Scripture mentions the “SOUL” over 700 times. There are several different definitions of SOUL. What is important to understand is that not all of the scriptural references to SOUL consistently point to the SAME definition. Each passage must be carefully and prayerfully researched to properly determine which definition applies to a specific passage. As in all interpretaions of scripture the sound priniples of systematic theology must be properly employed.
In addition to the proper definition of the SOUL, in each specific passage of scripture, the associated nature of the existence of the SOUL must also be given careful individual consideration.
Many doctrines teach that the SOUL is eternal. It is significant to determine whether or not such doctrines are founded upon a proper interpretation of scripture because, if it is the assumption that the SOUL is eternal, that idea lays the foundation for the possible eternal torment of the soul. Obviously, if it can be shown that ALL souls are NOT arbitrarily eternal, then the difference between the SOUL that dies (or perishes) is distinctly different from the SOUL that receives redemption and ETERNAL LIFE.
It is important to understand that according to scripture (John 3:16), there are only two possible destinies for ALL souls: “perish” or “eternal life”.
Comparisons of Old Testament passages with ones in the New Testament further indicate the utter and FINAL END of life for the unrighteous SOUL.
“Babylon trembles and writhes in pain, for all that the Lord has planned against her stands unchanged. Babylon will be left desolate WITHOUT A LIVING SOUL” – Jer. 51:28.
“Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be FOUND NO MORE AT ALL“ – Rev. 18:21 [see also: Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2-10].
These passages are, of course, prophetic & Babylon is used figuratively as the GREAT WHORE in Revelation, indicating ALL who oppose the will of God.
Many terms used in regards to the judgment of the wicked have been unduly influenced by tradition and mythology, “torment” being one of them. I believe the greatest “torment” will be the realization of the loss of eternal life. Observations on the “non-existent” state of the SOUL, lead to seemingly contradictive statements about the incorruptibility of the SOUL.
Therefore, consider this specific scriptural reference:
“Seeing ye have purified your souls . . . being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away: but the word of the Lord endures forever.“ 1Pt.1:22-25.
According to this passage ONLY the faithful, born again believer’s SOUL is incorruptible and thereby deemed immortal. There is also a contrast made between ALL flesh & the Word which abides FOREVER. Throughout scripture “all flesh” is a wider reference to “humanity”, not just the physical “body” but mankind’s whole being (body & soul).
Further study regarding the soul reveals Jews believed that the greatest punishment or consequence of not adhering to God’s commands was to be cut off from one’s national identity. The majority of Jews even today, disregard ideology that espouses an eternal hell, because they expect the here and now to produce the fulfillment of ALL God’s promises, good and bad, reward or judgment.
They refer to Gen. 17:14 – “That soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.“ The theme is repeated through Exodus 12:15, 19; 31:14; & many others.
What Judaism believes is quite relevant because it is to them that God delivered the law, and from them God exclusively raised up His prophets. What we know of scipture’s teaching about the SOUL came first through them.
Most references throughout the OT are regarding the WHOLE BEING of a person when the term “soul” is used. This is important to note because many false doctrines teach that all souls are ETERNAL and when separated from the body in death, the soul continues to exist in a perpetual state of consciousness.
Scripture does indicate that after the physical death of the body, the soul within does pass to some form of an “after-life” experience; but it is NOT an ETERNAL condition.
An example of the soul being representative of a person’s WHOLE BEING is Lev.4:1 – “If a soul shall sin through ignorance . . “ [see also Lev. 5:1-17; 6:2; 7:18 – 27; 16:17; 17:10 -15; 19:8; 20:6; 22:3] … plus many others in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua].
There are places where “soul” is used as synonymous with the INVISIBLE ESSENCE of one’s being in phrases like “vexed in my heart & soul”, but NONE of these indicate even remotely, that the soul of any one is arbitrarily ETERNAL.
There is a mention of “the soul of every living thing“ in Job12:10, and specifically, donkeys having a soul – Job 24:5. Are we to believe the souls of every living thing are eternal? According to Job 33 only the ransomed will be brought out of the pit (a reference to an after-life abode) into the land of the living.
“He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light“ – Job 33:28.
The Psalms use of the term “soul” indicates introspective feelings. Where it is associated with hell, it is in a prophetic sense. “For thou wilt not leave my soul in the pit; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption“ – Ps. 16:10 & Ps. 22.
Again, it is ONLY the ransomed that escape destruction & receive life after the pit – “O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, & thou hast healed me. O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit“ – Ps. 30: 2, 3.
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; to deliver their soul from death, to keep them alive“ – Ps.33:18,19.
Note that the above references to the “pit” come from the Hebrew word “sheol” which literally means “grave”, “tomb”, “seplechure”. Prior to the Greek translation of the OT (the Septuagint) sometime between 200-300 BC, these terms never were thought to indicate an underworld abode of the dead, as was the inference when the Hebrew word “sheol” was substituted with the Greek word “hades”. Hades is exclusive to Greco-Roman mythology and is the netherworld abode of the dead.
Deliverance from destruction is reserved for the soul that faithfully says, “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation“ – Ps. 35:3.
But of the LOST scripture declares, “Let the angel of the Lord condemn them. For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have dug for my soul. Let destruction come upon him unaware and let his net that he has hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall” – Psa. 35: 6-8.
Another reference links the LOST soul to the same fate as animals, “Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me… Man that is in honour, and understands not, is like the beasts that perish“ – Ps.49:14,15,20.
Several verses indicate an END, not a perpetuation of the wicked. “But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more“ – Ps. 104:35.
Proverbs repeats the fate of the wicked as DESTROYING their souls – “…he that does it destroys his own soul“ – Pr. 6:32; “He that sins against me wrongs his own soul: all they that hate me love death.“ – Pr. 8:36.
Scripture also quite clearly designates a profound difference between “mortality” and “immortality”. Everywhere throughout scripture, ONLY the souls of the righteous are associated with having immortality. Nowhere are the wicked or accursed said to live on in perpetuity or continue in an ETERNAL existence.
There remains considerable confusion and debate over terms that signify an after-life existence of the SOUL. The major point of difference is regarding the actual duration of such after-life experiences of the SOUL. Scripture refers to a temporary place of existence for departed SOULS.
The consensus among theologians is that scripture teaches that there are TWO possible destinations for ALL souls immediately aster physical death.
The SOUL of the righteous passes from death into ETERNAL LIFE with God. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. [2Cor. 5:1-8]
The SOUL of the unrighteous is temporarily reserved somewhere awaiting judgment. “They that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” – Jn. 5:29.
According to the vision given to the Apostle John, the souls of the righteous will be part of a “FIRST RESURRECTION” and shall reign with Christ. Those souls not deemed righteous will take part in a “SECOND RESURRECTION” which will then stand before God at “The Great White Throne Judgment” and are eventually cast into “the lake of fire”.
While many believe the lake of fire is a refernce to a netherworld place of torment called “hell” (“hades” in Greco-Roman mythologies) and assume this place to be an eternal dwelling for the lost, that is NOT consistent with scripture.
The lake of fire is ONLY mentioned four times in ALL of scripture, confined to two chapters in the book of Revelation (Rev. 19:20; 20:10,14,15).
In ALL scriptural references to the “lake of fire” it is mentioned as a FINAL JUDGMENT for ALL unrighteousness against GOD – the devil, all demons, every lost soul, and even death and hell are ALL cast into the lake of fire. This is called THE SECOND DEATH.
Further sciptural study reveals that the SECOND DEATH is a final eternal conclusion to ALL SOULS who are doomed to have a part in it. It is FINAL, NON REVERSABLE, and there is NO LIFE after it; thus the title “SECOND DEATH“. There is no further mention of those included in the SECOND DEATH whose destiny it was to utterly PERISH in the lake of fire.
ONLY SOULS who are NOT part of the SECOND DEATH continue to exist ETRNALLY.
For further evidence of this, please read my article on Eternal Separation from God.