Lots of people believe that everybody has a soul inside them. And that when you die, your soul lives on, and goes somewhere else, perhaps to heaven. But that’s not what the Bible teaches.
- There is no mention of an immortal soul anywhere in the Bible. You won’t find those two words together anywhere.
- No-one has gone to heaven. John 3v13 says:
“No one has ascended into heaven except… the Son of Man.”
Even David, a man after God’s own heart, has not gone to heaven, but is still in his grave:
“For David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2v34)
So what are souls, and where do they go?
Let’s look a bit more closely at what it means in four places which mention souls.
“The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18v4).
So souls are able to die. They cannot be immortal then. In fact, in the letter to Timothy, Paul says that only God is immortal. It’s a very simple verse really – if you sin, you die in the end. That is the message of the Bible, that sin leads to death, and we’ll be coming back to that later.
“And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire.” (Joshua 11v11).
If you have a different version from the ESV, such as the King James version, you might see the word souls there instead of “all who were in it”. In fact the later versions have corrected this. The soul is the life of something: a mortal creature. You can see that here where it’s describing a big battle. Because soul is the mortal life of a person, it can die. So this verse again shows souls in danger of death, and dying. Soul in the Bible means a mortal creature.
In Psalm 49v15, the soul goes to the grave and dies:
“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol” [literally translated, this means the grave].
Only God can resurrect it to life again, by recreating the body from the corruption of the grave. So this is where souls are heading.
In the whole of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for soul (Nephesh) occurs 754 times:
- In 326 places it’s said to be subject to death
- In 203 places it’s in danger of death
- In 16 places it’s delivered from death
- In 119 places it’s simply translated “life” – that which has life. Even the animals in Genesis 1v20 have souls. So the first souls mentioned in the Bible aren’t even people! Animals as well as men are called living souls.
So we can see in the Old Testament that there is no hint that the soul is immortal. But let’s look at the New Testament too:
“And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12v19-20)
This is part of the parable of the rich fool, and it shows him talking to his soul. But of course, he’s really just talking to himself! And we can understand verse 20 as simply indicating that night he will die, and he’s foolish because there’s nothing left to enjoy his bigger barns. The soul is gone; therefore soul here is another word for life.
These things don’t make sense if we think it means something immortal.
So we get a similar thing in the New Testament
The Greek word “psuche” occurs 116 times in the NT.
- In 45 places it is subject to death
- In 29 places it is in danger of death
- In 16 places it is delivered from death
We can see the overwhelming evidence once again that the New Testement does not teach about an immortal soul.
Soul means a living creature. It can be born and it can die. There is no Bible verse which talks about an immortal soul.
The message of the Bible is that people’s lives are very important, and what you do with your life now matters, while you still have it. Because you only get one chance. Life is vulnerable: you don’t know when it will be taken away from you. That’s what we saw in Luke 12 with the man who thought he had years left to live! The message is that when that one chance has gone, you are judged and then either rewarded or punished for your life. We also saw that if you sin (as we all do), you die. Your soul goes to the grave and dies. This helps us to think about the amazing thing Jesus did when he voluntarily gave up his life, despite having not sinned. But our future hope is not for the soul to live on, it is for bodily resurrection, just as Jesus rose from the dead.