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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Is Physical Death?

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Don Stewart
No matter what our status in life, rich or poor, young or old, sooner or later our bodies will cease to function - we will die. The frequency rate of death has been the same from the beginning. Nothing can keep this from happening to us. Death brings pain to everyone. It does not matter what words are said over the dead body, or how normal the corpse looks when it is all dressed up. When someone has been lost, we ask ourselves, "What happens next?" Consequently, it is important that we discover what the Bible, God's authoritative Word, says about this subject.

Life Is Temporary

Scripture recognizes that this life is only temporary. The psalmist wrote.

LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is (Psalm 39:4).

In another place we read.

As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more (Psalm 103:15,16).

Death Means Separation

In the Bible, the main idea behind the word "death" is "separation." Adam's natural life began with the union of the body and the spirit. His death was the separation of the two. Whenever physical death is spoken of in Scripture, it has the same idea - the separation of the spirit from the physical body.

Death Of Adam

When God pronounced the judgment of death upon Adam, He spoke of Adam's body returning to dust.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19).

The body, that is made up of dust, will return to dust. The remainder of Scripture teaches the same truth - physical death is the separation of the body from the spirit.

Testimony Of Scripture

The Bible testifies that death is the giving up, or the departure of, the spirit from the body.

And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." And having said this, He breathed His last (Luke 23:46).

Spirit Returns

Another biblical example, that death is the departure of the spirit from the body, can be found in the raising of Jairus' daughter. This young girl had died and Jesus came to bring her back to life.

But He [Jesus] took her by the hand and called out, "Child, get up!" Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then He directed them to give her something to eat (Luke 8:54,55).

The Bible describes her coming back to life as "her spirit returning to her." This is another evidence of death as the departure of the spirit. The Book of James makes this abundantly clear.

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead (James 2:26).

Begins Immediately

From the moment we are born, we begin to die. The human body is described as a body of death. Paul wrote.

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24).


Sometimes death is looked at as a process. It is spoken of as the gradual weakening of the body. This weakening ultimately ends in death - the cessation of bodily functions.

So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:12,16).

An Enemy

Physical death, or the separation of the body from the spirit, is described in Scripture as an enemy of humanity.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

End Of Life As Far As Humans Know

As far as human knowledge is concerned, death is the end of all life and existence for that person. It is the place of no return.

The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. . . Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10).

In Job we read.

As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more (Job 7:9,10).

before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow (Job 10:21).

Consequently, if there is existence after death, the answer has to come from some other source than human reason or observation.


Death means separation. Physical death is the separation of the body from the spirit. The history of the creation of the first human being shows that he was made with a body and a spirit. When the judgment of death was pronounced upon Adam, his body was said to return to dust. This process of dying, which begins at the moment we are born, is an enemy of humanity. It is an inescapable fact, something we all must face.
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