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- Christianity, the Bible & Jesus
An Afterlife? – Requires an Immortal Soul
I have decided to write about this topic first because of two main reasons. First of all, it is a base doctrine upon which quite a few others are connected, in some way or the other. Secondly, when we understand the truth of this doctrine, it really opens up a can of worms and literally pulls the carpet out from under more than a few current popular beliefs. Also, I believe that when this teaching is understood as it is portrayed in Scripture, it is one of the most comforting doctrines of the Bible. This study is also important in that it is very relevant, because what you believe about the dead, as will be shown in upcoming Hubs, will have a serious impact on what happens to you in the end-times.
Death, to many, is shrouded in mystery and calls to mind dreaded feelings of fear, uncertainty and even hopelessness. Some people believe that their loved ones who have passed on are not really dead at all, but rather live with them or in some other celestial realm. Also, the relationship between body, soul and spirit can be confusing.
It is important that we start with what the Bible says about how we got here in the first place and what happens when a person dies.
“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.”
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
The Bible tells us that when a person dies, the body turns again to dust, and the spirit, whether good or bad, returns to God who gave it. This raises the question, however, ‘What is the ‘spirit’ that goes back to God?’
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
“All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils;”
From these verses we can see that the spirit that returns to God at death is the breath of life (Cf. Gen. 2:7). I could not find any verse in the Bible that refers to this spirit having life, wisdom or feeling after a person dies. As a matter of fact, I could not find a text where it describes man’s spirit independent of the body!
Some people may argue that these verses from the Bible are referring to the ‘spirit’, but the part of human existence which contains the memories, emotions and thoughts is the ‘soul’. However, this does not stand up to what the Bible teaches. Genesis 2:7 told us that, ‘… man became a living soul.’, therefore a soul is a living being! A soul is always the sum of two things: body plus breath. A soul cannot exist unless body and breath are combined. God’s word teaches that we are souls, so the next time you want to see a soul – just look in the mirror.
Another very interesting note is that, according to the Bible, souls can die.
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die…”
“…and every living soul died in the sea.”
As has been shown, ‘we’ are souls, and the Bible tells us that we are ‘mortal’ (Job 4:17). Only God is immortal (1Timothy 6:15, 16). Therefore, the concept of an undying, immortal soul goes against the Bible, which teaches that souls are subject to death. At death, the soul ceases to exist. Remember, two things must be combined to make a soul: body and breath. When the breath departs, the soul ceases to exist because it is a combination of two things. Think of it this way – when you turn off a light, where does the light go? Nowhere – it just ceases to exist. Two things must combine to make a light: a bulb and electricity. Without the combination, a light is impossible. So to with the soul; unless body and breath are combined, there can be no soul. There is no such thing as a disembodied soul. An immortal soul is never mentioned in the Bible and as a matter of fact, the word ‘immortal’ is found only once in the Bible and it is in reference to God (1 Timothy 1:17)
Can you see the can opening yet? Are you feeling the rug being pulled out from under your feet? Let’s follow this through a little further. The spirit / breath has gone back to God, and the body has returned to the dust. The idea then is presented that this spirit that has returned to God is the essence of our existence in the heavenly realm. At first this seems quite plausible, until we examine Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, and 10.
“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun…. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” [Emphasis added]
“The dead do not praise the Lord”
The above verses seem to indicate that the dead know absolutely nothing!
Now, some have argued that these texts refer only to the physical body that goes to the grave. However, these verses speak about the emotional and intelligent part of man. Verse 10 say, ‘…for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” If then, these verses indeed ‘are’ referring to the physical (and decaying) body, it seems that God would not have to tell us that it knows ‘nothing’, for we would all know that.
Well that’s it. The can is open and the worms are overflowing. The rug has long since vanished. According to what we have reviewed thus far, the idea of good people going to heaven when they die is just not supported by the Bible. Conversely, neither is the idea of the wicked going on to eternal damnation at death, supported. The idea that ‘is’ presented in the Bible is that people go to their graves to await the resurrection day.
John 5:28, 29
“… in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
Acts 2:29, 34
“…of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day…. For David is not ascended into the heavens:…”
“If I wait, the grave is mine house: …”
So then, we see that people remain in the grave until the resurrection which is to take place at the second coming of Jesus (Cf. Job 14:12, 2 Peter 3:10). This is in harmony with John 11:11-14, where Jesus called the unconscious state of the dead a ‘sleep’. By this we can see that, in death, humans are totally unconscious with no activity or knowledge of any kind. In Luke 24:37-39, Jesus proved positively that He was a real being after His resurrection. He did not deny that there are spirit beings, of supernatural power, who may or may not appear to men, and that have a form, but not flesh and bones. However, the Bible does not tell that these ‘spirits’ are the departed spirits of the dead. It says that good and evil angels are ‘spirits’ but, as I mentioned earlier, I cannot find the text where it describes man’s spirit independent of the body.
In upcoming Hubs we will look at what the Bible tells us about the spirits that are communicating with the people.
In an effort to now quickly wrap-up this Hub, I will try to briefly cover some ‘apparent’ contradictions to this teaching…
That the thief on the cross did not go to paradise with Christ the day He died is obvious from John 20:17, which shows that Christ himself did not go to heaven at death.
John 11:26 says, “… whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die…” however, this verse is not referring to the first death, which all people die (Hebrews 9:27), but to the second death, which only the wicked die and from which there is no resurrection (Revelation 2:11; 21:8)
Matthew 10:28 says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul:…” however, this text does not prove that the soul is undying, but rather the opposite. For, the last half of the same verse says, “…but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Emphasis added]
1 Peter 4:6 says, “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead…” [Emphasis added]. This verse is not saying that the gospel was preached to dead people. It is saying that the gospel was preached to them while they were yet living, but are now dead.
Revelation 6:9, 10 seems to be referring to dead souls crying out from under an altar, but this verse does not show that souls do not die. This ‘cry’ was figurative, as was the cry of Abel’s blood (Gen 4:10). The word ‘soul’ here means people (or living beings) who had been slain for their faith. No one believes that souls who die literally lie under the altar, nor do people believe that the righteous beg God to punish their enemies. Rather, the righteous beg for mercy for their enemies, as Christ did on the cross (Luke 23:34)
1 Peter 3:18-20 says that Christ went and preached to lost souls in hell between His crucifixion and resurrection, however, looking at the context of these verses, it says that this preaching was done “by the Spirit” in Noah’s day – to people who were then living. The ‘spirits in prison’ refers to people whose lives were in bondage to Satan (sin) (Cf. Psalm 142:7; Isaiah 42:6, 7; 61:1; Luke 4:18.)