DO WE HAVE AN IMMORTAL SOUL?
Most of the major religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and traditional Christianity, believe in the survival of a conscious spirit or soul immediately after death. During this life, they say that the soul is the real person dwelling in a temporary physical body. They believe that when the body dies, the soul of the person continues to live on consciously as before death. Traditional Christianity believes that when a person dies, his conscious soul is judged immediately to go to either heaven or hell.
The Bible says that Satan deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9). In the Garden of Eden, Satan deceived our first parents, Adam and Eve, and they believed the lie of Satan, which was ‘You will not surely die’, before they ate the forbidden fruit.
Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die".
This is similar to saying, ‘You have an immortal soul’. The same lie has been universally believed throughout the history of humanity that when a person dies, his soul continues to live on and he remains conscious in the same way as before his physical death. However, Scripture tells us differently. The key question is ‘Are dead people conscious or not?’
Let us consider what the Bible has to say in answer to this question.
For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks?
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 where you are going.
For Sheol (the grave) cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.
The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor any who go down into silence.
Why do Christians not believe these clear scriptures, which categorically disprove the doctrine of the immortal soul? Notice, the Bible says that when a person dies his memory ceases, he cannot praise God and he has no knowledge or wisdom. In other words, the soul of a person without a body is not conscious.
The concept of the immortal soul was the result of pagan beliefs developed by Greek poets and philosophers. The Greek philosopher Plato fully developed the concept of the immortal soul, and this belief infiltrated the Roman Catholic Church and subsequently the Protestant churches.
The Bible teaches resurrection, which is a rising from the dead. This is in direct opposition to the pagan belief in an immortal soul. Resurrection is the glorious central truth of the Bible. The Bible says that Jesus Christ earned resurrection (immortal life) for each and every person through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:21-22
21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
This proves that the dead will live again in a conscious state, but only when they are resurrected in their immortal bodies and not a second before that. Death is an enemy, which Jesus Christ destroyed through His death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:26). The victory, which Christ has won for Adam and Eve and all of their descendants, is the resurrected life, which God will give to everyone in the future; first to the Bride of Christ, the Firstfruits, in the First Resurrection, and then to the rest of humanity, the Great Harvest, in the Second Resurrection.
The false teaching of the immortal soul undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It makes redundant the need for the resurrection of the dead, and makes redundant the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. If a dead person remains conscious after his death and he is judged immediately to go to either heaven or hell, then why would there be a need for God to resurrect him or a reason for God’s Great White Throne Judgement?
Let us now go on to understand what the Bible means by the term ‘a living soul’.
Genesis 2:7 (KJV)
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 (nephesh).
Notice, this verse tells us that Adam became a living soul, and not that Adam had a soul. A living soul simply means a living being as translated in other versions of the Bible, like the NKJV. Adam became a living soul after God breathed the breath of life into his body. The breath of life is the spirit in man, the human spirit, which Apostle Paul says all human beings possess.
1 Corinthians 2:11
For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?
A person becomes a living soul when he is conceived. It is when his human spirit sent from God unites with his embryonic body, the zygote, at conception. The Bible says that an animal is also a living soul. The Hebrew word in Genesis 2:7 for the ‘living soul’ of human beings is nephesh. This same Hebrew word is also used for animals and translated as ‘living creatures’, for example, in Genesis 1:21.
Genesis 1:21 (KJV)
And God created great whales, and every living creature (nephesh) 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.
People and animals are all living souls. A person becomes a living soul, a human being, at conception. Likewise, an animal becomes a living soul, a living creature, when its animal spirit unites with its embryonic animal body at conception. So, both a man and an animal are living souls each comprising of a spirit united with a body. It is the human spirit that makes us human beings made in the image of God, giving us our unique individual characteristics, body form and personalities. It is the animal spirit that makes animals unique to their species with their individual characteristics, body form and behaviours.
When a person dies, his fleshly human body goes back to the dust, but his unconscious human spirit with all of his individual characteristics and personality intact, returns to God who gave it, for safe keeping until the person’s resurrection.
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it.
The Bible clearly says that the body without the spirit is dead.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
The human spirit is not conscious without a body. Therefore, after death, a person will only become conscious again when his spirit is united with a body, but this time, it is his new immortal body, at the resurrection. Once again, the person will become a conscious living soul, but with an immortal body that will never die. All people are destined to be resurrected to live forever because Christ conquered death for all people, through His death and resurrection.
There is no indication in the Bible that a dead animal will be resurrected, so it appears that animals cease to exist at death.
There is a great difference between a believer’s spirit and an unbeliever’s spirit. A believer’s spirit has been regenerated, 'born again' by the Holy Spirit, through repentance of unbelief and faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is why only God's Elect, the Bride of Christ, will be resurrected in the First Resurrection for a special salvation when Jesus Christ comes again. They will rise in their new glorified immortal saved spirit bodies.
Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that a believer’s whole spirit, soul and body are preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:23
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul (psychē), and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This scripture is misused and misunderstood by many Christians to preach that man is a tri-partite being composed of three different parts, which are spirit, soul and body. Based on this misconception, an unbiblical theology of spirit, soul and body has been developed and believed by many Christians.
Apostle Paul was well versed in the Word of God, which categorically teaches that man is a living soul consisting of spirit and body only. So, we can be sure that Apostle Paul did not preach that man is a tri-partite being, contrary to the Word of God.
In the verse above, Paul was writing to a group of believers in Thessalonica. By referring to the ‘whole spirit, soul and body’, Paul was simply emphasising the fact that God will preserve these believers as blameless (righteous) in all aspects of their life. Please note that the Greek word for ‘soul’ is psychē, which means life. This confirms that Paul was emphasising the preservation of their life in Christ, which believers have now by faith. All believers will be counted as blameless (righteous) to rise in their new immortal glorified bodies at Christ’s Second Coming.
Our soul is not immortal because the Bible is clear that ‘the soul who sins shall 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.
The whole of the Bible consistently teaches that when a person dies he ‘sleeps’. The phrase ‘slept with his fathers’ occurs 36 times in the Old Testament as in 1 Kings 2:10 below.
1 Kings 2:10 (KJV)
So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.
A person who is ‘sleeping’ in the grave is not conscious of his surroundings, and he has not ascended into either heaven or entered 'hell'.
John 3:13 (KJV)
And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
For David did not ascend into the heavens…
Can we believe what these clear scriptures say? They say that no man has ascended to heaven (except Jesus) and that the dead patriarchs, like David, have not gone to heaven, but are sleeping with their ancestors. The only Person who has ascended to heaven is God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and heaven is where He came from in the first place. The spirits of all dead people, both believers and unbelievers, are in God’s care in a state of peaceful slumber until their resurrection.
Our Christian hope and focus must be on the resurrection, and not on the unbiblical pagan belief of the immortal soul. This is very important. We must get rid of this erroneous thinking of the satanic lie of the immortal soul. Job believed in the resurrection from the dead and not in the immortality of the soul.
13 Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, That You would conceal me until Your wrath is past, That You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! 14 If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, Till my change comes. 15 You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands.
Job, who died long ago, is ‘sleeping’ in his grave waiting to receive his change into his new immortal resurrected body. For Job and all true believers, who are the Firstfruits, this change will occur when they rise in the First Resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Resurrection from the dead is described as the victory over death, which Christ has won for Adam and Eve and all of their descendants.
1 Corinthians 15:54
So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
Jesus was the first to rise from the dead (the First of the Firstfruits), and He will be followed by all true believers (the Firstfruits), who have died and ‘fallen asleep’, when they rise from the dead in the First Resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:20
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Notice that this verse once again confirms that when people die they ‘fall asleep’ and Christ, being the First of the Firstfruits, is the only Person to have risen from the dead. Apostle Paul powerfully preached resurrection and not the false doctrine of the immortal soul. The false teaching of the immortal soul nullifies the victory over death and the new resurrected life, which Jesus Christ won for everyone on the cross.
Why does traditional Christianity, against all of the clear scriptures given in the Bible, still believe in the survival of a conscious self after death? It interprets this as an ‘intermediate state’. What biblical support does it use to justify its belief in an immortal soul? The most quoted scriptures used by traditional Christianity to support their belief in the immortal soul are those written by Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians and Philippians. So let us look at these scriptures.
2 Corinthians 5:6-9
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.
21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
In these scriptures, Paul says that when he is absent from the body or when he departs, he will be with the Lord. It was Paul’s unconscious spirit that immediately went back to the Lord after his death, and it is presently in a state of ‘sleep’. As far as Paul is concerned, he, like all dead believers, will become conscious again when his sleeping spirit is awakened at Christ’s Second Coming. This is when Paul becomes a conscious living soul again, but this time his spirit will be united with his new immortal body to rise in the First Resurrection.
A person who ‘sleeps’ is not aware of any time gap between the time when he falls asleep and when he wakes up from his sleep. So, for Paul his first conscious waking moment, after death, will be him rising from his grave in his new immortal body to join with all of the saints to meet Jesus Christ in the air, at Christ's Second Coming.
Notice, in the verse given below, Paul understood that all believers will be presented together, as a group, to Christ at His Second Coming, and no believer is ever consciously present with Christ before that time.
2 Corinthians 4:14
knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.
Throughout his writings, Paul consistently emphasises resurrection and he has nothing whatsoever to say about the immortality of the soul. Notice again, what Paul has to say in the scripture below.
2 Timothy 4:6-8
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
When will Paul and all of God’s Elect Saints receive their crowns of righteousness? They will receive them on the Day of Christ’s appearing, which is the Day of Christ’s Second Coming when all of God’s Elect Saints will rise as the Firstfruits in the First Resurrection.
Traditional Christianity also depends on a few other scriptures to prop up its false belief in the immortal soul, which we shall now discuss.
The thief on the cross
42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom". 43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."
Did the thief on the cross go to Paradise to be with Jesus Christ, immediately after his death? We know from scripture that Jesus did not go to Paradise immediately after His death. The body of Jesus was in His tomb for three days and three nights until His resurrection. So, the scripture above cannot be saying that the thief went to Paradise on the same day that Jesus and he were crucified. This scripture makes a lot more sense if the punctuation mark of a comma after the second 'you' is altered to read as follows:
42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom". 43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise".
Please note that there were no commas, verses, paragraphs or even chapter breaks in the ancient Hebrew and Greek Manuscripts, from which the versions of the Bible have been translated. These were added at a later date, and do not form part of the inspired writings. Sometimes the commas, verses, paragraphs and chapter breaks are placed inappropriately as in this case.
Currently, the thief is dead and in a state of 'sleep'. His next conscious waking moment will be when he rises in his new immortal body, in the First Resurrection, to meet Jesus Christ in the air at Christ’s Second Coming. It will only be then that Christ establishes His Kingdom on earth. This will be when the thief, together with all of God’s Elect Saints, will enter Christ’s Millennial Kingdom (Paradise) on earth.
Elijah and Enoch - are they currently in heaven?
2 Kings 2:1 and Genesis 5:21 are interpreted by traditional Christianity to mean that God took Elijah and Enoch straight from earth to heaven without them dying a physical death. This is not true. God did not take Elijah and Enoch to heaven, the dwelling place of God, where God's throne is presently located somewhere in the universe.
Let us remind ourselves that there are three distinct meanings of heaven/heavens in the Bible, depending on the context.
Firstly, heaven means earth's atmosphere, or the visible sky. Secondly, heavens mean the Universe. Thirdly, heaven means the dwelling place of God, where God's throne is presently located somewhere in the Universe.
The Bible is clear that no man has ascended to heaven, the dwelling place of God (John 3:13). Therefore, we can be sure that Elijah and Enoch are not presently there. God lifted Elijah and Enoch from the earth into its heaven (earth’s atmosphere) and He must have placed them at another location on earth where they later died a natural death.
The Bible says that all men of faith have died in faith (Hebrews 11:13). Like all men of faith who have died, Elijah and Enoch are presently sleeping, awaiting the promise of their resurrection from the dead at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. None of the dead men of faith have ascended to heaven, God’s dwelling place. Although spiritually speaking, in this life, all believers are seated together with Christ in heavenly places by faith and not in person (Ephesians 2:6).
Jesus’s transfiguration when Moses and Elijah appeared with Him
2 He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
This was a vision given to Peter, James and John in fulfilment of Matthew 16:28, when Jesus said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom’.
Moses and Elijah are currently ‘sleeping’, and they will be awoken from their ‘sleep’ in their new immortal bodies at the First Resurrection when Jesus returns. Peter, James and John were given a vision on the Mount of Transfiguration to see what the returning Jesus Christ, in His radiant glorified body, will look like. Also, they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. This is a vision of Jesus Christ in all His glory together with the Saints (represented by Moses and Elijah) when they rise in their immortal bodies at the First Resurrection to be with Jesus at His return to set up the Millennial Kingdom on earth.
The rich man and Lazarus
The story of the rich and Lazarus is a parable and not a true account, and it does not in any way support the belief in an immortal soul. In Chapter 19, we give the true meaning of this parable in detail.
What about Near Death Experiences (NDEs)?
Many Christians also rely on people’s Near Death Experiences as further proof for their false belief in an immortal soul. So, we shall also discuss this subject before we conclude the chapter.
Thousands and some say even millions of people have experienced a Near Death Experience (NDE). Many NDEs have been reported by people who were pronounced clinically dead i.e. their hearts had stopped functioning and they had stopped breathing.
A NDE is an amazing phenomenon whereby some people experience themselves floating in the air looking down on their lifeless bodies. They remember many vivid details such as the hospital room and the doctors and nurses. Most NDEs last for only a few minutes.
In some cases, the person experiences leaving the location of his/her lifeless body and visiting other places and people, remembering details of conversations and places visited. These are known as Out-of-Body experiences (OBEs).
Does a NDE with an Out-of-Body experience prove that we are born with an immortal soul? The empathic answer is no. It does not prove the immortality of the soul. In order to appreciate this answer, we need to remind ourselves of how the Bible defines death.
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it.
Death occurs when the body goes back to the dust and the human spirit returns to God who gave it. In other words, we can be sure that death has occurred only when the body begins to decompose, which is when the human spirit leaves the body to return to God. The Bible’s clear definition of death is when the spirit has left the body.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
People who experience a NDE do not die as the Bible defines death. These people may clinically die for a short time, but their human spirit does not leave their seemingly ‘dead’ bodies to return to God. This is why they can be revived back to life. These seemingly unconscious people experience a special state of consciousness because their human spirit is still joined to their bodies. Hence, we can categorically conclude that an Out-of-Body NDE does not prove that a person’s soul remains conscious after death. This is because the person did not die in the first place, in the way in which the Bible defines death.
In John Chapter 11, the Bible records the powerful account of Jesus’s friend Lazarus, who died, lay in his tomb for four days, and then was resurrected by Jesus to live an earthly life in the flesh again. Lazarus truly died, as the Bible defines death, because His body was already in an advanced stage of decomposition. However, Jesus Christ was able to command Lazarus’s ‘sleeping’ spirit to return to his dead body so that Lazarus was restored to a healthy living soul once again.
Surely, if Lazarus’s ‘soul’ had remained conscious after death, then this would have presented a great opportunity for Lazarus to tell the world about his after death experience - the things he saw in heaven during the four days of his death. However, there is absolutely not a word written in the Bible to indicate that Lazarus remained conscious during the four days of his death.
The truth of the Bible is that when a person dies he is not conscious. He ‘sleeps’ until his resurrection. The Bible says that a dead person cannot thank God, the dead cannot praise Him and the dead cannot hope to find any truth.
For Sheol (the grave) cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.
So, how do we explain ‘the special state of consciousness’ people experience during NDEs? There is no doubt that NDEs can be very real and life transforming for the people who experience them.
One researcher on NDEs wrote, “You will find that the Near Death Experience is an interactive communication between the experiencer and the spirit world.”
We believe that this is exactly what happens during a NDE. The experiencer is impacted by the reality of the spirit world. The Bible abundantly confirms that there is a real spirit world and we are surrounded by it. There is the good, benevolent spirit world of God and His holy angels. However, God has also temporarily allowed the bad, malevolent spirit world of Satan and his fallen angels to exist and operate on earth. It appears that during a NDE, the spirit world communicates with the person in a dramatic way and he/she is influenced by either the good spirit world of God or the bad spirit world of Satan.
If a person’s NDE transforms him/her to be a loving, forgiving, humble God fearing person, then praise God that he/she has been impacted by the good spirit world of God. We can be sure that all NDEs, which are in line with the Word of God, impacting people’s lives in a godly way, are visions from God.
Apostle Paul experienced a vision from God when he was ‘caught up to the third heaven’ as he explains in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, which we cover in Chapter 14. Apostle Paul had a wonderful godly experience, which seems to have been an Out-of-Body NDE. This was a glorious vision, which Paul was privileged to receive from God.
It is very important to note that God did not permit Apostle Paul to utter any details of what he saw in his vision of the third heaven, which is the new heaven, yet to be established in the Eternal Kingdom of God. Therefore, we need to be very careful about people who describe heaven or ‘hell’ in graphic detail because of their NDEs. Such experiences are contrary to the Word of God and they are deceptions and lies from Satan. The Bible says that Satan deceives the whole world, and that he masquerades himself as an angel of light. So, there is a real possibility that the experiencer has been influenced by the bad spirit world of Satan and his sinful fallen angels.
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Our Christian hope is firmly based on the resurrection of the dead, through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and not on the pagan teaching of the immortality of the soul. It cannot be over emphasised enough that the teaching of the immortality of the soul is a lie and deception from Satan.
The Bible does not support any teaching of an intermediate conscious state between death and resurrection. Traditional Christianity believes that immediately after death, disembodied souls are judged by God to receive either reward in heaven or punishment in hell. It believes that later on in future, God will resurrect all disembodied souls for further judgement, only for them to receive the same reward of going to heaven or the same punishment of going to hell, repeated again. This belief does not make any sense at all and it is totally unbiblical.
The plain teaching of the Bible is that all people will receive immortality only when they are resurrected from the dead, in either the First Resurrection or the Second Resurrection.
Let’s us thank the one true God of the Bible, Father God, Yahveh Elohim, that He so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, Yeshua Elohim, to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world. Jesus Christ has indeed won the victory over sin and death for all people through His death and resurrection, and all people will be resurrected, in either the First Resurrection or the Second Resurrection. Ultimately, after God’s righteous judgement, all without a single exception, will receive the gift of eternal life in Christ (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 1 Corinthians 15:22-23a, 55-57).