Published: 10 June 2024

The Immortal Soul? Part 5: Prooftexts or Proof Missing?

Prooftexts

Many Christians believe the human soul is inherently immortal – that we have an undying, spiritual essence that consciously survives bodily death to live on eternally. This idea is so widely accepted that it’s rarely questioned. However, as we’ve explored in previous articles, the biblical concept of the “soul” encompasses the whole living being, not just an immaterial part that separates from the body after death. The soul is our entire self – our inseparable physical and spiritual nature as created by God. A number of prooftexts are often presented in which people see evidence of an immortal soul. Do these verses teach what people claim?

In examining what the Bible teaches about the soul and the afterlife, we must be careful not to let Platonic philosophical concepts, no matter how widely accepted, cloud our interpretation. Greek notions of an immortal, separable soul deeply infiltrated both Jewish and Christian thought in the centuries after the New Testament’s completion. But if we want to understand Scripture correctly, we need to diligently read it through the original Hebrew cultural lens, not the later imposed lens of Greek dualism.

Innate immortality prooftexts

Proponents of innate immortality often cite several key Old Testament verses to support their view. However, a closer examination reveals these texts do not actually teach that humans intrinsically possess immortal souls. Rather, when understood in their proper context, these passages reinforce the biblical truth that immortality is a gift bestowed by God on the faithful at the resurrection – it is not something we already possess from birth. Let’s dive into some of the most commonly referenced Old Testament “prooftexts” to see what they truly communicate.

Job 19:25-26 

25 But I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end He will stand upon the earth. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. (Job 19:25-26 BEREAN)

This passage from Job expresses his hope and confidence in being resurrected to see God “in his flesh.” He did not anticipate seeing God as a disembodied spirit in the afterlife. Instead, he expected to see God as a resurrected human being, albeit with a glorified body (1 Cor 15:45). Far from describing an immortal soul experiencing a conscious afterlife, Job looks forward to a bodily resurrection “in the end” when his Redeemer returns. His hope rests not in an innate immortality, but in the future bodily resurrection.

Psalm 16:10 

For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay. (Psa. 16:10 BEREAN)

When kept in context, this verse has nothing to do with an immortal soul. It prophesies about the Messiah being resurrected without experiencing bodily decay. Peter quotes this verse in Acts 2:27 to show it refers to Jesus. It says nothing about inherent immortality for human souls.

Psalm 23:6 

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psa. 23:6 BEREAN)

To see innate immortality of the soul in this poetic verse requires reading that concept into the text (eisegesis), rather than deriving it from the actual words (exegesis). The verse expresses David’s confidence that God’s goodness and mercy will extend beyond this earthly life, allowing him to “dwell in the house of the LORD” in eternity. It says nothing about the current nature of David’s human soul. Rather than teaching innate immortality, the verse simply conveys David’s expectation of being granted eternal life and dwelling with God forever.

Isaiah 26:19 

Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust! For your dew is like the dew of the morning, and the earth will bring forth her dead. (Is. 26:19 BEREAN)

Like Job’s hope of seeing God in his resurrected flesh, this verse prophesies a bodily resurrection for “the dead” who currently “dwell in the dust.” The call for them to “awake and sing” implies they are in an unconscious state of rest while awaiting resurrection. 

The imagery here reinforces a revival of physical, embodied eternal life. Like Job, the hope is in a future bodily resurrection, with no implication of innate immortality possessed in the present. The verse makes no claims about an immortal soul separable from the body. It simply foretells the resurrection of whole persons from unconscious death who have trusted in God for the gift of eternal life.

Daniel 12:2 

And many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, but others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan. 12:2 BEREAN)

Using the metaphor of “sleep” for death, Daniel foretells a future resurrection in which some will receive eternal life while others face everlasting condemnation. The destiny described here follows an awakening from the unconscious “sleep” state of death – not an immortal soul continuing a conscious existence apart from the body. The text says they will awake to “everlasting life” which reveals they did not possess immortality prior to their resurrection.

Prooftexts or Proof Missing?

None of these verses when read in context, without eisegesis, teach or even hint at an innate immortality present in the human soul from birth. They consistently point to the bodily resurrection as the avenue through which God will grant eternal life and immortality as a gift to the faithful. The idea of an immortal soul that separates from the body is absent.

The promise we find in Scripture is not that we already possess immortal souls destined for eternal conscious existence. Rather, the good news is that through faith in Jesus Christ, we too will put on immortality when God resurrects us from the dead (1 Cor 15:53-54). People often assume immortality as a self-evident fact, but the Bible does not ascribe it to our natural state. It is a gift from God, made possible by Christ’s victory over death.