by Greg on October 1, 2012
The erroneous belief that the soul is an immortal, immaterial, separate entity within us, greatly contributes to the prevailing idea in Christianity that upon death, one’s soul goes immediately to heaven or hell. This idea is mistaken because it is not biblical.
The Bible says in Genesis 2: 7 that God created man by combining man’s body with the divine breath of life. At that point, man BECAME a living soul. In other words, a soul is a person, the totality of a living being. A soul cannot exist unless there is the combination of body and the activating breath of life (not regular air).
Having said that, the soul can also be thought of as life itself, or as the mind, which is made up of awareness, thinking, and emotions; and which directs and controls the body. .
Another way to understand the meaning of the soul is to use the example of a box. A box can only exist when boards and nails combine to make it a box. If the nails are pulled out and laid aside, there is no box. In the same way, when the breath of life leaves a person’s body, there isn’t a soul anymore. That means there isn’t, at death, a soul that goes to heaven or hell. (Click here for more on the soul’s definition.)
There is, however, something that does go to heaven when one ceases to exist. Ecclesiastes 12: 7 says that upon death, “The dust (body) will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” In the Greek, the root word from which “spirit” is translated is the word “pneuma,” meaning also “breath” or “air.” So this verse is referring to the breath (spirit) of life given to man, now returning to God at the moment of that man’s death.
As for the popular belief that the soul is immortal, thereby surviving death, there isn’t anywhere in the Bible a statement that a soul is an everlasting, undying entity. Scripture says that only God is immortal (I Timothy 6: 15, 16). The Word goes on to say that the soul that sins shall surely die (Ezekiel 18: 20-KJV).
Even though the foregoing is biblically definitive, there are questions and other verses that would seem to be at odds with what’s been presented. But the Bible does not contradict itself. The following are a few of those questions and verses that are used to erroneously propagate the popular, prevailing doctrine of the soul surviving death here on earth or in heaven or in hell.
Matthew 10: 28—“Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul.” Doesn’t this prove that the soul is immortal?
The latter half of the verse explains that souls do die. It says, “But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The word “soul,” in the first half, is referring to the eternal life given to the saved upon Jesus’ second coming. In other words, no one can take away the gift of eternal life that God gives to the righteous.
Luke 16: 19-31—This is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Doesn’t it teach that the soul goes to heaven or hell at death?
First off, a few examples prove that this story is not literal, but instead is a parable.
- Abraham is a person. Therefore, he cannot be heaven itself
- People, in the popular conception of hell, wouldn’t be able to talk to those in heaven (Isaiah 65: 17)
- Men are rewarded at Christ’s second coming, not at death (Revelation 22: 12)
- The lost are punished in hellfire at the end of the world, not when they die (Matthew 13:40-42).
Jesus used the parable to illustrate a few points.