01 January, 2006

What the Bible says about the "Immortal Soul"

The Truth About the Nature of Man
The best starting place for any questions about the nature of man is from the record of the first man's creation. In Genesis 2:7 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."

From this we learn that man's basic element is dust and this is what compromises his body. This body is lifeless without the "breath of life" which is given from God. It is this which animates the body and makes it into a "living soul". Genesis puts forth the simple equation:

Dust + Breath of Life = A Living Soul

Look at each of these terms as they apply to the nature of man:

That man is dust and that he returns to dust at his death is obvious from what God tells Adam later on in Genesis 3:19, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

There have been many men in the Bible who have recognized this fact such as Abraham in Genesis 18:27, "And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:" and Job in Job 10:9, "Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again?"

It is important to keep in mind that our bodies are made of dust and that they return to dust when we die. It should change our whole attitude before God because he is our maker. He has formed us and given us life, and he can take it away. God is the only source we can look to for life and immortality (1 Timothy 6:16).

Breath of Life
The Hebrew words for "breath of life" are "neshema chay" which is also termed the spirit or "ruach" of God (see Genesis 7:15,22). The breath or spirit of life is what gives life and therefore we find that when the scriptures speak of death it is when the breath or spirit of God is taken away.

Job 34:14-15 "If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit (RUACH) and his breath (NESHEMA); All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust."
Psalms 104:29 "Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath (RUACH), they die, and return to their dust."
Ecclesiastes 12:7 "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit (RUACH) shall return unto God who gave it."

Living Soul
The Hebrew word for "living soul" is "nephesh chay" and interestingly enough the first usage of the word is applied to animals in Genesis 1:20-21, "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life (CHAY), and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature (NEPHESH CHAY) that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good."

It is also used that way in Genesis 1:27 and 2:19. These verses tell us that both man and beast have something in common which is the breath or spirit (see Gen. 7:21-22) which makes them a living soul. Once we know this then the verse in Ecclesiates 3:18-20 becomes quite clear, "I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath (RUACH); so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again."

This is very plain. Physically man is not above the beast. They are both made of the dust, they have the same type of breath or spirit which is given by God, and they are all living souls, but when God withdraws his breath they both return to the dust. One thing IS different though between man and beast. Man is the only one to have been made in the "image and likeness" of the Elohim (Gen. 1:27). This gives him the ability to be a partaker in the promises of God and to attain unto eternal life which is the gift of God. For proof of this compare Psalm 49:20 and 2 Peter 1:3-4 and it is seen that the knowledge of God and his ways is what distinguishes us from the beasts.
In summary, we have seen that the word "living soul" is used both of man and of beasts and could be described in the following way,

NEPHESH - A body made of dust that is animated by the breath or spirit of God. This breath makes it alive and thus it is "nephesh chay" or a living soul. Without this breath the soul, body or life is dead (Ezekiel 18:4) and the body returns back to dust.

The Immortal Soul
The Hebrew and Greek words which are translated 'soul' in the Bible ('Nephesh' and 'Psuche' respectively) are also translated in the following ways:


The 'soul' therefore refers to the person, body or self. The famous 'Save Our Souls' (S.O.S.) clearly means 'Save us from death!' The 'soul' is therefore 'you', or the summation of all the things which make up a person. It is understandable, therefore, that many modern versions of the Bible (e.g. the N.I.V.) rarely use the word 'soul', translating it instead as 'you' or 'the person'.

The animals which God created are called "moving creatures...every living creature" (Gen. 1:20,21). The Hebrew word translated "creature" here is 'nephesh', which is also translated 'soul'; for example in Gen. 2:7: "...and man became a living soul". Thus man is a 'soul', just as the animals are 'souls'. The only difference between mankind and animals is that man is mentally superior to them; he is created in the physical image of God (Gen. 1:26; see Study 1.2), and some men are called to know the Gospel through which the hope of immortality is opened up to them (2 Tim. 1:10).

In regards to our fundamental nature and the nature of our death, there is no difference between man and animals as says Ecc. 3:19,20. The inspired writer of Ecclesiastes prayed that God would help men to appreciate this hard fact, "that (men) might see that they themselves are beasts" (Ecc. 3:18). It is therefore to be expected that many people will find this fact hard to accept; indeed, it can be humiliating to realize that by nature we are just animals, living out the same instincts of self-preservation, survival of the fittest and procreation. The N.I.V. translation of Ecc.3:18 says that God 'tests' man by making him see that he is just an animal; i.e. those who are humble enough to be His true people will realize the truth of this, but those who are not will fail this 'test'.

The philosophy of humanism - the idea that human beings are of such supreme importance and value - has quietly spread throughout the world during the twentieth century. It is a considerable task to clear our thinking of the influence of humanism. The plain words of Ps. 39:5 and Jer. 10:23 help: "Man at his best state is altogether vanity" and "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps"

One of the most basic things which we know is that all human bodies - indeed all "living creatures" - eventually die. The 'soul', therefore, dies; it is the exact opposite of something which is immortal. It is not surprising that about a third of all uses of the words translated 'soul' in the Bible are associated with the death and destruction of the soul. The very fact that the word 'soul' is used in this way shows that it cannot be something which is indestructible and immortal:

• "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4).

• God can destroy the soul (Matt. 10:28). Other references to souls being destroyed are: Eze. 22:27; Prov. 6:32; Lev. 23:30.

• All the "souls" that were within the city of Hazor were killed by the sword (Josh. 11:11; cp. Josh. 10:30-39).

• "...every living soul died" (Rev. 16:3; cp. Ps. 78:50).

• Frequently the Law of Moses commanded that any "soul" which disobeyed certain laws should be killed (e.g. Num. 15:27-31).

References to the soul being strangled or snared can only make sense if it is understood that the soul can die (Prov. 18:7; 22:25; Job 7:15).

• "None can keep alive his own soul" (Ps. 22:29).

• Christ "poured out his soul unto death" so that his "soul", or life, was made an offering for sin (Isa. 53:10,12).

That the 'soul' refers to the person or body rather than some immortal spark within us is shown by the majority of verses in which the word occurs. Some obvious examples are:-

• "The blood of the souls" (Jer. 2:34).

• "If a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing...if he do not utter it...if a soul touch any unclean thing...if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips" (Lev. 5:1-4).

• "O my soul...all that is within me...Bless the Lord, O my soul...Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things" (Ps. 103:1,2,5).

• "Whosoever will save his life ('soul') shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life ('soul') for my sake...shall save it" (Mark 8:35).

This is proof that the soul does not refer to any spiritual element within man; here, 'soul' (Greek 'psuche') just means one's physical life, which is how it is translated here.

• Num. 21:4 shows that a group of people can have one "soul". The "soul" therefore cannot refer to a spark of personal immortality within each of us.


Blogger Jason said...

Some Important Questions

1. How can it be said that Christ brought immortality to light (2 Tim. 1:10) if man has been immortal since Adam?

2. How can immortality be sought for (Rom. 2:7) if it is already a present possession?

3. If Adam had an immortal soul, why was he thrust out of the garden that he might not "live forever"? (Gen. 3:22)

4. If the souls of the righteous go to heaven at death, why a resurrection?

5. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul destroys the arguments whereby the New Testament writers affirm the resurrection of the dead. "If Christ be not raised . . . then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." (1 Cor. 15:17,18). But how can these dead saints be said to be sleeping if their souls (the real saints) are already in heaven, and how can it be said that these saints would perish unless Christ be raised, if their immortal souls go to bliss at death?

6 The apostle Paul said, "If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?" (1 Cor. 15:32). If the soul is immortal (and hence can enjoy heavenly bliss separated from the body) why does the apostle stress "if the dead rise not"? Why the concern for the body if the soul can enjoy bliss without the body?

February 28, 2006 3:01 PM  

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