Do we have immortal souls, and do we go to heaven or hell immediately at death? It has been so engrained in our culture that we all possess an immortal soul, that we, in the Christian church, seldom question it, or are even willing to entertain the idea we may not have immortal souls. What does scripture say about an immortal soul? Where do we get the notion that if we are believers, some non-material part of us ascends to heaven where the creator is? I define who I consider to be the literal creator of everything as יהוה, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The purpose of this exercise is to question what you believe, why you believe it, and make you, the reader, not rely on tradition, what any denomination teaches, or what some famous evangelist has taught, but to make you want to study, and pray that God, יהוה, through his spirit, would show you what the scriptures say. I also reserve the right to be wrong, and change my mind upon further study.
What was the penalty for disobeying God in the garden?
Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
Gen 3:2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,
Gen 3:3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
Gen 3:4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
Gen 3:5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Eve knew what God said. Eat of the fruit and you will die. But the deceiver told her she wouldn’t die, but be like God if she ate the fruit. If death were not significant, what would it change?
Gen 3:22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—
”Gen 3:23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.
So now, Adam and Eve had to be removed from the garden so they wouldn’t become immortal in a fallen state by eating from the tree of life. The tree of life shows up again in the last book, Revelation, at the end of this age.
Rev 22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
Rev 22:15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Notice “for without” in verse 15 referencing “his commandments” in verse 14. Material for a future study.
What does Paul say about sin and death?
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If we look to the people who saw a vision of heaven that are in scripture, their stories are similar. No one spoke of seeing their dead grandparents happily worshipping around the throne of God. Paul didn’t even want to say what he saw
Eze 1:24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings.
Eze 1:25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.
Eze 1:26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.
Eze 1:27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him.
Eze 1:28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
Isa 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Isa 6:2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
Isa 6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Isa 6:4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
Isa 6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Isa 6:6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
Isa 6:7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
2Co 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.
2Co 12:3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—
2Co 12:4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
2Co 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—
2Co 12:6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
The verse that is often referenced when speaking of immortal souls is Paul’s famous, “absent from the body, present with the Lord”, verse.
2Co 5:8 We are confident, I say,and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Is Paul saying here once our spirit is absent from our body, it is immediately present with the Lord? Let’s put it in context.
2Co 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2Co 5:2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
2Co 5:3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.
2Co 5:4 For we that are in thistabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
2Co 5:5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
2Co 5:6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
2Co 5:7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
2Co 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
2Co 5:9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
2Co 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Why don’t we want to be found naked? What is the earthly tabernacle or tent that dissolves, and what is the building made by God eternal in the heavens? Is that building a non-material spirit we possess now, that will be freed at death as the Greek philosophers believed? Or is Paul expounding on his other writings concerning the resurrection of the flesh?
Here is what a second century church father, Ireneaus, has to say about the subject in Against Heresies, book 5, chapter 31:
1. Since, again, some who are reckoned among the orthodox go beyond the pre-arranged plan for the exaltation of the just, and are ignorant of the methods by which they are disciplined beforehand for incorruption, they thus entertain heretical opinions. For the heretics, despising the handiwork of God, and not admitting the salvation of their flesh, while they also treat the promise of God contemptuously, and pass beyond God altogether in the sentiments they form, affirm that immediately upon their death they shall pass above the heavens and the Demiurge, and go to the Mother (Achamoth) or to that Father whom they have feigned. Those persons, therefore, who disallow a resurrection affecting the whole man (universam reprobant resurrectionem), and as far as in them lies remove it from the midst [of the Christian scheme], how can they be wondered at, if again they know nothing as to the plan of the resurrection? For they do not choose to understand, that if these things are as they say, the Lord Himself, in whom they profess to believe, did not rise again upon the third day; but immediately upon His expiring on the cross, undoubtedly departed on high, leaving His body to the earth. But the case was, that for three days He dwelt in the place where the dead were, as the prophet says concerning Him: “And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them, to rescue and save them.”51And the Lord Himself says, “As Jonas remained three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth.” (Mat 12:40) Then also the apostle says, “But when He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?” (Eph 4:9) This, too, David says when prophesying of Him, “And thou hast delivered my soul from the nethermost hell;” (Psa 86:13) and on His rising again the third day, He said to Mary, who was the first to see and to worship Him, “Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to the disciples, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and unto your Father.” (Joh 20:17)
So how then, does a person obtain immortality, if we do not have an immortal soul? The writer of Hebrews considers the resurrection of the dead elementary, something he did not need to address because it was common knowledge like laying on of hands and eternal judgement. Do you know anything about the resurrection of the dead? Or is it not important to you because you believe your spirit goes to heaven at death? When was the last time you have heard the resurrection of the dead taught?
Heb 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
Heb 6:2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
The resurrection is the hope we have to not perish through Jesus conquering death.
Joh 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Joh 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Joh 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Joh 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Joh 3:20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
Joh 3:21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
On a side note, how does the scripture define light? Truth? Wicked things? Questions for another time.
Resurrection of the dead:
Dan 12:1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation evento that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
Dan 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame andeverlasting contempt.
Dan 12:3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
Luk 14:13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
Luk 14:14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
1Co 15:16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
1Co 15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
1Co 15:18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
1Co 15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
1Co 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
1Co 15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
What does he mean by those who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished? How can that be if their spirit was in heaven? Every man in his own order: Christ is the first fruits and afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
1Co 15:35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
1Co 15:36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
1Co 15:37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
1Co 15:38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
1Co 15:39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
1Co 15:40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial isone, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
So when do we get resurrected and given this new body?
1Co 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
1Co 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
1Co 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1Co 15:53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal mustput on immortality.
1Co 15:54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
1Co 15:55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
1Co 15:56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
1Co 15:57 But thanks beto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Co 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
So what do you believe? Why? Remember the words of Paul to Timothy.
2Ti 2:14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.
2Ti 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2Ti 2:16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,
2Ti 2:17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
2Ti 2:18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.
2Ti 2:19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
2Ti 2:20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.
2Ti 2:21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
2Ti 2:22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
2Ti 2:23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
2Ti 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,
2Ti 2:25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,
2Ti 2:26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
The English Standard and King James Versions were used for the above passages.