It is often said and believed by many that our souls are immortal - that God gave us a spirit/soul that cannot die when he created us, and that death was not even a concept or reality before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Despite this idea being a fairly "recent" concept (in terms of history and theology), and it stemming from Greek philosophy, it's also not supported by the Biblical text - especially in Genesis.

Lets look at the creation account in Gen 2:7—

then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Advertisement

The word "being" in that verse, or "soul" in older translation, comes from the Hebrew word "nephesh". This is defined in Strong's lexicon as: "soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion" - but never as inherently immortal. We should also note that verse seven in Genesis 2 also states that man became a living being/soul once God had breathed life into the newly created body; as far as the Hebrew language used in Genesis allows, it only shows that God created people as mortal beings, and that a "soul" is nothing more than a living, breathing creature (I say "creature" instead of "human being", as the same nephesh word is used of animals too in the Creation account - but that's another topic!).

To the Hebrews, the body and soul were one 'unit' that worked together, rather than two separate entities; there was "no idea of an immortal soul living a full and vital life beyond death" and many Psalms and older Biblical texts reflect this idea too (cf. Psalm 6:5; Psalm 88:3-12; Psalm 146:4; Psalm 115:17; Job 14:10-12; Job 3:11-19).

The fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo
The fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

With that in mind, the threat of death by God makes more sense since Adam and Eve would actually be able to comprehend such a concept if it was already a reality. They obviously appear to have been created with unlearned knowledge since they can speak and talk about things (either that, or Gen 2 skips a bunch of narrative of them growing up and learning everything), so if physical death didn't exist until they sinned, what good would it be to say "you will die" in Genesis 2:16-17?

The trick of the serpent was to convince Eve that she wouldn't die by eating from the Tree of Knowledge - except that they did indeed die because they could no longer attain immortality; they stayed mortal as punishment. After they ate the forbidden fruit, God 'evicted' them from the Garden in case they "might reach out [their] hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen 3:22) - but if they were already immortal then this would surely be of no concern to God.

Advertisement

Their sin separated them from God as they would now not live forever with him (Ez 18:4; Ez 18:20). The concept of a spiritual aspect to people that is separate from the physical body seems to come in later, or is mixed into the concept of Sheol. Was Sheol was simply a euphemism, or caricature, for the grave and death which developed over time; or did the ancient Hebrews think of a literal life-after-death scenario (as Luke 20:38 would suggest in retrospect)? Either way, from reading through the Old Testament, you begin to see it as "a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from God" (Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, p. 819). 

Only in Dan 12:2 do we find any idea of people coming back from the place of the dead:

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

The concept of the Resurrection is a relatively late concept, as Daniel is the latest book of the Hebrew Bible, and as we get to the 1st Century onwards, all were agreed that there "was no resurrection" - except for the Jews, of course.

Advertisement

What we can see in the Resurrection is that God wants us to be with him in a physical sense, not in some disembodied state. This is why we were created; and why the Jewish concept of blessing and reward from God is a long physical life (eg. Exodus 20:12); and also why the New Testament is concerned with the restoration of all creation (cf. Col 1:15-22; Rom 8:19-23) - and not an escape from it, through the resurrection!

1 Tim 6:16 tells us that it is God "alone who has immortality", so clearly we mere mortals can't also be immortal, can we? Throughout the New Testament letters and the in the Gospels, it is made clear that eternal life is a gift which we are given through faith in Christ, and something we attain - not something we are born or created with (see: John 5:24John 3:14-16; Romans 2:6-7; Romans 6:22-23; Titus 3:7; 1 Jn 2:25; Jude 1:21). In Revelation 2:7,  Jesus speaks of the Tree of Life as a reward and as a way in which eternal life is given as he promised:

To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

Is this how we attain our immortality? Jesus came to restore creation back to what was originally intended, and if eternal life was the plan (as it appears to be in Genesis) then it makes sense that, through Christ, we are now given access to the Tree.

Advertisement

It's also interesting to note that there was no forbidding of eating from the tree of life until after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge. The curse on the woman was to increase her pain too, not create pain (another misconception about the Fall - a life without pain seems to be more dangerous than with it!).

In light of this, it seems to me like death and pain did exist from the start as a part of the original creation, but that maybe we could withstand pain better or that God was going to allow immortality to all in some way too, since it would appear our lifespan's were much greater originally (see Gen 5:3 for example). Spiritual death would also make more sense in the context of this, as our newfound wisdom and knowledge which made humans "become like" God (Gen 3:22) and that then produces pride, which is shown throughout Scripture to be something that sets us against God, and puts us into disharmony with our Creator - this is what happens at Babel (Genesis 11:1-10).

Looking across all of Scripture, it does seem like the idea of Sheol being more than just a physical grave develops and becomes an actual spiritual 'abode' for a spiritual aspect of humanity. This is often called "Progressive Revelation", and is "the concept that the sections of the Bible that were written later contain a fuller revelation of God compared to the earlier sections", which in this case would assume that we've always had a spiritual state, but that earlier authors just didn't know about it and assumed death was the end.

With that said though, Jesus's warning in Matthew 10:28 where he states that God can not only kill the body, but also the soul, ought to give us pause for thought. If the soul survives death, it doesn't mean it is immortal since God can still destroy it!

Advertisement

In Jesus we see "the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being" (Heb 1:3), and so the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus ought to be the way in which we view the Old Testament's views on death and afterlife - which would lead us to viewing ourselves as having a "soul" in the spiritual sense, and that the death in Adam was also a spiritual death that only Christ can reverse by sealing us and renewing us with Holy Spirit in this life (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 1:13; Eph 4:30), and then by looking forward to the hope of the resurrection to come (Rom 6:11; 1 Cor 15:20-22; 1 Pet 3:18).

Jesus did more than restore us spiritually by defeating spiritual death, but also by defeating physical death so that we CAN eat of the Tree of Life and live forever! He beat death COMPLETELY - physically and spiritually (Isaiah 25:8; 2 Tim 1:10; 1 Cor 15:26; Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:4); more so than we ever imagined, and now God grants us life everlasting so that we may dwell with him, and he with us, as originally intended (2 Cor 6:16; Rev 21:3)!

Contribute on Patreon

Enjoying this? Consider contributing regular gifts for this content on Patreon.
* Patreon is a way to join your favorite creator's community and pay them for making the stuff you love. You can simply pay a few pounds per month or per post that a creator makes, and in return receive some perks!

Subscribe to Updates
Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 412 times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates ?

Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to Blog updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS

‹ Return to Blog

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

| 01st April 2018 | Easter

Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! What a wonderful day to remember and praise, but not just because Jesus was raised to new life, but because in that moment it sealed the promise of our own hope in God. Through Jesus' death and resurrection, we can now be partakers in that new, eternal life! 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” "Where, O death, is your sting?" Paul writes, showing the fulfillment of this prophecy in Christ. This should now be our battle cry as we go forward in Christian life; death has no hold over us who are sealed by the Holy Spirit through baptism, raised to new life in Christ. I won't go into this topic too much now, as I've written on it plenty before here and here. I just wanted to focus our minds on the victory we have because of Jesus and what he did for us this day, centuries ago. I'll close with this worship song which celebrates the resurrection, which I really like. Focus on the words of the song and praise God for Jesus! Happy Easter, everyone. ...

How was Jesus a sacrifice?

| 25th March 2018 | Lent

So often we hear this phrase said about Jesus, that he was “the lamb of God” and that he “takes away the sins of the world” — but what do those things mean and how did he take away sin? John 1:29The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (cf. Jn 1:36) The New Testament writers repeatedly refer to Jesus as a lamb; but not only that — as a ransom too. Jesus even introduces himself that way at one point: Mark 10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (cf. Matthew 20:28) To better understand the terminology and analogy we need to go back to the Torah, the Old Testament, and look at this from a Jewish perspective and what the sacrificial lamb initially meant. The main comparison that is drawn between Jesus and the old sacrifices, is that of the Passover lamb. The link between the two is really quite amazing and to be honest, I didn't realise just how much of this Jesus fulfilled in himself until I was writing this. First we need to go back to the very first Passover to see what it meant for Israel. The whole story can be found in Exodus 12, but the relevant parts to the lamb are about how it should look and be prepared, and the reason for the blood covering: Exodus 12:5-7, 13 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. […] The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. The instructions about the Passover meal also go on to say that no bones of the lamb may be broken (v. 46) and that nothing must be left overnight (v. 10). Already I’m sure you can see some of the parallels with Jesus and other prophecies and Scripture concerning him in these ways, primarily in the Psalms, and specifically John 19:33; Numbers 9:12 and Psalm 34:20 concerning his bones not being broken. But it doesn’t end there — even the day that Jesus was crucified aligned with the Passover sacrifice of the 14th of Nisan (by our calendar, April), and later died that evening. The Jews asked Pilate to let them take the bodies down that same day (which was unusual, but done because of the Sabbath), so that meant that Jesus wasn’t left overnight, thus fulfilling the obligations of the Passover ritual! The apostles obviously recognised these parallels, as they refer to them in their epistles — see 1 Peter 1:18-20, 1 Corinthians 5:7 and basically all of Revelation. But how does this help us in our sins? The Passover wasn’t a sin offering, yet somehow the death of Jesus in this way saves us from our sins. To better understand this, and to grasp why in various places Jesus is called our “ransom”, we need to go back to the reason for the original Passover, not the ritual. Passover was what God did when he delivered his people from the slavery of the Egyptians. The blood of the lamb was the symbol that they belonged to God, and so escaped death. Originally the paschal lamb was about Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and slavery, now Jesus is the greater lamb who rescues us from slavery and bondage to sin by his blood. The blood on the doorposts covered the Israelites from the angel of death, and now by Christ's blood that covers us, we are saved from eternal death (Hebrews 9:11- 14)! Paul covers this topic of sin as our master which we are slaves to quite often (Romans 6:16-18), and how through Jesus we have been set free by being baptised into his death, so that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ (Romans 6:4-6). Romans 6:11 So you also mus...

What did Jesus actually sacrifice?

| 18th March 2018 | Lent

Sometimes the question, or accusation/criticism maybe, is posed by atheists and critics of Christianity that Jesus didn’t really sacrifice anything because he is God and also because he got his life back three days later. So where’s the sacrifice if you know that what you give up will be given back, and given back even better than you previously had it? It’s an interesting question, and one that should cause us to stop and think about what we, as Christians, say to non-believers in case the question is ever given to us. Most people will say Jesus  gave up his life for us – but is that such a big deal if he knew he’d have it back in three days; and then to be taken up to heaven and resume his Godly-divine status he had before the incarnation? Well, yes. Obviously all the pain and suffering that Jesus had to endure before his death was a big deal, and it showed, as we can see from the Gospels when Jesus says to his disciples that he is “deeply grieved, even to death” (Matt 26:38). Luke 22:42-44‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. We can see from the quote above that Jesus really wasn’t looking forward to this, despite knowing its purpose. He even needed an angel to come to physically come to him to give him the strength to go on with this plan! Suggesting that this was a walk in the park for Jesus and making light of what he was about to go through is just ignorance of the reality of the situation. There’s also a significant detail in the Luke passage above which gives us a medical insight into what Jesus was going through in these moments: the sweat of blood. This is actually a rare condition known as Hematidrosis, and in certain conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress and/or mental anxiety, the blood vessels that feed the sweat glands break and result in actual blood seeping through. This in itself shows just how much stress Jesus was under in the lead up to his execution to cause such a thing to happen. Modern day research also shows that this condition still manifests in people awaiting execution today. So even if you knew that you would be resurrected in a few days time, I am sure that you wouldn’t really want to go through a Roman flogging and crucifixion –  some of the most brutal ways to be tortured and executed in human history! There’s lots of atheist memes on the internet making digs at this idea of what it means that Jesus sacrificed himself. “Jesus came back to life, so he basically sacrificed his weekend for you”, or similar types of jabs, totally missing the point. Typical atheist meme So what did Jesus sacrifice if he only lost his life temporarily? Everything about his pre-incarnate self. Where once a spirit, now a glorified body. Where once only divine, now fully God and fully man. The incarnation had eternal consequences for the Godhead. Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t just about dying, it was about taking on our humanity eternally. The eternal God now united forever with humanity. Jesus wasn’t only the “visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) whilst on earth, no; he is forever that now. Like John says in his opening chapter about the coming of the Word into our world: he became flesh (John 1:14) and has stayed that way. This is the “mystery of godliness” (as some translations have it) that Paul talks about in 1 Tim 3:16, where he states that Jesus was “revealed” or “manifested in flesh” and later taken up in glory. Look at when Jesus was taken up into heaven in Acts 1:11, the angels say to the disciples watching that they will see Jesus “come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” – ie., bodily. But we know from the accounts in the Gospels that Jesus’ body was no lon...

The Temptations of Jesus: Complacency

| 11th March 2018 | Lent

So now we are at the end of the temptations that Jesus endured in the desert, and I wanted to look at what happens at the end. So often I think this aspect is overlooked when we read of this time in Scripture. Let’s take a look at the text: Matthew 4:11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. Luke 4:13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. The two Gospel accounts both give us a varying perspective with different details. Afterwards, the devil leaves and angels “suddenly” come. This is almost a temptation in itself; one to think we are all good and safe now we've won the battles. But look: the devil left him “until an opportune time”. We are never beyond being tempted, or far from that tempter who ‘prowls around like a roaring lion’ (1 Peter 5:8). Christ withstood his temptations, and as a model for us, so can we. But it's a constant battle. 1 Corinthians 10:12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. As Paul writes in the quote above, we must watch ourselves and not get too confident that we think we're strong enough not to get tripped up. Temptation can strike at any time, and if we're not prepared it could lead us into sin (James 1:14-15). James 1:12A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. This is why we mustn't get complacent in our situations just when it seems, or feels, like we have it all together. We must always “put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11) and make as little “opportune” times as possible for the enemy to strike at us. Remember, Jesus lived as a human to know what it was like to be a human; he went through these temptations, and others no doubt, as he lived out his life. That is why the writer of Hebrews says that he is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” and has “in every respect has been tested as we are” — yet Jesus didn't sin (Heb 4:15). When we do get get tempted, or if we do fall into sin, we can always turn to Jesus in our moments of weakness knowing that he understands what it's like. 1 Corinthians 10:13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. Everything we experience as humans, Jesus knows also. Although we don’t angels physically coming and waiting on us after we go through hard times, we have the Holy Spirit in us – the comforter! God’s very own Spirit is here with us through it all, helping us and convicting us to lead us back out of our complacency to the narrow path, focusing our minds back on Christ and his example. And while the devil may come and go, and wait on those “opportune times” to get at us, we shouldn’t fret or worry because God has said he will never leave nor abandon us – no matter what, God loves us and is daily conforming us into the image and mind of Christ (Rom 8:29; 12:2; Deut 31:6; Heb 13:5). Keep running the race, working out your salvation with fear and trembling and go with the love of God. Amen....