The immortality of the
soul is an ancient tradition that has given hope to many, in the thought
that they will live on after death. The teaching is that the soul lives
on forever, either with God or in hell, living in a state of torment
(whether there is a life after death will be discussed in the following
chapter, including a discussion on whether or not hell is a place of
Before going further
into this discussion, it should be clear that the soul is not the same
thing as the spirit. The Apostle Paul makes this clear, making reference
to the body, soul and spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 And may the God of
peace Himself fully sanctify you, and may your whole spirit and soul
and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, we would not
confuse the soul with the spirit, as many do. Rather, the spirit is
simply our life force. It is something that God gives us, and on our
death, it returns to him.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 then the dust shall return
to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.
We are not spirits in
bodies, for the spirit returns to God who gave it. Spirit is a gift from
God, it gives us life. In fact, it is at times used in the sense of ones
breath, such as at Matthew 27:50, where BDAG1
provides the definition of
"that which animates or gives life to the body..."
Having said this, we
must ask, what is the soul? Is it something that departs, going off into
some afterlife? No, essentially our soul is simply our life as we
experience it. We are souls, and our souls live by means of our body and
the spirit God gives us.
Genesis 2:7 And Jehovah God formed the man
out of dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of
life; and the man became a living soul.
The preceding verse
makes mention of the two things that man is made of, and what the
combination results in. The dust is what our bodies are made of, the
breath of life, our spirit, is what God gives us (Ecc. 12:7), and bringing
the two together, we are a soul, a living being.
Can it be said that the
soul is something that then lives apart from the body? No, it is what we
are when we have the breath of life. Without life, our soul is no longer
alive, for we no longer have a life to enjoy.
The best analogy to this
situation is a light bulb. The light bulb is the body. It is the shell.
The electricity causes the bulb to glow, it is the spirit. Finally, the
light it emanates is our soul. As long as the electricity is on and the
bulb is not broken, we have light. However, if the electricity is turned
off, the light goes out. This is exactly how the soul works.
Genesis 35:18 And the result was that as her
soul was going out (because she died) she called his name Ben-o'ni; but
his father called him Benjamin.
Just as the light "goes
out" so does the soul. The spirit returns to God (Ecc. 12:7) and the soul
goes out, it ceases to emanate forth. While many use the preceding verse
to demonstrate that the soul leaves the body after death, this idea does
not fit with what is stated by Genesis 2:7, where the man did not receive
a soul, but he became one.
Having established our
understanding of what the soul is, many will object to the idea that the
soul can "go out" in the sense of a light bulb, as they maintain that the
soul is an immortal, immaterial part of man that lives on after death. We
find that the idea of the soul being immortal is quickly disprove by
Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, they are all My souls.
As the soul of the father, also the soul of the son, they are Mine. The
soul that sins, it shall die.
There can be no question
to the simple statement of this verse: the soul dies! There is no
translation issue, there is no question of what the verse states in the
most simplest of terms. Scripture further goes on the explain that God
can destroy the soul.
Matthew 10:28 And you should not fear the
ones killing the body, but not being able to kill the soul. But rather
fear Him being able to destroy both soul and body in Gehennah.
How can it be said that
man cannot kill the soul though, when we have already noted that the soul
dies and that God can destroy it? We have to note Jesus' use of
language. He did not consider this temporary death by really be death,
but he considered it mere sleep, as though the person were still alive.
Mark 5:39 And going in, He said to them, Why
do you make a tumult and weep? The child has not died, but is sleeping.
Was the child dead as we
would consider such from a clinical perspective today? Absolutely. But,
able to resurrect them, Jesus considered dead ones to be nothing more than
asleep. It is thus fitting that we understand that God considers ones who
have died to still be alive.
Luke 20:38 He is a God, not of the dead,
but of the living, for they are all living to him."
Even though they are in
the state of death, God, and thus Christ as well, consider them alive and
thus speak of them in such a manner.
Romans 4:17 just as it is written: "I have
appointed you a father of many nations." This was in the sight of the One
in whom he had faith, even of God, who makes the dead alive and calls
the things that are not as though they were.
Does the Soul
Several have pointed to Samuel in an
attempt to demonstrate that an immaterial soul lives on after death. They
argue that Samuel really returned from the dead and spoke to people. The
following is the account they reference.
1 Samuel 28:7 And Saul said to his servants,
Seek out for me a woman, a medium, and I will go to her and inquire of
her. And his servants said to him, Behold, a woman, a medium, is in Endor.
8 And Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes. And he and two of
the men with him went; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, I
beg you, divine for me by necromancy, and bring up to me him whom I say to
you. . .11 And the woman said, Whom shall I bring up to you? And he said,
Bring up Samuel to me. 12 And the woman saw Samuel, and cried out with a
loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, Why have you deceived me?
For you are Saul! 13 And the king said to her, Do not be afraid. For what
have you seen? And the woman said to Saul, I have seen a god coming up out
of the earth. 14 And he said to her, What is his appearance? And she
said, An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a robe. And Saul
knew that he was Samuel. And he bowed his face to the earth, and
We must first ask, how
did Samuel have a robe? If this was supposed to simply be his departed
soul, how did he have a bodily form that could support a robe, something
material? How did Samuel rise up as a soul in light of this being a
direct contradiction to what is stated in scripture?
Job 7:9 As the cloud fades, it goes, so he
who goes down to Sheol shall not come up.
On a person's death,
they go into Sheol, within the earth, the grave (Num. 16:32, 33). It is
from here that "Samuel" is said to have come up, and yet we know that ones
that go into Sheol do not come up. What then is occurring in this
The Geneva Bible
explains the situation, stating that it was "to his imagination, even
though it was Satan, who to blind his eyes took on him the form of Samuel,
as he can do of an angel of light." This is the same understanding
provided by various commentators, such as Calvin and Luther as well,
fitting clearly with what is stated in Job.
This understanding is
found to be historical as well, for we find that Tertullian writes2,
"For, indeed, it was no less than this that was anciently permitted to the
Pythonic (or ventriloquistic) spirit -even to represent the soul of
Samuel, when Saul consulted the dead, after (losing the living) God." The
woman had no real power to bring up souls, God would not be the one doing
this, as this would be in violation of his own law! The only possible
alternative is the one presented here.
The Souls Under
A verse commonly gone to demonstrate that
the soul lives on after death is found in Revelation. Here we find the
verse speaking of souls crying out. Many take this literally, though no
all, and with good reason.
Revelation 6:9 And when He opened the fifth
seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those having been slain for the
Word of God, and for the witness which they had. 10 And they cried with
a great voice, saying, Until when, holy and true Master, do You not judge
and take vengeance for our blood, from those dwelling on the earth? 11
And there was given to each one a white robe. And it was said to them that
they should rest yet a little time, until might be fulfilled also the
number of their fellow-slaves and their brothers, those being about to be
killed, even as they.
Adam Clarke, in his
Commentary on the Bible, explains the meaning of this passage, stating
that " A symbolical vision was exhibited, in which he saw an altar; and
under it the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God -
martyred for their attachment to Christianity, are represented as being
newly slain as victims to idolatry and superstition."
The verse does indeed
demonstrate symbolism, for what is stated in the verse does not fit the
"orthodox" view of the location of the souls. There is no literal
altar under which souls remain, but clearly it is symbolic. In fact,
for those who argue for a literal interpretation, it must be asked how an
immaterial soul is clothed with literal material, a robe? Or is the
robe symbolic? Most certainly it is, representing the souls'
cleansed standing before God. If the robe is symbolic, would not the
remainder of the passage be as well? If it is not symbolic, how does
the immaterial wear material? The position of taking a literal view
of this passage is simply too difficult to maintain.
What then is happening
within this text? This text is found to be extremely similar to when
Abel's blood cried out to Jehovah.
Genesis 4:10 And He said, What have you
done? The voice of the blood of your brother cries to Me from the ground.
Yes, the blood,
something that has been at times equated with the soul
(Gen. 9:4), is said to cry out. Clearly the verse is demonstrating
symbolism, for they are asleep, and they are crying out, just as Abel's
blood did. Their being said to be at the base of the altar is fitting,
for blood was to be sprinkled at the altar's base for a sin offering (Lev.
Having noted prior that the soul dies (Ez.
18:4), obviously for a resurrection to take place, the soul must live
again. In our articles discussing the resurrection we noted that in the
resurrection to heavenly life, it does not occur in a body of flesh.
Therefore, we must conclude, that if one is receiving a new body, the soul
is what is resurrected. This is indeed what scripture teaches too!
Revelation 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they
sat on them. And judgment was given to them, and the souls of the ones
having been beheaded because of the witness of Jesus, and because of the
Word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast nor its image, and had
not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand. And they lived
and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead did
not live again until the thousand years were ended. This is the first
When verse 5 states that
"This is the first resurrection", what is "This" in reference to? Clearly
it is in reference to the souls of the ones seen being alive! If the
souls of these ones, are alive and this is the first resurrection (them
having life), they souls must have come to life! This passage in no way
teaches a resurrection of the flesh, the same body that a person died in.
Albert Barnes, though
one that maintains a resurrection to heavenly life in a physical body of
flesh, does admit the following for this verse3:
"By no possible construction can it mean the �bodies� of the saints. If
John had intended to state that the saints, as such, would be raised as
they will be at the last day, it is clear that he would not have used this
language, but would have employed the common language of the New Testament
to denote it. The language here does not express the doctrine of the
resurrection of the body; and if no other language but this had been used
in the New Testament, the doctrine of the resurrection, as now taught and
received, could not be established." Barnes attempts to overcome this
difficulty by denying that the verse is speaking of the actual
resurrection, though the passage clearly states that it is such.
Are these ones, their
souls being alive, existing simply as disembodied souls? Not at all, for
as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15, they are given a new spiritual body.
They exist in this new body, the soul of them having been raised from the
dead, with this new body.
Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition, revised and edited by
Frederick William Danker, 2000 (BDAG). p. 823.
Tertullian, "A Treatise on the Soul", Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, Chpt.
3. Albert Barnes� Notes on the Old Testament, Electronic
Version (Barnes), Rev. 20:4.