It was disclosed recently that a group of clergymen in England and the United States had conducted an in-depth study of the theory of the inherent immortality of man. They concluded that the Bible, rightly understood, neither teaches nor supports this theological belief. Of this they are apparently so convinced that they have taken steps to promulgate their findings publicly.

If their arguments begin to receive very wide acceptance, it would indeed cast a long shadow of doubt upon many related creedal beliefs held sacred by Christianity.

The changed viewpoint of these ministers, however, is not a new concept at all. There have been those all along who have asserted that the doctrine which teaches that man possesses an immortal soul is in error. Over one hundred years ago, in 1886 a book was published entitled, “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” It addressed this subject in great detail, arguing from the standpoint of the Scriptures that human and spirit natures are separate and distinct, and that there is no such thing as an immortal soul possessed by man.

This has also been the accepted editorial view of The Dawn since the start of its publication, nearly sixty years ago.

So, as we have asked many times before, we ask again, …

Is Man Immortal?

THE THEORY OF inherent immortality, which alleges that when what we call death overtakes a human being, he actually becomes more alive than before it occurred, is based on the supposition that lurking somewhere within the human organism is an elusive, intangible, and invisible ego or intelligence called a ‘soul’. And the claim of theologians is that this soul is immortal or ‘death proof’; hence, that when the body dies, this inner intelligence, or real man, escapes from its prison-house of human limitations and is free to enjoy life forever on a much higher plane of existence—unless, of course, it has been a wicked soul. In the latter case, according to traditional theology, the soul must suffer untold agonies in a burning hell of literal fire; or at best, pass through a long period of suffering in purgatory before it can enjoy the freedom and blessings of heaven.

The expressions ‘immortal soul’, and ‘undying soul’, are so commonly used in religious conversation that it is taken for granted by those who have not made an investigation that they are Scriptural terms. For this reason it will be a distinct surprise to many to learn that these expressions are not to be found in the Bible all. The traditional immortality of the human soul is purely a product of imagination, having no Scriptural support whatsoever.

The word ‘soul’, and its plural, ‘souls’, is used in the Bible more than five hundred times, but in no instance is the thought even hinted that human souls are immortal. On the contrary, wherever the Bible discusses the subject of death in connection with the soul, it distinctly and clearly states that the soul, even as the body, is subject to death. For example, through the prophet the Lord says, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezek. 18:4) And in the New Testament we read the words of Jesus, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].” (Matt. 10:28) Yes, even those souls which go to the Bible hell are destroyed, not tormented.

The word ‘soul’ as used in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word nephesh. Professor Young states in his Analytical Concordance of the Scriptures, that this word nephesh simply means ‘animal’, or, freely translated, that which is animated, or alive—a sentient being. The word is used in the Old Testament in connection with the lower animals as well as man. In Numbers 31:28 it is applied to such animals as “beeves,” “asses,” and “sheep.” Thus, were we to insist that the Hebrew word nephesh, translated ‘soul’ in the Old Testament, means immortal soul, then we would be bound to conclude that the lower animals also possess immortal souls—a conclusion that few would want to accept.

The word ‘soul’ in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word psuche. We know that this word has exactly the same meaning as the Hebrew word nephesh, for the reason that the Apostle Peter uses it to translate the latter when he quotes from Psalm 16:10. The apostle’s quotation is found in Acts 2:27, and reads: “Thou wilt not leave my soul [Greek, psuche, Hebrew, nephesh] in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Peter tells us that this is a prophecy concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus, that his soul was not left in hell.

In Matthew 26:38 Jesus is reported as saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” This is fully in harmony with the prophetic declaration concerning Jesus which says that his soul was “made an offering for sin.” Yes, Jesus’ soul died, and through that great sacrifice the souls of all mankind are redeemed from death, and all ultimately will be resurrected from the condition of death.

Another interesting use of the Greek word psuche [English, ‘soul’] in the New Testament is found in Acts 3:19-23. Here we have a prophecy describing the work of restoration, or resurrection, that will be carried on by the Messiah following his second coming and the establishment of his kingdom. We are told that then “every soul which will not hear [obey] that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.” Thus both the Old and New Testaments emphasize the fact that human souls are mortal, subject to death, and that ultimately all wicked souls are to be destroyed—not preserved and tormented, as the Dark Age creeds would have us believe.

First Human Soul Created

Let us now note carefully the process by which the first human soul was brought into being, as this will help us to understand more clearly just what a soul really is. The Scriptural account of this is given in Genesis 2:7, which reads: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Note that the soul is here shown to be the result, or product, of a union of the body, or organism, with the breath of life—“man became a living soul.” This passage does not say, as many in the past have erroneously supposed, that God created man and then injected a soul into him—it declares, rather, that in the creation, man “became” a soul, which is quite different.

First, according to the record, the organism, or body, of man ‘was formed—out ‘of “the dust of the ground.” This is scientifically in harmony with the facts as we know them today, as the body of man is composed entirely of the various chemical elements found in the earth. Then, into this organism was’ forced the “breath of life”—the animating power of the air which we breathe, which is necessary to all animal life. The Hebrew word here translated “breath,” is neshamah, which, according to Professor Young, literally means ‘breath’. The fact that it was breathed into the nostrils of father Adam. emphasizes the fact that it was the breath. Certainly the nostrils would seem like a peculiar place for an immortal soul to be located.

Now what happened when the breath of life was blown into the nostrils of this first human organism? Simply this, it became alive—or, as the text declares, “a living soul.” Thus seen, the “soul” is really that which results from the union of organism with the life-giving qualities of breath—the “breath of life.” A simple illustration of this is the electric light. The organism of the bulb with its internal vacuum, filament, etc., is not the light; neither is the electricity that flows through that organism, the light; but the union of the organism with the electricity produces the light. Destroy the bulb (organism) or cut off the electric current (corresponding to the breath of life) and the light goes out; that is, it ceases to exist, being extinguished.

Just so it is with the human soul. When the body becomes impaired through disease or accident, to the point where it can no longer function sufficiently well to react to the life-sustaining impulses of the breath of life, the soul, or life, of the individual ‘goes out’, that is, it ceases to exist, it dies. Likewise, if for any reason, or in any manner, the breath of life is kept from the body, as in drowning, or in asphyxiation, the life also ceases—the soul dies.

It should be borne in mind in this connection, of course, that the great secret of life, the outward manifestations of which we are able to understand to some extent, is in the hands of the Creator. He is the great Creator, not only of man, but of the lower animals as well. He is to all life on earth, what the sun is to all natural light; that is, he is the source. It is not possible for man to form an organism, put in it some of the earth’s atmosphere, and have it live. The literal air is the breath of life both to humans and to the lower animals, because it is a medium of the Creator by which means the life principle is communicated to all living things in the earth.

This life principle, however, is not an intelligence in itself, but merely the power of God by which all life exists. In Genesis 7:15,22, this same breath of life is said to be a possession of the lower animals.

As we pursue our investigation we will discover that the reason the Bible holds out a hope of future and eternal life for human beings who obey the law of God, is that the Creator proposes to continue imparting the life principle to them, and not because he originally put something into their organism which is ‘death proof.

The Hope of Immortality

As already noted, the expression ‘immortal soul’ is not to be found in the Bible at all. The word ‘immortal’ is used only once in the entire Bible, and in that one instance it is applied to the Lord and not to man. We quote: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.” (I Tim. 1:17) In I Timothy 6:16 we have a passage similar to the foregoing in which the word immortality is used. This text is also speaking of the Lord, and reads: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting.” These two Scriptural passages should definitely settle the question as to whether man, by nature, Is an immortal creature.

The word immortality is used four other times in the Bible, and in each case it is descriptive of a future conditional reward for those who in this life walk faithfully in the footsteps of the Master. And right here let us emphasize the fact again that we are not attempting to prove that there is no future life for human beings, but rather, that all hope of future life, according to the Bible, is based on the fact that there is to be a resurrection of the dead, rather than on the supposition that we are by nature immortal, hence cannot die.

We will consider the four scriptures which refer to the Christian’s hope of being exalted to immortality with the Lord. Romans 2:7 reads: “To them [Christians] who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” This text shows that immortality is not now a possession of the Christian, but rather that it is something to be sought after, “through patient continuance in well doing.”

In I Corinthians 15:53 we read: “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Here we are told that immortality is a quality, which if it is ever to be possessed, must be ‘put on’. Distinctly does the apostle say that now we are ‘mortal’ beings. The next verse reads: “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

There is just one other text in the Bible in which the word immortality appears, and that is II Timothy 1:10. It reads as follows: “But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” It is evident from this passage that no one prior to our Lord’s First Advent had even as much as an opportunity to strive for immortality, as the church of this Gospel Age is encouraged to do. It shows, furthermore, that all hope of life and immortality is centered in Jesus and in his redemptive work.

What Is Death?

Death is man’s greatest enemy; and the Bible alone, of all the sources of information available to man, furnishes us with definite information concerning the future of those who are struck down by this dread monster. God’s Word promises that a time is coming when there “shall be no more death”; and, furthermore, that those who have died shall live again. (Rev. 21:4; John 5:28) A knowledge of the Creator’s provision for a dying race should be a real solace to those who mourn for their beloved dead.

Added to the ghastly specter of death itself, is the almost universal uncertainty of what lies beyond the grave. What happens to an individual the next moment after the heart stops beating? Is that individual still alive in some mysterious way, actually hovering around the undertaking parlors while his friends are gathered to mourn his passing? Or, has he departed to some unknown and ‘beautiful isle of somewhere’? Or, in the event that the deceased was not a Christian, is he now in the traditional regions of the damned, where he is doomed to suffer an eternity of torture in a hell of fire and brimstone?

Try as we will, we cannot entirely dismiss these questions from our minds. And while many of us may partially console ourselves in the thought that at least many of our close friends and relatives who have died were good characters, and faithful believers in Christianity as they understood it, and hence, according to our accepted beliefs should now be happy in heaven; yet, all of us have had some dear friends, and probably relatives, who have died outside the pale of orthodox belief and practice, and we cannot help wondering what has become of these. Are they now suffering, or are they happy?

Science Holds No Hope

Science tells us that there is no evidence of the continuance of human life after the heart stops beating. This being an age of materialism, many are inclined to accept this view. The claim is that so far as the life principle is concerned, man is no different than the lower animals; that the higher intelligence of the human species is not due to the traditional theory that man has hidden within him a separate intelligence called a ‘soul’, or a ‘spirit’, but to the fact that he possesses a superior, a more refined, organism than does the brute creation.

Let us now note a few of the Scriptural passages which show clearly that science is right as far as the present condition of the dead is concerned. Ecclesiastes 9:5 reads, “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything.” Psalm 49:10-12 is also to the point: “He seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations: they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless, man being in honor abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.”

In Genesis 2:7 we are told that “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Later, after the transgression of this originally perfect pair, God said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen. 3:19) In Psalm 146:4 David makes an emphatic declaration as to the condition of those who return to the dust. We quote, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” If language means anything at all then there is no mistaking the fact that these words describe a dead man as being absolutely unconscious, even his thoughts having perished.

Note again the statement of the psalmist: “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth.” If a man, as a conscious, living being, was brought into existence by the union of the material body with the breath of life, it would seem reasonable that when these two elements are separated, life would cease; and this is exactly what the text states: “In that very day his thoughts perish.”

Some may wonder about the ‘breath of life’, thinking perhaps this may be that traditional something-or-other that continues to live on after the body dies. Let us now examine a passage which describes the process of dying, showing exactly what becomes of the two principal elements which divine, creative wisdom has combined to produce human life. It reads: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it”—Eccles. 12:7

The key to a proper understanding of this text is found in the word ‘return’, used with respect to both the body and the spirit. The body is said to return to the earth. This is because its elements originally came from the earth. It follows, therefore, that if the spirit returns to God, it must have been with God before it entered the human organism. If to be with God in this sense means to be in heaven, then it follows that if the ‘spirit’ here referred to is a conscious entity, capable of enjoying life in a spiritual heaven, it means that every one of us must have been in that spiritual heaven before we were born; else it could not be said that we ‘return’ when we die.

What the ‘Spirit’ Really Is

The Hebrew word here translated “spirit,” is ruwach. Professor Strong, noted authority on the Hebrew and Greek languages, tells us that this Hebrew word ruwach means ‘wind’, or ‘breath’. It is the same Hebrew word that is translated ‘breath’ in Genesis 7:15, where it is said to be possessed by the lower animals. We quote: “They went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath [ruwach] of life.” If the use of the word ruwach to describe the breath or spirit of life in human beings means that we have within us an intelligent entity of some sort that continues to live after the body dies, it also means that the lower animals inherently possess a similar intangible something which can never die.

But when we reason in harmony with the Word of God, all is clear. Genesis 2:7 declares that God created man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The result of the uniting of the body with the breath of life is said to be that man became a living soul. Obviously, when the body returns to the earth, and the breath or spirit of life returns to its original source—to God who gave it—it leaves the individual in exactly the same condition as he was before birth, which was a condition of non-existence.

To settle this question even more definitely we need only to turn to Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, where the Hebrew word ruwach is again used, and there it is said that the breath (ruwach) of both man and beast goes to the same place at death. We quote: “That which befalleth the sons of men, befalleth the beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath [ruwach]; so that man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place: all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth [that] the spirit of man goeth upward [to heaven] and [that] the spirit of the beast goeth downward to the earth?”

The records of the New Testament on the subject of death agree fully with those of the Old Testament. Jesus indicates that the dead are in a condition of unconsciousness, which he likens to sleep. In John 11:14-46 we have a wonderfully revealing account of the sickness, death, and awakening of Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus. Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, were also friends of the Master, and when their brother was taken sick they sent word to Jesus supposing that he would come at once to their aid.

But instead of going immediately to the bedside of his friend, Lazarus, Jesus tarried. After some time had elapsed he said to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” The disciples misunderstood this, supposing that Jesus referred to natural sleep. Then he said plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” Later, at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus addressed this dead one in a loud voice saying, “Lazarus, come forth.” And we are told that “he that was dead came forth.” Not a hint here that Lazarus’ “soul” was either in a heaven of bliss or a hell of torment. According to the record, he was asleep in death. Yes, Jesus believed in the sleep of death.

In this account of the awakening of Lazarus from the sleep of death we have emphasized the fact that the scriptural hope for life beyond the grave is in the assurance that there is to be a resurrection of the dead, rather than in the supposition that man possesses inherent immortality. The Apostle Paul fully agrees with this. In I Corinthians 15:12-18 he concludes that if there be no resurrection of the dead, then, “they … which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”

In the book of Revelation also, we find the same uniformity of thought as to the unconscious condition of the dead. For example, the Revelator says, “The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [the grave] delivered up the dead which were in them.” (Rev. 20:13) Note the fact that according to the text just quoted, those that are in the Scriptural ‘hell [grave]’ are declared to be dead. This means that they are not alive and being tormented. The text also reveals that the hope of the dead is that they shall be brought out of hell (the grave)—raised to life.

In brief then, the answer to the question, Where are the dead? is that they are now in a state of unconsciousness; that all hope for life beyond the grave is centered in the Scriptural assurance that through the mighty power of the great Creator, exercised by the divine Christ during the coming kingdom period, there is to be a “resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.”—Acts 24:15

The clear evidence of the Scriptures answers our question in this way: No, man is not immortal!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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