Is Man’s soul Immortal?

By Lawrence Young 

The doctrine of immortality of man's soul constitutes a central pillar that upholds pivotal beliefs of numerous mainstream Christian denominations, which dovetails into the doctrine of an eternal place of torment for lost souls. The details of the doctrine of immortality are described clearly in the following excerpt by John Gill, an 18th century Baptist pastor, scholar, and theologian.

“Though the body dies, and when it dies, the soul dies not; it survives the body, and not only lives after it, but lives forever, it never dies: though the body without the soul is dead, yet the soul without the body is not dead; when the body returns to the earth and dust, from whence it sprung, the soul returns to God, the immediate author and giver of it: the body may be killed by men, but not the soul; no man has any power over that, none but God that made it: the soul is immortal, it is not capable of death, that is, in a natural and proper sense; it is capable of dying, in a figurative sense, a moral or spiritual death; which is brought on by sin; but this lies not in a deprivation of the powers and faculties of it; but of its moral rectitude, righteousness, and holiness; and it is capable of an eternal death, which is the destruction of it in hell; that is, not a destruction of its substance, but of its peace, joy, and happiness forever. 

"When it is said, the soul is immortal, it must be understood, that it is so in its nature; and is not liable to death, either from any thing within itself or without it: but not that it has such an immortality as God Himself has, 'who only hath immortality;' he has it of himself: angels, and the souls of men, have their immortality of him, who has made them immaterial and immortal spirits; his immortality is without beginning, and any prior cause of it; theirs has a beginning from God, the first cause of them: His is independent; theirs depends on Him, in whom they live, and move, and have their being.” From A Body of Doctrinal Divinity Book 7, Chapter 2, by John Gill. Published by Providence Baptist Ministries & The Baptist Standard Bearer:

I want to know more about this “pillar” doctrine: Does the Bible truly support the view that man's soul is immortal? Indeed, the Bible does clearly state in numerous places that man's soul is granted immortality and eternal life as a result of the resurrection of the saved when Jesus returns. So my question really focuses on the timeframe between when a person dies and when they are resurrected again, and ultimately what the final state will be of those who were resurrected but then are cast into a place of eternal torment.

According to the doctrine of immortality, everyone who ever lived gets eternal life... so it just depends upon where they are while awaiting resurrection, and whether they will spend eternity in Heaven or in torment. Nobody I have ever known can truly comprehend numbers like a trillion octillion or a google, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that eternal torment is an unspeakable unfathomable punishment... and nobody in their right mind would dare to consciously make the choice to be tormented for eternity. Can you imagine living in Heaven nine hundred million years from now, knowing that a loved one who wasn’t saved is still very much alive and is still being tormented somewhere for a wrong decision they made nine hundred million years ago? If you are a Christian who believes in immortality of the soul and resulting eternal torment for the lost, what are the chances you honestly made your decision for Christ motivated by inescapable fear of punishment, rather than upon deep love for your Savior? From my understanding of biblical principles and life itself, the devil is the one who uses compulsion and force and abject fear to obtain your allegiance, whereas God and Jesus limit themselves to wooing and inviting and loving.

Each of us will absolutely find out the truth about the doctrine of immortality soon enough: It’s as close as your last breath here on this planet. However, isn’t it also true that you will be held responsible for the decisions you’ve made while you were still alive here on this planet? But does it really matter whether you understand the truth about this doctrine now or ever? Yes it does! If you really believe you will absolutely have an eternal living existence no matter whether it’s Heaven or Hell, isn’t it also true that out of un- imaginable terror you will cling to any iron clad sounding assurances of salvation? Thus the adjoining doctrine of once saved always saved. So you better make sure you are absolutely right about all this before you take your last breath, not after.

Jesus said that only God His Father has immortality, not you or me... at least not until the saved are resurrected and given immortality. Malachi also says clearly that those who are not saved will be burnt up root and branch upon the new earth. That doesn’t sound like eternal existence and eternal torment linked together for the lost.

The Bible does talk about Hell and torment for ever; doesn’t that prove an eternal Hell and eternal existence for those who are in Hell? Yes, there will be a temporary Hell, a place of torment and gnashing of teeth and fire. But once the work of the flames is done, the lost soul will be destroyed completely, root and branch, and there will be nothing remaining but ashes. Malachi 4:1-3: “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.” Please notice that Malachi uses the word “day” three times to describe the length of this event. Does that sound like eternity to you? How can those who are saved be walking on the burned ashes of the wicked if the wicked are still alive in Hell for eternity? If you still believe in an eternal burning Hell, then those who are saved can’t return to the new earth for eternity...because the wicked will never be burned up completely... but that doesn’t make any sense at all. Malachi 4 only makes sense if you accept the simple premise that the lake of fire only lasts a very short time, and that the wicked... soul and all... are destroyed there.

Revelation says that following the destruction of Hell and death and the wicked in the lake of fire, that all things will be made new: Revelation 20:13-15 and Revelation 21:1. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. 

Most Christian denominations promote the idea that everyone who dies goes immediately to their reward, either Heaven or to Hell.

This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea."

Then there’s the sticky business of what becomes of the soul of man while he is dead... up until the time he is resurrected. Most Christian denominations promote the idea that everyone who dies goes immediately to their reward, either to Heaven or to Hell. If that’s so, there would be no need for a resurrection or a judgment at all... but the Bible is clear that there will be two resurrections and judgment.

When Martha’s brother Lazarus died, and Jesus resurrected him, did that mean that Lazarus had to exit eternal life in Heaven so he could come back to this sinful, dark planet again and maybe even be lost eternally next time around when he died again? Did anyone give Lazarus a “gag order” to not talk about the things he saw in Heaven while he was dead? The same thing must go for anyone else who was resurrected from the dead any time in history. And we’re not talking about clinical death for a few minutes or an hour... we’re talking about after three days and Lazarus was rotting away.

I recently posed the question of immortality of the soul to a close friend who is convicted that the soul is immortal, that once you choose Christ that you can never be lost, and that eternal torment awaits those who refused to accept Christ. I told my friend that if I were among the lost, and if his God would keep me alive to torment me for eternity in Hell, then his God must be the devil. Then my friend told me emphatically I was committing blasphemy, placing the attributes of the devil onto God. But what if just the opposite is actually true? What if the real God doesn’t think that it’s justice to torment lost souls for trillions and trillions of years...with even that only being the beginning of suffering? What if God’s justice is to mercifully destroy the lost quickly and completely along with Hell and death before making the earth new and ready for occupancy by the saved?

From my understanding of the Bible and my ongoing relationship with Jesus my Savior, I believe He will never take away my power of choice during this life on earth—that I can choose to follow Jesus now and be saved and that it’s also possible for me to consistently turn away from Him later and be lost. I believe that I don’t have immortality until it is granted me when I am made new in the first resurrection.

Lastly, there’s two more pieces of Scripture that are used to try to prove that the soul is immortal and that Hell lasts forever:

Luke 16:20-31, concerning Lazarus the beggar and a rich man, and after both died, the rich man in Hell conversed with Abraham in Heaven. Those who are in favor of immortality of the soul and eternal torment for the lost in Hell believe this to be a true story. Those who are in favor of seeing this as a parable, believe that this is a lesson to show that even if Lazarus were to return from the dead to preach to the rich man’s family, they wouldn’t be persuaded... because they didn’t believe Moses or the prophets. So is this a real story that Jesus told, or was it a parable that Jesus used to make a point? Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 10:28: “And 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.” If the Scripture about Lazarus the beggar is a parable, there’s no conflict with Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28. Otherwise, Jesus' words directly conflict with each other.

Revelation 20:10: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.” This verse in plain English clearly says that the false prophet and the beast (the devil) are now in the lake of fire forever. So, when John the Revelator wrote this, was Satan in the lake of fire at that time, or is Satan still running to and fro like a lion today, seeing who he can devour? There’s been plenty of discussion among theologians on the original Greek tenses used in this verse, and how Bible translators chose to put this into other languages... including English. If this verse is understood to promote an eternal burning Hell, then the remainder of Revelation 20 becomes contradictory and murky, and also contradicts Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28 and the words in Malachi 4 and Paul in 1Corinthians 15:53. However, if the meaning behind the Greek tenses of Revelation 20:10 were better understood, it would likely read: ‘And the devil that deceived them will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet shall be tormented day and night, once and for all.’ Do you want to base your eternity on a murky English translation of a verse that directly contradicts the rest of the Bible?

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

The apostle Paul clearly states God’s position on where, when, and how immortality begins and is bestowed in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. Isn’t Paul making it clear then that we don’t have immortality until resurrection day? 

I pray that you will consider the continuity of the messages of hope given to us in the Bible. There are many more examples across the pages of the Bible that attest to the mortality of man and his being, that immortality is reserved only for those who will be saved in God’s kingdom, and that the lost will be consumed in the Lake of Fire, root and branch, prior to the recreation of the New Earth. The devil put God’s character on the line, but God has vindicated His character through the infinite sacrifice of Jesus, His one and only Son.