Does Man have an Immortal Soul?

By Ray Smellridge

God, after five days of the creation process, reviewed His work and “saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:25). The following day after He had completed His creative labor by creating man, God “saw that it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). What was the difference? We are sure that both man and the animals were created from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7; 1:24, etc.) and that both shall return to the dust (Eccl. 12:7; 3:19-20). There is no doubt that God breathed life into man and he became a living soul (Gen. 2:’7) and that, in this respect, a certain kinship with the animals was brought into being. Hence, agreement can be readily admitted among those who accept deity that God created both man and animals and that the animation or life force is referred to as the soul (nephesh in the Hebrew and psuche in the Greek). Disagreement comes when there is an affirmation that man is nothing more than an animal, or at best, just a more advanced member of the animal kingdom.

The answer to the question “Does man have an immortal soul?” is found when one finds the answer to the implication of difference in Gen. 1:25 and 31 concerning that which was “good” and that which was “very good.” Therefore to establish the validity of the answer, these definitions are in order:

1. Man (Greek: Anthropos): “A human being, whether male or female . . . so that a man is distinguished from animals, plants, etc.”(Thayer, p. 46).

2. Immortal (Greek: Aphthartos): “Uncorrupted, not liable to corruption or decay, imperishable” (Thayer, p. 88). This characteristic is attributed to God in 1 Tim. 1:17.

3. Soul (Greek: Psuche): (1 ) Breath-a. “The breath of life; the vital life force which animates the body.”(2 ) a. “The seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions, etc., b. The (human ) soul in so far as it is constituted that by the right use of the aids offered it by God it can attain its highest end and secure eternal blessedness, the soul regarded as a mortal being designed for everlasting life. c. The soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death” (Thayer, p. 677).

From the considerations given above, the question may be restated as follows: “Does man (a human being distinguished from the animals) possess that which is likened unto God, a soul that is imperishable, not liable to corruption or decay, immortal, different from the body and not dissolved by death”?

The Annihilation Theory

One of the ancient doctrines concerning man is that at death he ceases to exist. The Sadducees of our Lord’s day were materialists who denied the resurrection of the dead and who were the proponents of at least a part of the annihilationist theology of our day. Their doctrine according to Josephus was “that the souls die with the bodies” (Antiquities, book 18, chap. 1) and, “They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul and the punishment and rewards in Hades” (Wars of the Jews, Book 2, chap. 8). In more modern times the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” are very strong advocates of annihilationism. In their book, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life (pp. 34-40), an .attempt is made to destroy the Bible teaching concerning the nature of man by misapplication, assertion, and omission of passages relevant to the question. Their doctrine is set forth in the answers they give to the following questions: First what happens to a person when he dies? Their answer: “Simply stated, death is the opposite of life. In sentencing the first man, Adam, for his willful disobedience, God said: `You (will) return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return’ ” (Gen. 3:19, New World Translation). From this they reason as follows: “Where was Adam before God made him and gave him life? Why, he simply did not exist. At death Adam returned to the same lifeless, unconscious state. He went neither to a fiery Hell nor to Heavenly bliss, but died-as God said he would.” To further prove their contention they refer to Eccl. 9:5, 10; however, they conveniently bypass v. 6 which explains the part of man referred to in the preceding verses (cf. Lk. 16:19-31; Matt. 10:28).

Concerning the soul, they ask, “But what about the soul? Is it not a part of man that separates from his body at death and goes on living?” From here on, in order to sustain their argument that man is wholly mortal the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny all of the definitions of the Hebrew nephesh and Greek psuche except “the breath of life.” They insist that “the human soul is man himself” and deny that it can exist apart from the person and conclude “that the human soul is the person himself, and when the person dies it is the human soul that dies” (Emp. mine, RS). In order to further substantiate their doctrine they state the following concerning the spirit: “Whereas the human soul is the living person himself, the spirit is simply the life force that enables the person to be alive.” The spirit, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, “has no personality, nor can it do the things that a person can do. It cannot think, speak, hear, see or feel” (p. 39). A paper by Brother Clinton Hamilton, entitled “Soul and Spirit,” shows plainly the fallacy of their theology. Since I cannot improve upon it, note the following quotations:

“An honest person cannot deny that soul means animal life. But the honest person also must admit that it can and does mean something else in some passages. The word soul in our language means what the word spirit meant in the Bible when used with reference to man’s innerself. The way we use soul is sometimes its use in the Bible . . . A summary of the uses of the word soul and spirit will help us to keep clearly in our minds their meaning. Nephesh (Heb.), Psuche (Grk.), and soul (Eng.), are used to represent, (1) animal life, (2) a living person, and (3 ) sometimes the human spirit. On the other hand, the word spirit (Eng. ), Ruach (Heb. ), and Pneuma (Grk.) represents in relation to men; only the rational or moral nature. This part of man does not cease to be . . . “

Hence, a proper respect for the usage and definition of words used in relation to the subject will annihilate the false doctrine of annihilationism.

Between Good and Very Good

The verses between Gen. 1:25 and 31 give us the reason for the difference. “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in His own image, male and female created He them. And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:26-27, 31). Hence, we see that what God created was good in His sight, and became very good only after something was created in His image; that something was man-the crowning act of Divine handiwork.

What Is God?

Since man was created in the image and likeness of God, this question must be considered. Jesus’ answer is that, “God is a spirit” (Jn. 4:24); the apostle Paul says that God is “immortal” (1 Tim. 1:17) and “only hath immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). The Lord further affirms that spirits do not have flesh and blood (Lk. 24:39). Therefore, we must conclude that the likeness is not physical and mortal; rather it is a spiritual likeness that does not dissolve at death. God is immortal and man is His offspring (Acts 17:28; Heb. 12:9). This is God’s answer, Jehovah’s Witnesses notwithstanding! One does not need volumes of intellectual sophistry to understand that the part of man created in the image of God must have a likeness to His person, and since man is not deity and deity is. not flesh and blood, the only possible likeness is in the immortality of the spirit. “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

Truth Magazine XIX: 26, pp. 405-406
May 8, 1975