The Myth of the Immortal Soul: Do Souls “Depart” Upon Death?

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

~ Jas 2:26

The Argument

People have an immortal soul. Death is separation from the body. The soul departs from the body and returns to God upon death. That is when the judgment occurs.

The Soul Dies

The word translated “soul’ in the OT is “nephesh”. It is variously translated as “creature”, “life” and even once refers to a dead body. Adam “became” a living soul; he wasn’t “given” a soul. The first lie recorded in the Bible is “Ye shall not sure die”, and that same lie persists today. It is a doctrine of Satan and always has been.

The soul that sinneth, it shall die.

~ Eze 18:4

For more exposition on the immortality of the soul, see “God’s Plan 2: What Is Man?” and “What Happens When You Die? 2: Is Hell the Punishment for Sinners?

The Spirit In Man

However, that does not mean that there is not a spirit component in man. The Scripture is quite clear that we are created in the image of God. We can think, we can reason, we can plan, and we can create. We are set apart from the animals because of this. That does not mean that animals don’t have a spirit component, for they have intuition to guide them. However, the spirit in man is treated quite different upon death.

All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

~ Ecc 3:20-21

Animals die and turn into dust. So do humans. The difference we see above is that God collects the memories, desires and character of the human being and stores it off somewhere not unlike we would save off a spreadsheet on a thumb drive and store it away. The spreadsheet is not active while it is stored. It doesn’t change. Likewise, humans are not conscious when they are dead.

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

~ Ecc 9:5

Death Likened To Sleep

Because of this unconsciousness, death is often compared to “sleep” in the Bible.

And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.

~ Job 7:21

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

~ Da 12:2

These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.

Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.

Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.

Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.

~ Jn 11:11-14

For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

~ 1Co 11:30

But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?

…Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

~ 1Co 15:35, 50-52

Now, some will say this is “soul sleep”. However, there is nothing about souls in these verses! “Soul sleep” is not a term used in the Bible! Furthermore, if a soul is supposed to be our consciousness that goes on after dead, then how can it be asleep? If a soul goes to be judged after death, then what good is either a reward or a punishment after death if there is no consciousness?

There is no Biblical support for an immortal soul. There only is support for a spiritual component in human beings that returns to God in an unconscious state until the resurrection. In the Bible, when “life” (“nephesh”, sometimes translated “soul”) departs from someone it is because their body has stopped functioning. Their life has ended.

“Ruach”, “Breath”

In the OT, the word translated “spirit” is “ruach”. It is translated variously as spirit (232x), wind (92x), breath (27x), mind (5x) and 22 times in miscellaneous other words. When the “breath” stops, or “leaves”, someone, they die. Pure and simple. It causes the life of the body, “nephesh”, which is sometimes translated “soul” or “life”, to “depart”. It is the “ruach” that returns to God in an unconscious state.

However, just in case you still think a soul is immortal, tune in for Jesus’ account of how a soul can be destroyed in “The Myth of the Immortal Soul: Can a Soul Be Destroyed?

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