United Church of God, ia
Portland Oregon

Preaching the Gospel, Preparing a People

Does the Bible Teach That We Have an Immortal Soul?

Some believe that various scriptures support belief in an immortal soul. Let’s consider some of these passages and understand what they really say.

Matthew 10:28

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

Does Jesus teach in this verse that the soul is immortal? Not at all. If you look at this scripture closely you see that Jesus actually says that the soul can be destroyed.

Jesus is here warning about the judgment of God. He says not to fear those who can destroy only the physical human body (Greek soma), but fear Him (God) who is able to destroy the soul (psuche).

Simply stated, Christ was showing that when one man kills another the resulting death is only temporary; God can raise anyone to life again either in this life (see Matthew 8:23-25; 27-52; John 11:43-44; Acts 9:40-41; 20:9-11) or the life to come. We must revere God, who alone can obliterate all possibility of any later resurrection to life. When God destroys one in "hell," that person’s destruction is permanent.

What is the "hell" spoken of in this verse? The Greek word used here is gehenna, which comes from the combination of two Hebrew words, ge and hinnom, meaning "valley of Hinnom." The term originally referred to a valley on the south side of Jerusalem in which pagan deities were worshiped.

Because of its reputation as an abominable place, it later became a garbage dump where refuse was burned. Gehenna became synonymous with "a place of burning"–a site used to dispose of useless things.

Only God can utterly destroy human existence and eliminate any hope of a resurrection. The Scriptures teach that God will burn up the wicked, turning them to ashes (Malachi 4:3).

1 Thessalonians 5:23

Many are confused by the expression the apostle Paul uses in his letter to the Thessalonians:

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

What does Paul mean by the phrase "spirit, soul, and body"?

By "spirit" (pneuma), Paul means the human mind, which gives us the ability to reason, create and analyze our existence. By "soul" (psuche), Paul means physical life and its consciousness. By "body" (soma), Paul means the flesh of a physical body. Paul wished for the whole person, including the mind, vitality of life and physical body, to be sanctified and blameless.

Revelation 6:9-11

"When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’" (Revelation 6:9-10)

To understand this scripture we must remember the context. John was witnessing a vision while he was "in the spirit" (Revelation 4:2). Under inspiration he was seeing future events in symbol. The fifth seal is figurative of a great tribulation, a time of world turmoil preceding Christ’s return. In the vision John sees under the altar the martyred believers who sacrificed their lives for their faith in God. These souls symbolically cry out, "Avenge our blood!" This can be compared to Abel’s blood symbolically "crying out" to God from the ground (Genesis 4:10). Though neither souls nor blood can literally speak, these phrases figuratively demonstrate that a God of justice will not forget the evil deeds of mankind perpetrated against His followers.

This verse does not describe living souls that have gone to heaven. The Bible confirms that "no one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:13). Even righteous King David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), was described by Peter as being "dead and buried" (Acts 2:29), not alive in heaven or some other state or location.

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