Defined:

Mortality: Liable to die. The state we experience from the moment of birth to the moment of death

Immortality: Deathlessness. The state promised to those who are worthy to inhabit the Kingdom of God to be established on earth following the return of Christ.

The mortal body—the beginning

The Scriptures record that, “In the beginning . . . the L ORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” . In the beginning God created a bodily framework for man, complete with limbs, sense organs, and brain, but it was lifeless until God brought it to life [1] . That was how a lifeless body became a living creature, called Adam.

[Note: Heb. nephesh, translated ‘soul’ is also translated ‘creature’ [2].

Adam was given the task of looking after the garden of Eden [3] , but with instructions not to eat the fruit of one particular tree [4] . Adam disobeyed those instructions and, as a result, was condemned to death [5]. He became a ‘mortal’ creature. In the same way, everyone since then has died because of his disobedience to God’s commands.

The mortal body—the ending

When Abraham’s life ended, it is recorded that he “gave up the ghost, and died” (Gen. 25:8). The RSV states that he “breathed his last and died”, which is much closer to the original Hebrew word, which means ‘expire’, ‘breathe out’.

Life began when there was a breathing in of the breath that gives life. When that breath is breathed out for the last time, life ceases. A similar phrase is used of Isaac, Jacob, Job and Jesus.[6] . Without the invigorating breath of life, the bodily structure wastes away.

A further description of death is given, starting with David. It is recorded that “David slept with his fathers” [7] . Similarly, this idea is used of Solomon, Rehoboam and most of the kings, Job, Lazarus and Jesus [8].

Sleep as we know it, as an essential ingredient of mortal life, is a period of rest and relaxation, when we are incapable of controlled and purposeful thought, word, action or emotion. In this it is a most apt figure of death. [9] .

But there is a way to awake from the ‘sleep’ of death.

Immortality

In the same chapter that writes about Christ being the first to be raised from the sleep of death, it says that others will also be raised when he returns. It is the mortal body that undergoes a change: “this mortal must put on immortality” [10] .

The Bible doesn’t mention anything about some independent part of the body continuing its existence forever. It actually says “we shall all be changed” [11]. The idea of a change to a state which is completely opposite to that experienced now would be unnecessary if, in some way, we already had immortality.

The Bible says that God raised Jesus from the dead and made him immortal. [12] It was because of his sinlessness that he was raised from the dead and by his resurrection he “brought . . . immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10 ). When Christ comes again, “those that are Christ’s” will be raised. [13] To the worthy, God will give His gift, which is “eternal life”. [14]

The question of the immortal soul

  • The Bible does not mention or teach the doctrine of the immortal soul. This term never appears in the Bible.
  • Pagan beliefs held in the kingdoms of Babylon and Egypt, and the teachings of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato, became incorporated into Jewish and Christian religion in the years following Christ’s death. The idea of an ‘immortal soul’ is a belief that is man-made and not God-given.
  • Any passages of the Bible that appear to support such teaching must be interpreted with this crucial information in mind. For example, as Stephen died he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59 ) He was referring to his breath leaving him as he died, not to any immortal soul.
  • If Adam had possessed an immortal soul, then his punishment for disobedience—“dying thou shalt die”—would have been to no avail, if he or part of him continued in some conscious and active form.
  • The Bible says that “our Saviour Jesus Christ . . . hath abolished death, and hath brought life . . . to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10 ) If we have an immortal soul, life continues whatever happens at death and that statement is meaningless.

Conclusion

The Bible teaches that there is no such thing as an immortal soul. When we die the whole of us dies. Those who have heard the gospel and been baptised will be raised from the dead when Christ comes. If found worthy at the judgement seat of Christ, by God’s grace they will be given immortal life.

Bible references

1 Gen. 1:1; 2:7
2 Genesis 1:21 ,24
3 Gen. 1:15
4 Gen 1:16-17
5 Gen. 3:19
6 Gen. 35:29; 49:33; Job 10:18; Mark 15:37)
7 1 Kgs. 2:10
8 1 Kings 11:43; 14:31; Job 7:21; Jno. 11:11; 1 Cor. 15:20)
9 Ps. 6:5; 30:9; 146:4; Eccl. 9:10
10 1 Cor. 15 v. 50, 53
11 1 Cor. 15 v. 51
12 Rom. 6:4,9
13 1 Cor. 15:22-23
14 Rom. 6:23