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Don Stewart :: Can the Spirit, or Soul, Be Destroyed?

Don Stewart
The Bible teaches that humans are made up of both body and spirit. Life begins when the two are united, and life ends when the two are separated.

Death Of The Spirit?

What about the immaterial part of humans? Can this part, known as the spirit, or the soul, die? Does the soul become extinct? The Bible has much to say about this issue.

Testimony Of Scripture

From the first page of the Bible until the last, Scripture consistently teaches that humans have an immaterial part that will last forever. It is not possible for the soul, or spirit, to be destroyed. We will cite just a few examples of the biblical teaching on the subject.

Adam

When judgment was pronounced upon Adam for sinning against the Lord, it was his body that was judged to go back to its original elements.

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 spirit, however, was not judged to return to dust because it was breathed into Adam by the breath of God. The body became dust but the spirit went elsewhere. Never do we find the Bible teaching that the spirit can be annihilated or become extinct.

Made For Eternity

Scripture teaches that we have been made for eternity.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of humans; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

One part of us, our soul, has been made to live forever.

Implies Continual Life

The distinction that the Bible makes between the body and the spirit is taught in such a way as to imply continual life of the spirit after the body dies. The Bible says.

and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Existence Of A Place Of The Dead

The fact that the Scriptures speak of a place where the dead exist shows they have not been utterly annihilated. Isaiah the prophet said.

The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you - all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones - all those who were kings over the nations (Isaiah 14:9).

Enoch And Elijah

Two Old Testament characters, Enoch and Elijah, did not die, but rather went to be with God.

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:24).

Of Elijah it was said.

As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).

This certainly implies existence beyond the grave. Since they did not die, something must have happened to them and their bodies.

New Testament

Jesus promised eternal life to those who believe in Him.

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25,26).

Clearly this speaks of life after this life. Obviously He was not talking about physical death when He said those who believed in Him would never die.

Abraham, Isaac, And Jacob

In a dialogue with the Sadducees, Jesus spoke of the existence of those who had previously died.

But about the resurrection of the dead - have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living (Matthew 22:31,32).

Though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been long since dead when God spoke to Moses, God said to him, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." He did not say "I was their God." According to Jesus, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still living, though they had died physically.

Judgment

Jesus also spoke of the judgment of all humanity.

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:28,29).

If the dead are going to be judged when the graves are opened, then obviously life does not end with physical death. There is some type of existence beyond the grave.

Soul Cannot Die

The Scripture says the spirit, or soul, cannot be annihilated. Though the body may die, the spirit will live on. Death, therefore is not the end of conscious life. It is the separation of the body and the spirit. The spirit, however, lives on in another realm. The body is only the temporary residence of humans. Jesus said.

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).

Destroy has the idea of punish, not annihilate. The destruction of the soul means separation from the life of God. Though living, the soul of the unbeliever has no connection whatsoever to God.

Souls Under Altar

The Bible speaks of souls of the dead being under the altar.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained (Revelation 6:9).

They were still existing after their physical death.

Second Death

If death were the end of existence, then why does the Bible speak of the second death of unbelievers?

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death (Revelation 2:11).

The idea of a second death for unbelievers is another indication that physical death is not the end of existence.

Transfiguration

At the transfiguration of Jesus, Moses and Elijah appeared.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him (Matthew 17:3).

This gives further testimony to life after death. Moses had been dead for over a thousand years and Elijah had been taken up in a chariot of fire hundreds of years earlier.

Be With Christ

Paul wrote to the Philippians that He wanted to be with Christ.

I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (Philippians 1:23).

This is another indication of continued existence after death.

Desire To Live Forever

The Bible also says that the great saints of Scripture were looking to a better existence beyond this life. The writer to the Hebrews said.

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Nothing Can Separate

Finally, the Bible says that nothing will separate the believer from the love of God - not even death.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).

Summary

The Bible says that the body of a human will return to dust upon death but the spirit survives. Consequently the spiritual part of us can never die. Life and death are two states of existence, they are not existence and non-existence. This is the consistent teaching in both testaments. Believers in God's promises look forward to the day when they would be live in His presence. Death is not the end of existence.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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