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)!

Subscribe to Updates
Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 399 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

The Problem of Suffering and How We Approach it

| 06th January 2018 | Christianity

The topic of human suffering is a subject many Christians struggle with, and is an issue many theologians have written about over the centuries — so it's definitely not something I can fully address in a single blog post! But there are some general principles we can find in Scripture that many Christians can/do accept, which should act as a starting point to addressing this subject, such as: We live in a fallen world due to sin (Gen 3), and so things aren’t perfect and neither are people, therefore suffering can happen from illness, nature, and human action (or inaction). Not all suffering is necessarily “bad”, from a Christian perspective. For example, if we are made to suffer due to our faith, we should rejoice to be counted as partakers in Christ’s suffering — 1 Peter 4:12-16 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. And, Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Sometimes suffering can be used to test our faith to make us stronger, which we see an example of with Peter in the Gospels: Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And also in James’ epistle: James 1:2-4 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Lastly, sometimes bad things just happen for no good reason. This kind of relates to point one, but with a bit of a different explanation to point out that just because someone suffers, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were under any judgement or that they were any worse than another person — though there are certain times where God's judgement was on someone, but these things are explained in Scripture so we can expect them (see: Acts 12:22-23 and 1 Cor 11:28-32). We can infer consequential suffering from Jesus’ teaching when he speaks about a local tragedy of a tower collapsing and killing some people: Luke 13: 4-5 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No […] Can we do anything about it? Christianity isn't about trying to philosophise about why we suffer, but rather it's to do with how we respond to suffering. We accept that it's a reality of our lives and world, and then go about trying to make it better. James makes the point in his epistle when explaining that “pure religion” is “to care for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). This is similar to what Isaiah declared about the type of worship that God is truly interested in: Isaiah 58:6-7Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of injustice,to undo the thongs of the yoke,to let the oppressed go free,and to break every yoke?Is it not to share your br...

Jesus was a pagan copy, and other Christmas myths

| 24th December 2017 | Christmas

It's that time of year again when certain groups of people like to share memes and videos that apparently "prove" Jesus to be a carbon-copy of ancient Egyptian gods. This has been debunked so many times, yet it's still so pervasive on social media, mindlessly shared over and over again. This myth about Jesus being a copy of other pagan "dying-and-rising gods" doesn't have its roots in Egyptian legend, but rather in the claims of a film called Zeitgeist. A quick search online will bring up many websites which have gone through the claims of this film with a fine tooth comb, and debunked each one. Here's one such example, which lists out the major claims and gives a detailed response to each: Analysis and Response to Zeitgeist Video. To quote a pertinent part of the above website, Dr. Norman Geisler, a Christian systematic theologian and philosopher, gives a good response to the major claims against the resurrection: Dr. Norman Geisler, author or coauthor of more than 80 books, writes, “The first real parallel of a dying and rising god does not appear until A.D. 150, more than a hundred years after the origin of Christianity. So if there was any influence of one on the other, it was the influence of the historical event of the New Testament [resurrection] on mythology, not the reverse.  If you don't want to read a long essay of the subject though, this video by Inspiring Philosophy breaks it down nicely in just under 5 minutes: Other myths debunked If not Osiris, Jesus is often claimed to be copied from the Egyptian god Horus... or the Roman god Mithras. Apparently everyone just copied whoever came before them, and hoped no one would notice! All of these claims are equally as nonsensical as the others, and have "facts" which are completely fabricated to push an agenda of causing Christianity disrepute. But if you look into the actual myths of these ancient gods, you will see that none of them have any resemblance to Jesus or the New Testament. Here is another video which summarises these claims and counters them in a humorous way, this time by Lutheran Satire:    So let us go forward in the knowledge that Jesus was truly born, truly lived and truly rose again; and that he was unique and not a copy of other so-called gods. In the words of Leo the Great, let us celebrate "the birthday of Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity"! Merry Christmas everyone....

Why Read The Early Church Fathers?

| 08th December 2017 | Early Church

Why read the Early Church Fathers? Maybe for some of you reading this, the question might better be phrased as: who are the Church Fathers? No doubt you will be familiar with some of their names: Augustine, Jerome, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr et al. You may have even read portions or quotes by some of these men. But that still doesn't really explain to you who they are and why you should care, much less actually read any of their works. My new book deals with a selection of some of the most influential Early Church Fathers, sometimes also referred to as the Apostolic Fathers (if they lived between AD 70-150), or collectively as the Ante Nicene Fathers for all of those in the period of time preceding the Council of Nicea (AD 325). It is these men who wrote doctrine and defences against heresy and helped to continue and shape the Church in its most formative years. Some of the earlier Christian leaders of the 2nd Century were discipled and taught by the Apostles themselves. Those include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. Still others in mid-2nd century were then taught by those who knew the men who were taught by some of the Apostles. One of the more well-known Bishops who was second generation to the Apostles was Irenaeus (best known for his extensive apologetic works, Against Heresies). From chapter 21 onward in my book, I look at a few writers from beyond this period (around 356) up until AD 449 where we can observe some distinctive changes in thought and practice. These people who came before us, those great men of faith, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom to preserve the Church and Christ's mission, bridge the gap between the Bible and the present day. They fill the void we sometimes wonder about when we get to the end of reading Acts or the Epistles and think, “what happened next?” or “what happened to the Ephesian church after Paul left?”. So Why Read What They Wrote? The Bible didn't just drop out of the sky, all leather bound and ready to read for us to pick up today. There was a lengthy process of selecting and preserving the apostles teachings which spanned nearly four centuries, and it was due to the Fathers and their faithfulness to the Scriptures that this was possible. Not only that, but due to their close links to the Apostles — some who were even taught directly by an apostle — we now have valuable resources and insights into aspects, teaching and issues within the very early Church which we can learn from and measure our doctrine and interpretation against. This isn't to say that everything the Church Fathers said, did or wrote is perfect; or that we should elevate their texts to the level of Scripture, but we can glean much from those who knew and were discipled by the Apostles (or those who knew them second hand). We can read what certain portions of Scripture meant to them, or see how they interpreted things in the years following the Apostles, and can compare that to how we might read those same Scriptures today. This is a highly valuable resource for us to still have available; to be able to check our beliefs and doctrines against accepted, historical orthodoxy, which was quite literally shaped through blood, sweat and tears. It's a wonderful thing to be able to look back millennia and know that what we believe and follow as Christians has been faithfully passed on and preserved for all this time. Many doctrines we now take for granted were actually developed and defended during this time; carefully worded and formed to ensure that the truth of God doesn't get lost, diluted or warped for selfish gain. We owe much to these men of God and can still learn a great deal from them, as they still speak to us today as part of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us (Heb 12:1). This is an excerpt from the introduction to my new book. You can read more from the Early Church Fathers in my new book, 40 Days with the Fathe...

Evidence of the Trinity in the Hebrew Scriptures

| 08th November 2017 | Trinity

Table of Contents Jewishness and the Trinity 1. God Is A Plurality The Name Elohim Plural Verbs used with Elohim The Name Eloah Plural Pronouns Plural Descriptions of God The Shema II. God Is At Least Two Elohim and YHVH Applied to Two Personalities III. God Is Three How Many Persons Are There? The Three Personalities in the Same Passage Conclusion New Testament Light I was recently in some discussions/debates online about the nature of God and whether the "Trinity" exists, or if God is purely singular and exists in different forms rather than different persons.   This idea that God has different "forms" or "modes" is what is known as Modalism (also sometimes called Sabellianism). This doctrine was condemned as heresy by Tertullian around 213 AD, and later by the bishop of Rome around 262 AD. A more modern sect of Christians, often called "Oneness Pentecostals", still hold to this heretical doctrine today. Now, to be clear: I do believe in the Trinity and accept that it is the orthodox position to hold. But that doesn't mean I've always fully grasped the concept. This is something Christians have struggled to define for centuries, hence the sometimes confusing and lengthy language of the creeds (see here, here, here and here for example). So after reading this debate online with some Oneness believers, I decided to look more into the Trinity to try and get my head around it as much as possible. On my searching and reading, I came across an article by Arnold Fruchtenbaum on the Jews for Jesus website. He had taken the time to really look into the Tri-unity of God from a Jewish/Hebrew perspective to bring some clarity to the issue. I found the article to be very helpful for my own understanding, and very illuminating to see the plurality of God in oneness hidden within the Hebrew language, something that is often lost in translation to our English bibles. I'm no Hebrew scholar, so rather than try (and probably fail) to explain the language nuances to you, I sought permission to post a copy of the original article here. I hope that the information provided is as helpful to you as it was for me. The original article begins below. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Jewishness and the Trinity In a recent question-and-answer article, Rabbi Stanley Greenberg of Temple Sinai in Philadelphia wrote: Christians are, of course, entitled to believe in a trinitarian conception of God, but their effort to base this conception on the Hebrew Bible must fly in the face of the overwhelming story of that Bible. Hebrew Scriptures are clear and unequivocal on the oneness of God . . . The Hebrew Bible affirms the one God with unmistakable clarity. Monotheism, an uncompromising belief in one God, is the hallmark of the Hebrew Bible, the unwavering affirmation of Judaism and the unshakable faith of the Jew.” Whether Christians are accused of being polytheists or tritheists or whether it is admitted that the Christian concept of the Tri-unity is a form of monotheism, one element always appears: one cannot believe in the Trinity and be Jewish. Even if what Christians believe is monotheistic, it still does not seem to be monotheistic enough to qualify as true Jewishness. Rabbi Greenberg’s article tends to reflect that thinking. He went on to say, “…under no circumstances can a concept of a plurality of the Godhead or a trinity of the Godhead ever be based upon the Hebrew Bible.” It is perhaps best then to begin with the very source of Jewish theology and the only means of testing it: the Hebrew Scriptures. Since so much relies on Hebrew language usage, then to the Hebrew we should turn. 1. God Is A Plurality The Name Elohim It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” The very word Elohim used of the true God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is also used in Exodus ...