Monday, January 28, 2013

Bad Logic on the Immortal Soul

Most Christian churches incorrectly teach that human beings are born with an immortal soul which will live forever, either in eternal reward or eternal punishment. The bible clearly shows that those who follow God's way will live forever; however, it does not state that the human soul is inherently immortal and that God cannot (or will not) destroy it. Rather, immortality is a gift that God gives His people after they have believed, repented, and received the Holy Spirit. Even then, one still has to live a life of overcoming and holding on to that commitment!

Recently, I've read several arguments claiming to prove that humans have an immortal soul. Here's a sampling of them, along with explanations of their various fallacies.

#1 God of the living, not God of the dead

Mark 12:26-27But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read... how God spoke to [Moses], saying, "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.
This scripture does not state that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were born with immortal souls. These are faithful men who were tried and tested by God, and He has already judged that they will receive eternal life. In fact, even people who are "alive" right now in the flesh are actually dead if they have not repented from sin before God. Because all humans have sinned (Romans 3:23), they are by default destined to have their soul destroyed (Romans 6:23) rather than to receive the gift of life.

#2 How can something corruptible put on something incorruptible? 

1 Peter 3:3-4
Do not let your adornment be merely outward... rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
This is a convoluted argument that needs some explaining. The argument breaks down the above scripture as follows:
Peter says that we should adorn ourselves with the incorruptible (i.e. immortal) beauty of a gentle spirit. It wouldn't make sense to put something incorruptible onto something mortal; therefore, a person must already be immortal in order to take on an incorruptible quality.
Once again, this scripture is talking about a converted person, i.e., someone who is on-track to receive eternal life, like Abraham in argument #1. It has nothing to say about whether a person is born with an immortal soul - it simply doesn't address it.

#3 Paul contrasted the inward man (immortal soul) with the outward man (mortal body)

2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 
Hopefully you've caught on by now and already know what I'm going to say here. Paul is speaking to the converted members of the Church, people who have repented and are endeavoring to live by God's ways. It doesn't state that human beings are born with immortal souls!

#4 God set eternity in our hearts

Ecclesiastes 3:11
[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in [men's] hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
This statement is utterly irrelevant to the study of whether humans are born immortal. It doesn't say that man's heart is eternal. If man's heart is eternal, then why would God promise a new heart in such places as Ezekiel 36:26? Furthermore, this interpretation doesn't make any sense in this context. The context implies that the phrase "He has put eternity in [men's] hearts" means that God has given us some understanding of what eternity is. The end of the sentence confirms this interpretation, explaining that this understanding is limited - just because we understand some things about how God exists and operates doesn't mean that we understand God's ways.

#5 Men can't kill your soul

Matthew 10:28
And do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.
This scripture makes two points: firstly, that man cannot destroy another man's soul, and, secondly, that God CAN destroy a man's soul. For this reason, we should fear God rather than men - that's the whole point! I find it frustrating that this scripture is so often cited as proof of the immortal soul. The "trick," so to speak, is that people who use this argument go on to say that to "destroy" a soul is to simply separate it from God forever. The truth is just as the scripture states - as a man can kill the body, so also God can kill the soul. Your soul can die the same way that your body can.

Hidden beneath this scripture is perhaps the heart of much misunderstanding: timing. It is indeed true that a person's soul is not destroyed at his physical death! That destruction, if a person will not submit to God's ways, comes at the time of God's final judgment of all mankind, pictured in Revelation 20:11-15.

Concluding Remarks

As Matthew 10:28 shows, God can kill a human soul. It's true that the essence of a person, their soul, does not die with their physical body; however, that does not mean that it cannot die at some future point. Revelation 20:13 shows that God is going to eventually resurrect all mankind for judgment. Some of those people, those who will not repent and follow God, are going to die a "second death" in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:6&14), and this death is the permanent death of the soul - as Ezekiel 18:20 says, "the soul who sins shall die."

On the other hand, eternal life is indeed promised to all who will believe, repent, and follow God. It is a gift, not something that we're born with. Paul summed this up as concisely and clearly as possible:
Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


  1. In numbers 2 and 3, can you provide more evidence that those are being directed toward converted people? That's not evident from just those verses.

    In number 5, any idea what the word "destroy" was in the original language? I get very nervous when an argument hinges so much on the English translation of a word from another language.

  2. Thanks for the comment - happy to oblige!

    #2 - 1 Peter 3:1-2 gives the context for verses 3 and 4 that I used: "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear." It's speaking specifically to converted women, telling them that their good example may positively influence even an unbelieving husband.

    #3 - The entire book of 2 Corinthians is addressed specifically to the church in Corinth. More specifically, stepping back a couple verses gives more concrete evidence that Paul is speaking to those who are already converted: "And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, 'I believed and therefore I spoke,' we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you" (2 Corinthians 4:13-14). Additionally, the entire idea of verse 16 obviously wouldn't apply to an unbeliever - how could an unbeliever's "inward man" be renewed daily if they are still in a state of condemnation? In such a case, both the inward AND outward man are perishing.

    #5 - The Greek words used for "destroy" (Strong's 622) in Matthew 10:28 has a few different meanings, and it is indeed different than the word used for "kill" in the same verse. It can be used for something that is lost, either literally (Luke 15:8, a coin is lost) or figuratively (Luke 19:10, Christ came to save those who were lost). It can also refer to condemnation from God, which some would claim is eternity in hell, translated as "perish" in Luke 13:3 - "unless you repent you will all likewise perish." However, it also often means literal physical death, referring to the Pharisees plot to "destroy" Jesus in Matthew 12:14 and also specifically referring to the physical death of Zacharias Luke 11:51 when he "perished between the altar and the temple." Those who already believe in the immortality of the soul simply rule out this last meaning for this verse because it doesn't fit their beliefs.

    The word is too versatile to draw a conclusion based on definition alone, so we must consider it in context. Matthew 10:28 says, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." As I stated before, the idea is that we should fear God because He can destroy the soul while men can't - the argument now is over whether "destroy" means the same thing for the soul as it does for the body. If a different meaning were intended between the word for "kill" and the word for "destroy," then perhaps the verse would have been written to reflect that by only applying "kill" to the body and only applying "destroy" to the soul. This is not the case - both words are applied to both the body and soul. Furthermore, "kill" is applied separately ("kill the body but cannot kill the soul"), whereas the verb "destroy" isn't repeated separately ("destroy both body and soul"). This grouping implies that the soul can be destroyed the same way that the body can.


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