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 396 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

Why Read The Early Church Fathers?

| 4 days ago | 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 ...

Should Christians celebrate Halloween?

| 30th October 2017 | Halloween

It's that time of year when you begin to see various articles and debates online about Hallowe'en, and whether it's something that Christians should have any part in. To some people the answer is a straightforward “no”, while others say it falls into the realm of Christian freedom and personal discernment. But what about if you're unsure or somewhere in the middle of those two positions, how should you decide what is the right thing to do? We can all see that the modern celebration of Halloween is focused quite heavily on darkness and evil beings. Here in the UK it's not quite so prevalent; it seems more like an excuse for adults to dress up and have a party as much as the kids do (although with more alcohol involved). American society has really taken the holiday to its extremes with some of the decorations I've seen online and on TV and films, to the point that suicide and murder victims left in public view have been mistaken for scary props! Origins of the holiday Has Hallowe'en always been like this though? Let's take a look at its origins to see where this holiday comes from to help us decide whether we should partake or not. Did you know that Hallowe'en actually started out as a Christian holiday (Holy Day)? “Hallowe’en”, or more precisely, All Hallows Eve (from the Old English hallowed meaning “holy”), is an ancient holiday in the Christian calendar to mark the day before All Saints Day on November 1st. All Saints Day is a day to celebrate and remember the martyrs and all those who have died and gave their lives for the Faith. Originally, this yearly festival began in the 7th century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon, a Roman temple to the gods. This then became a church called St. Mary of the Martyrs, and the date of the consecration, May 13th, was to be celebrated annually thereafter as the Feast of the Holy Martyrs. This was then later changed to November 1st by Pope Gregory IV in 835 AD to commemorate the dedication of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to all of the saints. The feast day was then extended and made universal to include all the saints who had died, not just martyrs, since there had become too many to individually commemorate. And thus, All Saints Day was born. This isn't even the earliest time that martyrs were remembered as a formal event, as the practice goes way back to at least 135 AD which we can read about in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. In it the believers are said to treat the bones of Polycarp as “more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold”. The next reference comes around 250 AD. In Epistle 36 of Cyprian, he states that the Church should take note of the days in which the martyrs are killed: Finally, also, take note of their days on which they depart, that we may celebrate their commemoration among the memorials of the martyrs … there are celebrated here by us oblations and sacrifices for their commemorations There's also other early references to this practice in sermons by Ephrem the Syrian (373 AD) and John Chrysostom (407 AD), so we can see from the existing historical documents that celebrating the lives of martyrs and “saints” has been long observed within the Church, with the first record being in what is now modern-day Turkey. Aren’t there pagan roots? There is often a lot of references to Hallowe'en being an ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in, a Gaelic word meaning “end of the summer”), originating in Ireland over 2000 years ago. The story goes that this was always the time when the Celts celebrated their dead, and as Christianity spread, the Pope “replaced” the pagan festival with a “Christianised” version to try and convert people easier. But there are a few issues with this version of events, and the historical timeline that it’s meant to follow. For starters, if it truly were an ancient Celtic festival, then the historical documents we have from the early Church shoul...

American Gun Violence and the Early Church on War and Violence

| 03rd October 2017 | Early Church

In light of the sad, recent events in the Las Vegas shooting — and similar events in America— I often see Christians across social media jumping to the defence of gun ownership whenever there is even a slight hint at gun control in America. But how has gun culture become so ingrained in American Christianity when we can observe a clear theme and pattern of thought in the first few centuries of the Church, which goes completely against this? Update 7th Nov 2017: It's so sad to have to update this post on the same subject so soon, almost a month to the day. Yet another shooting, this time in Texas where 26 people have been shot dead in a church of all places. But despite this, America tightens its grip on their guns, and Trump says tighter gun laws would have made no difference to the situation. Days earlier though, when a terrorist killed 8 people in NYC by running them down with a truck, President Trump was quick to tweet about implementing "extreme vetting" of immigrants. Yet again, voices are loud for everything else except curbing gun ownership, and the silence from the Church in America is still deafening. You can read more in the link below, but here's a few examples from the early Church with regards to war and violence, and using or owning weapons: “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.” — Marcellus ~298 AD “Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.” — Tertullian 155-230 AD “God wished iron to be used for the cultivation of the earth, and therefore it should not be used to take human life.”  — Cyprian ~250 AD “The servants of God do not rely for their protection on material defenses but on the pine Providence.”  — Ambrose 338-397 AD I don't have an answer to this cultural problem, and I'm not sure we can ever fully solve the issues of gun violence in the States now; but one thing that I do know is this: the Church in America needs to repent of its idolatry of guns, turn back to God and focus on the love of Christ again, and not on the weapons of destruction. Even if the rest of society clings to their guns, the Church should be the ones clinging to the Prince of Peace instead, and rejecting anything that could cause another harm. You can't love your neighbour or your enemies if you are willing to kill them (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 5:44-45). Matthew 26:52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. There is no room in the teaching or examples of Jesus, nor in the New Testament epistles, to give those who claim the name of Christ, permission to kill another human being! And before you head to the comments to write it, no, Jesus didn't command that we own weapons — Luke 22:36 is taken entirely out of context if you believe that, along with Exodus 22:2 if your thoughts were taking you there next. As John Piper puts it, "Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.". Which is as Paul also taught in Romans: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" and to "never avenge yourselves" (Rom 12:17, 19) because that is the role of the Lord, not us. Clearly this teaching of non-violence was something that was understood pretty well by the Early Church, as the quotes above point out. We have documented teaching from the first two centuries by those who were taught by the Apostles and who followed in their (and Jesus') instructions, rejecting any and all forms of violence and weapon bearing.  So where did it all go wrong and change?   See more early Church quotes on war and violence here: rogueminister.wordpress.com/.../quotes-the-early-church-on-war-and-violence/ Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.   Further Reading: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/02/las-vegas-shooting-wh...