"If a man dies, will he live again?"
"Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming in which all those in the tombs will hear his voice, and will come forth . . ."
This work has been an ongoing work of Ronald R. Day since about 1990. Much of this has been adapted from the work of John Edgar's "Where Are the Dead", as well as some other sources.
All Hebrew and Greek words have transliterated.
(1) For thousands of years people have been trying to answer the question of life after death. Today there are many viewpoints about what happens to a person when he dies. How can we know where our loved ones have gone? How can we know what will happen to us when we die? Some have sought the answer by seeing psychics in an effort to contact their dead loved ones. But the disciple of Jesus does not need someone to come from the dead to tell him or her about death. (Isaiah 8:19,20) He has the Word of God, The Holy Bible, and that is all he needs. (2 Timothy 3:16,17) We hope to prove to you that the Bible gives a complete and satisfactory answer to our question. Before considering the scriptural answer, however, let us see what human reasoning, without the aid the God's Word, can tell us. We will find that the answer from this source is incomplete. Whatever facts we obtain from science, however, will be found to agree with the Word of God. This is what we should expect for God is the author of the laws of the universe and reason, as well as of the Bible. Those who claim that scientific facts and the Bible do not agree with each other simply do not understand the one or the other.
What Can Science Tell Us?
(2) What does science say about the body, soul, and spirit? Science tells us that the human body is composed of many elements. These same elements are found everywhere in the earth around us. This agrees with the Bible, which states that God "formed man of the dust of the ground." (Genesis 2:7) The dust of the ground is merely another way of saying "the elements of the earth."
(3) But what about the soul, the real person, the "Ego", the thinking part of man? What does science tell us about it? The popular conception is that the soul is a being residing within and independent of our organism. At death the claim is that it is set free from the body and continues to exist for ever. Science has never found such a being. It has never been discovered in the dissecting room nor in the laboratory. Science can prove that it is not true that the thinking part of man is independent of this organism. The lower animals can reason to some extent, and the more complex and finer the structure of their brain the better their reasoning power. Man, whose brain is the most complex and has the finest structure, is possessed of the highest degree of reasoning power. As a child grows into maturity and its brain develops, its reasoning power increases. If the brain cells become damaged or diseased, the reasoning power diminishes. It is clear then, that the soul is not independent of a person's organism.
(4) Some claim to have `out-of-body' experiences. Some claim they have died, gone to heaven and come back to relate the experiences they had while in their "death state." Others have claimed to have gone to a hell of burning flames and returned back to life. Some have claimed to have seen Mohammed in paradise, and others claim to have seen Buddha. (We hope, God willing, to discuss these types of experiences in greater detail later) These claims, however, are not the basis for hope for the true disciple of Jesus. More frequently doctors see persons brought into hospitals unconscious through an injury to the head, who recovered after an operation, and remember nothing of the time between. After awakening, almost universally doctors find that the last thing the patient remembers is what occurred immediately before the accident. Although the duration till he regained consciousness has been days and sometimes even weeks, yet to him it has been a perfect blank. Why is this? Where was the man's soul during the duration of unconsciousness? Why could it not recollect events after the accident if it is independent of the body? This gives at least some evidence that the human soul is dependent on an organism.
(5) But what about the spirit? Is it a sentient being inside of us, that can continue to have sentiency without the body? The only spirit residing in a human that science recognizes is the spirit (energy, or vitality) of life. At one time it was thought that life resided in some particular part of the body. Now science tells us that the body is composed of innumerable cells. The spirit or energy of life animates every one of these cells. We know, also, that this energy of life is dependent on certain continual processes of waste and repair.
(6) Your finger, for example, is composed of many cells in each of which is the spirit or energy of life. This life is dependent on processes of waste and repair. If these processes become hindered there is disease. If they stop completely there is death. If your finger is dead, in course of time it shrivels up and drops off. Should your finger die, what becomes of the spirit or energy of life? We understand that the death of a finger and also of the whole body simply means the cessation of the life-processes of waste and repair. It is the same in the case of the lower animals and of plants. They also are composed of innumerable cells in each of which is the spirit or energy of life. This energy of life is dependent on similar processes of waste and repair. We do not understand that the spirit [force] of life is a being that continues to have an independent sentient existence after death. After life is completely gone, man is unable to give it back. That, briefly, is what science can tell us regarding our question. Science knows nothing of a future state, of a conscious existence apart from the body after the body dies.
The Answer of Philosophy
(7) This is where Philosophy steps in. We human beings have considerable reasoning power, and also a conscience, that is, a feeling of right and wrong. Philosophy tells us that if we follow the right course we are good and virtuous and should expect a corresponding reward, and that if we follow the wrong course we are bad or vicious and should expect a corresponding punishment. Yet we find in reality that these reasonable consequences frequently do not follow. In fact, the very reverse is generally the rule. Malachi (3:15) says: "Now we call the proud happy. Yes, they that work wickedness are exalted. Yes, they that tempt God are even delivered." How true this is! Pride is promoted almost everywhere we look: in schools, churches, political leaders, etc. On the other hand as the apostle Paul declares: "Yes, all that will live godly in Jesus Christ must suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12) Is it true that all the great ones of the earth, the kings, nobles, and leaders are the most righteous, and that the lower of the scale of position and honor the more vicious we find men to be? No! Is it not chiefly from among the poor of this world, rich in faith, that God is choosing the heirs of the Kingdom, which he has promised to them that love him? -- 1 Corinthians 1:26-28; John 7:48; Luke 10:21.
(8) Philosophy, therefore, reasons that there must be a future state where the virtuous will be rewarded, and the vicious punished. But philosophy cannot reach a solid conclusion as to what or where this future state will be, nor whether it is attained at the moment of death or after an interval. Thus any thoughts regarding the afterlife that the philosophers put forth are mere speculations at best.
Revelation By Spirits Unworthy of Credence
(9) There are thus many questions left unanswered by unaided human reasoning. If we cannot get the complete answer from science or from philosophy, where should we expect to obtain it? As we cannot get it from ourselves, evidently we must expect a revelation from without. Some profess to receive this revelation through spiritism. Space does not permit a full discussion of this subject, but we are convinced that spiritism, where it is not fraud or trickery, as much of it is, is a manifestation of evil spirits, the fallen angels. Jehovah our God warns us very strongly against consulting those who have familiar spirits, and declares that all who do these things are an abomination to him. -- Deuteronomy 18:9-12; Leviticus 19:31; Isaiah 8:19,20.
The Answer From the Word of God
(10) Where, then, must we look for this revelation? We must look to God himself, and expect to get our answer not through visions or peculiar manifestations, but through the Bible, the Word of God, "the faith once for delivered to the saints." -- Jude 3, A.S.V.
What is the Soul?
(11) To get a proper understanding of our subject we must begin with the question: "What is the soul?" For the answer we naturally turn to the description of the creation of the first human soul, Adam, which we find in the 7th verse of the 2nd chapter of Genesis: "Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath (Hebrew, neshâmâh, Strong's No. 5397, wind, vital breath) of life; and man became a living soul." Yahweh God formed the man, dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath (Hebrew, neshâmâh, Strong's No. 5397, wind, vital breath) of life, and man became a living soul." Let us study this a little. We should not read the Bible without thinking over what God has to tell us. "Yahweh God formed the man of dust from the ground." Adam's body was formed of the elements of the earth. He had eyes, ears, and a mouth, but so far no ability to see, hear or speak. Then God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Notice, the Bible does not say that God breathed into his nostrils a soul. What the Word says is that God "breathed into his nostrils the breath (Hebrew, neshâmâh, Strong's No. 5397, wind, vital breath) of life" (American Standard Version) Thus, the breath of life is the spirit or power of life. And what was the result? Do we find the insinuation that Adam had now a soul in him? No, we find that the result of the breath of life having been breathed into Adam was that he "became a living soul." In other words, the soul is not the body, nor is it the spirit of life, but in order to be a living soul it must possess both a body and the spirit of life. This is in agreement with what we have seen Science to teach, namely, that the "Ego," the real person, the thinking part of man, is not independent of his organism.
(12) Adam was now able to see, hear and speak; to think, walk and work. He was now a living being able to sense and respond to his environment. Therefore the best scriptural definition of a living soul that one could give is that it is a being capable of knowing of its existence and environment. It may be objected that such a definition would include the lower animals. Some claim the Scriptures do not teach that the lower animals are souls. But the Word of God DOES speak of lower animals in this way, although in the King James Version (KJV) and many other translations it is somewhat obscured. When the Hebrew words nephesh hhayyah (living soul) are used with reference to the lower animals, the KJV never (except for one exception, namely, Numbers 31:28) gives the translation "soul" but always "life" or "living creature" or some other such expression. Yet in the Hebrew the expression nephesh hhayyah is also applied to humans. When this expression does occur in relation to human beings the KJV invariably translates it "soul" or "living soul." An illustration of this may be seen in the first chapter of Genesis, verse 21. In the 21st verse we read from the KJV: "And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth." If you have a Strong's Concordance you can see that the expression "living creature" are Strong's words 2416 & 5315, or the Hebrew expression transliterated as nephesh hhayyah. This expression is likewise translated as "living creature" in Genesis 1:24. In both instances, animals other than man is being spoken of. Then in the 30th verse of the same chapter we read (KJV): "To every beast of the earth and to every fowl of the air and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth wherein there is life." Clearly, then, the Bible agrees with Science in declaring that the lower animals are living souls.
Is the Human Soul Immortal?
(13) The next part of our discussion is a very important one. It is the answer to the question: Is the soul immortal? A great deal depends upon the correct answer to this question. Since the Bible tells us that some will be saved, it follows that if the soul is immortal then those not worthy of being with God would have to spend eternity somewhere. We would have to conclude that either all will ultimately attain eternal bliss with God, or some are doomed to an eternal existence of anguish, whatever may be the form of that suffering. On the other hand, if our loving heavenly Father is able to destroy the soul, he will not be restricted to the above alternatives. He will not be required to ignore the freedom of man's will as the doctrine of "universalism" would demand, nor will he be compelled to condemn the willfully wicked to some conscious eternal misery.
(14) To understand the Bible's true teaching on this subject will require some genuine thinking on God's Word, and accepting what it teaches regardless of your personal upbringing or traditional beliefs. Many are completed surprised when they try to find a scripture that teaches that the soul never dies. How can this be proved? It is easily proved. All you have to do is get a complete Concordance (such as Strong's Concordance, look up first the word "soul", and every word that means "soul", and then the word "immortal", and every word that means "immortal", and you will find that there is not a single verse from Genesis to Revelation which states that the soul is immortal. Even better yet, take a Hebrew concordance, (such as The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament) and a Greek concordance, (such ( as The Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament), and look up Strong's Hebrew No. #5315 nephesh (Hebrew word from which the word "soul" is translated) and Strong's Greek No. 5590 psukee (Greek word from which the word "soul" is translated) and see how the Bible speaks of dead souls and that the soul dies (Numbers 6:6; 9:13; Mark 14:34; etc.); the soul can be cut off (Exodus 31:14; Leviticus 7:21; 19:8; 22:3; Acts 3:23; etc.); the soul can be destroyed (Leviticus 23:30; Matthew 10:28); but not once does it say the soul is immortal or that it continues to live after death.
(15) Dr. Thomas Clark, the author of a book called: A Life's Thought on Christ (1897), offered one thousand English pounds to anyone who could find the expression: "immortal", "never-dying", or "ever-living soul", in the Hebrew, Greek, or English Scriptures. Dr. Thomas Clark was quite safe in making that offer. No one ever earned the money. The late W. E. Gladstone wrote with regard to this question: "The natural immortality of the soul is a doctrine wholly unknown to the Holy Scriptures, and standing on no higher plane than that of an ingeniously sustained, but gravely and formidably contested philosophical opinion...It crept into the church by a back door as it were" (Studies Subsidiary to the Works of Bishop Butler, pp. 197-198). Think about this! The doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul is not taught in the Scriptures at all; it crept into the popular church through the back door of Greek philosophy!
(16) Those who believe that the soul is immortal generally think that God has so constituted the soul that He Himself cannot possibly destroy it. But in Matthew 10:28, we read that God is able to destroy not only the body but also the soul in Gehenna. (The King James Version and many other translations mistranslate Gehenna as "Hellfire". We have shown in other studies what is meant by "Gehenna.") Now turn to Ezekiel 18:4. There we read: "Look! All souls are mine. As the soul of father, so also the soul of the son is mine. The soul that is sinning will die." Many try to change or twist what this verse says to make it say that is the body that is dies, but the soul lives on, but that is not what is says.
(17) It is the soul, the sentient living being, that does the sinning, and it is the soul, therefore, that is to bear the penalty of sin, and the penalty is distinctly stated to be DEATH. The soul that sins will die; "for the wages of sin is death," not eternal torment. -- Romans 6:23.
(18) When once we understand this, the whole Bible related to what happens at death becomes very clear. Many passages formerly obscure now become very discernible. In 1 Timothy 6:15,16, we read: "The King of kings and Lord of lords . . . only has immortality (Strong's #110, athanasia, deathlessness." At the time of that writing Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords alone had "put on immortality" by a resurrection to the spirit realm. The scriptures show that in the resurrection others will also "put on immortality (Strong's #110, athanasia, deathlessness)." -- 1 Corinthians 15:53,54. (See our studies: With What Kind of Body Will Be Raised? and The Manner of the Resurrection
(19) Let us further illustrate: Suppose your friend looked at his watch in his arm and then exclaimed: "I must put on my watch." You would think there was something wrong with your friend. Why? Because he would be trying to put something on that he already had on. But many sincere professed Christians say they are immortal, and yet they must put on immortality! In 1 Corinthians 15:53,54, the apostle says: "This mortal must put on immortality." But they could not put on something if they had it on already!
(20) It must seem strange to many that this idea of the immortality of the soul has become so prevalent when it is opposed to the teaching of the Scriptures. It was shortly after the death of the apostles that the popular church adopted this teaching of the Greek philosophers. The Gentile converts were eager to appease their Roman rulers. Persecution of Jews was very severe in the second and third centuries. Most of the Jewish disciples of Jesus had been killed. The Gentile disciples simply began adopting the Roman religious views, doctrines and practices as their own., similar to the way the Jews had blended Greek mythology and philosophy into their teachings. Like the apostate Jews, the apostate Christians gave the Roman religious teachings terminology that gave the idea that the Bible supported these views.
(21) One argument put forward to support the theory that the soul is immortal is that it is a little part of God "breathed" into Adam. If those who theorize in this way would only reason out their argument to its legitimate conclusion, they would see that it could not possibly be true. They ought to remember that it is not simply the body but the soul that is does the sinning. "The soul that sins. . ." (Ezekiel 18:4,20) If the soul is a little part of God, then this little part of God in man commits sin, and thus this little part of God may come under the sentence of eternal condemnation from Himself.
(22) Some note Genesis 2:7 says that God breathed the breath (Hebrew, neshâmâh, Strong's No. 5397, wind, vital breath) of life into man's nostrils, and that this differs from the description of the creation of the lower animals. Thus they claim that it is not the soul but this neshâmâh or spirit that is a little part of God, and that it is not the soul but the neshâmâh that is, on this account, immortal. However, in Joshua 10:40 we read that Joshua "utterly destroyed all that breathed [neshâmâh]", thus indicating that this neshâmâh can be destroyed. (See also Deuteronomy 20:16, Joshua 11:11,14) In Job 32:8 this word is translated in the KJV as "inspiration." In Job 37:10 we read that by "the breath [neshâmâh] of God frost is given." In Daniel 10:17 Daniel said "Straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath [neshâmâh] left in me." It becomes evident from these usages of this word that it is not a living entity living inside a person. See also our studies on Neshamah and The Spirit That Returns to God
(23) No, dear friends, the Word of God is consistent. It does not teach that immortality is the natural possession of man. Rather, it says: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23) We do not have eternal life inherent in us, but it is offered to us as a gift through the Anointed Jesus, who gave himself a propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins. -- 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:6.
(24) It is thus evident that man will not be granted a future state because he is or possesses an immortal soul or spirit, but because God, in his mercy, has provided some other means of delivering man from his death state. Does this mean that the foundation of Biblical hope is removed? By no means! Everywhere in the Scriptures we are assured that our hope of a future life depends, not on any supposed inherent immortality, but on the resurrection from the dead. -- Acts 24:14,15; 1 Corinthians 15.
(25) We have shown that the best definition of the soul is the living being that knows of its own existence and its surroundings. The dominant part of the being is the mind, the will, but this cannot exist without an organism. Accordingly, while in a restricted sense the soul may be described as the mind, the will, the conscious Ego, nevertheless, in order to exist, the Ego must have a body of some kind. We have learned also that there is no verse in the Bible that states that the soul is immortal, but that, on the contrary, the Word of God teaches distinctly that the soul that sins will die. Ezekiel 18:4.