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Souls are NOT immortal: The Truth about Death, Part 1

November 29, 2009

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.

Introduction

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?

Immortal Soul?

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):

Romans 2:7

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.

Related Posts:

Breath+Dust=Soul

Death=Sleep

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2009 8:35 pm

    Hi, I haven’t been replying because, well, to be honest, I do not accept the 7th Day’s exegesis of the bible. You start off with the premise that there’s no punishment in hell. I understand how you are explaining it away and to be honest, I’ve debated this subject to death in the past and it’s not something I’m willing to get into again. What you’ve posted is nothing new to me — I’ve read the 7th Day’s views and beliefs, discussed them, debated them.

    I guess I don’t want to enter these debates that lead to nowhere — I’m sure I’m not going to convince you otherwise and I can guarantee that you have offered nothing new that other 7th Day folks have offered.

    I really do understand that this is dear to your heart.

    Sleep does not mean unconsious — in Greek it has two meanings. One is to slumber (like we do at night) and the other is death. However, the word “sleep” regarding death is only used towards BELEIVERS. Do a word search, you will see how it’s applied.

    • November 29, 2009 9:21 pm

      First of all, Keith Stump isn’t SDA, so to categorize this as a ‘7th day’ only teaching is off.

      Secondly, the first part doesn’t even talk about the Bible, it talks about historical facts of where the concept of an immortal soul comes from. So are you also going to deny the historical facts as well because they contradict your views ?

      3. I’m not even digging meaning out of the texts, I was showing the 6 texts with immortal in them. None of them talk about soul, that was my whole point.

      And lastly, this topic wasn’t even about ‘sleep’ yet, so you’re rebutting something I haven’t even talked about. Step back and look at the logic of your comment. I’m not trying to debate. You asked a question ‘what happens to people who die, I’m giving you answers.

  2. November 29, 2009 9:29 pm

    Adventists believe that hell is the event during which the wicked will get their just deserts (punishment). The premises that inform our view of hell is the holistic nature of man as taught in Gen 2:7 and conditional immortality, which logically follows, as taught in Gen 3:22. I’ll take these foundational biblical premises over the foundational Greek philosophical concept of the immortal, timeless soul.

    Regarding sleep, I think you make too strong a distinction between the two Greek usages of the term. Why is it that they applied the term for sleep to death ? Presumably because the body of someone who has died behaves similarly to the body of someone who is asleep. (BTW the NT uses this term for non believers, too, c.f. 2 Pet 3:4.) Of course, the Greeks believed that the soul continued to have conscious existence after the body, but the Hebrews did not and used the same term, sleep, in the OT to denote death.

    Now no one who wrote the Bible had experienced death, so we cannot be sure they used the term sleep to mean that the experience of being dead (or lack thereof) is like the experience of being asleep. On the other hand, using the word sleep to denote death is very much compatible with the notion of an unconscious existence after death. Taking into account the rest of the evidence in scripture, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit allowed the Bible writers to use the term sleep as a way of indicating what death was like. But I do not found my views on the state of the dead on one piece of vocabulary alone.

    One more thing, I do not think we Adventists have done a good job of describing the state of the dead. We talk a lot about what it isn’t and not much about what it is. At the worst, some Adventists will even say that we cease to exist at death, which makes the resurrection a complete impossibility, since you cannot bring back that which is non-existent. I believe that when we are dead we exist only in the memory of God, and that at the resurrection he will recreate us based on that memory.

    Blessings as you study the Word.

    • November 29, 2009 10:32 pm

      Thanks for the additional clarification Dave. Yeah I agree, we spend to much time correcting misguided interpretations that we don’t exert enough effort in studying and exhibiting the true interpretations.

  3. November 29, 2009 9:59 pm

    Hi, I did not ask what happens to people when they die. I already know that answer. This all started when I wrote a post about a Calvinist who said that babies go to hell if they are not of the elect. I refuted that teaching.

    And to be honest, no I did not read your whole post, I skimmed it.

    Regarding sleep, of course no one experienced death but it doesn’t matter because the scirptures are God breathed. No one experienced resurrection but they are writing about it.

    Seriously, I don’t have quesitons about what happens to people when they die. We do disagree what happens and as I said, I’ve been through this discussion so many times, I just don’t feel that it is productive to do it again.

    • November 29, 2009 10:17 pm

      Maybe if you read the whole post, instead of jumping to conclusions, you’d see the value of the contents more 🙂

      I’ll jog your memory, this is a comment you left on this post:

      https://emmilglenn.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/tormented-day-and-night-forever/
      ———–
      Tishrei said 2 days ago:
      Just curious, what do you believes happens to the lost? And where are people who have died now, whether saved or the lost?
      ————-

      You know why the doctrine of hell is important? Because it could mean winning or losing ‘soul’s for Christ. Say you’re sharing the gospel with some nice lady. But her son died not believing in Jesus and lived a bad life, and rejected Christ. Now when she asks you,

      “what happens when we die, where is my son now?” and you tell her your version of truth.

      “Sorry ma’am, but your son is burning in hell right now, for eternity”

      She’ll be like, “if that’s what God is like, he is one sick and twisted God, and why should I want to know/worship someone like him.”

      Then all of a sudden you just turned someone away from God who was just getting to know the gospel. And that is what the devil planned when he introduced these doctrines into the church.

  4. November 29, 2009 11:06 pm

    I asked that question of you based on your belief that there’s no hell.

    I turn no one away from God. The elect will come to God.

    I can assure you that never in my entire life, ever, have I ever told someone that lost a loved one that they are burning in hell. EVER.

    You’re putting too much power in the hands of humans to say that we have the ability to turn someone away from Christ when it is Christ that has predestined from the foundation of the world His elect.

    Look, honestly, I’ve been down this road so many times. It’s a debate that will get you nowhere and will get me nowhere. After many years of these discussions, I can’t see how one more will accomplish anything.

    • November 30, 2009 11:52 am

      So what do you tell someone when they ask about it? The sugar coated version?

      I understand you’ve been through this before, yet what amazes me is you’ve haven’t opened up fully to God’s word. It’s pretty clear on these topics.

      The Bible has to harmonize if its inspired. What you believe (hell/predestination) contradicts God’s word. Take the idea of predestination. You believe that Christ died only for His ‘elect’. But it contradicts Paul in 1 Tim 2:5-6

      5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a RANSOM for ALL, to be testified in due time.

      Titus 2
      11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to ALL men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,

      What does John 3:16-17 say, God so loved the WORLD, (everyone) that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

      The idea that only a select group of people are predestined for salvation contradicts the Bible. We can’t pick and choose verses to suit our doctrines, our doctrines must conform with the whole of Scriptures, and if it doesn’t, the doctrine must be wrong.

    • October 30, 2015 3:16 pm

      I agree with you…puts too much power into an imperfect person’s hands. I’ve been “doomed to hell” upon several occasions by several different denom/churches/pastors and STILL the LORD hears and answers my prayers. I rely on HIM to decide my eteranl future. Trust in the LORD and do not lean on your own understanding…etc.

  5. November 30, 2009 3:00 pm

    The second sentence of your reply sure is a “bait” — not going to go for it. Honestly, I am tired of discussing 7th Day theology. I know and really understand it’s dear to your heart but I have discussed this in the past and don’t want to start up again. I used to belong to a discussion group that had several 7th Day Adventists and it was there that I spent an incredible amount of time in these discussions.

    I try and spend my time on the internet discussing topics that interest me. It’s not that I am not interested in what you have to say, I’m just not interested in rehashing something that I discussed for a long time that proved to be absolutely fruitless on both sides.

    And like I said, I don’t wonder what happens when we die. The saved go to be with the Lord and the unsaved go to damnation. You don’t agree — we’re at an impasse and I know I can’t convince you and you can’t convince me. So there’s no point spending hours discussing it. Been there, done that.

    God bless

    • November 30, 2009 5:14 pm

      Lol, I’m not ‘baiting’, I’m really curious how you would explain to an atheist for example if they asked you what happened to people that died.

      I didn’t know you spent some time studying with other Adventists. I just assumed you got some of your viewpoints on “7th day” doctrines from someone with similar views as yours, and was only sharing with you the other side of the story since you seemed interested.

      “The saved go to be with the Lord and the unsaved go to damnation.”

      I guess your beliefs aren’t based purely on the Word of God then, because you’re accepting doctrines that are derived from other religions and writers.

      May God bless you as you continue to study.

  6. November 30, 2009 7:07 pm

    And may God bless you too 🙂

  7. Robert Xavier permalink
    January 17, 2010 2:42 am

    Predestination too..? (”,) Oh boy.
    I’ll leave that one alone till we’ve settled Soul Sleep 😉

    Tishrei, Jesus is coming back soon (I hope)
    then all this denominational jazz will finally be over;
    and you, I & Glenn will know & serve God in Harmony.

    I look forward to meeting you there 🙂

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