Is it mortal or immortal? Is it in man or is it the man? Here are the answers direct from the Bible.
When I was a child my parents told me that I had a soul. But when I asked where it was, no one could tell me. If I had asked many other questions about the soul, I would probably have been told something like the following: "The soul is not material, but is composed of spirit-like substance and is located somewhere in each person. It is immortal and will live forever. After death it will continue either in heaven or hell for all eternity. This immortal soul may have come into existence at the time of conception or the time of birth, or it may have existed eternally before birth." You, too, may have heard something like this about the human soul. But, did you ever check in your Bible to see what Almighty God says about the soul? The Hebrew nephesh (usually translated soul) appears more than 700 times in the Old Testament and an additional 100 times in the New Testament. The first place the word soul is found in the King James translation is in Genesis 2:7, which reads, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
Man becomes a soul
Notice that God formed man from the materials found in the ground, reshaping and reforming them into all the many complicated component parts of a human body. God constructed Adam in the same shape and form as He Himself was, but there was no life yet. The next thing God did was to breathe into the human body of Adam, and then he "became a living soul." It plainly says that man is a soul. It does not say that man was given a soul or that man had a soul. Most people know little about what man is or what man's potential is, so such truths may be shocking. Since Adam became a living soul, is it possible that the Bible might speak of dead souls? Is it even possible for a soul to die? Don't be too sure you know until we see more scriptures on this subject. It should be obvious from the account in Genesis, chapter 2, that until God breathed into Adam the breath of life, he was not yet a soul. Clearly, that particular soul did not exist previously as an immortal entity. Was Adam, who had become a living soul, destined to live forever as an immortal soul? Speaking to man about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God said, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou [the living soul — Adam] shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). These simple straightforward statements by God, right at the beginning of the Bible, ought to clarify to us that man is a soul, and that this soul will not live forever.
Who has immortality?
Some may say that other texts will show that the soul is immortal. To find out one way or the other, let's check all the places in the Bible where the word immortal or immortality are used. We won't have to read many texts to cover this subject as these words are rarely used in the Scriptures. I Timothy 1:17 shows that Jesus Christ is immortal, the King Eternal. There is no mention of any immortal soul. Then in I Timothy 6:16, we read that only Christ has immortality. That certainly eliminates the possibility of any other person or soul having immortality. Paul tells us in II Timothy 1:10 that Christ has brought "life and immortality to light through the gospel." Still nothing about any immortal soul. In I Corinthians 15:53, 54 we learn that we don't yet have immortality, but that we may become immortal at the time of the resurrection. Lastly, in Romans 2:7, we are exhorted to seek immortality, making it plain again that we do not yet have immortality. None of these or any other scriptures show us that the soul is immortal. Genesis 2:7 and 2:17 still stand! Man is a soul and that soul can die!
The soul can be destroyed
This truth — that the soul can and does die — is stated throughout the Bible. Let's notice a few examples. Ezekiel tells us twice (Ezek. 18:4, 20) that, "The soul that sinneth, it [the soul] shall die. "Psalms 40:14 and 63:9 tell us that the soul can be destroyed as Christs own words in Matthew 10:28 affirms. Psalm 22:29 says that the soul can't be kept alive. Revelation 16:3 states that "every living soul died in the sea." With such plain clear scriptures, how can anyone who claims to believe the Bible and say he gets his teachings from it believe in the immortality of the soul?
In the Old Testament, the word translated into the English word soul comes from the Hebrew word nephesh. In the New Testament, the word translated soul comes from the Greek word psuche. These words in Hebrew and Greek have essentially the same meaning. What most people do not know is that the translators (of the King James and most other translations or versions) do not translate from one language to the other consistently into the same English word. The Hebrew nephesh is translated nine times into the word creature. You will find a couple of examples in Genesis 1:21 and 1:24. In these texts you will read that whales and other creatures are also souls, since the word for creature is exactly the same in the original writings as the word soul of Genesis 2:7. The same Hebrew word is translated into the word life in Genesis 1:20 and 1:30. Putting this all together we see that the word nephesh is used five times in Genesis 1 (twice in verse 20, once in verses 21, 24 and 30). Each of the five times the word nephesh (soul) is translated into a different word in this chapter, it refers to animals, not men. Each of these five times occurs before the word nephesh or soul is used in reference to man. Isn't that amazing, especially in view of the common beliefs today regarding the immortal soul. The word nephesh is also translated into the word person in Numbers 31:19. In this and three other places it shows that the person (nephesh-soul) can be killed! It is even more surprising to see that nephesh is translated several times into the word body, and in some of these places reference is made to a dead body (nephesh-soul). See Leviticus 21:11, Numbers 6:6, 19:13 and Haggai 2:13 for examples.
Man is a soul
From all these scriptures it is clear that man is a living soul, not that he has an immortal soul. The word nephesh relates to the idea of possessing life or of the animated being. This life can be animated, moving and active or it can die and then cease from living, no longer carrying on life functions. Some people refer to the soul correctly as the animal life. However, some might be confused by this definition when it refers to man, who is not an animal. In some modern translations, the word life is used occasionally instead of soul, and it is nearer to the meaning of the original than the word soul.
A deceived world
After looking up the scriptures where the word nephesh (Hebrew) and psuche (Greek) are used, we can plainly see the common belief in the immortality of the soul did not find its origin in the Bible. This belief, however, is almost universal in the world's pagan religions. It has slightly different forms, but it appears as a sort of common denominator in all such religions. This pagan belief was injected into "Christianity" at a very early date. With such common, belief and teachings, it is only natural that we, too, took it for granted long before we ever looked into the Bible to see what the Creator God has to say on the. subject. God says that Satan has deceived the whole world (Rev. 12:9). He has deceived a lot of sincere people into thinking that the Bible teaches the immortality of the • soul, when we have just seen it teaches the exact opposite.
Life after death
Since the soul can and does die, does this mean that there is no life possible after death? Not at all! Jesus said, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29). Every man, woman and child who has ever lived is in due time going to be brought back to life in a resurrection. Some will be given immortality — eternal life as a spirit being to be in God's Kingdom in a happy, full, abundant and productive life. Others will be given a chance to learn of God's way of life. And the incorrigibly wicked will be destroyed in the lake of fire (gehenna fire) that Christ talked about. Paul also wrote of this in detail in I Corinthians 15: "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (verses 51-54).
Our great hope
If you want to understand more about the resurrection — the great hope of the Christian — write for our free articles: "If You Die Will You Live Again?" and "What Will You Be Like in the Resurrection?" Truly, the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. This truth, the truth about the soul, is one such example. The truth about the resurrection offers a great hope in the future for God's people. It also promises great things for most of the rest of mankind who will yet learn about the Great God and His wonderful ways.