Reading the creation account in the Bible book of Genesis, we learn that the first man, Adam, was told by God: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17) That statement clearly and simply shows that if Adam had obeyed God’s command, he would not have died but would have continued living in the garden of Eden.
Sadly, rather than choosing to obey and live forever, Adam chose to ignore God’s command, and he ate the forbidden fruit when his wife, Eve, gave it to him. (Genesis 3:1-6) The consequences of that act of disobedience are still with us today. The apostle Paul explained it this way: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) That “one man” was, of course, Adam. But what was the sin, and why did it lead to death?
What Adam did—willfully disobeying or breaking God’s law—is sin. (1 John 3:4) And the penalty for sin is death, as God told Adam. As long as Adam—and his future offspring—remained obedient to God’s command, they would have no sin and would never have to taste death. God did not create humans to die but to live—even forever.
There is no disputing that death has “spread to all men,” as the Bible stated. But does some part of us live on after we die? Many would say yes, that a part of us—something called the soul—is immortal. This, however, would amount to saying that God lied to Adam. How so? Because if a part of us moves on to live in some other realm after we die, then death would not be the penalty for sin, as God stated. The Bible says: “It is impossible for God to lie.” (Hebrews 6:18) In reality, it was Satan who lied when he told Eve: “You certainly will not die.”—Genesis 3:4.
That raises the question, If the teaching of the immortality of the soul is based on a lie, then what really happens at death?
THE BIBLE SETS THINGS STRAIGHT
The Genesis account of creation says: “Jehovah God went on to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living person.” The expression “a living person” is translated from the Hebrew word ne’phesh,* which literally means “a breathing creature.”—Genesis 2:7, footnote.
The Bible thus makes clear that humans are not created as individuals with a soul that is immortal. Rather, each individual is “a living person.” That is why, search as you may, you will not find any Bible text that uses the expression “immortal soul.”
Since the Bible does not say that humans possess what some call an immortal soul, why do so many religions teach the contrary? The answer takes us all the way back to ancient Egypt.
A PAGAN TEACHING FLOURISHES
Herodotus, a Greek historian of the fifth century B.C.E., said that the Egyptians were “the first of mankind who have defended the immortality of the soul.” Another ancient culture, the Babylonians, also toyed with the idea of the immortal soul. By the time Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East in 332 B.C.E., Greek philosophers had popularized the teaching, and it soon spread throughout the Greek Empire.
You will not find any Bible text that uses the expression “immortal soul”
In the first century C.E., two prominent Jewish sects, the Essenes and the Pharisees, taught that the soul survives the body at death. The Jewish Encyclopedia says: “The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato.” Likewise, first-century Jewish historian Josephus attributed the teaching, not to the Holy Scriptures, but to “the belief of the sons of Greece,” which he viewed as a collection of tales by their mythologists.
As the influence of Greek culture continued to expand, professed Christians adopted this pagan teaching as well. According to historian Jona Lendering, “Plato’s hypothesis that our soul was once in a better place and now lives in a fallen world made it easy to combine platonic philosophy and Christianity.” Thus, the pagan doctrine of the immortal soul was absorbed into the “Christian” church and became a fundamental part of its beliefs.
“THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE”
In the first century, the apostle Paul sounded this warning: “The inspired word clearly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired statements and teachings of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1) How true those words proved to be! The doctrine of the immortal soul is but one example of “teachings of demons.” It is not supported by the Bible, and it has its roots in ancient pagan religions and philosophies.
Happily for us, Jesus said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) By gaining an accurate knowledge of Bible truth, we are set free from the God-dishonoring teachings and practices promoted by so many of the world’s religions. Moreover, the truth in God’s Word sets us free from the shackles of the traditions and superstitions associated with death.—See the box “Where Are the Dead?”
Our Creator did not intend for humans to live just 70 or 80 years on earth and then move on to spend an eternity in another realm. His original purpose was for his human creation to live forever right here on earth as his obedient children. This grand purpose is an expression of God’s love for humankind, and it will not be thwarted. (Malachi 3:6) Reassuringly, the inspired psalmist declared: “The righteous will possess the earth, and they will live forever on it.”—Psalm 37:29.
Some Bible translations, such as the King James Version and the Catholic Douay Version, render ne’phesh by the words “living soul,” whereas many modern translations render it “living creature,” The New English Bible; “living being,” New International Version and The Jerusalem Bible; or simply “began to live,” Today’s English Version.