We have seen that the Bible forbids all attempts to communicate with the dead (see Deuteronomy 18:11). There are two reasons: 1) Demons can easily impersonate those who have died, thereby tricking the living into communicating with them; and 2) It is impossible for the dead to talk with the living anyway. I hope to prove this below.
David prayed, “Open my eyes” (Psalm 119:18). May this be our prayer.
There are essentially two different views about the nature of man that affect one’s beliefs about what happens after death.
- The Immortal Soul view
- The Non-Immortal Soul view
The Immortal Soul view is believed by most of the world’s religions. The idea is that every human body houses an immortal soul that continues after death. When we die, only our body disintegrates back to dust, but the soul goes on, much like a snake shedding its skin. Of course different religions disagree with each other about where souls go after death, but the basic idea of the soul surviving physical decease is shared by most in our society. And like it or not, the Immortal Soul doctrine is the basis of the belief that we can talk to the dead. The reason is simple: the dead supposedly aren’t really dead.
The Non-Immortal Soul view is different and contends that – biblically speaking – the word “soul” applies to the entire person. When God first created Adam in Paradise, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Thus man doesn’t have a separate soul, but rather he is a soul (see also Joshua 10:35, 37, 39; Lev. 23:30; Acts 27:37, KJV). After man sinned, his entire person, or soul, became mortal, or subject to death. When a sinner dies, he or she returns to the dust, and “the breath of life” returns to God. This “breath” is not a conscious entity, but is the spark of life that exists in everything alive. At death, the sinner is truly dead – unconscious, asleep, waiting for the resurrection. This view is sometimes called “soul sleep.”
Which view is right? What does the Bible really say? In the remainder of this article I am going to build a case for the non-immortality of the soul. In future posts I will examine the passages about being “absent from the body” (2 Cor. 5:8), the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43), the appearance of Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:3), the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Paul’s desire to depart and be with Christ (Phil. 1:23) and the martyred souls under the altar (Rev. 6:9-11). These verses are often quoted to support the Immortal Soul teaching. Do they really? We hope to find out. After this, we will closely examine another big topic – the doctrine of Hell.
First, let’s see what the Bible says about “immortality.” As we discovered in Part 2 of this series, after Adam and Eve sinned they were barred from the tree of life, lest they should “eat, and live forever” (Gen. 3:22-24). The message here is that sinners do not naturally “live forever.” Paul wrote that we “seek for glory and honor and immortality” (Romans 2:7) and that Christians will “put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53, 54) on Resurrection Day. Presently, God “only has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach” (1 Tim. 6:16). To me, these verses are clear. Fallen man is not immortal.
Next, what does the Bible say happens at death? Notice carefully: “The living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing…there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you are going” (Eccl. 9:5, 10). “For in death there is no remembrance of You, in the grave who shall give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5). “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence” (Psalm 115:17). “His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:4). These Bible verses say that after death a person knows nothing, has no thoughts, doesn’t remember God, and lies silent in the grave. This is God’s Word, not man’s opinion.
Next, death is sleep. David spoke of “the sleep of death” (Psalm 13:3). All throughout the Old Testament, when kings died, they “slept with their fathers” (1 Kings 2:10). The same is true in the New Testament. When Lazarus died, Jesus Christ said, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping… Jesus spoke of his death” (John 11:11-13). After Stephen was martyred, “he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). Dead Christians “sleep in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:14). Daniel wrote that at the end of time, “many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Thus the dead are sleeping in the dust of the earth. Someday, they will wake up.
Finally, the Christians’ hope is the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection. When our Lord returns, “the dead in Christ shall rise…so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). Look closely. Paul said Christians will “be with the Lord” when He returns. Jesus taught the same thing when He promised His disciples, “I will come again, and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3). Again, look closely. Jesus did not say, “I’ll meet you in Heaven when you die,” but that He would receive us when He returns.
Ultimately, Bible truth is comforting. Our beloved dead are sleeping quietly, awaiting the resurrection when Jesus returns. Truth also protects us from being deceived by heartless, tricky demons who can easily impersonate the dead. I encourage my readers to continue studying this topic prayerfully. I’ll conclude with the words of Jesus Christ Himself:
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28, 29, NKJV).
To be continued…