What does it mean to be MORTAL?
Every indication in the Old Testament is that, of and by himself, man is mortal creature, subject to decay and death. God told Adam after he had sinned,
"In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19)
There is no reference here to a conscious, immortal soul going to heaven, hell or limbo when the body goes to the grave. Rather, the indication is that when the body returns to the dust, the conscious man, the "living soul", ceases to exist. Of course, it was not long before Satan appeared on the scene contradicting God's warning about sin and its deadly consequences. Tempting Eve with the forbidden fruit he said,
"And the serpent said to the woman, "In dying, you shall not surely die! For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be like God, deciding (determining for yourself) good and evil."" (Genesis 3:4-5)
In a sense, the modern concepts of the immortal soul and reincarnation convey the same idea - that man is inherently immortal - that he won't really die. Ezekiel stated just the opposite of this supposition.
"The soul that sins, it shall die." (Ezekiel 18:4, 20)
So, whatever a soul is, in the Old Testament sense of the word, it can die. Solomon, the wisest king of Israel, wrote about the fate of humans,
"All things come alike to all; there is one event that happens to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean . . . For the living know that they shall die; but the dead do not know anything, nor do they have any more a reward; for their memory is forgotten." (Ecclesiastes 9:2, 5)
Solomon was writing from a human, temporal perspective and in a very melancholy mood. He corroborates the statements of Genesis that death is the cessation of conscious life. The Psalmist wrote that the dead do not praise God.
"The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence." (Psalm 115:17; compare with Psalm 6:5; 1 46:4)
The idea that death is merely a separation of a conscious, immortal soul from the body came not from the Bible but from Greek philosophy. An interesting philosophy, but it is nowhere taught in the Old Testament! Even modern theologians who believe in the immortality of the soul admit frankly that it is not taught in the Bible. Consider what The New Catholic Encyclopedia has to say about the Hebrew word nephesh or nepes:
"Nepes comes from an original root . . . to breathe, and . . . thence, breath of life. Since breath distinguishes the living from the dead, nepes is used in regard to both animals and humans... After death, the nepes goes to Sheol rest, (Hebrew word for grave). The above summary indicates that there is no dichotomy of body and soul in the Old Testament . . . other words in the Old Testament such as spirit, flesh, and heart also signify the human person and differ only as various aspects of the same being. The notion of the soul surviving after death is not readily discernible in the Bible. The concept of the human soul itself is not the same in the Old Testament as it is in Greek and modern philosophy . . . (in the) Old Testament means not a part of man, but the whole man - man as a living being" (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967).
There is no support in the Old Testament for the idea that a conscious immortal spiritual entity goes to heaven or hell (or some other place) at death. Rather, all indications are that conscious life ceases until the time of a future resurrection.
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2)
"But you (Daniel), go your way till the end be, for you shall rest and stand in your lot at the end of the days." (Daniel 12:13)
Both verses compare death to a sleep, an unconscious state, which is to continue until the time of the resurrection.
What do we find in the New Testament?
The Greek word psuche, the virtual equivalent to the Hebrew word nephesh, is the only word that is translated "soul" in the New Testament. You will find the word 105 times in the New Testament. It is translated "soul" only 58 times. The word has also been translated as "life" (40 times), "mind" (3 times) and others. There is no indication that this entity continues in a conscious state following death. Rather, the evidence shows that it refers to a living mortal being who can die. Consider the following verses.
"For even the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life (psuche) as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)
Isaiah wrote that Jesus
" . . . and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He has poured out His soul (nephesh) to death" (Isaiah 53:12)
Clearly, Jesus' nephesh or psuche was given up and ceased to exist. it was not merely separated from His body as Greek philosophy would have one believe. John, in the book of Revelation wrote that when the second angel poured out his bowl,
"And the second angel went and poured out his vial into the sea; and it became blood, like that of a dead man; and every living soul (psuche) in the sea died." (Revelation 16:3)
Consider the following statement from The New Catholic Encyclopedia:
"The soul in the Old Testament means not a part of man, but the whole man as a living being. Similarly in the New Testament, it signifies human life: the life of an individual conscious object" (Matthew 2:20-6:25; Luke 12:22; 14:26; John 10:11,15,17; John 13:37; Acts 27:10,22; Philippians 2:30; 1Thessalonians 2:8)
"Recent exegetes... have maintained that the New Testament does not teach the immortality of the soul in the Hellenistic sense of survival of an immortal principle after death" (The New Catholic Encyclopedia article Soul, Human, Immortality of, In The Bible)
How do humans live forever?
The Greek concept of the eternal soul assumes that individuals already possess eternal life - that the only question is where this eternal life is spent after death. In stark contrast, many Bible passages portray eternal life as a gift given by God. Paul refers directly to the fact that God alone has immortality (1Timothy 6:16). In a well-known statement to the Romans, Paul insists that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. In other words, the normal consequences of sin is death; but to be immortal, the opposite of death, is something that man does not have of and by himself; it comes only as a gift from God (Romans 6:23). John reiterates Paul's statement in 1John.
"And this is the witness: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have eternal life." (1John 5:11-12)
Jesus, referring to Himself, prayed to the Father just before He was crucified.
"Father, the hour has come; glorify Your own Son, so that Your Son may also glorify You; Since You have given Him authority over all flesh, in order that He may give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. For this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom You did send." (John 17:1-3)
If man is inherently immortal and his life continues eternally beyond the death of the body, these passages don't make sense - unless, of course, one redefines death as separation of soul and body, a definition not supported in the Bible. If, however, death is the absence of life and consciousness, these statements make very good sense.
How is death like SLEEPING?
Throughout the Bible, death is compared to sleep. Notice a couple of Jesus' statements:
"Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going so that I may awaken him." (John 11:11)
"For the damsel is not dead, but is sleeping." (Matthew 9:24)
Matthew records that at the time of Jesus' death something very usual took place.
"And the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had died arose. And after His resurrection, they came out of the tombs and entered into the holy city, and appeared to many." (Matthew 27:52-53).
If these saints were already experiencing the bliss of heaven, it would have been cruel to bring them back to frail human existence to live and then die again; but if they were truly asleep, unconscious, it would have been a blessing to them and to all who were witnessed to by their new lives. The Apostle Paul referred to dead Christians as sleeping until awakened by the last trump at the resurrection (1Corinthians 15:51 and 1Thessalonians 4:14;5:10). Daniel wrote of both believers and nonbelievers as sleeping - until they are resurrected (Daniel 12:2). Notice that the focus is on the resurrection - not on a reward in heaven or punishment in hell experienced by a conscious immortal soul at death.
Is there a SPIRITUAL element in man? What IS man?
What IS man? To those who believe in the senseless idea of evolution, man is merely a product of time and chance, the outcome of countless years of randomness. Man is, however, much more than even many Christians understand. He is a special, glorious creation, made in the very image of God, with the potential of living forever. In addition, something separates him from animals. It is a spiritual dimension, a capacity to understand spiritual, eternal, godly things. Several passages of the Bible indicate what might be called a "spirit in man" - a spiritual ingredient that makes a man human, that turns an animal brain into a human mind, that gives him the capacity to reason and plan and to consider spiritual questions. Paul refers to a "man's spirit" in 1Corinthians 2:1 1. Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, wrote about it returning to God.
"And the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
This "spirit in man" unites with the Holy Spirit when a person experiences conversion - a spiritual essence that is not conscious apart from the body. Regardless of whether a person is a Christian or not, his "spiritual essence" returns to God at death. The important fact is that although man does not have an immortal soul, he can receive eternal life through accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.