The world’s religions have one major belief in common: At the time of death, the soul separates from the physical body and departs to the hereafter—purgatory, nirvana, heaven or hell. This promotes the idea of an immortal soul that lives on, independent of one’s physical body.
Death is a mystery to humanity, and religion capitalizes on this. When dealing with death, many seek religion for reassurance and comfort. Professing Christianity—which claims to teach from the Bible—teaches the very opposite.
Before beginning this lesson, we need to understand the origin of the “immortal soul” doctrine. We will see that it does not come from the Bible. We will also look at facts so amazing as to shock those who have assumed such beliefs originated from the Bible. What the Bible teaches pertaining to what is man and what is his ultimate destiny is truly fascinating.
To accept doctrines contradicting the Bible—such as the immortality of the soul—requires a denial of what the Bible teaches. Notice this short, pointed statement: “Many reform Jews, while rejecting the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, accept the doctrine of the immortality of the soul” (“Resurrection,” The New Jewish Encyclopedia).
The Jewish Encyclopedia addresses the core of this issue: “The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body [death] is a matter of philosophical and theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere taught in the Holy Scripture…The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principle exponent, who was led to it through Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended” (“Immortality of the Soul”).
Plato drew upon Babylonian and Egyptian speculations. His ideals were further developed by Aristotle. This school of thought, termed “Platonism,” was later revisited and adopted by philosophers and theologians of the second and third centuries. These philosophers developed the theological ideas adopted by the Catholic Church, making their modified gospel more acceptable to the elite intellectuals of that day—Gnostics and others with different schools of thought.
Some of the most influential philosophers contributing to Catholic theology were scholars such as Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-167), a Platonist (a follower of Plato). He strongly opposed Jewish practices and beliefs. Thus, he opposed the Law of God—including the Sabbath, which he termed “Judaizing.”
Tertullian (A.D. 150-220), a philosopher and lawyer from Carthage, Tunisia, was another Platonist. Also an advocate of Stoicism and Asceticism, he was instrumental in the development of monastic orders. Tertullian wrote extensively on doctrines such as the trinity and the immortal soul.
More than those preceding him, Origen (A.D. 185-254) of Alexandria, Egypt, blended Platonism with Catholic theology. His philosophy became known as neo-Platonism, which strongly advocated the belief in the immortal soul.
Despite total lack of biblical foundation, a number of other philosophers, writers and theologians contributed to this belief. Even today, professing Christianity vainly attempts to use the Bible to prove and explain these pagan theories.
But what does the Bible really teach?
(1) Upon being created and God imparting to him “the breath of life,” did Adam become a living soul? Genesis 2:7.
Comment: The word “soul” is translated from the Hebrew term nephesh, meaning a breathing creature or animal. Throughout Genesis, nephesh is translated “creature” when referring to animals. Nephesh is even found in the book of Numbers on a number of occasions to represent a dead body. This word pertains to a physical body—animal or human. Adam became a living soul and, upon death, he was a soul that had ceased living!
(2) What would happen to Adam if he failed to obey God’s instructions? Genesis 2:17.
Comment: This did happen. Adam and Eve did eventually die.
(3) Who told Eve that she would not die if she disobeyed God’s instructions? Genesis 3:4.
Comment: Read Genesis 3:1-6 for the full context. The serpent—Satan—first exposed human beings to the doctrine of immortality.
(5) What is the end result, or wages, of sin? Romans 6:23.
(6) What event befalls both humans and beasts at the end of their lives? Ecclesiastes 3:19.
Comment: The Hebrew word translated “spirit” in Ecclesiastes 3:21 is ruwach. The correct translation of ruwach is “air, breath or wind” and occasionally, “spirit.” Ecclesiastes 12:7 clearly answers the question in Ecclesiastes 3:21.
(11) Does God clearly differentiate between flesh and spirit? John 3:6.
(1) What did God instruct the Israelites regarding the blood of animals? Deuteronomy 12:23.
Comment: In verse 23, “life” is translated from nephesh. Just as the breath sustains life, the blood, providing oxygen to the cells, is the wellspring of physical life for animals and man.
Comment: God clearly shows a certain sanctity of life, typified by the blood—showing that the shedding of blood atones (pays the price) for sin by reason of the life within it. In verse 11, nephesh is translated “soul,” where the context clearly means “life”—life within the blood.
Comment: Christ became a sacrifice for sin by offering His soul—His physical life. Christ’s own lifeblood was poured out unto death as the ultimate atonement for sin.
Comment: These verses show that all thoughts cease at death.
(1) Although mankind suffers the same fate as animals—death—does man have a far greater purpose? Genesis 1:26-27.
Comment: Not only was man given dominion over all the physical creation, he was also created in God’s image. This entails not only a physical resemblance, but also mental attributes on a far higher plane than animals. God placed a certain element inside the human brain that raised it to a higher level—a human mind.
(2) While man is a soul, what has God placed within the human brain, giving man the ability to think and reason? I Corinthians 2:11.
Comment: Man himself is not a spirit. The human spirit is an element added to the human brain. This dimension added to his brain is what sets him apart from all other living creatures.
(3) Did God form the spirit of man to be placed within him? Zechariah 12:1.
Comment: This spirit that God placed within man does not have a separate consciousness of itself. It cannot function apart from the sensory organs that provide input to the mind—through the physical senses. Although this human spirit is not a separate entity, it is spirit essence, which expands the human brain into the human mind. It is this element within the mind that Satan led the ancient philosophers to perceive as an immortal soul. But the human spirit is limited to knowledge of physical things—not spiritual.
(4) In addition to imparting the ability of creative forethought and reasoning, does the spirit in man also motivate him to achieve physical accomplishments? Proverbs 18:14.
Comment: The human spirit can help one aspire to higher levels of accomplishment, but it is still limited to the physical plane.
(5) How then, can man, limited to physical knowledge, come to understand spiritual things? I Corinthians 2:9-14.
Comment: The Spirit of God far exceeds the human spirit. The gulf that exists between the understanding that is possible through God’s Spirit and that which is possible by the spirit of man, is far greater than the gulf existing between the human mind and the animal brain. Only when the Spirit of God—the holy spirit—enters the human mind and guides the spirit in man, can one come to understand spiritual matters.
(2) Who is the only Being that has existed as a physical human, but is now immortal? I Timothy 1:16-17.
Comment: Christ set the pattern to follow for those who believe Him to attain eternal life.
(3) How did Christ answer the man who asked how he could attain eternal life? Matthew 19:17.
(4) Is obedience a requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit? Acts 5:32.
(5) Who will be changed to immortal spirit beings at the time appointed by God? Romans 8:11.
(1) Did David prophesy of the resurrection of Christ? Psalm 16:10.
Comment: Acts 2:27 quotes this same scripture.
(2) How can we be certain that this prophecy refers to Christ? Acts 2:30-31.
Comment: The Greek word in Acts 2:27, 31 translated “soul” is psuche. This word could be translated as “breath” and “life,” just as the Hebrew word nephesh. Hence, the body of Christ was not left in the grave to deteriorate—He was resurrected.
(3) Does the Bible show that the unrepentant—who lack God’s Holy Spirit—are destined to perish? Luke 13:3-5.
Comment: If all humanity had immortal souls, they would not die or perish. But death is the natural course of mortal mankind.
(4) Why was Adam, after he had sinned, not allowed to eat of the Tree of Life? Genesis 3:22-24.
Comment: In verse 22, we read, “…least he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Adam and Eve did not have immortal souls—only by eating of the Tree of Life would they have received the Holy Spirit, thus imparting them with eternal life.
As mentioned earlier, Satan’s statement to Eve, “you shall not surely die,” is the same lie he has fostered by way of false religion—that mankind has an immortal soul. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, but rather chosen to obey God and eaten from the Tree of Life, they would have received the Holy Spirit.
(5) If Christ had not risen from the dead, would our faith be in vain? I Corinthians 15:14-18.
(6) What does I Corinthians 15:20-22 assert as to Christ’s Resurrection?
Comment: Not only did Paul personally witness the resurrected Christ after being called, he was also trained and tutored directly by Christ (Gal. 1:15-18). The apostles also saw Christ a number of times after His Resurrection, and even spoke directly with Him (John 20-21; Luke 24; Mark 16; Matt. 28). The apostles would have never been willing to be martyred for what they would have known to be a hoax.
(7) How did Job answer his own question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” Job 14:14-15.
Comment: Note that it is the dead who instantaneously awake to a new life at the resurrection. No mention is made of immortal souls, standing by, awaiting the resurrection.
Comment: These scriptures refer to the First Resurrection. In later lessons, we will explain the three resurrections. As a brief preview, the First Resurrection is referenced in Revelation 20:6; the Second Resurrection in Revelation 20:11-12 and Isaiah 65:20-25; the Third Resurrection in Revelation 20:13-15 and Matthew 25:41. A number of other scriptures elaborate on each of the three resurrections.
(1) Many read verses such as I Thessalonians 4:17 or Philippians 1:23, and assume that phrases such as “to be with the Lord” or “to be with Christ” mean that souls have gone to heaven. What do these phrases really mean?
The second phrase (Phil. 1:23) has to do with Paul’s desiring to be with Christ, as every convert would desire. But heaven is not mentioned in this context. Neither is the timeframe mentioned as to when he would be with Christ. The answer is clearly given in II Timothy 4:6-8. Verse 8 shows the timeframe Paul had in mind. The phrase “at that day” meant the time of the Return of Christ and of the First Resurrection, when Paul—along with others—would receive his crowns.
(2) If souls were immortal, they would be indestructible. Can souls actually be killed or destroyed? Matthew 10:28.
Comment: In the above scripture, the meaning of “soul” applies to life rather than the physical breathing creature. This life certainly refers to the spirit-begotten life that begins once someone receives the Holy Spirit. Yet this embryonic stage of life is not immortal—not until one is changed to a spirit being does he “put on” immortality (I Cor. 15:52-54).
(3) What does “earnest of the Spirit” mean? II Corinthians 5:5.
Comment: The term “earnest” means a small portion of the Holy Spirit that God gives in order to demonstrate His agreement to give eternal life to the recipient who remains faithful. The recipient must allow the Spirit to lead him toward spiritual growth and maturity. The small portion of the Spirit is given in advance as a pledge of the full Spirit body—changed at the First Resurrection.
The hope of true Christians is to be in the First Resurrection—not the false hope of an immortal soul separating from the body at death. For a greater understanding of this vital subject, refer to our booklets Is There Life After Death? and What Science Will Never Discover About Your Mind.
You can now better appreciate verses such as Psalm 8:4-6: “What is man, that you are mindful of him? And the son of man, that you visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor. You made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things [including the entire universe] under his feet.”
Having completed this lesson, you should have clearer insight into who and what man is. Human beings are far more transitory than most have thought, yet with far greater potential for glory and honor than we could ever imagine!