Does the Bible teach an immortal soul?
info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
The Greek word psyche (as in psychology) has been translated many ways, including soul and life. However, psyche literally means something that breathes. It’s only used in the Bible to describe both breathing animals and breathing humans. It can also mean life or your inner person.
So by the Bible’s definition, a soul cannot leave the body, because a soul is what the living body (whether human or animal) actually is (see Genesis 2:7).
In ancient Greece, philosophers eventually added another meaning to psyche: The inner person (as opposed to the person that others see and come to know). With time, Greeks began to believe that this inner person is its own entity and can never die (is immortal). –For more information, see the Wikipedia article on ‘Soul.
Unfortunately, the doctrine that humans have an immortal soul (not that they are souls) began to be adopted by Christians around the beginning of the 2nd century CE, after Jesus’ Apostles died. This Greek teaching directly contradicts Jesus’ promise of a resurrection.
Because, if a person is immortal (can never die), he/she can never be resurrected (‘stand again’).
Notice that the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul is totally without support from the Bible. For the word immortal(ity) (gr. athanasia or undying) is only mentioned in the Bible in two places, and it isn’t used with or applied to the word soul in either case. Rather, both of these scriptures show that immortality is only given by God as a reward for righteousness.
And as Ezekiel 18:4 says:
‘The person (gr. psyche or soul) that is sinning will die (gr. apothaneitai).’
Of course, there are places in the Bible where the word soul means more than just a living, fleshly body.
God is recorded to have spoken of ‘My Soul’ in several places.
Obviously, God is much more than just a ‘soul’ as most people think of that term, and He surely wasn’t talking about His having a human body.
So we must conclude that what He was referring to is His inner person.
But if this is true, then why did Jesus say what he did as found at Matthew 10:28, where we read:
‘Don’t fear those that can kill the body,
But can’t kill the person within (gr. psyche).
Rather, fear the One that can fully destroy (gr. apolesai),
The person and the body in the garbage (gr. geenne).’
What was Jesus actually saying?
In this case, he appears to be using the word psyche (soul) to refer to the value of life that remains with God until the resurrection.
He obviously isn’t referring to the soul as being immortal in this instance;
Because he says that God will destroy the [unrighteous] soul or person.
Unfortunately, no single word can be used to translate psyche in every possible Bible application. So, various terms are used herein depending on the circumstances, but always in an attempt to harmonize with the true meaning of the Greek word.