Souls are NOT immortal: The Truth about Death, Part 1
I’ve been having discussions with several people about the topic of hell, hence my recent posts and studies on it. Eventually in the discussion the topic seems drift to the issue of the state of the dead, since the two are related. The popular belief is that when you die, you either go to heaven or hell. I’ve been meaning to address this issue, but there are so many angles one can use to cover it. It is probably the cause of my hesitation and delay writing about it. After much thought, I decided to tackle this issue the following way, and will divide this study into several parts.
Since the beginning of this world, mankind has been obsessed with the concept of what happens people die. Even in today’s sophisticated know-it-all society, science can’t explain the real phenomenon of seeing spirits of dead people, ghosts, and other strange paranormal activity. This has spawned a whole host of TV shows on ghosts, including two popular television series, Ghost Whisperer and Medium. So I intend to use this study to answer questions like, are these ghosts for real, are souls immortal, what happens when we die, do we go to heaven or hell when we die, and what is the truth about death?
First of all, let us look at the most popular belief in Christianity regarding death. Most churches teach that when you die, you either go straight to heaven (if you’re good and saved) or to hell (if you’re lost.) The underlying principle in both scenarios is the immortality of the soul. A lot of people, including most Christians believe that the soul is a separate entity of the body, and that it can live forever, as it’s immortal and cannot die. Where does this teaching come from? Definitely NOT the Bible. Most Christians don’t realize that the Bible contains over 1600 instances of the word “soul”, yet not once is immortal connected to it. You’ll never see immortal soul in the same context. So where does the teaching of an immortal soul come from? For that answer we’ll have to go back all the way to ancient Egypt.
Keith W. Stump wrote a booklet on the same topic, entitled “What is Man?” Here is a passage from that booklet that shows the history of this doctrine:
The idea of an “immortal soul” long predates the founding of today’s major religions. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (5th century B.C.) tells us in his History that the ancient Egyptians were the first to teach that the soul of man is separable from the body, and immortal. This Egyptian idea was centuries before Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam came onto the scene.
Nowhere in the ancient world was the afterlife of more concern than in Egypt. The countless tombs unearthed by archaeologists along the Nile provide eloquent testimony to the Egyptian belief that man possessed a spiritual aspect extending beyond his physical life.
To the east, the ancient Babylonians also held a belief in a future life of the soul in a “lower world.” But Babylonian beliefs were nowhere so elaborate as the Egyptian….
Then along come some popular Greek Philosophers. Stump’s booklet continues…
The idea of the soul’s immortality did not cease with ancient Egyptian civilization. Notice again the testimony of the historian Herodotus:
“The Egyptians were the first that asserted that the soul of man is immortal…This opinion some among the Greeks have at different periods of time adopted as their own” (from Euterpe, the second book of Herodotus’ History).
The pagan Greeks got the concept of an immortal soul from the Egyptians! The foremost advocate among the ancient Greeks of the idea of an “immortal soul” was the Athenian philosopher Plato (428-348 B.C.), the pupil of Socrates. Plato was the founder of the Academy, an institute for philosophical and scientific research just outside of Athens.
The pre-Socratic Greek philosophers had no real conception of any nonmaterial element in man. The philosophers Socrates and Pythagoras were among the first of the Greeks to adopt the Egyptian view. They subsequently had a great influence on the thought of Plato. It was Plato who popularized the immortal soul concept throughout the Greek world.
And then it crept into Jewish thinking and philosophy:
“The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is…nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture…The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato its principle exponent, who was led to it through Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended” (The Jewish Encyclopedia, article, “Immortality of the Soul”).
And then inevitably it crept into Christian doctrines:
Many of the early theologians and scholars of the professing Christian religion—including such men as Origen, Tertullian and Augustine—were closely associated with Platonism.
Tertullian (A.D. 155-220), for example, wrote: “For some things are known even by nature: the immortality of the soul, the instance, is held by many … I may use, therefore, the opinion of Plato, when he declares: ‘Every soul is immortal'” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. III).
Notice how he cites Plato. Stump continues:
Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)—held to be the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity—also taught the immaterial and spiritual nature of the human soul. But notice the source of his teachings. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states:
“He [Augustine] fused the religion of the New Testament with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy.”
Why should those early professing Christian scholars have resorted to the opinions of a pagan Greek philosopher? Could it be that the immortal soul doctrine is not clearly supported in Christian Scripture?
Notice the much later view of Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany. More than a thousand years later, in 1522, he wrote:
“It is probable, in my opinion, that, with very few exceptions, indeed, the dead sleep in utter insensibility till the day of judgment …. On what authority can it be said that the souls of the dead may not sleep … in the same way that the living pass in profound slumber the interval between their downlying at night and their uprising in the morning?”
Luther himself encountered difficulty in finding support for the immortal soul doctrine in the pages of Scripture.
Immortality in the Bible
As you can see. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not found anywhere in Scripture, but was borrowed from ancient Egyptians and has crept into Christian teachings. But what does the Bible have to say on this issue. Let’s look at what the truth is as found in Scriptures. According to truthaboutdeath.com the word immortal only appears once in the Bible, and immortality five times. Here they are:
17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise,be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17, naming characteristics of God [the King])
The following four verses make reference to immortality as a gift the God/Jesus gives to us when we are saved (I have included surrounding verses to put some context):
6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,
1 Corinthians 15:53
52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
1 Corinthians 15:54
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.”
2 Timothy 1:10
10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
This last verse show’s that there is only one immortal being, and that is God. 1 Timothy 6:16
15 which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.
The Bible is clear on this topic. God alone is immortal, and we are given immortality as a gift when Christ takes us to heaven at the 2nd coming. If the lost were burning in hell for eternity, then Paul is lying to us, because God wouldn’t be the only immortal being. Burning forever in hell implies that you are immortal.
So to answer the question, Is the soul immortal? Yes, if you accept Ancient Egyptian doctrines, and the teachings of Plato. If you accept only the authority of the Word of God, then the answer is a big fat NO. So if the soul isn’t immortal, and we don’t go straight to heaven, or straight to hell, where do we go when we die? Simple, we ‘sleep‘. Jesus calls death in John 11 ‘sleep’, so look out for the following studies which will delve into the subject further.