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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 25 2024

Why you don’t have an immortal soul

Belief in the immortality of the soul dates back thousands of years and is found in many religions, but can the phrase “immortal soul” be found anywhere in the Bible?

God told the first human beings, Adam and Eve, that if they sinned they would die and return to the dust from which they came (Genesis 2:17 and 3:19), but Satan convinced Eve that God was lying and that they would not die (Genesis 3:4). Since then millions of people have been convinced they have immortal souls.

Famous Greek philosophers wrote about belief in the immortal soul. For example, Plato argued the soul is indestructible: “The soul is most like that which is divine, immortal…whereas the body is most like that which is human, mortal….” (Afterlife: The Historical Development of the Immortal Soul, August 9, 2019 by David Tatum).

These wrong ideas had an impact on the early leaders of the Catholic Church. Augustine (A.D. 354–430) wrote, “But because the soul from its very nature, being created immortal, cannot be without some kind of life, its utmost death is alienation from the life of God in an eternity of punishment” (City of God, A.D. 427).

The Bible doesn’t teach that death is the separation of body and soul and that souls are immortal. The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the Old Testament is “nephesh,” which simply means “a breathing creature.” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible explains that nephesh “.... never means the immortal soul, but it is essentially the life principle or the living being” (Vol. 4, 1962).

This can be seen in the way the Old Testament uses the word “nephesh”. It is used for animals, fish and insects before it is used in relation to human life. Genesis 1:20 says, “Then God said, ‘Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures [nephesh]...’” Also, in Genesis 1:25 we read, “And God made the beast [nephesh] of the earth according to its kind… And God saw that it was good.”

In the Bible nephesh is used when referring to the physical life of flesh and blood creatures— including humankind. For example, we read in Genesis 2:7 that “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground…and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). Here, nephesh is translated as “soul” or “being” in regard to man.

The word “soul” is used four times in Ezekiel 18:4, which speaks of something that can die, and each time the word “soul” is used, it is translated from the word nephesh: “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.”

The New Testament Greek word “psuche” refers to physical, mortal life, and is found 105 times throughout the New Testament It is translated as “soul” 58 times. In other places where the word “psuche” is used in the New Testament it is rendered life, heart, heartily, mind, you and us. For instance, Acts 3:23 says, “And it shall be that every soul [psuche] who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” Also, as James 5:20 says, “Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul [psuche] from death and cover a multitude of sins.” These and other passages plainly show souls are not immortal, and can die.

The Apostle Paul exhorted members of the congregation in Rome to pursue immortality: “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (Romans 2:7). Paul never taught Christians they already had immortality, but that it needed to be “put on” (1 Corinthians 15:53-55). He also said only God possesses immortality and that eternal life is a gift from God (1 Timothy 6:16; Romans 6:23).

So what happens when people die? Using the Hebrew term “sheol,” the Bible explains the dead go into the “pit” or “grave.” King David said at death, a person’s relationship with God ceases. “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave [sheol] who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5)? King Solomon also wrote, “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing…” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave [sheol] where you are going” (verse10).

While human beings can die, the good news is that God promises there will be life after death. The author of Psalm 49:15 tells us, “But God will redeem my soul [nephesh] from the power of the grave: for He shall receive me.” The Bible reveals repentant, obedient individuals during this life will be resurrected and be given eternal spirit life. I Corinthians 15:52 assures us that, “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.

Jesus Christ was the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). The first resurrection to immortality will take place at His second coming when He establishes God’s Kingdom on earth. Later will come another resurrection—to physical life—for all the people who never had an opportunity to develop a relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ in this life. At this time, they too will be given the opportunity to become a begotten child of God. (See Bible Insights issue Eternal Life Offered To All)

People do not have immortal souls—but everyone who truly repents, obeys and worships God is promised a resurrection from death to eternal life.