Truth, Understanding, Insight


25th March 2007, mgh


1) What is the Soul?: the Biblical explanation.

From anicent cultures to some modern religions, humans have long held the belief that there is a part of the person that lives forever. How or where this part, often called the 'soul', lives varies.

In the Bible the word 'soul' occurs approximately 800 times. It is never once referred to as being immortal or living on after death. The word translated 'soul' in Hebrew is 'nephesh' and is the same word that is used for all living creatures. Therefore 'Soul' is equally applied to both man and creatures where there is 'life'. Consider the following.

“God said, let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature (nephesh) that has life. God created great whales, and every living creature (nephesh)”(Genesis 1:20-21)

The word 'creature' is 'nephesh' and could have been traslated 'soul'. The Bible therefore assumes that humans have life in the same way whales and fish have life. There is more,

And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature (nephesh) after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. (Gen 1:24)

This same word that is used for animals and all living creatures including rodents and lizards is also applied to humans.

“God breathed into his (man's) nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul (nephesh).” (Genesis 2:7)

This 'breath of life' however is not limited to humans but clearly belongs to all creatures as revealed by the account of the animals being taken into Noah's ark.

“And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh wherein is the 'breath of life'.”...And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing, and every man; all in whose nostrils was the breath of life.”(Genesis 7: 15, 21-22)

In Genesis 7, all creatures are described as having received the 'breath of spirit of lives' in common with man. The Hebrew word for breath is 'ruach' and it describes the all pervading spirit and power of the Creator. This is stated by Job

“If God set his heart upon(against) man, if he gather to himself 'ruachu veneshmetu'. his spirit and his breath; and all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again to dust.”(Job 34: 14-15)

The Creator's great power over life is further shown in the Psalms.

“You take away their breath(ruach), they die and return their dust. You send forth thy spirit(ruach), they are created.” (Psalm 104:29-30)

Again in Ecclesiastes the spirit, 'ruach' is defined as the Creator's power, especially in relation to man and animal.

“That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts...As the one dies , so dies the other; yea they have all one breath(ruach/spirit); so that man has no pre-eminence over a beast; for all is vanity(or vapour). All go to one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”(Ecclesiastes 3:19-20)

The human soul is the same as the animal soul. The human 'breath of life' is the same as the animal. There is nothing special about the human life or soul.

The soul can become hungry,

Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger. (Proverbs 19:15)

According to the Bible, a notable charteristic of the soul is that it dies. Ezekiel states that Yahweh has declared

Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4)

These quotations support scientific evidence that humans and animals have no part that lives after death. Evidence shows that human personality and character has a physical component which deteriorates to dust after death.

2) The Death State

If the Bible says the soul dies, what happens after death? The Bible is very clear about what happens to humans when they die.

The following references represent a few of the many passages in the Bible that describes what happens to humans when they die. Reference has already been made to Ecclesiastes 3 where both man and beast are described as having the same destiny after death. They return to dust.

Ecclesiastes also refers to man's cognitive processes after death.

“The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5)

The opening chapters of Genesis clearly state all human's destiny as a result of Adam's sin.

“In the sweat of your face shalt you eat bread, till thou return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you art and unto dust shall you return.”(Genesis 3:19)

The Psalms repeatedly reinforce these principles related to a human's destiny. A few examples are given for consideration.

“In death there is no remembrance of thee: In the grave who shall give thee thanks.”(Psalm 6:5)
“Man being in honour abideth not, he is like the beasts that perish.”(Psalm 49:12)
'The dead praise not Yahweh, neither any that go down into silence.”(Psalm 115:17)
“His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Psalm 146:4)

The prophet Isaiah also refers to man's mental state in death.

“The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.”(Isaiah 38:18)

Jeremiah in referring to the judgement that came on Babylon said, Death is “a perpetual sleep.”(Jeremiah 51:39,57)

In the New Testament, Peter refers to David.

“The patriarch David...he is both dead and buried...David is not ascended into the heavens.”(Acts 2:29-30)

Paul explains why men die and return to dust.

“By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin: and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,”(Romans 5:12)

James uses a metaphor to describe man's life.

“For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”(James 4:14”

Peter also in a poetical way uses similes to describe our life.

“All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away.”(1Peter 1:24)

Where might people obtain the idea that something in them lives on after death? In the garden of Eden Eve is told by God she would die if she eats of a certain tree,

And the serpent said unto the woman, "You shall not surely die:" (Genesis 3:4)

The serpent was cursed for this lie.

What about eternal life? See Resurrection