The Bible’s Viewpoint
What Happens to the Soul After Death?
JAMES KIDD, a recluse miner, often puzzled over the subject: ‘Do I really have a soul living as part of me?’ Obsessed with proving his lifelong suspicion, Mr. Kidd left behind a small fortune of nearly $300,000, stating in his will that the money was to be used in “research for some scientific proof of a soul of a human body which leaves at death.”
Unlike Mr. Kidd, you may not be very interested in actually proving that you have a soul that will survive your death. But in the back of your mind, you may believe it. Millions today do because of religious teachings, reports of so-called life-after-death experiences, or their own personal feelings.
Interestingly, though, an Awake! survey of those who believe in the immortality of the soul revealed that all answered the following question in the same way: “Do you think the soul breathes to stay alive?” “No,” they said.
A Soul Breathes
In Genesis chapter 2, verse 7, the thrilling account of the creation of man begins: “And Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground.”
Picture the miracle taking place! From the elements of the very earth are formed 206 bones, complex organs, over 600 muscles, and the amazing brain, all surrounded by a garment of skin, to form a perfect specimen of a man. Yet, one more “ingredient” is needed to complete the fascinating act of creation: something to animate and bring this body to life. God then began “to blow into his nostrils the breath of life.” At this point, introducing air (with its oxygen), God simultaneously animated millions of cells in the physical body with spirit, or life force. Now alive, this man named Adam inhaled and exhaled about 14 times a minute, or over 20,000 times a day! Concluding Ge 2 verse 7, notice that the now breathing, living man is called “a living soul.”
This outcome may be likened to the magazine you are now reading. Paper, inks, and glue make up this journal. But separately these items are uninteresting. Only if they are combined will you have a magazine. So the physical body, the breath, and the life-force are of little value without one another. But combined, they make up a living soul. Thus, Adam “came to be” a living soul.
Since nothing is said to imply that the first man was implanted with a soul or received it, we must ask: If the soul “came to be” only after breathing began, why conclude that it continues to live when a person stops breathing and dies? There is no mistaking this fact: Breathing is of do-or-die importance to a soul.
Thus, Bible writers often use the word “soul” as a synonym for a breathing person. For example, notice what happened to the enemies of God’s people in the land of Canaan. God’s people “went striking every soul that was in it [the land] with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction. No breathing thing at all was left over.” (Joshua 11:11) Every soul was a breathing thing. Likewise, every breathing thing was a soul. It was a fleshly, visible, breathing human that died, not an unseen spirit entity.
Are All Living Creatures Souls?
While man is distinct from animals, it is not because of his being a soul. When God let loose devastating floodwaters in Noah’s day, ‘all flesh, flying creatures, domestic animals, wild beasts, all the swarms, and mankind, everything in which the breath of the force of life was active in its nostrils died.’ Those same kinds of animals are called “living souls” in the creation account.—Genesis 7:21, 22; 1:24.
As the Bible shows, ‘all flesh, all the swarms, and mankind’ need air and depend on the function of their varied respiratory systems to continue living on as souls. When this life-sustaining process stops, a soul returns to the dust. The soul—person or animal—becomes unconscious and nonexistent.—Genesis 3:19; Psalm 146:4.
A Soul Can Live Forever!
Since the belief that a soul lives after death is so widespread, it is evident that humans instinctively feel that there must be more to life than what they now experience. These feelings are quite natural, for the Bible says that God “has put eternity into man’s mind.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Revised Standard Version) For many, that desire for “eternity,” or living forever, will actually be realized. First, something needs to be corrected—the imperfection and sin that cause the human soul to die. (Romans 5:12) Once these are eliminated, the human body sustained by God can live forever.—Revelation 21:3, 4.
But what hope is there for those already dead? The research society named as beneficiary of Mr. Kidd’s fortune did not find the answer. After four years of study, they could not prove that a human soul is a separate part of a human that leaves the body at death. But how positive the hope in the Bible! The promise of dead souls being brought back to human life on earth, yes resurrected, is assured.—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Hebrews 6:18.
God’s purpose for the human soul will then be learned by those resurrected individuals. And for those now applying God’s Word, who are “the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul,” the breathing process need never stop!—Hebrews 10:39.
[Pictures on page 26]
All of these are souls