Contents of this chapter
118 Spirit in the Old Testament
119 Significant OT verses concerning the spirit
120 Soul in the Old Testament
121 Significant OT verses concerning the soul
122 Spirit in the New Testament
123 Soul in the New Testament
117 Spirit and Soul
Most Christians would understand that people are composed of spirit, soul and body (1Thess 5:23). Throughout The Bible there are many references to both the spirit and the soul. The body, of course, is the physical, obviously mortal, aspect of a person. The soul is generally accepted as the mind (conscience, reason, memory, imagination and affection), while the spirit is that aspect of a person that links us to God, who is the Eternal Spirit.
It is the spirit that some Christians believe is immortal, even though we often speak of people having an immortal soul. The confusion between the immortal soul and the immortal spirit is really only a problem of terminology. Jesus said we should not fear those who can destroy the body, but we should fear only God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Mat 10:28). Most Christians therefore accept that the soul can indeed be destroyed, it is the spirit that has come to be seen as immortal in many church circles. However, in the previous chapter we have shown that the second death must surely mean the destruction of death, hell and the resurrected bodies and souls of unbelievers, whose spirits are already dead, as they have not been born again (Mat 8:22; 1 Tim 5:6; Eph 2:1, 5; Col 2:13).
In the interest of thoroughly pursuing the biblical truth on this topic, and to ensure we have not missed some vital teaching concerning the immaterial aspect of our human condition, let us briefly examine what the scriptures teach concerning both spirit and soul.
118 Spirit in the Old Testament
In the OT the Hebrew word ruach is often translated as spirit. It comes from the word for wind and, by implication, alludes to breath. As with all language, context is critical in determining precise translation and with ruach, context is vitally important in our understanding of God’s communication to us through His Word.
Ruach can be interpreted as meaning life, anger and at times a region of the sky. Ruach is also translated as breath (or in combination with the Hebrew word chay; the breath of life), mind, air, blast, tempest, whirlwind or wind and even as vain. Described by many as referring to the spirit of a rational being, it is this word in the Hebrew texts that some claim refers to the immortal aspect of a human.
In the book of Joshua ruach is translated as courage in the KJV, but as spirit in the Modern KJV. Thus we find:
And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above, and in Earth beneath. (Joshua 2:11) KJV
And we had heard, and our hearts melted, nor did any more spirit remain in any man, because of you. For Jehovah your God, He is God in Heaven above and in Earth beneath. (Jos 2:11) MKJV
These verses demonstrate the translator’s power in giving us God’s Word. Although it has been helpful to examine the Hebrew and analyse each occurrence of ruach in the OT, in an attempt at brevity, I have almost exclusively restricted the following study to the use of the word ruach when it has been translated as spirit in the KJV.
The first mention of spirit in the OT (KJV) refers to God when:
…the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
The first mention of a person having a spirit is found in Genesis 41:8, when Pharaoh has his spirit troubled by a dream. The next mention occurs when Pharaoh declares that Joseph must surely have the Spirit of God (Gen 41:38).
After this we find people with spirits that are:
• anguished (Exodus 6:9)
• jealous (Number 5:14)
• sorrowful (1Sam 1:15)
• faithful (Prov 11:13)
• sad (1Ki 21:5)
• contrite (Ps 34:18)
• excellent (Dan 2:12)
• haughty (Prov 16:18)
• humble (Pro 16:19)
• hasty (Prov 14:29)
• whoring (Hos 4:12)
In the OT spirits may be broken (Prov15:13), fail (Ps 143:7) or be overwhelmed (Ps 143:4). God can take of the spirit He has imparted to one person and share it out to others (Numbers 11), or the spirit of one person can be imparted to another, as was the case with Elijah and Elisha (2Ki 2:15). A person’s spirit can be preserved (Job 10:12) or make his heart obstinate (Deut. 2:30); people can lose spirit (Josh. 5:1) or God’s Spirit can come upon them to give them miraculous strength (Judges 15:14).
To selected Israelites, God gave the Spirit of:
• wisdom (Exodus 28:3)
• prophecy (1Sam 10:6, 10, Ez 11:5)
• instruction (Neh 9:20)
• guidance (Ez 1:12, 3:22)
• judgement (Judges 3:10)
• grace (Zec 12:10)
• supplication (Zec 12:10)
In Exodus (31:3) God gave Bezaleel His own Spirit, imparting wisdom, understanding and knowledge for the craftsmanship he would need in order to work in God’s tabernacle. God can stir up the spirits of men to do His will (2Ch 36:22) or raise people’s spirit to perform specific tasks (Ez 1:5), and at times people could be transported by the Spirit to different locations (Ez 3:12, 8:3). Ezekiel was lifted up by the Spirit between heaven and Earth to have visions (Ez 8:3) and although God took His Spirit from some people (1Sam 16:14), others were full of power by the Spirit (Mic 3:8). God told the people that it was by His Spirit that His ends are accomplished and “not by might nor by power” (Zec 4:6). Ultimately we are assured that as long as God’s Spirit is with people they need not fear (Hag 2:5).
Job declares man has a spirit within him (Job 32:8) and that God’s Spirit made him (Job 33:4) and is “in his nostrils” (Job 27:3); while Daniel locates his spirit in the midst of his body when he tells us it is grieved (Dan 7:15). David asks God not to take His Holy Spirit from him (Ps. 51:11), but rather to renew a right spirit in him (Ps 51:10). He also proclaims God can cut off the spirit of princes (as opposed to saving the meek). He warns that the rebellious have spirits that are not steadfast with God (Ps 78:8) and that we cannot escape from God’s Spirit (Ps 139:7).
Solomon writes about pouring out his spirit to God (Pro 1:23) and sorrow breaking the heart of the spirit (Pro 15:13). He also praises those who rule their spirit (Prov 16:32), as compared to those who do not; these he compares to a city without walls (Pro 25:28). In Ecclesiastes he declares that much of the daily distractions of life are vanity and vexation of spirit (Ecc 2:17 etc) and that ultimately people’s spirits will leave them and go up, while their bodies return to the dust from which they came (Ecc 3:20-22). He sees people as having no power to retain their spirit (Ecc 8:8) but rather that it will return to God who gave it (Ecc 12:7). Zechariah declares God has formed the spirit of man within him (Zec 12:1).
Isaiah writes of the spirit of Egypt (Is 19:3) but also of his own spirit, which he determines will seek God (Is 26:9). He mentions the spirit of deep sleep, which God brings upon people to keep them from hearing His directions (Is 29:10) and also the spirit of heaviness, for which he recommends praise as a God given remedy (Is 61:3). He speaks of the Spirit being poured out from on high as a prelude to blessings (Is 32:15) and God’s Spirit gathering people together (Is 34:16). He also reveals that God’s Holy Spirit can be vexed (Is 63:10) by the rebelliousness of His people.
Ezekiel laments that some prophets follow their own spirits and “see nothing” (Ez 13:3). He instructs his listeners to make themselves new hearts and new spirits because their transgressions are leading them to death (Ez 18:31). He also makes it clear that people need God’s Spirit to walk in righteousness (Ez 36:27).
At times God sends perverse (Is 19:17) or evil spirits to accomplish His will, by creating division (Judges 9:23) or trouble (1Sam 16:15). Spirits can also be entities who carry out specific functions (1 Ki 22:21 – 24) or make the hair on the flesh of others stand up (Job 4:15). God can put the spirit of a creature into inanimate objects (Ez 1:21) or send unclean spirits away (Zec 13:2).
It is with God’s Spirit that we can expect to live (Ez 37:14) as we are His in both body and spirit (Mal 2:15). The last use of the Hebrew word ruach (translated as spirit) in the OT (KJV) is when God instructs His people to watch over their spirits so that they will not act treacherously (Mal 2:16).
119 Significant OT verses concerning the spirit
There are a number of verses containing the word ruach that are worth examining in full. In the Psalms we find:
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath (ruach), they die, and return to their dust. (Psalm 104:29)
The Hebrew word here translated as breath is actually ruach. Young’s 1898 Literal Translation renders this verse as:
Thou hidest Thy face–they are troubled, Thou gatherest their spirit–they expire, And unto their dust they turn back. (Psalm 104:29)
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. (Isa 40:6-8)
While Ezekiel tells us:
And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Eze 11:19-20)
From the above we find that when God takes the spirit away from people they disappear like a flower that has faded, but we are not told He keeps these spirits in some form of eternal hibernation. There is no concept here of an immortal spirit. However, we discover that those who receive a new spirit will walk according to God’s statues and will be His people.
120 Soul in the Old Testament
The Hebrew word often translated as soul is nephesh. It is used 753 times in the OT and is derived from the word for breathe, thus it refers to a breathing creature. Although it has a broad range of meanings, mostly it refers to the breath, the inner being (emotions, feelings, thoughts and consciousness), the whole person or occasionally a dead body of a person (Lev 21:11). However, this word can also be used when referring to God, from the book of Leviticus we learn that God’s soul abhors those who walk in opposition to His teachings (Lev 26:30).
Nephesh is first used in reference to humans in Genesis 2:7, when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and he became a living soul(nephesh). However, the same word is used for the other living creatures(nephesh) God created in Genesis 1:20, 21, 24 & 30. Believers understand that our Father God is an Eternal Spirit and The Bible tells us that God breathed life into Adam (Gen 2:7). It is because of this process that some people insist this same quality of life, an eternal life, was imparted to humans. But we find in this verse (Gen 2:7) that when God breathed life into Adam and he became a living soul, the word used is nephesh; he is of the same essence as the creatures.
Thus, in the Hebrew there is no distinction between the living creatures God had already created and Adam, who had the same life imparted to him as the creatures: God gave the same life to Adam that He gave to all living creatures, they were all nephesh. Later in the OT (Ecc 3:19-20) Solomon expresses the view that man and beast are of the same nature and all return to dust. It could be argued that God had made Adam in His image (Gen 1:26-27) but this does not indicate Adam had God’s Eternal Spirit, an image is not the same as the reality.
As we continue our examination of the use of the word nephesh, we find in Genesis that Abram asked Sarai to lie so that his “soul (nephesh) may live” (Gen 12:13), while the phrase, “as my soul (or your soul) lives” is often used throughout the OT as part of a vow or oath (see 1Sam 20:3, 25:26 etc). This seems to indicate from the very beginning of The Bible that there is a possibility of life being taken away from the soul.
In the OT it is recorded that the soul(nephesh) of certain people:
• will live (Gen 12:13, 19:20)
• will bless (Gen 27:4)
• cleaves to another (Gen 34:3)
• longs for a woman (Gen34:8)
• departs at death (Gen 35:18)
• is anguished (Gen42:21)
• must have a ransom unto the Lord (Ex30:12)
Souls can also:
• sin (Lev 4:2)
• desire (1Sam 20:4)
• hate (2Sam 5:8)
• mourn (Job 14:22)
• swear to do evil (Lev 5:4)
• seek God (Deut 4:29)
• love God (Deut 6:5)
• serve God (Deut 10:12)
• touch unclean things (Num 19:22)
• abhor God’s judgements (Lev 26:15)
• loath manna day after day (Num 21:5)
• lust after certain foods (Deut 12:15)
• have a close friend (soul brother/sister) (Deut 13:6)
• keep God’s statutes and commands (Deut 26:16)
• return to and obey the Lord (Deut 30:2)
• long to do something (2 Sam 13:39)
• walk before God in Truth (1 Ki 2:4)
• return to the dead and revive them (1Ki 17:21,22)
• take counsel (Ps 13:2)
• commune with God (Ps 16:2)
• choose death rather than life (Job 7:15)
• draw near the grave (Job 33:22)
Souls can be:
• cut off (Gen 17:14)
• converted by God’s law (Ps 19:7)
• atoned with blood (Lev 17:11)
• enslaved (Lev 22:11)
• bound by an oath (Num 30:2)
• numbered (Num 31:28)
• kept diligently (Deut 4:9)
• dried away (Num 11:6)
• restored (Ps 23:3)
• discouraged (Num 21:4)
• mindful of God’s words (Deut 11:18)
• grieved (Ju 10:16)
• vexed (Ju 16:16)
• in bitterness (1Sam 1:10)
• poured out (1Sam 1:15)
• hunted by others (1Sam 24:11)
• precious in the eyes of another (1Sam 26:21)
• redeemed by God from adversity (2Sam 4:9) and distress (1Ki 1:29)
• delivered (Ps 6:4)
• torn to pieces (Ps 7:2)
• persecuted and taken by an enemy (Ps 7:5)
• pursued by terror (Job 30:15)
• cursed (Job 31:30)
• kept from the grave by God (Job 33:18)
121 Significant OT verses concerning the soul
The use of the word nephesh in the following verses gives further insight into our understanding of soul in the OT.
And though men be risen up to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul, yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with Jehovah thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling. (1 Samuel 25:29)
For what is the hope of the godless, though he get him gain, When God taketh away his soul? (Job 27:8)
He hath redeemed my soul from going into the pit, And my life shall behold the light. (Job 33:28)
For You will not leave my soul among the dead or allow Your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of Your presence and the pleasures of living with You forever. (Psalm 16:10-11)
All the fat ones of the Earth shall eat and worship: All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, Even he that cannot keep his soul alive. (Psalm 22:29)
The soul that sinneth, it shall die: (Eze 18:20a)
Again, when the wicked turns away from his wickedness that he has committed and does that which is lawful and righteous, he shall save his soul alive. Because he looks carefully, and turns away from all his sins that he has committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. (Eze 18:27-28)
There is no mention in the OT of either the spirit or soul having immortality. Both refer to non-physical aspects of a person (rational essence, emotions, thoughts, desires, life force and intentions) but there is no reason to assume either should be given the status of immortality.
Although traditionally the unredeemed human spirit has been considered immortal, we have observed that the spirit can be cut off (Ps 76:12) by God, He gave it and He can take it away (Ps 104:29). People’s spirits will leave them and go up, while their bodies return to the dust from which they came (Ecc 3:20-22 ), they have no power to retain their spirit (Ecc 8:8) but rather it will return to God who gave it (Ecc 12:7). There is no mention in the OT of the human spirit returning to God as a conscious individual entity awaiting eternal torment after judgment.
The soul is evidently that part of a living being that endows life and the Hebrew word used for this life is the same for a human or an animal. Unless we concede that animals have immortal souls it would appear that the human soul should not be viewed as immortal. The Bible tells us the soul can die, the unbeliever “cannot keep his soul alive” (Ps 22:29) and God can take away the soul (Job 27:8), which is not “bound in the bundle of life with Jehovah thy God” (1Sam 25:29). As Ezekiel puts it, the soul that sins will die.
In Psalm 30:3 David gives us the understanding that there is hope for the soul of the righteous in the OT. In Psalm 16:10 he declares:
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Also in the Psalms we find:
But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah. (Psalm 49:15)
122 Spirit in the New Testament
The Greek word that is translated as spirit in the NT is pneuma. It comes from a primary word for a current of air, breath (blast) or a breeze and is the rational essence of a human, and by implication refers to the vital principle or mental disposition. Strong’s Concordance claims that it is this aspect of the human that is immortal.
The word pneuma can also refer to a superhuman being such as an angel or demon, as well as God’s Spirit, Christ’s Spirit and the Holy Spirit. This word is used in Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible for the Hebrew word ruach. Pneuma is used about 380 times throughout the NT. Around 90 times, the KJV translates pneuma as Ghost when it follows the word hagios, which means sacred, blameless or holy and therefore it refers to the Holy Ghost.
Pneuma is first used in the NT when Matthew relates the story of Jesus’ birth. He writes:
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18) New Living Translation
Later it is employed in the term Spirit of God:
After His baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on Him. (Matthew 3:16)
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)
Pneuma is also used when referring to a person’s mental or spiritual disposition. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus encourages spiritual humility when He says:
Blessed are the poor in spirit! For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
However, pneuma can also refer to demonic spirits. Again in Matthew we find:
That evening many demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. He cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and He healed all the sick. (Matthew 8:16)
Pneuma is employed in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus refers to people who were influenced by God’s Spirit in the OT scriptures.
Jesus responded, “Then why does David, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, call the Messiah ‘my Lord’? (Matthew 22:43)
It is also used when Jesus compares the role of the spirit and the flesh in the individual’s struggle to obey God.
Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41)
We find it again when Jesus demonstrates His divine awareness. As Mark describes:
And instantly knowing in His Spirit that they reasoned so within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your heart?” (Mark 2:8)
Matthew also uses it when recording Jesus’ complete control over His own destiny:
Then Jesus shouted out again, and He released His Spirit. (Mat 27:50)
In John’s gospel, we find pneuma in the passage relating Jesus’ teaching on the need for people to be born again of the Spirit to enter God’s eternal kingdom. This passage reveals a core understanding of the concept of spirit.
Jesus answered, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
Just after this statement Jesus explained to Nicodemus that; “everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” When Nicodemus asked if he should enter his mother’s womb again, Jesus clearly explained that He was not talking about a physical birth; He was announcing the need for a spiritual birth that can only be accomplished by receiving the Holy Spirit. This would appear to indicate that the human spirit is not immortal, it can perish unless it is born again, through the power of God. We cannot be part of the eternal Kingdom of God unless we are born of God’s Eternal Spirit. Jesus is making a distinction between the spirit with which we are born when we are “born of the flesh” and the spirit that is imparted to us when we are “born of the Spirit.”
Again in John’s gospel we find:
Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” (When He said “living water,” He was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in Him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into His glory.) (John 7:38-39)
It is the indwelling Holy Spirit that gives eternal life to mortal humans. Our spirit is, in essence, dead (destined for death) until it is imparted with eternal life by the rebirth of redemption. It seems the human spirit can only function in a limited way until it is born again. In like manner an electrical appliance can use the power in batteries to function, although the batteries have a limited life, but when the appliance is plugged into the mains the access to power is limitless. We too have been granted a limited spiritual life, which gives us an incomplete spiritual existence until we are connected to the Eternal Spirit of God by our unification with the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be born again of the Holy Spirit to be fully and eternally connected to the Eternal Spirit of the Creator God.
When He was assuring His disciples He would enable them to have access to the Father’s eternal Kingdom Jesus announced:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it isn’t looking for Him and doesn’t recognize Him. But you know Him, because He lives with you now and later will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:10, 11)
God’s Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and God’s Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies, when the corruptible puts on incorruptibility and the mortal puts on immortality. Jesus raised people to life while He lived on Earth, but His own resurrection was unique, He did not die again as Lazarus did, because He was raised as an immortal human being. He is the first of a whole new order of beings (Romans 8:29, Col 1:18). Paul told the Corinthians that they were “new creatures” (2 Cor 5:17), who had been reconciled to God through the death of Jesus. He died in our place and in Him our old nature also died, now we live new lives as new creatures spiritually, awaiting the final transformation.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.” For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. (Rom 8:10-16)
Paul explained that when we are born again, the Eternal Holy Spirit joins with our mortal spirit and we become God’s own eternal children. To the Corinthians he explains:
Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1Co 6:11)
And so it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul (psuchē),” the last Adam was a life-giving Spirit (pneuma). But not the spiritual first, but the natural; afterward the spiritual. (1 Co 15:45-46)
The distinction between a living soul and a life giving spirit is outlined here. Only Jesus gives life, He gave life to Adam and Eve, but they forfeited that life and through them death came to humanity. Since He has conquered death, Jesus can now give new and eternal life, through the Holy Spirit, to those who come to Him. Paul tells the Galatians:
For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:8)
In Hebrews we find:
Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the Eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. (Heb 9:14)
123 Soul in the New Testament
The Greek word psuchē is often translated as soul in the NT, but also as life. It comes from the word for breath and Strong sees it as the animal, sentient principle only; thus distinguishing it on one hand from pneuma, which Strong believes is the rational and immortal soul and on the other hand from zoe, which is elemental vitality or life, even that of plants. Therefore Strong suggests a correspondence, respectively of the Hebrew to Greek words rûach/pneuma (spirit), nephesh/psuche (soul) and chay/zoe (life).
A number of verses distinctly indicate that psuche cannot refer to an immortal soul. Matthew records Jesus’ words:
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul (psuche): but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul (psuche) and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
If you cling to your life (psuche), you will lose it; but if you give up your life (psuche) for Me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:39)
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)
Although not in all manuscripts, in some we find Luke’s gospel records:
The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save. (Luke 9:56a)
Also in Luke we find:
But God said unto him, Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? (Luke 12:20)
And from John’s gospel:
Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life (psuche), that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from my Father. (John 10:17-18)
Jesus announced He would not only lay down His life, but that He would take it up again. He is the author of life and the only One in the history of the world with the power to do this.
Continuing our examination of the word psuche (soul) in the NT we find:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. (Act 2:41-43)
The word soul in this passage is translated in a number of versions as “people.” I was raised in Sydney and we often referred to souls in this way. We might mention a “poor soul” we had seen, or that a person was a “bit of a lost soul.” This use of the word is made clear by context and it actually refers to the whole person rather than one aspect of the person.
When writing to the Corinthians Paul used the word psuche when he informed them that Adam was a living soul but the last Adam was a life giving Spirit (pneuma). He then explained that we have the natural before we are imparted with the spiritual:
And so it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul,” the last Adam was a life-giving Spirit. However it is not the spiritual first, but the natural; afterward the spiritual. ( 1 Co 15:45-46)
Later he adds that the living soul needs the life giving Spirit to put on immortality (1 Cor 15:54). As we move on to Hebrews we find:
But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved. (Heb 10:39)
The writer to the Hebrews does not tell us that these souls are saved from eternal torment, it appears from this verse that they are saved from destruction.
James also informs us:
…. he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)
While Peter adds:
The reward for trusting Him will be the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)
Having examined the use of the words rûach/pneuma (spirit) and nephesh/psuche (soul) in the scriptures it appears there is no evidence on which to base a case for the immortality of either the spirit or the soul before the life giving Eternal Spirit gives new life to corruptible and mortal human beings. The OT alludes to the spirit returning to God at death, while the soul remains in the grave. Some of the OT saints hoped for a resurrection to eternal life with God, but this could also be understood as a hope for their descendants to continue enjoying God’s favour, rather than there being any definite teaching on life after death. Thus the Jewish people at the time of Christ were divided on the issue.
The Greek concept of the immortal soul had been brought to Israel with the invasion of Alexander following the siege of Tyre in 332BC. Although Hellenisation of the Jewish world influenced lifestyle, culture, architecture and even the names people gave their children and the language they spoke, the Jewish religion continued to be based on the ancient Jewish scriptures and traditions. Consequently, in Jesus’ time, the understanding of hell as a dual abode for both godly and ungodly people must have been common enough for Jesus to use this imagery in his parable about Lazarus and the rich man, but it would not have been accepted as an accurate picture of the afterlife by traditional Jews.
The NT writers give us a clearer understanding of the afterlife than their OT predecessors, making it clear that people are ultimately destined for either eternal life or the second death. Both Jesus and Paul teach that the spirit is virtually dead, until it is imparted with eternal life by the indwelling Holy Spirit, while the soul is the life force that is subject to death and destruction. The only hope the NT writers provide for immortality is the eternal life Jesus is able to offer because He shed His blood on the cross (taking the sins of the world upon Himself) and conquered death by His resurrection.
Human immortality is directly related to the death and resurrection of the Saviour, who has conquered both sin and death. Ultimately, those who accept the gracious gift of eternal life from the Lord of Life will put on immortality. Until that time we are mortal creatures, formed from dust and destined for the death that God, at the beginning of time, warned Adam and Eve would be the result of the sin of rebellion against their Creator.
The Revelation reveals there will be a second death, following the resurrection of the unbelieving dead to judgment. This is the inevitable destiny for those who refuse to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. This second death is the final and irreversible end of the body, soul and spirit of those who reject God’s wondrous gift of eternal life. God gave each one of us the gift of mortal life without us having any choice in the matter, but by His grace the gift of immortality, or eternal life, is something we can each choose to accept or reject.