by Greg on September 1, 2012
Is the soul some intangible, immortal entity that can exist on its own, apart from the body? Most Christians think this is the case. In fact, the prevailing wisdom is that upon death, the soul leaves the body and immediately floats off to heaven or hell. But, are these notions biblical?
In Genesis 2:7, it is written that “God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (KJV). Take note. Scripture says a lifeless body was animated by God’s breath and it BECAME a living soul.
From this we see that a soul is a living, human being: a combination of body and God’s breath of life (not regular air). The soul, as a living being, is properly translated that way in most modern language Bibles. The King James Version practically says the same thing. It chose to derive “soul” from the Greek word “psuche” which means “life.”
As described in the Bible, the soul is conscious life that can only exist when the other two factors of body and divine breath combine; much like a box can only exist when boards and nails combine to make it a box. If the nails are pulled out and laid besides the boards, there is no box.
Another example is likening the human body to a light bulb. When the electric current (representing God’s breath) flows into the bulb, light (representing the soul) occurs. it becomes a new creation, so to speak. Turn off the switch, though, and the light doesn’t exist anymore. It doesn’t go somewhere; it’s just gone. The same with the soul; it ceases to exist.
This means, contrary to popular opinion, that the soul is not immortal. Scripture says that only God is immortal (1Timothy 6: 15, 16). He is the One who has always existed, having no beginning. This is not true for mankind. Humans put on immortality, given to them by the Lord. Except for a few who it’s been given to already – Enoch, Elijah, Moses – God’s children won’t become immortal until the return of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15: 51-53).
Scripture clearly says that the soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4). “Die” means “dead.” The lie that the soul is undying originated from the Garden of Eden when the serpent told Eve, “You surely will not die.” Genesis 3: 4. Since then the lie was propagated through pagan tradition and Greek philosophy, finally entering the church.
Even though with that bit of provable history, some will raise the objection that scripture states that when one dies, the spirit returns to God. They are referring to Ecclesiastes 12: 7 that says, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Of course, this objection is meant to imply that the spirit returning to God is a conscious soul.
However, the root word for “spirit” in the Greek is “pneuma,” which means “breath” or “air.” This shows that the spirit that returns to God at death is God’s breath of life; not some thinking, feeling, disembodied being.
Another objection that is raised is that the Bible sometimes uses the terms “body,” “soul,” and “spirit” together in a passage. Admittedly, that does seem to treat the word “soul” as a separate matter. But the Bible is not getting away from its Genesis 2: 7 definition that says a soul is the totality of a person.
There is no contradiction. The Bible merely uses these three terms in reference to the three components that make up a soul. Here’s the breakdown of the three terms…
Again, the soul is a living person. It is our natural life of thinking, learning, choosing, loving, hating, and feeling. It is our life of “self,” our sinful human nature. All of these things are faculties of the mind. And because it is our mind that controls and directs the body; for all intents and purposes, it can be concluded that our mind is the seat, the base, the identity of our soul. Therefore, the Bible and this writing can rightly speak of the soul as a reference to the mind.
When the Bible speaks of the human spirit, it is not referring to our breath nor the Holy Spirit. It is speaking of that godly image component of us that is humanly spiritual. This is attested to in Zechariah 12:1, “The Lord which forms the spirit of man within him;” and in Romans 8:16, “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”
The human spirit is that innermost component within our self-consciousness. It is what causes even the most primitive people to want to worship in some form; for the human spirit seeks to commune with the spiritual realm, just as our mind seeks to interact with other minds, and our bodies desire contact with the physical world.
God formed this spiritual component within us as a point of contact between Him and us. It is where the Holy Spirit dwelt within man before the fall, and it is where the Holy Spirit returns and resides in one upon conversion. From our human spirit, the Holy Spirit contacts and operates through our mind. This is called having the mind of Christ (Phillipians 2:5).
After the fall, when man became self-dependent, sin contaminated the natural desires of the body with lust; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Our flesh even became hostile to God; unable and unwilling to submit to His Law (Romans 8:7). The Bible refers to this condition as “the body of sin” (Romans 6:6).
It’s not as though the body is sinful in and of itself, but that the law of sin is present in our flesh. And because of that, our flesh is of a sinful nature, a sinful nature that cannot be changed. That is why God crucified our flesh, objectively, on the cross in Christ Jesus.
However, subjectively, sin remains in our flesh, and that is why we need the daily help of the Holy Spirit. Without His help, and we surrendering to that help, both our bodies and minds will remain under the power of sin. As intended by God, and was so at creation, the body is to serve the soul (mind); in turn, the soul is to be directed by the Holy Spirit dwelling in the human spirit.
The soul is the life, the existence of a human being. The soul is a person. It is the totality of mind (control center), spirit, and body. It is not a separate, independent entity that survives death. Of course, this teaching flies against popular Christian doctrine, and raises questions concerning the state of the dead. Those questions will be answered in a forthcoming article.