Pro. Robert Leo Odom
certainty of Life after Death . . . When?
Your soul, what is it? When you die will your soul become a ghost and haunt
thereafter the house in which your death occurred? As a spook, will it waft and
wing its way, or flit and fly and romp and play in ghastly ghoulish manner with
other ghosts at night among the graves and tombstones in the cemetery where your
body lies buried beneath the sod? Can it do or say, hear or see, think or feel
anything apart from your body? Does it have a brain or mind different and
separate from the one you now have?
Is your soul immortal, so much so that it will live on eternally after your
dead body has been completely destroyed?
Many and various are the doctrines taught in the world today concerning the
human soul. Some people teach that when a righteous person dies his soul will
immediately leave his body, remain conscious, and fly away to heaven to play on
a harp forever thereafter. Also, some think that if you have been a wicked
person and die without having repented of your sins, your soul will be hurled at
once into an eternally burning lake of fire and will remain there alive forever,
suffering and screaming in ceaseless torment with no hope of ever being freed
We wonder what the citizens of our nation would do if the worst criminals
sent to our prisons by our courts of justice were subjected day and night to
such unending torture?
In the light of all this, it is both proper and fitting that we should search
the Holy Scriptures carefully to find out what God has said about what really
happens to a person's soul at death. That is the main purpose of this book.
Let us now consider what our Creator tells us in the Holy Scriptures
concerning the origin of the human soul: "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." Genesis 2:7. Centuries later it was written that "Adam was made a
living soul." 1 Corinthians 15:45.
Note particularly that the Sacred Record does not say that God breathed into
man's nostrils a soul. He breathed into the first man's nostrils "the breath of
life" and then "man became a living soul." Note, too, that it does not say that
man became an immortal soul.
Does this mean that during the interval between the creation of Adam's body
and the breathing of the breath of life into it, he was a lifeless soul? This
would indicate that when a living person dies he ceases to breathe and then
becomes a lifeless (or dead) soul.
Man's existence constantly depends on life from God. The psalmist stated the
truth when he said, in praise to God: "With Thee is the fountain of life." Psalm
36:9. And the apostle Paul has rightly said: "In Him we live, and move, and have
our being." Acts 17:28.
Where was Adam before he was created? He did not yet exist. Prior to his
creation the dust of the ground existed, but it was not Adam. God had life in
Himself long before He made man, but it was not Adam. In other words, while the
dust of the ground and the breath of life from God were not combined by the
process of creation, man did not yet exist. But when the two things--the earthly
elements and the breath of life from God--were combined by the Creator in the
proper way, this combination resulted in the existence of a living soul--man.
To state it another way, the living soul is a composite thing. The electric
current, for example, is not a light. The bulb is not a light. But when the
current is properly run into the bulb, a light appears. The burning light is the
result of the combination of the bulb and the electric current.
Suppose, too, that we have in one place a bag of nails. In another place we
have a stack of boards. The sack of nails is not a box. The pile of boards is
not a box. But when the nails and the boards are properly combined, a box
In a somewhat similar way the human soul is a composite thing, and its
existence depends on a proper combination of the earthy body and life from God.
Consider this now from another angle. What happens to the light when the bulb
is broken or the current is turned off? Because the existence of the light is
dependent on the combination of the electric current with the bulb, the
separation of the one from the other naturally results in the extinction of the
What happens to the box when the nails are pulled out and put into a bag, and
the boards are removed and put into a pile? Does the box continue to exist
If the soul did not exist until the Creator combined the breath of life from
Himself with the earthy body He formed from the dust of the ground, then what
happens to the soul when the breath of life is separated from the man's body?
The Sacred Scriptures answer: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it
was; and the spirit [breath of life] shall return unto God who gave it."
Ecclesiastes 12:7. Thus death is the creative process reversed. In creation the
human body was formed from the dust taken from the ground; in death the human
body decays and is dissolved to dust and returned to the ground. In creation the
life was given from God; in death the life returns to God. Death is the
cessation of life for man. He ceases to be a living soul at death. Browning has
well stated this truth in poetry saying:
"But the soul is not the body, and the breath is not the flute:
Both together make the music, either marred, and all is mute."
--Robert Browning, poem "La Saisiaz"
One widely used reference work presents this thought provoking comment: "The
soul is not an entity with a separate nature from the flesh and possessing or
capable of a life of its own. Rather it is the life animating the flesh. The
soul of the flesh can thus be identified with the blood (Lv 17:14). Soul and
flesh therefore do not go different ways, but the flesh (or a part like the eye
or the hand) expresses outwardly the life or soul. When the soul thirsts for
God, the flesh faints for Him (Ps 63:1). Soul is thus the living being. `Flesh'
can be lifeless, but nephesh in its normal usage is alive. Adam was made of the
dust, but when God gave him breath he became (not obtained) a living nephesh.
Man does not `have' a soul, he is a soul."--Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible,
p. 932, art. "Soul."
Nepesh is the Hebrew word commonly translated "soul" in our Bible.
From another major religious reference work we quote:
"Nephesh is used in regard to both animals and humans. If life is human,
nephesh is equivalent to the person, the `I.' After death, the nephesh goes to
"The above summary indicates that there is no dichotomy of body and soul in
the OT. The Israelite saw things concretely, in their totality, and thus he
considered men as persons and not as composites. The term nephesh, though
translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the
individual person"--The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 13, p. 449, col. 2, art.
"Soul (in the Bible)." Published by McGraw-Hill Co., New York: 1967.
When the Lord made man, He said to His Son: "Let Us make man in Our image,
after Our likeness." Genesis 1:26. "So God created man in His own image, in the
image of God created He him. Verse 27. "In the day that God created man, in the
likeness of God made He him." Genesis 5:1. See also John 1:1-4, 10; Ephesians
3:9; Colossians 1:16,17. Thus the Sacred Scriptures say that man was made in the
image, or likeness, of God. They do not say that man's nature was made the same
as that of the Deity. Had such been the case, man would be a divine being.
By confusing man's nature with his likeness to his Maker in form, some people
have thought that the human being was endowed with an immortal nature, one that
cannot die, and that it is as eternal as God Himself. They even allege that He,
using the hottest purgatory or hell of fire imaginable, will not destroy a
wicked human being nor put an end to his existence. Hence they talk about "the
immortality of the soul," an expression that is not found in the Book of
In the Holy Scriptures man is called "this mortal." 1 Corinthians 15:53,54.
See also Job 4:17; Romans 6:12; 2 Corinthians 4:11. Only God is spoken of in the
Bible as being immortal. Paul speaks of Him as "the King eternal, immortal." 1
Timothy 1:17. This is the only place in the Authorized (King James) Version of
the Bible where the word "immortal" is found, and it is applied to God alone. In
this Paul is consistent, for in another place he refers to the Deity as "the
King of kings, the Lord of lords; who only hath immortality." 1 Timothy 6:15,16.
The Lord does not depend upon another being for His life, as we do, because
He is self-existing, having life within Himself. "As the Father hath life in
Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself." John 5:26.
Therefore God the Father and also God the Son (Christ) can create living
creatures, and can restore to life those that have ceased to live. Our hope of
living after death is based on the certainty of this great fact. "For God so
loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in
Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16.
When the Creator made man, He did not endow him with an immortal nature. He
did purpose that man should live eternally, but only on condition of faithful
obedience to the law of God. Within Adam's reach was placed the tree of life,
and as long as he was obedient, he could partake freely of its fruit and live.
Eating once of the fruit of the tree of life did not guarantee to the eater
that he would become, thereby, immortal, and that he would live forever
thereafter. Provision was made for man to live eternally by repeatedly eating of
the fruit of the tree of life. However this privilege and promise were
conditional, the condition being faithful obedience to God's law. By their
disobedience, Adam and Eve forfeited their God-given right to eat of the fruit
of the tree of life and live forever.
Because man was endowed with the power of choice, or free will, to create him
immortal at the beginning would have been to run the risk that he might choose
to do evil, rebel against his Maker, and so become an eternal and indestructible
enemy of the government of God. But the Lord "is able to destroy both soul and
body in hell." Matthew 10:28.
The Creator tested man in order that he might manifest whether or not he
would loyally obey God and be worthy of life. He said to Adam: "Of every tree of
the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou
shalt surely die." Genesis 2:16,17. This shows that God made man a mortal soul,
one capable of dying. Therefore, the only way whereby man might have avoided
death and live ages without end was by faithfully obeying the word of his Maker.
That one tree among the many that God had created on earth was to be a test
of the love and loyalty of Adam and Eve to Him as their Creator. There never was
any need for them to eat of its forbidden fruit. God's command concerning the
fruit of that tree was not only evidence of His loving care for our first
parents but also a test of their faith in Him. We repeat, there was no need
whatever for them to disobey Him and eat of that forbidden fruit, for in the
midst of the garden was the tree of life and Adam and Eve were told that they
might freely eat of the fruit of every tree except the one called the tree of
knowledge of good and evil.
Note that our first parents were clearly told that disregard for God's
commandment would be fatal to them. It has been a fundamental rule from Adam's
time to the present that "the wages of sin is death." Romans 6:23. "All have
sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. So, "death passed upon
all men, for that all have sinned." Romans 5:12. "There is none righteous, no,
not one." Romans 3:10. The same thing is taught in Ecclesiastes 7:20: "There is
not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good and sinneth not." See also Psalm
14:1,3; 53:1,3; 1 Kings 8:46.
Note particularly that the Lord has said in Holy Writ that "the soul that
sinneth, it shall die." Ezekiel 18:4,20. That truth which God had stated to
Adam, the first "living soul" in Eden, was reiterated centuries later by the
apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians when he referred to man as
mortal, as cited above in 1 Corinthians 15:53,54.
We have already noted that in the beginning, when God created man "a living
soul" (Genesis 2:7), He made him a sinless human being. To test man's loyalty to
Him, God planted in the Garden of Eden "the tree of knowledge of good and evil."
Genesis 2:9. He warned man in the clearest of language not to eat the fruit of
it, saying, "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat
of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Verse 17.
Thus mortal man was placed on probation in order that by faithful obedience
he could willingly show his love and loyalty to his Creator.
In the fifth century B.C. the Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the
Egyptians were the first "to teach that the human soul is immortal." --The
History of Herodotus, book II, chap. 123 (Harvard University Press edition, vol.
1, p. 425).
But Herodotus was mistaken, for Satan was the first to present to mankind the
false doctrine of the immortality of the human soul to entice Adam and Eve to
sin. Centuries before Herodotus wrote his history of the nations Moses, the
Hebrew historian, born and reared to manhood in Egypt, wrote by inspiration of
God the true story of the creation of man. In it he recorded the first human
death (that of Abel) and the death of Adam, the first member of the human race.
He tells us in Genesis 3 that when the tempter asked Eve, "Yea, hath God said,
Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" she replied: "We may eat of the
fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the
midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye
touch it, lest ye die." Verses 1-3. This shows that Eve clearly remembered the
warning that God had given them concerning that tree in Genesis 2:17.
Then the evil one said, "Ye shall not surely die." Verse 4 of chapter 3. Thus
for the first time the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul was taught
on planet Earth many centuries before Herodotus was born. It is a falsehood
uttered by the Adversary (Satan) in direct opposition to the Creator's statement
that as a result of disobedience man would "surely die."
Adam and Eve disobeyed their Creator by eating of the forbidden fruit and
thereby became subject to death. The Lord had told them that if they should
disobey they would "surely die." The Adversary opposed this by saying, "Ye shall
not surely die." By the use of the pronoun "ye" he had in mind the fall of both
Adam and Eve. Eve not only ate of the forbidden fruit herself but she persuaded
Adam to do so, too.
Because of their disobedience, the Lord said concerning man: "Lest he put
forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the
ground from whence he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed at the
east of the Garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way
to keep the way of the tree of life." Genesis 3:22-24.
Thus God made it impossible for man to become an immortal sinner.
So it is made very clear in Holy Writ that when "man became a living soul"
(Gen. 1:7), he did not thereby become an immortal one. It has been an
unchangeable determination of our Creator from that time to the present that
there should not be an immortal, sinful soul among earth's inhabitants.
Ever since the sin of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of
Eden, humanity has had no access to the fruit of the tree of life. Consequently,
because of sin, all mankind have been by nature candidates for death.
HUMANS NOW IN HEAVEN?
The evangelist was trying to pitch his tent on a vacant lot about a half
block from where I lived. From the window of my home I saw that he was having
difficulty in the undertaking and needed assistance. So I went to help him, for
I had been trained to handle ropes and canvas in a seamanship school of the
United States Navy. Also, I had pitched large tents and cared for them in
several states. The preacher appreciated my help.
Although he was affiliated with another church organization than the one to
which I belonged, we enjoyed our conversation. I asked him about some of his
beliefs. For example, I inquired, "What is your church's teachings about what
happens to a person when he dies?"
He replied, "If he has been converted and remained faithful to the Lord, he
goes to heaven immediately at death."
"And if he dies an impenitent sinner, what then?" I asked.
"Oh, then he goes at once into hell fire to be tormented for ever and ever,"
was his answer.
"Do you believe that this world is going to go on eternally with one
generation going down to the grave while another is coming into the crib or
He promptly replied, "Indeed not! Jesus is coming back to this world to
resurrect the dead and put an end to sin and suffering."
"How will He do that?" I asked.
"He will then judge and reward every man according to his works," he said.
"The wicked He will punish for their evil deeds and the righteous He will reward
for their good deeds."
"And if a person has been wicked and has never repented, what will be his
future after he is judged by Christ at His second coming? And what will be the
future of the person who has repented of his sins and remained faithful to God?"
He explained: "Christ will then cast all the impenitent into hell, the lake
of fire, to suffer eternal punishment; and the faithful He will take with Him to
heaven to dwell there forever. That is the purpose of Christ's second advent."
Then I remarked: "That puzzles me. A few minutes ago you told me that your
church teaches that immediately after he dies a wicked person goes down into
hell fire to be eternally punished by torment; and that at death a righteous
person is taken immediately up to heaven to dwell there eternally in joy and
happiness. Do you mean that the impenitent sinner is to be judged and punished
twice--that is, that at death he will be judged and immediately sent to suffer
torment in hell fire for the sins that he has committed, and that later, at the
second advent of Christ, he will be resurrected, judged, and condemned again to
eternal torment in the fires of hell for those same sins? Will Jesus at His
second coming have all the wicked called up from the lake of fire to enter their
graves to be resurrected, to be judged, and to be sent into hell fire a second
time? Will the redeemed then be called down from heaven to enter their graves,
to be resurrected, to be judged, and to be taken to heaven a second time?"
I shall never forget the puzzled expression that came over that preacher's
face. He honestly replied: "I have never thought about that!" And, scratching
the top of his head with one hand, and gesturing with the other, he added: "I am
going to write to some of the big men in our church to find out what they have
to say about that!"
I hope that he did. His series of evangelistic meetings was short, and he
soon left town, for his home was in another part of the nation.
The best and most reliable source of information on that subject is the
Bible. When Paul the apostle went to Berea in Macedonia to do evangelistic work,
he was pleased because the people there "were more noble than those in
Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and
searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things [taught by the preachers]
were so. Therefore many of them believed." Acts 17:11,12. This reveals that in
Paul's opinion the teaching of the Holy Scriptures in matters of religious
doctrine is to be regarded as superior to, and of higher authority than, what
any preacher may think or say about it.
Though it appears puzzling and illogical to the sincere and candid student of
the Holy Scriptures, the doctrine that the inhabitants of this world are to be
twice recompensed according to their deeds is widely taught and cherished by
many religious people today.
For example, a learned Roman Catholic writer tells us: "The Catholic doctrine
of the particular judgment consists in this, that immediately after death the
eternal destiny of each separated soul is decided by the just judgment of God.
Although there has been no formal definition on this i point, the dogma is
clearly implied in the Union Decree of Eugene IV (1439), which declares that
souls quitting their bodies in a state of grace, but in need of purification,
are cleansed in Purgatory, whereas souls that are perfectly pure are at once
admitted to the beatific vision of the Godhead (ipsum Deum unum et trinum), and
those who depart in actual mortal sin, or merely with original sin, are at once
consigned to eternal punishment, the quality of which corresponds to their sin,"
etc.--The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), :' vol. 8, p. 550, art. "Judgment."
That writer has frankly stated: "The Scriptural arguments in defense of the
particular judgment must be indirect"; and also: "There is no text of which we
can certainly say that it expressly affirms this dogma," etc.--Ibid.
And it is not surprising that after telling of the diversity of views held by
many church leaders on the subject, the same writer informs his readers that
"until the question was settled by the decision of Benedict XII, in 1332, there
was much uncertainty regarding the fate of the departed in the period between
death and the general resurrection."--Ibid., p. 551. The date 1332 as given here
is incorrect. It should be 1336. See footnote.
The correct date was 1336, as stated in the following paragraph from The
Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), vol. 2, p. 430, col. 2, art. "Benedict XII:
"Being a learned theologian, he was as bishop, cardinal, and pope, keenly
interested in scholastic discussions. He terminated the controversy on the vexed
question as to whether the Beatific Vision was enjoyed before or only after the
General Judgment. John XXII had advocated the latter view and stirred up
vigorous discussion. Eager to solve the question, Benedict heard the opinions of
those maintaining the theory of deferred vision, and, with a commission of
theologians, gave four months to patristic research. Their labours terminated in
the proclamation (29 January, 1336) of the Bull 'Benedictus Deus' defining the
immediate intuitive vision of God by the souls of the just having no faults to
expiate." This is a notable example of papal fallibility.
The same date of 1336 is given in The Enryclopedia Britannica (11th ed.),
vol.3, p. 718, col. 2, art. "Benedict XII."
Note that the pontifical decree of Pope Benedict XII concerning that concept
of the pre-advent judgment which the papacy calls "the particular judgment" had
behind it more than a millennium of "much uncertainty" in ecclesiastical
thinking, and "no [Scripture] text of which we can certainly say that it
expressly affirms this dogma." The use of the term "suppose" in the following
statement by the same writer leaves us to conclude that the papal doctrine on
this subject rests mainly on theological suppositions:
"Theologians suppose that the particular judgment will be instantaneous, that
in the moment of death the separated soul is internally illuminated as to its
own guilt or innocence and of its own initiation takes its course either to
hell, or to purgatory, or to heaven."--The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8, p.
551, col. 2.
Many Protestant and Evangelical church organizations also, while professing
to take the Bible, and the Bible only, as their rule of faith and practice in
religious matters, teach that at death the impenitent person goes immediately
into eternal torment in the fires of hell, and that the faithful proceeds at
once to heaven to be with Christ. Some of their preachers have told me privately
that they have personally rejected that concept of such a pre-advent judgment,
and that they prefer to think that all the dead are kept in some "intermediate
place" until the second coming of Christ to resurrect and judge the dead and all
who will be living on earth at that time.
This statement of the above-quoted Roman Catholic writer is interesting: "Few
truths are oftener or more clearly proclaimed in Scripture than that of the
general judgment."-Ibid., p. 552. He amply supports that statement by citing
both Old and New Testament passages teaching that there will be a general
judgment of both the wicked and the righteous by Christ when He comes to reward
every man according to his works.
However, we cannot rightfully say that the Holy Scriptures preclude the
possibility of any instance of pre-advent judgment.
For example, Holy Writ tells us that the antediluvian patriarch and prophet
Enoch, who was born in the year 622 of the life of Adam, lived 365 years and was
translated alive to heaven. "And he was not; for God took him." Genesis 5:24.
The New Testament says that "Enoch was translated that he should not see death;
and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he
had this testimony, that he pleased God." Hebrews 11:5. That occurred more than
six hundred years before the Flood of the time of Noah. We must assume,
therefore, that the Judge of all the earth accounted Enoch worthy of translation
and by judicial decision ordered that it be done.
Elijah, the Israelite prophet, was similarly translated alive to heaven
without having experienced death. This occurred approximately 854 years before
Christ. See 2 Kings 2:1-12.
Moses, another great prophet in Israel, died at the age of 120 years, and was
buried in the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River, in the fortieth
and last year of the wilderness wanderings of Israel. See Deuteronomy 1:3; 2:7;
8:2,4; 29:5; 31:2; 34:5-7. The body of Moses (Jude 9) was resurrected not long
thereafter, and this was the first time -: since the creation of Adam that the
clutch of death and the grave was broken and a dead person was resurrected.
Romans 5:14. God, the righteous Judge, accounted him worthy of a special
resurrection and ordered that it be done.
Nearly fifteen centuries later Moses and Elijah personally appeared alive
together to Jesus on a mountain in Palestine, and talked with Him about the
sufferings He would soon endure. Three of Christ's disciples witnessed this
event. See the story of the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-5; Mark 9:2-8; Luke
When Jesus died on the cross, "the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and
the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and
came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and
appeared unto many." Matthew 27:51-53. They later ascended to heaven with Jesus.
By this special miraculous occurrence Psalm 68:18 was fulfilled, for "when He
[Jesus] ascended up on high, he led a multitude of captives, and gave gifts unto
men." Ephesians 4:8, margin. These resurrected ones were persons who had been
faithful to God unto death. He accounted them worthy of this special
resurrection, and judged that they be taken to heaven as trophies of His victory
over sin and death, to be presented as the first-fruits of that vast harvest of
righteous dead and living persons who shall be caught up to meet Him at His
second advent. 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17.
It must be remembered that insofar as Enoch and Elijah are concerned, they
were persons translated bodily and without having died. Thus they did not go to
heaven as ghosts, or spirits, or as souls separated from their physical bodies.
Likewise, it must be kept in mind that "the body of Moses" (Jude 9), and also
the "many bodies" of the saints who had slept in death "came out of the graves."
They did not then go up to heaven as disembodied spirits or ghosts, separated
from their bodies.
Jesus Himself, when He ascended to heaven, did not go away as a spirit or
ghost without a physical body. His dead body was not left in the tomb. The body
of Jesus did not remain in the grave after His resurrection. See Matthew 28:6;
Mark 16:6; Luke 24:3, 6.
Before His ascension to heaven He appeared in His resurrected body to His
followers. They saw Him and even touched Him. Matthew 28:9. It is true that when
some of them saw Him "they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they
had seen a spirit." Luke 24:37. But He soon induced them to give up that
supposition. He said: "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle
Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have. And when
He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet." Verses 39,40. He
went even farther to convince them that He had been resurrected bodily. He asked
them for food, and "they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an
honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them." Verses 41-43.
Thomas, one of the twelve apostles, was not present when Jesus appeared to
the others and "showed unto them His hands and His side." John 20:20. When he
heard about it, Thomas skeptically said: "Except I shall see in His hands the
print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my
hand into His side, I will not believe." Verses 24,25.
Eight days later Jesus appeared bodily to them when Thomas was present. "Then
saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach
hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side; and be not faithless, but
believing." Verse 27. Thus the doubting Thomas was convinced. Verses 28,29.
Yes, Jesus did indeed ascend to heaven in His literal, physical body
resurrected from the grave. Peter later declared that, in fulfillment of the
oath God had made in Psalm 16:10 concerning the resurrection of Christ, "His
soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption." Acts 2:31.
Here the Greek word hades, rendered into English as "hell," and the
corresponding Hebrew term sheol in Psalm 16:10, both mean "grave." Christ's body
was laid in the tomb shortly before sundown on Friday, and it was resurrected
shortly before sunrise on the following Sunday morning. Hence it did not lie in
the grave long enough to see corruption by decay. In His physical human body
restored to life He ascended to heaven.
Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures is it taught that any human being has ever
lived without his body, or has left this world to exist thereafter in the form
of a disembodied soul or spirit, ghost or phantom. Those persons who have been
translated to heaven without having experienced death were taken up in their
In answer to the question that forms the title of this chapter, we can say,
Yes. The Bible tells us that a few human beings are already in heaven.
The extraordinary experience of translation and resurrection of this select
number of people to everlasting life, mentioned above, can be correctly
categorized as instances of pre-advent judgment. Those few faithful persons were
judged or accounted worthy of being taken up from this world long before the
general resurrection of the righteous at the second coming of Christ to judge
the world in general, which is still future.
The exceptional experiences of these faithful children of God have been
recorded in Holy Writ for our encouragement who "look for the Saviour, the Lord
Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto
His glorious body." Philippians 3:20,21.
Yes, we have the blessed assurance that "we shall all be changed, in a
moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall
sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For
this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on
immortality. 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." 1 Corinthians 15:51-54.
Adam, the father of the whole human race, was the first "living soul"
(Genesis 2:7) to inhabit the planet Earth. Although the Holy Scriptures state
that he was created "a living soul," they do not say that he was an immortal
one. He died at the age of 930 years. Genesis 5:5. Why? Because he had sinned.
God has said: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Ezekiel 18:4,20.
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so
death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Romans 5:12. Yes, it is
affirmed that "in Adam all die." 1 Corinthians 15:22. "For the wages of sin is
death." Romans 6:23.
Because of disobedience to the word of God and without access to the tree of
life thereafter, man--including every human being living on earth today--is
mortal (subject to death). In view of this, we can see the need of giving
serious thought to the subject of our study.
In the Old Testament section of the Holy Scriptures the Hebrew noun most
frequently translated into English as "soul" is nephesh. It is used there 755
times. In 428 instances it is rendered as "soul" in our most widely published
English text of the Bible, the King James Version. Also it is rendered there as
"person" 30 times, as "life" (of a person) 119 times, and as "self" 19 times.
In some instances God uses the term nephesh in speaking of Himself as a
person. For example, in Isaiah 1:13 and 42:1 He uses it in the phrase "My soul"
in reference to Himself. In Amos 6:8 the prophet uses the word "Himself" in
speaking of God. In the Hebrew text the word nephesh corresponds to the syllable
"self" in the English word "Himself" in this verse.
In Psalm 22:20 someone is represented as praying, "Deliver my soul from the
sword." This implies that the human soul (nephesh) can be slain.
In Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:1-12 we find a prophecy concerning God's Suffering
Servant whom Christians and many pious Jews have identified as the Messiah. The
noun nephesh is rendered as soul in verses 10, 11, and 12 of chapter 53. The
context of this prophecy clearly reveals that the Suffering Servant is pictured
as one who "hath poured out His soul unto death." Verse 12.
In Genesis 34:3 it is stated concerning Shechem that "his soul [nephesh]
clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob." The Song of Solomon speaks of a person
"whom my soul [nephesh] loveth." 1:7. In these instances and many others
elsewhere in the Holy Scriptures it is certain that the "soul" (nephesh)
mentioned is a person.
The term nephesh is rendered as "self' in plural form in Leviticus 11:43,44,
which indicate that the persons referred to were "souls." See also Joshua 23:11;
Isaiah 46:2; Jeremiah 37:9, margin.
In Jeremiah 40:15 Johanan asked Gedaliah concerning his enemy Ishmael:
"Wherefore should he slay thee?" The Hebrew text literally reads, "Why should he
strike your soul [nephesh]?"
When some of Joseph's brothers proposed that they kill him, Reuben countered:
"Let us not kill him." Genesis 37:21. In the Hebrew text Reuben literally says,
"Let us not slay a soul [nephesh]."
In Leviticus 23:29 the Lord forbade His people to do secular labor on the Day
of Atonement; and He added: "And whatsoever soul [nephesh] it be that doeth any
work in that same day, the same soul [nephesh] will I destroy from among his
people." Verse 30. And Numbers 15:31 says: "Because he hath despised the word of
the Lord, and hath broken His commandment, that soul [nephesh] shall utterly be
cut off." See also Exodus 12:15; Leviticus 22:3. Whether this penalty was
immediate death or banishment with loss of citizenship is not clear.
In fact, God speaks of the kindling of fire, in the future, which shall
consume "both soul [nephesh] and body." Isaiah 10:18. That reminds us that Jesus
Himself, nearly eight hundred years later, said: "Fear not them which kill the
body, but are not able to kill the soul [psuche]: but rather fear Him which is
able to destroy both soul [psuche] and body in hell." Matthew 10:28. Man may
kill a human soul and thereby cause it to be dead temporarily--that is, until
the resurrection day, when it shall live again. (In Greek, the language in which
the New Testament was written, the word psuche corresponds to the Hebrew term
The Lord said also: "He that killeth any man [nephesh] shall surely be put to
death." Leviticus 24:17.
Balaam, the apostate, exclaimed: "Let me die the death of the righteous,"
etc. Numbers 23:10. The Hebrew text literally reads: "Let my soul [nephesh] die
the death of upright ones."
Concerning the men who slew the Hebrew apostates at Peor, the directive given
was that "whosoever hath killed any person [nephesh]" should purify himself.
Numbers 31:19. Cities of refuge were designated in Israel as places to which
"the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person [nephesh] unawares."
Numbers 35:11. This was done in order "that every one that killeth any person
[nephesh] unawares may flee thither." Verse 15. The Lord commanded: "Whoso
killeth any person [nephesh], the murderer shall be put to death." Verse 30.
It is written that cities of refuge were designated lest an avenger overtake
the killer "and slay him." Deuteronomy 19:6. The Hebrew text literally says,
"and he slay a soul [nephesh]." Similar instruction is given in Deuteronomy
22:26. Deuteronomy 19:11 tells what ought to be done when a man, in hatred
toward his neighbor, should lie in wait for him, "and smite him mortally that he
die." Here the Hebrew text says, "and he should smite a soul [nephesh], and he
The penalty for wilful manslaughter was that "life [nephesh] shall go for
life [nephesh]." Verse 21. And the Lord said: "Cursed be he that taketh reward
to slay an innocent person [nephesh]." Deuteronomy 27:25.
When Joshua and his army took the Canaanite city of Makkedah, "the king
thereof he utterly destroyed, them, and all the souls [nephesh] that were
therein; he let none remain." Joshua 10:28. A similar fate befell the people of
several other cities. Verses 30,32,35,37,39; and 11:11.
Joshua, in compliance with the directive given by God through Moses,
designated several places as cities of refuge, to which "the slayer that killeth
any person [nephesh] unawares and unwittingly may flee." Joshua 20:3,9.
When Samson committed suicide, he exclaimed: "Let me die with the
Philistines." Judges 16:30. The Hebrew text literally reads: "Let my soul
[nephesh] die with the Philistines."
Elihu stated concerning certain people: "They die in youth." Job 36:14. The
Hebrew text says: "Shall die in youth their soul [nephesh]."
Proverbs 6:32 says that a man committing adultery "destroyeth his own soul
God reproved the wicked men who planned "to slay the souls [nephesh] that
should not die, and to save the souls [nephesh] alive that should not live."
Ezekiel 13:19. And He said that Judah's "princes in the midst thereof are like
wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls [nephesh]."
Ezekial 22:27. And verse 25 says, "they have devoured souls [nephesh]."
Thus the soul can be destroyed. The writer of Psalm 40:14 speaks of those who
"seek after my soul [nephesh] to destroy it."
Proverbs 28:17 speaks of "a man that doeth violence to the blood of any
person [nephesh]." This is further evidence that the Bible writers used the word
"soul" in reference to the whole person of a human being and not to a supposed
ghost or spook as part of him.
The apostle John saw in vision "under the altar the souls [psuche] of them
that were slain for the word of God." Revelation 6:9. And he also saw "the souls
[psuche] of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus." Revelation 20:4.
These and other passages in the Bible use the Hebrew word nephesh and the
Greek word psuche in the sense that we often employ the term "person" in English
Therefore, in saying that God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul [nephesh]" (Genesis 2:7), the Bible means that the
lifeless man then became a living person.
Furthermore we have seen, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a human soul can
be slain, can die, can be destroyed.
These facts may be considered a major reason why the Hebrew word nephesh,
used 755 times in the Bible, is sometimes employed there in reference to dead
persons. In Leviticus 19:28 the Lord said: "Ye shall not make any cuttings in
your flesh for the dead [nephesh]." The priests were told: "There shall none be
defiled for the dead [nephesh] among his people." Leviticus 21:1. And verse 11
says concerning priests: "Neither shall he go in to any dead body [nephesh
meth]." Also: "And whoso toucheth any thing that is unclean by the dead
[nephesh]," etc. Leviticus 22:4.
The Israelites were told "to put out of the camp ... whosoever is defiled by
the dead [nephesh]." Numbers 5:2. This appears to have been a temporary period
of quarantine for maintaining sanitary conditions.
The law concerning the Nazarite says: "All the days that he separateth
himself unto the Lord he shall come at no dead body [nephesh meth]." Numbers
6:6. A special sin offering was required of him if "he sinned by the dead
[nephesh]." Verse 11.
It is recorded that "certain men, who were defiled by the dead body [nephesh]
of a man," and for that reason could not celebrate the Passover at the appointed
time, appeared before Moses and Aaron and said: "We are defiled by the dead body
[nephesh] of a man." Numbers 9:6,7. As a result, a special statute was given
which said: "If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason
of a dead body [nephesh],... yet he shall keep the Passover unto the Lord."
Verse 10. It would be on the fourteenth day of the second month (verse 11),
instead of the fourteenth day of the customary first month, for such persons.
Another law said: "He that toucheth the dead body [nephesh] of any man shall
be unclean seven days." Numbers 19:11. Also: "Whoever toucheth the dead body
[nephesh] of any man that is dead, and purified not himself, defileth the
tabernacle of the Lord." Verse 13. In Haggai 2:13 we find a question and answer
concerning an individual "that is unclean by a dead body [nephesh]."
Thus it is evident that the word "soul" [nephesh] in the Bible is commonly
used in reference to a human being as a person, either a living one or a dead
When Abraham and Sarai moved from Mesopotamia to Canaan, they took with them
"the souls [nephesh] that they had gotten in Haran." Genesis 12:5. The number of
persons in their household was large, perhaps as many as a thousand. Genesis
14:14, 15. This Hebrew term nephesh is actually translated as "person" 30 times
in the King James Version of the Bible, and many, many times in that same sense
as "soul." See Genesis 14:21; Deuteronomy 10:22.
The answer to the question in the title of this chapter, Can the soul die?
As noted above, the Bible makes it very clear that man must have within him
the breath of life supplied by God in order for him to be a living soul. A
living soul is a living person, one who is alive. A dead person is a dead soul,
one that has been deprived of the breath of life. The Bible speaks of dead
persons as souls that have died, or been slain, or killed, or destroyed.
According to Christ, a person can "lose' his own soul [Psuche]." Hence He
warns us by asking, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world,
and lose his own soul [psuche]? or what shall a man give in exchange for his
soul [psuche]?" Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36,37.
Yes, a person can actually "lose" his own soul. How? By impenitent
persistence in sin until he dies. We have been warned: "The soul that sinneth,
it shall die." Ezekiel 18:4,20. Also: "The wages of sin is death." Romans 6:23.
This death is called "the second death," the one in which the impenitent sinner
receives his final punishment. He will suffer it when God sits in judgment after
He has raised the wicked dead from their graves and pronounced sentence upon
them. This is why it is called "the second death"--because their judgment takes
place after their resurrection from the first death. Revelation 20:5,6,14; 2:11.
In describing the destruction of the wicked who die impenitent, the Bible
says: "Fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them." Revelation
20:9. Hence this final destruction, or annihilation, of the wicked is called
"the second death." v. 14.
Note that in describing it the prophet was shown in vision that when fire
descended from heaven upon Satan and all other impenitent sinners at the end of
the one thousand years, it "devoured them." Verses 7-9. That means complete
destruction or annihilation of all who persist in sin.
Thus the New Testament is in agreement with the Old Testament concerning the
end of Satan. He had been the covering cherub at the throne of God in heaven
before his revolt against Him. He is represented in Ezekiel 28 by the wicked
ruler of Tyre. God said: "Therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of
thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth... and
never shalt thou be any more." Verses 12-19.