INCREASING MAN’S LIFE SPAN by stopping the aging process has been given much publicity by the news media in recent years. True, the average life span of man has increased by the use of the many new pharmaceuticals to control ravaging diseases, by organ transplants, awareness of dietary needs, and generally because of the benefits accruing from the great increase in knowledge which has occurred during the latter part of the twentieth century.

This new information, known as anti-aging, is different. It is dependent on new technology, which is in the very early developmental stages. A few herbal companies have products that claim to be anti-aging, but their claims are questionable.


The important work along this line is being done by biologists. About a year ago an article appeared in the “New York Times” which had the caption, “Immortality of a Sort, Beckons to Biologists.” The increase of man’s life span today permits people to live longer, but the quality of life degrades tremendously. The work reported by the biologists in this article deals with a study that possibly might effect a profound change in the aging process, without loss of quality of life. The study is very interesting to students of the Bible from two standpoints: (1) as a scientific explanation of why man dies (confirming the death sentence of God), and (2) how everlasting life is technically possible.

All life, as brought forth upon earth by God, is composed of microscopic units called cells. These cells have the capability of growing and dividing. There is a limit, however, and eventually this process stops. As explained in the article:

“For decades biologists have known that the body’s mortality is mirrored on the cellular level by an immutable rule called the Hayflick limit. Dr. Hayflick, now of the University of California, San Francisco, discovered that when tissue cells are taken from the body and cultured in a laboratory dish, they grow and divide about fifty times—the number varies with the kind of tissue—and then lapse into senescence (growing old, aging).”

The ‘Hayflick limit’ is the scientific explanation of why man is mortal. Man’s cells stop replacing themselves and he eventually dies. The Biblical explanation concerning man dying is that it is the result of Father Adam’s disobedience and the entrance of sin into the world. The penalty of death passed upon mankind and all have come under that death penalty. The biologists use dictionary definitions of mortality and immortality that equate mortality to dying, and immortality to living forever. The Biblical definitions of mortality and immortality are not limited to the present life, and are defined as mortal meaning capable of dying (though not necessarily dying), and immortal as death-proof, or incapable of dying. Mortal means death is possible; immortal means death is impossible.

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


The first time the penalty for sin is mentioned in the Bible it is declared to be death. To Adam God said, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) When our first parents did partake of the forbidden fruit God said to them, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”—Gen. 3:19

This was the full limit of the penalty—a returning to the dust. Nothing more was said to our first parents concerning the result of their sins, except to outline the incidental sorrows they would experience prior to death. The final consummation of the penalty upon Adam is recorded in Genesis 5:5, where we read: “All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.” Ecclesiastes 12:7 has been misconstrued to mean that man possesses an immortal ‘spirit’ which cannot die, and which, at the death of the body, returns to God. We quote: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” The key to a proper understanding of this text is the word ‘return.’ Both the ‘dust’ of which the body is composed, and the spirit return. This means that both revert to the prebirth condition.

The word spirit, as used in this text, is a translation of a Hebrew word which elsewhere in the Old Testament is translated ‘breath.’ It is used to define the God-given power of life inherent in the breath. In his sermon on Mars’ Hill, Paul said that in God “we live, and move, and have our being.”—Acts 17:28

At death the body returns to the dust. That should be obvious to all, and the text quoted states that the God-given power to live, the spirit or breath, also returns. It came from God as the Giver of all life, and therefore is properly described as returning to him.


What then is the soul? The word soul 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 accept.

The word soul in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word psuche. We know this word has exactly the same meaning as the Hebrew word nephesh, for 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.” (Isa. 53:10) Jesus’ soul died, and through that one great sacrifice the souls of all mankind are redeemed from death, and 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.


We note carefully the process by which the first human soul was brought into being, as this will help us to understand more clearly what a soul really is. The scriptural account 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.”

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 Prof. Young, literally means ‘breath.’ The fact that it was breathed into the nostrils of father Adam emphasizes that it was the breath. Certainly the nostrils would seem like a peculiar place for an immortal soul to be located.

What happened when the breath of life was blown into the nostrils of this first human organism? It became alive—or, as the text declares, ‘a living soul.’ Thus seen, the ‘soul’ is really that which results from the union of the organism with the life-giving qualities of the breath—‘the breath of life.’ A simple illustration of this is the electric light. The organism of the bulb with its internal vacuum and filament, 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.

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 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 manner, the breath of life is kept from the body, as in drowning or in asphyxiation, the life also ceases—the soul ceases to exist.


It should be borne in mind 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, 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 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 is not an intelligence in itself, but 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.


What then is it that the biologists have found that makes them speak of immortality? (Correctly, they should speak of ‘everlasting life.’) They have learned how to break the Hayflick limit for cells dividing and then ceasing to divide. The reason for cells being limited to dividing is because a DNA known as the ‘telomere’ gets shorter each time the cell divides, and when the length reaches a certain minimum, the cell is thrown into a terminal crises. Biologists have found that a gene possessed by all cells can restore the telomere to its youthful length.

For some reason, that gene is repressed and inactive in the cells of our bodies. The recent scientific work has consisted of inserting a copy of such a gene in active form into cells to make them divide indefinitely (or forever). Such cells must be the healthy, useful cells of the human body, because there are other cells which divide indefinitely and cause death to the body. These are cancer cells. It is this particular gene that is destroyed quickly by cancer cells which divide indefinitely and cause death prematurely. Such cancer cells destroy the body’s defense mechanism.


The cells that have sparked hope of being usable to provide the needed gene in active form are called ‘embryonic cells’ that are found in the embryo. Once the embryo is developed and born, the necessary gene in these cells no longer is active. This lends credence to the often-heard expression that as soon as a child is born, it begins to die.

How far have biologists come in the pursuit of having this gene activated in the cells of our bodies? Not very far. A team of researchers has been able to isolate some embryonic cells. Another team has been able to isolate the telomerase gene. Combining these and placing them into the human body as a transplant is a long way off. No one knows if such cells might be rejected by the body as has occurred in organ transplants, but such problems would not be faced until the distant future.

The importance of these scientific findings is the fact that the human body, as designed and constructed by God, can indeed live forever. This is why God has promised everlasting life to the ransomed, obedient children of Adam in the resurrection. The promises of the Bible are real, and not fanciful. God’s plan for man is everlasting life on Planet Earth. Man, however, in this restored and perfect condition, will not be immortal.


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 honour 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 honour 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 conditional future reward for those who in this life walk faithfully in the footsteps of the Master. We emphasize the fact again that we are not attempting to prove that there is no future life for human beings; rather, that all hope of future life, according to the Bible, is based on a resurrection of the dead. It is not based on the supposition that we are by nature immortal, hence cannot die.

We note 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 honour 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: “For 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.’ The apostle explains well that we are now 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.”—vs. 54

There is one other text in which the word ‘immortality’ appears, namely II Timothy 1:10. It reads: “But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour 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 an opportunity to strive for immortality as the church during 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.

For the church, the reward of immortality is mind-boggling and overwhelming! The tests of faithfulness must be thorough and severe. The standard that must be reached to receive this reward, of necessity, is very high. May God give us strength and help us to achieve this standard, and to be faithful even unto death.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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