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Why You Don’t Have an Immortal Soul

by John LaBissoniere Estimated reading time: 6 minutes. Posted on 4-Mar-2024
The spirit of the human mind is a wonderful thing. It gives us understanding, purpose and a way to connect with God. Thank God for that gift.

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; 3:19). But Satan craftily influenced Eve to believe that God was lying and that she and Adam would not die (Genesis 3:4). It was from this starting point that the devil launched a nefarious campaign to deceive all future generations on this and many other subjects. His intent was to blind them from knowing their awesome destiny in God’s Kingdom (Revelation 12:9; Matthew 6:33). As a result, billions of people of various religions, including most professing Christians, have been convinced that they have immortal souls.

Famous Greek philosophers expressed this belief in their writings. For example, Plato (ca. 428-347 B.C.) argued in his book Phaedo that 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 [and] dissoluble” (quoted by David Tatum, “The Historical Development of the Immortal Soul,” Afterlife.co.nz, Aug. 9, 2019).

Such erroneous ideas had an impact on the early leaders of the Catholic Church. For instance, Augustine (A.D. 354–430) wrote in his work City of God, “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.”

Hundreds of years later another influential Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225-1274), taught in his Summa Theologica that the soul is a separate entity that cannot be destroyed. And as the Protestant Reformation took root in the 1500s and began spreading, most of its leaders continued to embrace the erroneous concept of the soul’s immortality.

What do the Hebrew Scriptures teach about the soul?

In Western philosophy, the notion that people have immortal souls has been commonly accepted, with the accompanying idea of going to heaven or hell at death hinging on this belief. But what does the Bible say? The phrase “immortal soul” is found nowhere within its pages! Even the concept is not there. Neither is the teaching that death is merely the separation of body and soul, with the soul continuing on.

The Hebrew word translated “soul” in Scripture, nephesh, basically 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, “Soul,” emphasis added throughout). This can be seen in the way the Bible employs the term. The word nephesh is used of animals, fish and insects before its first reference to human beings.

For example, Genesis 1:20 states, “Then God said, ‘Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures [nepheshim, plural form of nephesh], and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.’” Also, in Genesis 1:25 we read, “And God made the beast [nephesh] of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind.”

So nephesh is used in Scripture when referring to the physical life of flesh-and-blood creatures—including that of humankind. For example, we read, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul [a nephesh]” (Genesis 2:7, King James Version). A living soul here is what Adam was, not something he had. The New King James renders this “living being.”

Consider that the word “soul” is used four times in Ezekiel 18:4, all translated from the word nephesh, referred to as something that can die: “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.” Clearly the soul is not immortal!

The word “soul” in the writings of the apostles

Just as the Hebrew word nephesh refers to only physical, mortal life, which can perish, the Greek word psuche does the same. It’s the only word translated “soul” in the New Testament. Found 105 times, it’s translated “soul” 58 times, and in other instances it’s rendered with such terms as life, heart, heartily and mind, the latter in terms of physical, conscious being.

For example, 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.” In these cases, the word just means a person—a person who can die. Thus, souls are mortal, not immortal. They can and do die.

Furthermore, the apostle Paul told the members of the congregation in Rome to pursue immortality, writing, “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (Romans 2:7, KJV). Paul never taught Christians that they already had immortality but that it needed to be “put on” (1 Corinthians 15:53-55). He also said that only God possesses immortality and that eternal life is a gift from God (1 Timothy 6:16; Romans 6:23), not something we inherently have from the start.

Since people are “living souls,” as we’ve seen, what happens when they die? The Bible presents the dead going into sheol, which means the “pit” or “grave.” King David stated that through death, a person’s relationship with God ceases completely: “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave [sheol] who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5).

What’s more, those who die have no consciousness of anything. King Solomon wrote, “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). And he further wrote, “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” (verse 10).

The wonderful truth about the resurrection

Although what has been covered above may appear troubling, it is emphatically not the whole picture or the end of the story! There is a spiritual component to man, though not conscious of itself apart from the body. And while human beings are physical and subject to death, the good news is that God promises that there will be life after death. Psalm 49:15 declares, “But God will redeem my soul [nephesh] from the power of the grave: for He shall receive me.” The Bible reveals that repentant, obedient individuals will be resurrected from the grave and given perpetual spirit life (see 1 Corinthians 15:52).

Jesus Christ was the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). The resurrection of His followers 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 a relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ. Following that, they too will be given the opportunity to enjoy everlasting life (Revelation 20; and see the study guide offered below).

The Satan-generated fiction about the immortal soul enshrouds the crucial and wonderful truth about the amazing future God has in store for humanity. Indeed, people do not have immortal souls. But everyone who truly repents, obeys and worships God through Christ is promised a resurrection from death to eternal life. Let us therefore give tremendous honor to God for the magnificent truth He reveals in the Bible. And importantly, let’s make sure we are, as James 1:22 exhorts us, personally doers of God’s Word and not hearers only!

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