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The House Church Network: Dedicated to Kingdom Expansion
Do Humans have Immortal Souls?   

This week’s question comes from John, an exchange student in Japan. He asks about the indictment that traditional beliefs such as the Trinity and the existence of an immortal soul are extra-biblical. He asks, “What does the Church have to say about this?”

Since I have previously dealt with the Trinitarian issue in the past, this week we will look specifically at the question of the soul because there are groups who deny the existence of an eternal soul, choosing instead to believe only in a resurrection of the physical body. 

The soul is a concept that has plenty of support, however, it can also be quite a confusing issue. In both Hebrew and Greek the word used for soul can also be legitimately translated as wind, breath, and spirit and it is only through context that we can determine which word in English best represents the thought of the writer. For instance, in Genesis 2 we read that God “breathed” into the human and made it a living “soul.” Both words “breathed” and “soul” have the same root, but it would seem a bit peculiar to say that the human became a living breath.

There is, of course, many more references to the soul in scripture. In Deuteronomy we’re told to love God with all our soul (6.5). In Exodus 31.14 those who choose not to obey are told their “soul will be cut off from his people,” a phrase that doesn’t suggest the death penalty, but that the spirit will be separated from the nation forever. In the New Testament Jesus clearly understands the existence of the soul when he warns, “Don't be afraid of people, who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. The only one you should fear is the one who can destroy the soul and the body in hell” (Matthew 10.28). There is no doubt that in this final passage the word translated soul cannot be mean either “breath” or “wind.” The Bible certainly supports the notion of the transcendent soul.

On the other hand, we read of the resurrection of the body in the New Testament and it is clear that the early church understood that in the end times each of us would be reunited with our body (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17). However, Paul writes another lengthy passage in 1st Corinthians that addresses this issue and seems to indicate that the “resurrection” is something other than a purely physical resurrection. We read, “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.…It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.…I tell you this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:42, 43, 50).

Paul’s description of this resurrection seems to indicate that the reality of a “physical” resurrection, i.e., flesh and bones, is actually something other than that. Indeed, the tag that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom” suggests that the resurrection of the body is more like a resurrection of the soul, which seems to correspond well with much of the rest of scripture.

The existence of the soul has not been seriously questioned by the Christian community any more than the existence of the temporal. Both are understood to have existed from the moment of creation when God breathed the breath of life and we became a living soul.

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