The Immortality of the Soul

The Bible teaches us that only God has immortality of and in Himself, “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” (1 Timothy 6:16), but that all life (both spiritual and physical) is derived from Him. All spirit beings are incapable of spiritual destruction and death, i.e. God, angels, devils, and man. The first man, Adam, would have remained physically immortal if he had not brought sin into the world, “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 … 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” (Genesis 2:17, 3:19).

The Old Testament saints looked beyond physical life and death to eternal life in the presence of God in Heaven, “I have set the LORD always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore … But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for He shall receive me … For great is Thy mercy toward me: and Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell” (Psalm 16:8-11, 49:15, 86:13). Job knew that there was life after the grave (which the word ‘hell’ in the above texts probably refer to) and that man was not annihilated, nor did he enter into soul-sleep, “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27). Daniel also spoke of existence beyond the grave, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). The prophets Isaiah and Hosea make mention of the immortality of the soul too, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise … I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes” (Isaiah 26:19, Hosea 13:14). Though not counted as Scripture I found an interesting verse in the Apocrypha that reflects pre-New Testament thought on the subject of immortality, “For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be the image of His own eternity” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23),

The New Testament writers also speak of the immortality of the soul, but with in a much fuller manner. Use is made of various Greek words that express the continuance of life (life never ending).

a) ‘Aphtharsia’ (noun) means Incorruptibility, imperishable, and immortality. This word can be found in Romans 2:7, “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life”; 1 Corinthians 15:42,50,53-54, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption … Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption … 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”; 2 Timothy 1:10, “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”. The adjective of ‘aphtharsia’ is ‘aphthartos’ which means incorruptible. This word is seen in such places as Romans 1:23, “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God”; 1 Timothy 1:17, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever”; 1 Peter 1:4, “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”.

b) Another Greek word that means Deathless is ‘athanasia’. The meaning of the word is described by Paul in 1 Timothy 6:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 as immortality.

c) ‘Azoen aionion’ is a phrase that means simply Eternal Life (or life of the ages). This term is a favourite phrase used by the apostle John in John 3:15-16, 10:28, 17:2-3, 1 John 1:2, 2:25. It is used by Paul in Romans 2:7, 5:21, 6:22-23, Galatians 6:8, 1 Timothy 1:16, 6:12, 2 Timothy 2:10, Titus 1:2, 3:7. On each occasion it refers to the continuance of life after this present life in the flesh.

These verses and Greek words prove that the concept of the immortality of the soul was well established in the Bible despite the fact that certain religious groups, such as the Sadducees, denied the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul. The Resurrection of Christ is certain proof that the dead do rise again, and since they rise, there must be life after death, “Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised ” (1 Corinthians 15:12-16).

The Lord Jesus Christ points us to the fact of the immortality of the soul in His teachings. The Rich Man and Lazarus story found in Luke 16:19-31 (be it an actual event or a parable) reveals that life does continue beyond the grave. Matthew 22:31-32 is absolute proof from the mouth of Christ that death does not end life, “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living”. So in the case of the Rich Man in Hell, and Lazarus in Abraham’s Bosom (Paradise) we see that both exist under different circumstances after death. If the dead were not raise up then there would be little point to Jesus’ teaching about the Judgement of all men before the Throne of God (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20).

Jesus Christ came to bring man the gift of everlasting life in the presence of God, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly … And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life … But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 10:10, 5:40, 20:31). If death ends it all then we have to believe that Jesus was lying when He said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).

The apostle Peter speaks of our eternal inheritance in Heaven, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4), and that this life we have received cannot perish, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (:23).

Those who have received Christ have that eternal life which permits them to enjoy the privilege of God’s presence forever. Paul teaches that we have an earthly house (our body) at present but one day we will receive a Heavenly one, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). In these verses we are assured that when a believer dies he goes into the presence of the Lord. If this were untrue then the Psalmist was mistaken when he said, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). This eternal life is guaranteed for those who remain faithful to the Lord, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). At death (or at the Rapture, whichever comes first) our bodies will be transformed so that we can inhabit eternity, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:38-44). These new bodies will be similar to Christ’s glorified body, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is … Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (1 John 3:2, Philippians 3:21).

Those who reject Christ in this life have only eternal death ahead of them. Eternal death in Scripture refers to everlasting punishment in Hell / Lake of Fire. Paul teaches such endless suffering in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, “8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power”. Jesus said of the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). In His parables Jesus reveals that there is an eternal flame that will punish those who refuse to follow His ways, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44); “And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51).

The Bible teaches the continuance of life after death for both the righteous and the unrighteous. Those who are Born Again have everlasting life in Heaven, for them death has been eternally defeated, “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. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). For those who have rejected Christ there will be eternal separation from God and everlasting punishment in Hell (which was originally designed not for man, but for the devil and his angels), “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).