What the Bible says about Doctrine of 'Immortality' of the Soul
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 3:4

"You will not surely die."

This little, five-word sentence was Satan the Devil's opening salvo to convince Adam and Eve that they could disregard the commands of God without consequence. It is evident from Eve's reply to his initial question that she understood both God's decree and His reasons for not wanting them to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the reason, "lest you die," that Satan pounced on with his famous lying contradiction.

What most people do not realize is that Satan has been repeating this mantra ever since, and the vast majority of humanity has bought into it just as readily as our first parents in the Garden. The essence of Satan's lie is, "Go ahead and live as you like. There are no fatal consequences to your actions because you are already immortal." Theologically, this belief is called the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and most Christian churches, both in America and abroad, teach it.

The Bible, however, does not support it.

Even as early as Genesis 2, God tells us that humans can die, and the underlying suggestion is that death can be permanent: "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (verse 17; emphasis ours). An even clearer set of scriptures is found in Ezekiel 18. God says, "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die" (verse 4). Just in case we fail to understand, He repeats Himself in verse 20.

We need to understand this. God says that the wages of sin - that is, what we earn as a result of our ungodly choices in life - is death (Romans 6:23). Yes, this means that we will lose our physical lives. But what about that spiritual component in us, the one Job called the "spirit in man" (Job 32:8)? When we die, says Solomon, it "return[s] to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). But what then?

Jesus says, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:54). But what if a person refuses to sign on to His New Covenant? What happens to the unbeliever and the rebel? He says, "'Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. . . . Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.' . . . And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (verses Matthew 25:30, 41, 46).

Notice the difference in His two judgments: The "unprofitable servant," the "cursed," the unrepentant sinner, is thrown into "outer darkness," "everlasting fire," and "everlasting punishment," while the righteous enjoy eternal life. The reward of the saved and the fate of the wicked cannot both be eternal life, meaning that the "everlasting punishment" of the wicked must be eternal death, not eternal life in torment. Otherwise, God cannot be said to be just.

Jude makes an interesting comment in verse 7 of his epistle: "Sodom and Gomorrah . . . are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." The eternal fire that consumed those cities and their people is no longer burning, but its results are eternally valid: Those of Sodom and Gomorrah are still dead! Thus, eternal fire or "everlasting fire" does not mean a fire that never dies or one in which a person is eternally tormented but a fire of which the consequences are eternal. One who dies in the everlasting fire of God's punishment of sinners will be eternally dead! This is what is called the "Lake of Fire" in Revelation 20:15: "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (see also Matthew 13:40-43, 49-50). Similarly, nothingness, the state of death, is aptly described as "outer darkness."

Of this fate, Paul writes in Hebrews 10:26-27, 31: "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." As Jesus Himself says, "Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

The human soul can die. We know it will die once physically (Hebrews 9:27), returning to God for safekeeping until the resurrection from the dead and the judgment (see Revelation 20:12-13). God, however, in His justice and mercy, will permanently destroy the souls of those who reject Him. "This is the second death" (Revelation 20:14), the final, eternal death for the - hopefully - few who choose it over eternal life in God's Kingdom.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Already Immortal?

Ezekiel 18:4

The church of God does not accept the Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul, instead believing God's Word, which says indisputably, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). One of the very first things God taught Adam in the Garden of Eden was the consequence of sin: “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17), a truth the serpent hastened to contradict (Genesis 3:4).

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches in Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna, a symbol of the Lake of Fire (see Revelation 20:11-15)].” Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Humans are mortal, and God must give eternal life; we do not have it inherently (see Romans 2:7; I Corinthians 15:53-54; I Timothy 6:16).

We believe that man indeed has a spirit (Job 32:8), “the breath of the Almighty [that] gives him understanding,” but that it is not his soul. When combined with a human brain, the human spirit allows a person to have the powers of mind. When he dies, the body returns to the dust, but his spirit returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7), who safeguards it as a record of his life.

Solomon also informs us that “the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5), and “there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave” (verse 10), meaning that there is no consciousness in death. The person knows nothing, learns nothing, communicates nothing, does nothing—until the resurrection from the dead when God will unite that spirit with a new body, either a spiritual body or another physical body, depending on the resurrection (see Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 5:24-29; I Corinthians 15; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 20).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What Happened at En Dor?

Revelation 20:10

This verse ostensibly describes the Lake of Fire as a place where God torments people forever. This assumption raises three questions:

1. If the Beast and False Prophet are mortal men, why are they still alive after the Millennium when Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire?

2. If they are mortals, how can they “be tormented day and night forever and ever” in an inferno that would soon consume them?

3. What kind of God would devise such a “cruel and unusual” punishment?

Before answering these questions, we must briefly consider whether human beings have an immortal soul. For several biblical reasons, our understanding of the Scriptures compels us to maintain that they do not:

1. Job recognizes that man has a spirit (Job 32:8), which the apostle Paul shows in I Corinthians 2:11 endows humanity with intellect. This spirit in man comes from God (Zechariah 12:1) and returns to Him upon death (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Acts 7:59). It records an individual's life, character, and personality, which God stores until the resurrection of the dead. However, the Bible never describes this spirit as immortal or eternal; in fact, I Corinthians 2:6-16 explains that man needs yet another Spirit, God's, to be complete and to discern godly things. According to Ecclesiastes 3:21, animals also have a spirit, “which goes down to the earth,” suggesting that it ceases to exist at the animal's death.

2. The Bible flatly asserts that all people die: “[I]t is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). Ezekiel says distinctly that souls die: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; see Romans 6:23). Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28 that God can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna, a type of the Lake of Fire.

3. In death, life and consciousness are gone. “The dead know nothing,” says Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:5, and he later adds, “[T]here is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (verse 10). In Psalm 146:4, the psalmist writes about men's death, “His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish” (see Genesis 3:19).

4. Scripture also confutes the idea that people go to heaven or hell after death. Peter says to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:29, 34). Our Savior confirms this in John 3:13: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” The biblical usage of Sheol and Hades simply means “the pit” or “the grave.”

5. Men cannot have immortality unless God gives it to them. Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23; emphasis ours throughout). In I Corinthians 15:53 he tells the saints, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”; that is, immortality is not inherent in us. At the first resurrection, God will give “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7). If we already had immortality, why should we seek it?

6. Only God has immortality. He is, Paul writes to Timothy, “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality” (I Timothy 6:15-16). John says of the Word, “In Him was life” (John 1:4), meaning as Creator of all things (verse 3), He had life inherent. Jesus affirms this in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In other words, humans must go through Him to receive eternal life.

With such overwhelming proof, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, believed by so many, proves false. Man is not immortal, nor does he possess any “spark of God” unless God has given it to him through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). A Christian's hope of life after death rests in the resurrection of the dead (I Corinthians 15:12-23). Conversely, the wicked only await eternal death as recompense for their evil lives.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eternal Torment?

Revelation 20:10

To understand Revelation 20:10 correctly, we must put it into its proper chronological context. Once we know when it occurs, much of the confusion about this verse clears up.

Though only twelve verses separate Revelation 19:20 from 20:10, one thousand years elapse between their respective events. The Beast and the False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire when Christ returns (Revelation 19:11-21). Soon afterward, a strong angel imprisons Satan in the bottomless pit for the thousand years of the Millennium (Revelation 20:1-3). When the thousand years are about to pass, Satan is released, and he gathers Gog and Magog to fight against the saints (verses 7-9). After God defeats this futile attempt, He casts the Devil, a spirit being, into the Lake of Fire to “be tormented forever and ever” (verse 10).

Obviously, the flames of the Lake of Fire will utterly consume mortal men like the Beast and False Prophet. The apostle Peter describes the end-time fire as an all-devouring holocaust: “[T]he elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (II Peter 3:10). In no way could the Beast and False Prophet survive a thousand years of such high-temperature burning! The laws of nature simply will not allow it.

The translators of the King James and New King James versions render the final clause of the first sentence of Revelation 20:10 as “where the beast and the false prophet are.” The present-tense verb “are” is not in the Greek text; it is an understood verb. In English grammar, such silent verbs take the same tense as the verb in the main clause of the sentence. The translators ignored this rule, however. The primary verb of the sentence, “was cast” (an aorist verb usually translated as simple past tense), demands that the understood verb should be “were [cast]” (past tense) to agree with the plural subject “the beast and the false prophet.”

Deceived by the unbiblical doctrine of the immortal soul, the translators had to deny nature and break the rules to make this verse fit their understanding! On the other hand, we can confidently assert that our teaching agrees with Scripture, nature, and grammar.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eternal Torment?

Revelation 20:10

Before the explosion of modern translations, the final sentence of Revelation 20:10 roused no one's skepticism. However, the newer versions bring out the fact that the verb here (basanisth─ôsontai) is plural and is correctly rendered “they will be tormented.” Who are “they”? Does this include the Beast and False Prophet? Does God torment wicked human beings eternally? There are two ways to explain these questions:

1) The Bible denies any idea of men having innate immortality (I Corinthians 15:53; Romans 2:7; I Timothy 6:15-16). These wicked leaders of men in the last days will die and burn to ashes soon after being thrust into the Lake of Fire, their souls and bodies destroyed by Him who can do this in Gehenna fire (Matthew 10:28). This fact would preclude any human from being described as “tormented day and night forever and ever.”

The only group left is the fallen angels—Satan and his demons. But, one may counter, “the devil” in Revelation 20:10 is singular, and “they will be tormented” is plural. How can we reconcile this plural pronoun referring to a singular antecedent?

In this case, “the devil” is used in a figure of speech called metonymy. Technically, it is “the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated.” More simply, one part of a thing represents the whole. Thus, “the devil” represents in himself all of the group we call demons, devils, fallen angels, or angels who sinned.

A parallel verse, Matthew 25:41, says that sinners will be cast into “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Jesus intimates that the Lake of Fire's primary purpose is for the punishment of demons, but it will also be used as the means of execution for the wicked among humans, those people who unrepentantly live as demons do.

2) If we understand “they will be tormented” to include the Beast and the False Prophet, we must explain the phrase “forever and ever” (eis tous aiônas tôn aiônôn). Literally, this means “to the ages of the ages” and would seem to imply perpetuity. However, we must be careful with the word aiôn and its various forms. Its range of meaning runs from “a space or period of time” to “a lifetime” to “an age” to “eternity.” As in all such cases, the context must give the sense.

Having rejected the immortality of the soul, we have no recourse but to understand aiôn here in the sense of “as long as conditions exist” or “as long as they live.” Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words concurs:

AION . . . signifies a period of indefinite duration, or time viewed in relation to what takes place in the period. . . . The phrases containing this word should not be rendered literally, but consistently with its sense of indefinite duration. (p. 43)

Moreover, aiôn can also be rendered as “unto the ages of ages,” “until the eternal age,” or even “up to the vanishing point”! As should be plain, a precise definition of this Greek word proves extremely difficult. Dogmatism on it is not advisable.

Thus, the Beast and False Prophet will be tormented “day and night”—unceasingly—for an indeterminate period until they die, probably within a few minutes or a few hours, which is about as long as a human being can live in a fire. As long as they remain breathing, they will suffer excruciating pain as their just reward, and in an indefinite time, they will pay for their sins with death.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eternal Torment?


 

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