Many Christians believe that the body and soul are two separate things. What does the Bible say? In chapter two of Genesis we learn how God created the first human being. After God said, “Let Us make man in Our image,” He formed man from the dust. He breathed life into the man’s nostrils and the man came to life. Man became a living soul. The soul has no life apart from the body. The man’s body was lifeless until God breathed life into him.
Does the soul die? According to the Bible it does. ““Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). The word used for soul is nephesh, the same word used in Genesis 2:7. So, the soul is the living being–the person. It is who the person is. He is a living soul.
What happens when a person dies? King Solomon tells us. “All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The word used for “spirit” here is “ruwach”, the same word Job uses for “breath” when he said, “Who among all these does not know That the hand of the Lord has done this, In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?” (Job 12:9, 10). Job also said, “The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). He uses the word “nĕshamah” which was used in Genesis 2:7 for the “breath” of life. God gives us the breath of life and we become living souls. When we die, our bodies (souls or beings) return to dust. God said so Himself. “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
Psalm 146:4 tells us what happens to a person who dies. “His spirit (ruwach) departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.” The person’s breath leaves his body and he goes to the grave where he has no consciousness.
“For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share In anything done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6).
The Bible does not teach that the body and soul are separate entities. The soul does not depart when a person dies. The breath of life is the only thing that leaves a person at the moment of death. The soul is the person. Without the breath of God it has no life.
But what about the texts which seem to imply that the soul is separate from the body? Genesis 35:18 says: “And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.” The word used for soul is nephesh. It means life. So, when you substitute the word soul with life, the verse reads, “And it came to pass, as her life was departing or as she was dying, she called his name…
The other text is Matthew 10:28 where Jesus said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The word used for soul is psychē which means breath, life. In the preceding verses Jesus was telling the disciples about the persecutions they would face. Luke mentions this in his gospel. Luke 12:4, 5 state: “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”
Jesus was teaching them about the fear of God. He was saying that rather than fear those who kill the body they ought to fear God who has the power to cast the unsaved into hell (“Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire”). This was the place where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned. While men can kill and take away the physical life God has the power to give eternal life.
Hell is not a place where the wicked will burn for eternity. This teaching maligns the character of God who cares for everyone, including the wicked. It is not His will that anyone should perish. Jesus mentioned that hellfire which is what will come down from Heaven was meant for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). According to Malachi 4:3, the wicked will become ashes. This means those whose names are not written in the Book of the Life will not burn forever and ever but will be consumed by the fire of judgment until they are no more. Revelation 21:8 confirms this: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” This is the second death. This means that they will die and will not be resurrected ever again. So, their death is final. They will not be tormented forever and ever but will perish in this fire.
Jude said that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the vengeance of eternal fire but Peter said that God turned “the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned [them] to destruction, making [them] an example to those who afterward would live ungodly;(Jude 1:7, 2 Peter 2:6). So, the fire which consumed Sodom and Gomorrah burned the cities to ashes. It may have burned for a long time but it eventually went out. It is the same with the fire which will consume the devil, the beast and the false prophet and the unsaved. It may burn for a long time but it will eventually go out.
We should have reverential fear for God who has the power over eternal life and eternal death. “I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid
Of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12). Why should we fear man who will perish like we will? Why should we fear those who persecute us for our Lord’s sake? They can’t do more than kill us. They may snuff out our lives but when Jesus returns with the angels, those of us who died in Him will be raised to everlasting life. Don’t fear what man can do to you but live your life in obedience and in a way that is pleasing to God so that you may be counted worthy of His kingdom, for which you suffer (2 Thessalonians 1:5).
Let these words of Paul encourage you, “it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:6:10).