Studies In New Testament Eschatology: No. 2: The Immortality of the Soul

By Jimmy Tuten

Those who seek truth with reference to certain Bible subjects often come face to face with apparent obstacles that seem to block all efforts of investigation. These obstacles are many times presented by well-meaning individuals who, because of previous teachings which have not been verified, are unconsciously following error. The question of the immortality of the soul is no exception to this matter and, when it is brought up, different objections are raised, which is the final analysis deny that man is not wholly mortal. These objections are sometimes based on certain passages of Scripture while some are based purely on materialistic concepts.

The Bible teaches that man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). This could not have been a physical makeup, for God “is Spirit” (Jn. 4:24) and a “spirit hath not flesh and bones” (Lk. 24:39). Since “like begets like,” the image to which man was conformed was not physical, but spiritual. Then again, God is immortal (1 Tim. 1:17), i.e., He is an immortal Spirit. God is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9); therefore our spirits (souls) are immortal, being in the likeness of God. Hence, inherent in the existence of the soul is endlessness, or immortality. Some deny that the souls of men survive death. It is said that the soul of man is naturally mortal and that the only hope for immortality is in Jesus Christ. As seen already, the souls of men are not naturally mortal; they are immortal, and those who deny this fact take a negative position with reference to what the New Testament teaches regarding the subject.

Other Statements With Reference To Immortality

God is immortal (1 Tim. 1:17). Through His personal ministry, Jesus Christ brought “to light life and immortality through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). Based on these and similar scriptures, immortality for some denotes simply a redemptive concept. L. Berkof, in his Systematic Theology (pp. 672-678), argues for the indestructibility of the soul, but he says that this is not what the Bible means by immortality. He argues that immortality according to the Bible means nothing more than eternal blessedness. Closely related to this is the position taken by another writer (H. Hoeksema, In The Midst Of Death, pp. 98-99), who applies immortality only to those who are in Christ. O. Cullmann, writing in Christianity Today (July 21, 1958, pp. 3-6), substitutes “resurrection” for immortality. This demonstrates that for some there are different shades of immortality. But regardless of the denial of the immortality of the soul and various shades of understanding concerning it, the fact still remains that man has a soul that lives eternally. The soul is not only immortal, it is conscious from death till the resurrection. This is the position defended in this writing.

Man Is A Dual Being

Man is made up of body and soul. The soul and the spirit of man are used interchangeably many times in the Scriptures, as can be seen from such passages as Luke 1:46-47 (Cf. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, p. 520). Pursuing this line of thought, the soul and spirit will be used interchangeably in this writing. Is man a dual being, made up of body and spirit? First, from the Old Testament, observe the account of the death of Rachel, about which it is said, “and as her soul was departing (for she died) . . .” (Gen. 35:18-19). The text says therefore, that her soul departed the body when she died! If, as some claim, the soul is the breath, they must explain how there can be life without breath (Lk. 1:41). Again, if the body is the whole of man, then the ridiculous assertion would be that Rachel’s body left her body! Something had to exist apart from Rachel’s body in order to leave it. That something is the soul which made its abode in the body. The body, as the dwelling place for the spirit, is referred to in the Scriptures as a “tabernacle” (2 Cor. 5:1). If, as in the case of the son of the widow of Zarephath, Rachel’s soul had returned to her body, she would have lived again (1 Kings 17:22), for she, like all humans was made of body and soul.

From the New Testament we learn that Jesus Christ, “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made of himself no reputation, and took upon him the likeness of men: And being found in the fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-7). This passage also clearly teaches that man is made up of body and spirit and that as such, there is a likeness of man in contrast to a likeness of God. Since God is a Spirit and Christ was in the form of God, the form that Christ had before coming to the earth was a spiritual likeness. When He was born of the virgin Mary, He took upon Himself an earthly body made of the dust of the ground (Jn. 3:3; Gen. 2:7). Jesus, who was spirit, became flesh and spirit. This is what is meant by “likeness of men.” He was a dual being like all other men (2 Cor. 4:16; Matt. 10:28).

What Is The Soul?

The favored trite expression of some is, “man is a soul; man does not have a soul.” The latter statement is a falsehood. Man is a soul, but he also has a soul. Soul is used in various ways in the New and Old Testaments. In the Old Testament, it is translated from the Hebrew nephesh, which is translated “soul,” “life,” “living,” etc. In the New Testament it is the translation of psuche, which is sometimes translated “mind,” “life,” etc. The exact meaning of these two words must be determined from the context in which they are found. The following is a summary of the three most common usages of psuche, translated “soul”: (1) “That in which there is life, a living being”- (Thayer, p. 677). In this sense it means a person, such as “eight souls (i.e. persons, J.T.) were saved by water” (1 Pet. 3:20). (2) It is used to refer to animal life. This by no means is to be confused with immortal spirit of man, for as already indicated, the spirit and soul are used many times to refer to this same being. The rich man was told, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee” (Lk. 12:20). “Thy soul shall be required” simply meant that the man was to die, and that his life (animal life) was to be taken from him (cf. 1 Sam. 24:11; 2 Thess. 5:23). (3) The third use of the word has reference to that which is the immortal part of man (the immortal soul or spirit). “The soul is an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death . . . . the soul freed from the body, a disembodied soul” (Thayer p. 677; cf. Acts 2:31; Heb. 13:17; Mt. 16:26). Having established that the soul differs from the body, let us now establish the fact that the soul is the spirit of man. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines spirit (pneuma, Gr.) as being among other things “a human soul that has left the body” (p. 520). In some reference then, the soul is the spirit, and the spirit is the soul. According to the Scriptures, the spirit and the soul have the same motions. Job said that the soul of man mourns (14:22). Daniel said that the spirit grieves (7:15). Grieving and mourning are the same emotions and since these are applied to both spirit and soul, one must refer to the other. Since the spirit of man expresses itself emotionally (Gen. 41:8; Deut. 2:30), it could not possibly refer to wind or breath as some assert.

The Spirit Of Man Is Immortal

Immortality is from the Greek word athanasia, which means deathlessness (a negative, thanatos, death). It is rendered “immortality” in 1 Cor. 15:53-54, and in 1 Tim. 6:16. While the body is described as being coruptible (2 Cor. 5:1-4), this is not the case with the spirit of man (2 Cor. 4:16-18). The mistake that some make is not only denying the existence of the soul of man, but in attributing to the entire man what is said of his body. The Bible teaches that the souls of men have deathlessness. In Matthew 10:28, it is said that man cannot kill the soul, though he can cause it to depart from the body by killing the body (Jas. 2:26; Eccl. 12:7). Of the spirit, Peter said, “let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible (aptharto, “not liable to corruption or decay, imperishable,” W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, p. 249), even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 3:3-4). One is wrong when he says that there is not a soul in man that lives endlessly, and shows his ignorance of what the New Testament teaches when he claims that “the serpent is the one who originated the doctrine of the inherent immortality of the soul” (Let God Be True, p. 66).

Truth Magazine XXIV: 44, pp. 709-710
November 6, 1980