Do You Have an Immortal Soul?
Are we just flesh and blood? Or are we more than the sum total of the elements of which we are made? Are we here today and gone tomorrow? Or does some invisible part of us go on living after death?
THOUGH world religions have developed a bewildering array of beliefs about the Hereafter, most of them agree on one basic idea: Something inside a person is immortal and goes on living after death. Many people believe that this “something” is a soul. What do you believe? Are we part flesh and part soul? What is a soul? Do humans have an immortal soul? How vital that we know the truth about what we are!
“The Man Came to Be a Living Soul”
Is “soul” a part of man that separates from the body at death and goes on living? According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “often the soul is equated with the total person.” For instance, Genesis 2:7 states: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” The first man, Adam, was a soul.
The understanding that the word “soul” can mean the whole person is supported by other scriptures. For example, the Bible speaks of a soul’s doing work. (Leviticus 23:30) The soul is spoken of as being impatient, irritated, sleepless, fearful, and depressed. (Judges 16:16; Job 19:2; Psalm 119:28; Acts 2:43; 1 Thessalonians 5:14) Referring to a soul as a person, Romans 13:1 states: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities.” And at 1 Peter 3:20, we read: “In Noah’s days, . . . a few people, that is, eight souls, were carried safely through the water.” Nothing in these scriptures indicates that the soul is some immaterial entity that lives on after death.
What about animals and plants? Are they souls? Consider how the Bible describes the creation of animals. “Let the waters swarm forth a swarm of living souls,” God commanded. On the next creative day, God said: “Let the earth put forth living souls according to their kinds, domestic animal and moving animal and wild beast of the earth according to its kind.” (Genesis 1:20, 24) Therefore, all living creatures—human or animal—are souls. Scripturally, plants are not referred to as souls.
The word “soul” is used in yet another sense. At Job 33:22, we read: “His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to those inflicting death.” Here, the terms “soul” and “life” are used in parallel, one amplifying the meaning of the other. “Soul,” then, can also refer to the life that one enjoys as a living soul, or person. Hence, the Scriptures refer to Moses’ enemies who were seeking to take his life as “all the men who were hunting for [his] soul.” (Exodus 4:19) And concerning Jesus Christ, the Bible says: “The Son of man came . . . to give his soul [life] a ransom in exchange for many.”—Matthew 20:28.
The Bible’s definition of “soul” is simple and consistent. The word can refer to a human or an animal or to the life that a creature enjoys as a living soul. As we will see, this understanding harmonizes with what the Bible says happens to the soul at death.
‘The Soul That Is Sinning Will Die’
The Bible states: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) The distressed prophet Elijah “began to ask that his soul might die.” (1 Kings 19:4) Likewise, Jonah “kept asking that his soul might die.” (Jonah 4:8) Yes, the soul dies when the person dies; it is not immortal. Since a person is a soul, to say that someone died is to say that his soul died.
But what about Bible texts that speak of the going out and the coming back of the soul? Concerning what happened to Rachel when she gave birth to a son, the Bible says: “As her soul was going out (because she died) she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.” (Genesis 35:18) And referring to the resurrection of a widow’s son, 1 Kings 17:22 states: “Jehovah listened to Elijah’s voice [in prayer], so that the soul of the child came back within him and he came to life.” Do these passages indicate that the soul is some invisible, shadowy part that can escape from or enter a body?
Well, remember that one meaning of the word “soul” is “life.” Hence, Rachel’s soul was going out in that her life was going out. In fact, some Bibles render the phrase “her soul was going out” as “her life was ebbing away” (Knox) and “she breathed her last” (Jerusalem Bible). Similarly, in the case of the widow’s son, it was life that returned to the boy.—1 Kings 17:23.
What Man Is
Clearly, the Bible shows what man is. He does not have a soul; he is a soul. Because of what man is—his nature—any hope for future life for the dead depends on a resurrection, a raising up. The Bible promises: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28, 29) That sure promise of a resurrection—not the teaching of the immortality of the soul—is the basis for real hope for the dead.
How vital it is to gain accurate knowledge of what the resurrection is and what it means for mankind! Also essential is knowledge of God and Christ, for in prayer Jesus said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) Jehovah’s Witnesses in your community will be happy to assist you in studying the Bible so that you can increase your knowledge of God, his Son, and His promises. You have our invitation to contact the Witnesses or to write to the publishers of this journal.
[Pictures on page 4]
They are all souls
Goat: CNPC—Centro Nacional de Pesquisa de Caprinos (Sobral, CE, Brasil)