Are You Immortal?
IN ANSWER to this, millions of people—Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and others will say: “My body dies, of course, but my soul is immortal.” And since, in their view, the body is merely a temporary “shell,” they must consider their real selves as immortal.
Where did this belief begin? Was it among those who profess to be Christians? With the Muslims? With the more ancient Buddhists? Or perhaps somewhere else?
Actually, it dates back to ancient Babylon. Later, Greek philosophers, such as Pythagoras of the sixth century and Socrates and Plato of the fifth century B.C.E., developed this idea of human immortality. Plato quotes Socrates as saying: The “soul [at death] . . . departs to the invisible world—to the divine and immortal . . . and forever dwells . . . in company with the gods.”
Early Christianity and Immortality
When was the teaching of the soul’s immortality introduced among Christians? Isaac Taylor, in his book Ancient Christianity, says that Christianity, by the second century, “had fallen into the hands [of teachers] thoroughly trained . . . in the Grecian schools of philosophy and who . . . turned, with an instinctive distaste, from the Gospel.” By the third century, Tertullian, a prominent church leader, taught: “Some things are known even by nature: the immortality of the soul, for instance, is held by many . . . I will use, therefore, the opinion of a Plato when asserting Every soul is immortal.” The fifth-century church teacher Augustine said: “The human soul is truly affirmed to be immortal.”
From that time forward, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul became basic throughout Christendom. As Dr. Laidlaw expressed it in his book Bible Doctrine of Man: “Gradually . . . the Greek influence prevailed, and even in the Christian Church the idea of the soul’s immortality for long took the place of the Scripture doctrine of future life.” (Italics ours) This, in turn, led to the teachings of temporary torment in a purgatory or eternal torment of souls in hell. Poor people have spent large amounts of money to request priests to pray for souls of the dead, that they might be released from purgatory. All of this because of embracing Greek philosophy!
Do Church Leaders All Agree?
Many Bible scholars and clergymen question the “immortal soul” doctrine. Wesleyan Methodist clergyman Agar Beet wrote: “The Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul is a curious example of an opinion destitute of any foundation in the Bible and in some measure contradicting it, derived only from Greek philosophy, yet held firmly by large numbers of educated and intelligent Christian teachers and writers on the mistaken supposition that it is taught in the Bible.” Similarly, Dr. Martensen, former bishop of Zealand, Denmark, wrote: “It may be considered to be universally acknowledged in our day that no independent proof can be given of the immortality of man.”
However, the doctrine continues to be included in most church creeds. For example, the Book of Catechism of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa states: “The soul thus lives on and is immortal.” Interestingly, the Hoofstad newspaper of Pretoria, South Africa, published an article entitled “Soul Does Not Survive,” which reported a leader of the same church, Professor Adrio König, as saying: “Christians must get away from the idea which originated with the Greek philosopher Plato that man consists of two parts: body and soul . . . according to the Bible man’s existence ends with death. There is not ‘something’ like a soul that lives on.”
Why the lack of agreement among the clergy? Because the majority of them have not held firmly to the Bible as God’s Word, though they may give the impression that the Bible is what they teach. Instead, they have exchanged it for human philosophy—their own and that of the ancient Greeks.
What Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not share Christendom’s belief of inherent immortality. They believe that the human soul is mortal, that the dead experience no sensations at all. Why? Because they accept the Bible as God’s revelation of truth to mankind. It is of interest to know that the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) never once referred to the words “néphesh” (Hebrew for “soul”) or “rúahh” (Hebrew for “spirit”) as immortal. Rather, they taught that the human soul dies: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20, Authorized Version; see also Psalm 22:29; 78:50.) The dead are spoken of as being unconscious: “For the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more. Neither have they a reward any more . . . Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly: for neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom, nor knowledge, shall be in hell [mankind’s common grave], whither thou art hastening.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, Catholic Douay Version.
The Greek Scriptures (New Testament) give the same view about the soul and death. Jesus said that God “can destroy both soul and body.” So if the soul is destructible it cannot be immortal. (Matthew 10:28) With reference to Jesus, the apostle Peter stated: “Any soul that does not listen to that Prophet will be completely destroyed.” (Acts 3:23) Jesus showed too that the dead are unconscious, because he likened death to a ‘restful sleep.’ (John 11:11-14) This agrees with what can readily be discerned by anyone who has attended a funeral where the body of the deceased could be viewed.
According to the account of creation recorded at Genesis 2:7, Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and “the man came to be a living soul.” Therefore the Bible often uses the expression “his soul” to refer to the person “himself” as in the case of young David: “Jonathan began to love him as his own soul [as himself].” (1 Samuel 18:1) Commenting on this, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology says: “To such a degree is the soul a summing of the whole personality, of the whole self of a person, that ‘soul’ can be equivalent to ‘I myself’ or ‘yourself’ (1 Samuel 18:1). In Genesis 2:7 [soul] means ‘person’ or ‘being.’”
The glorious hope that the Bible holds out for future life is by means of a resurrection. William Tyndale, famous Bible translator of the 16th century, once remarked: “If the soul be in heaven, tell me what cause is there for the resurrection?” At the time of being raised from death to life, the Bible says that certain chosen ones “put on immortality,” to be enjoyed with God and Christ in heaven. Obviously, then, these chosen ones are not born with immortality; if they remain faithful to death they will ‘put it on’ as a reward.—1 Corinthians 15:51-54; see also Romans 2:6, 7.
The vast majority of the dead will receive a resurrection back to this earth in God’s coming new order. When on earth Jesus demonstrated this by raising a number of people from the dead. In addition he promised: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [my] voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29.
Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe this. For that reason, when personally faced with death or when losing a loved one in death, they have a basis for genuine hope. It will be one of the tremendous events of unspeakable joy in the New Order, when God, with his infinite power and wisdom, raises the dead. He will thus fulfill his promise to ‘wipe away all tears’ at that time when he ‘makes all things new.’—Revelation 21:4, 5.
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Plato quotes Socrates as saying: The “soul [at death] . . . departs to the invisible world—to the divine and immortal . . . and forever dwells . . . in company with the gods”
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‘There is going to be a resurrection of the dead.’—Acts 24:15