Updated: Mar 1
I see the concept of immortality as encompassing our entire triumvirate being of body, mind and spirit. The concept of “Soul” or ψυχή (psūchê), is a Greek concept used primarily by Plato. In Platonic thought the body is the cage of the soul, and is seen as corrupt and evil. The soul must be freed from the cage of the body. This was the position of the Gnostics who denied that God would defile Himself by becoming man in the flesh. First, they thought, the infinite couldn’t be confined in the finite, and God would never have allowed Himself to be corrupted. Therefore, Jesus was either adopted by God and instilled with certain divine attributes at His baptism (Adoptionism), or Jesus was fully God in the guise of a man, like a cloak, or even a spirit (a Phantasoma, or ghost). That is why Jesus proved Himself to His disciples that He wasn’t a ghost in appearing to them during the walking on water incident (Luke Matthew 14:22-33), and the eating (“I am not a ghost. . . have you anything to eat”- eating fish- Luke 24:36-44) after His resurrection, as well as Thomas’ realization of the bodily resurrected Lord- “My Lord, and my God!” (John 20:28). On many occasion Paul had to fend off the heresy of the Gnostics, which still confounds the Church to this day.
In Hebrew, Rouach (Spirit, wind or breath) is described as the Spirit of God present at creation (Gen. 1:2), the breath of God breathed into Adam out of dust (Gen. 2:7), the breath of God giving life to the vast host Ezekiel witnessed (Ezekiel 37:1-14), as well as the breath and spirit which continues to sustain us to this very day (John 20:22).
Accordingly, the Hebrew word nephesh, although translated as "soul" in some older English Bibles, actually has a meaning closer to "living being". Nephesh was rendered in the Septuagint as ψυχή (psūchê), the Greek word for soul. The New Testament also uses the word ψυχή, but with the Hebrew meaning and not the Greek. This enforces the notion that there was a completely different understanding in early Christianity between the Greek use of the term soul, and the Biblical use, as spirit, wind or breath, or “Living Being”.
The proper usage of “spirit” in the New Testament is Pneumata (Spirit- God-breathed). This echoes the Hebrew usage of Spirit, Wind or Breath as found in the word Rouach. It is from this word we get the English word inspiration. 2 Timothy 3:16 illustrates the doctrine of inspiration: “For all of scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”
As for our immortality- God originally created us to be immortal, eternal beings, possessing body, mind and spirit. Remember, we were created in the image of our living, Triune God: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). While we ourselves are not triune, we have been created in the image of the Trinity, reflecting His full reality. God created us to live forever in perfect communion with Him and all of creation. Sin forever changed that (Gen. 3:1 ff).
*Note: God is not only eternal and immortal, but infinite, meaning not bound by time or space. He was not created; thus, He has no beginning, and no end, but infinite. He is the Eternal Now, for not being bound by space or time, everything happens in the present (now) for God. We are finite, and thus limited by time and space. Therefore, we can’t begin to comprehend the infinite nature of God: “For who has known the mind of the Lord” (Romans 11:34)?
Sin brought death. Death is the literal separation from God, not simply a nonexistence of being. “If you eat of the knowledge of the tree of Good and Evil (the tree in the middle of the garden), you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). Satan played up on Eve’s misunderstanding of the Law of God. “Is it true that God said you must not eat of any tree of the garden? The woman said to the serpent, we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die” (Gen. 3:1-3). God never said they couldn’t touch the tree. He simply said you must not eat of the tree. Herein lies the trap! “You will not surely die!” (Gen. 3:4) Eve touched it, didn’t die and saw truth in the lies of the serpent. She believed the lie because she herself was dealing with a misunderstanding of the Word of God.
The death that first came was the spiritual death. Their spirit was blinded to know God, His will and please Him in any way from that point forward. This was the immediate separation/death, from God. Adam and Eve died spiritually that day. Their spirits were corrupted, tainted forever with sin (Concupiscence- complete corruption). Thus, as a result, they were now to die bodily, as well. To dust they returned. It is a complete death of our nature and being, and one we could not put right by our own efforts. That is why God Himself proclaimed the first Gospel of “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike at his heal” (Gen. 3:15). This is the first promise of the coming Messiah of Jesus who is going to put right went was wrong- who was going to restore eternal life to us via His death and resurrection. What was once declared by God as very good (Creation) became very evil and corrupt (“as in birth pangs awaiting its Savior to be revealed-Romans 8:22), to being restored to being Very Good- the Tree of Life Restored.
The spirit of man is truly immortal. There is no true concept of “soul sleep” as some believe there to be. In I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul says:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,[a] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Paul here is not saying that the spirit of a person sleeps. He is saying that the appearance to those of us who are still alive see them as but sleeping. The concept of the spirit of man is still in existence and alive. The eternal, immortal spirit of man never sleeps, or ceases to exist. In Hebrew, the term for hell is Shehol- a holding place of souls until the day of final judgement- like a prison, not Purgatory (a non-biblical concept). The same is found in the Greek word hades: the prison holding cell of spirits/souls. Neither term is used as a reference to the eternal place of hell which comes after the judgement of the living and dead on the final day of the Lord- the resurrection.
The Hebrew term for hell is Gehenna: the actual stenching lake of fire and torment. This was also a literal place outside of the walls of Jerusalem where criminals were executed, garbage was burned and lepers were housed. This is the site of Golgotha- a veritable Hell on earth! When the eternal Hell is referenced, Gehenna is the word which is used.
In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus uses the reference “Abraham’s bosom” to describe the place where Lazarus’ spirit found rest until the day of judgement (Luke 16:19-31). The place where the Rich man ended up is Hades, and the Greek word used here for torment, means the “jailer who torments”. So, in a literal reading, verse 23 reads: “In Hades, where he was tormented by his jailer, he looked up with an envious eye and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.” In contrast, here is the NIV translation: “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.” Same verse, but look at the nuance which is lacking in the English translation.
Therefore, even though the body has died, the spirit lingers on, either in the Bosom of Abraham (a poetic place of peace and comfort- by Jesus side, “Truly I say to you, this day you will be with Me in Paradise Luke 23:43), or in the torments of hades- the jail. Gehenna has yet to come (from our finite perspective).
The culmination of our faith will be found in the resurrection to eternal life or death (separation from God) on the last Day of the Lord- Judgement Day. This is what Paul is referencing in I Thess. 4 as a source of hope and comfort to those grieving the loss of their loved ones: “We don’t want you to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope (unbelief).” We will rise on the last day, and “who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies, so that they will be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Body, spirit and mind will be united, transformed, glorified on that final day of the resurrection to eternal life. But to those who have locked the gate to Gehenna from the inside via their unbelief and rejection of God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ, their reunited bodies, mind and spirits will be cast into eternal Gehenna, “Where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42).
Thus, we were created for immortality, and we shall have immortality; body, mind and spirit, either in glory as intended by the grace of God, in communion with Him for eternity (a new heaven and earth- Tree of Life restored), or eternal death- meaning eternal separation from God, and torment in Gehenna. The resurrection is the final victory over sin, death and the devil. It is everything we hope and long for. It is the culmination of our faith. That is the meaning of the book of Revelation: that even though we suffer for a time in this world, and even though we are separated from loved ones via physical death of our bodies, and even though it appears that sin, death and Satan have won (the believers were suffering great persecution at the hands of Nero), they have indeed lost in the victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The first time He came to our world was for life, “For God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to reconcile the world unto Himself” (John 3:17). He second coming is the coming of judgement of the living and the dead: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). Thus, the fullness of our true immortal nature shall be realized, resurrected in body, mind and spirit.
**One last Note: The resurrection on the last day will not be a fleshly resurrection, as we currently have flesh and blood. In Greek, sarqks refers to flesh. Paul said, “Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven” I Corinthians 15:50. Rather, Paul speaks of a Soma, or bodily resurrection. How this will happen? We don’t know. Paul says, we will be changed in a blinking of an eye- by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:2).