekiel.  The prophet is about to communicate something directly from God Himself.

(Ezekiel 18:2)  What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?

Although the destruction of Israel was yet to be accomplished by the Babylonians, a proverb was circulating amongst the exiled people at that time.  Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel, also wrote about this proverb in Jeremiah 31:29-30.  Both quoted the proverb to let the nation know the time had come for the people of Israel to stop using it as an excuse for their circumstances.  Please notice the proverb is about “the land of Israel.”

This proverb concerned the collective guilt of the nation and the object of blame for their current predicament.

…the fathers –  The previous generations prior to the one currently in Babylonian captivity.

…sour grapes – The sins which they (the fathers) committed.

…the children – The current generation.

…the children’s teeth are set on edge – The consequences, which is the suffering they were enduring – exile into a foreign land.

There are different ideas regarding what “set on edge” means.  Obviously, the “sour grapes” mean they are unripe.  They are bitter, which is what John Wycliffe states in his early English translation.  The taste of these grapes the fathers ate has an effect on the mouths of their children.  Some commentators suggest the proverb is talking about the acidic reaction on the teeth.  Regardless of the chemical explanation, the proverb provides a human explanation of the current condition of Israel during Ezekiel’s time.  God commands an immediate stop to this proverb.

The proverb tries to explain the reason for the suffering of the current generation.  It points to the sins of the previous generations, and attempts to avoid the guilt or at least waters down the idea of individual responsibility.  Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah write a strong rebuke rejecting the proverb.  The human tendency to avoid bearing personal accountability for sin goes all the way back to Genesis 3 where Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.  The remainder of Ezekiel 18 is designed to set Israel straight regarding accountability.

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Ezekiel 18:4 – “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

Ezekiel 18:20 – “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”

Clarifying Terms – “Old Testament Salvation”

Many Christians wonder about “salvation” in the Old Testament.  However, it is first important to clarify what “salvation” is being discussed.  “Salvation” is a term that can mean many different things.  Many times in the Old Testament, “salvation” or “deliverance” refers to relief from physical infirmities, physical punishments, or physical captivity.  However, without understanding the context and meaning of passages in question, some have been lead to wrong conclusions.  When most Christians think about salvation in the Old Testament, they think about salvation of the soul from Hell.  In this article, we will equate the use of the term “salvation” with individual salvation “from the debt and penalty of sin.”    At a very high level, there are two basic views of soul salvation for the Old Testament saint.  On one side, there are those who believe Old Testament people were saved from the debt and penalty of sin by performing good works in accordance with their covenant relationship with God.  On the other side are those who believe Old Testament people were individually saved from the debt and penalty of sin by faith alone, believing in the message God provided at various times in history. (This does not negate the fact that there was a covenant relationship between God and Israel)


…”the soul that sinneth, it shall die…” at first glance seems innocuous enough.  But when the full scope of the implications are thought out, combined with some of the bold claims by preachers, the very character and nature of God comes into question.  In the scope of our examination, there are two main categories of error when it comes to this passage.  Both stem from failure to understand the literal context of Ezekiel 18.  Both stem from people claiming to be proponents of dispensationalism.  Both stem from people claiming to hold to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures.  Yet, when their positions are examined, they fall short both in dispensational and literal interpretations.

Interpretation #1 – Gospel-Today Position

Those who hold this position use the phrase “…the soul that sinneth, it shall die…” in their gospel presentation to show people today that all sinners are doomed to eternal separation from God.

Another belief, not as common, concerns the eternal fate of those who are unable to make a conscious decision about the gospel.  There are some people who believe little children, including infants, and those who do not have the mental capacity to understand the death, burial and resurrection of Christ on their behalf will be condemned to Hell because they possess a “soul that sinneth.”

Interpretation #2 – Old Testament Salvation Position

Those who hold this position claim “…the soul that sinneth, it shall die…” demonstrates how people were saved in the Old Testament.  This view claims those in the Old Testament who died without continuing in the works of the Law were eternally lost.  Furthermore, the proponents of this view claim that God only provided righteousness to those who upheld and performed the Mosaic Law.  (In my article, Old Testament Salvation and The Rich Young Ruler I identified two different “flavors” of erroneous beliefs regarding soul salvation and the Mosaic Law.  For the sake of simplicity, I make no distinction here and refer you to that article for further explanation)


The foundations of both interpretations rest on a failure to correctly understand the context of the passage.  Both interpretations fail to recognize the literal and historical setting of the passage.  Instead, an attempt is made to spiritualize a passage that had very definite physical implications for Israel.  The result ultimately impacts how the character and nature of God is presented and perceived.

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