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Death and the State of the Soul

By Don Martin

Regarding death, unless the Lord returns in judgment first, all men will experience death (Heb. 9:27). In the case of the state of the soul following death, all men, without exception, will experience the matters set forth in this material, respectively. Thus, it behoves us to carefully consider the teaching of the Bible on this important subject. (To assist the reader in understanding the subject of death and the subsequent condition of the soul, I have provided some links to an exchange I had with Max Burgin, a preacher in Australia . Max holds the position that when one dies, one is in a state of unconsciousness until the Judgement (click on “Exchange Propositions” and also read “Do the Dead Know Anything” by Max Burgin on the same page). Some religious materialists believe the wicked are annihilated and secular materialists believe both the soul of the righteous and wicked cease to exist or do not exist at all).

The meaning of death, the soul, and spirit of man.

Philosophers and poets have expended many words in an effort to define death. The most succinct biblical definition of death is found in the writings of James. Hear him, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). Man is a dual being (1 Peter 3:4, 2 Cor. 4:16). There is the body (the tangible part) and the spirit or soul of man (the intangible). The body is the temporary house for the spirit or soul (2 Cor. 4:16 ff.). More exactly speaking, man is actually a triune being, consisting of spirit (pneuma), soul (psuche), and body (soma, 1 Thes. 5:23). Herein Paul distinguishes between the “spirit” and “soul” of man. “Spirit” and “soul” have a number of nuances, depending on their particular usage in a given verse. To illustrate the potential and range of meaning of “soul,” allow me to insert some comments from W. E. Vine:

“psuche:denotes ‘the breath, the breath of life,’ then ‘the soul,’ in its various meanings. The NT uses ‘may be analyzed approximately as follows: (a) the natural life of the body, Matt. 2:20; Luke 12:22; Acts 20:10; Rev. 8:9; 12:11; cp. Lev. 17:11; 2 Sam. 14:7; Esth. 8:11; (b) the immaterial, invisible part of man, Matt. 10:28; Acts 2:27; cp. 1 Kings 17:21; (c) the disembodied (or ‘unclothed’ or ‘naked,’ 2 Cor. 5:3,4) man, Rev. 6:9; (d) the seat of personality, Luke 9:24, explained as = ‘own self,’ Luke 9:25; Heb. 6:19; 10:39; cp. Isa. 53:10 with 1 Tim. 2:6; (e) the seat of the sentient element in man, that by which he perceives, reflects, feels, desires, Matt. 11:29; Luke 1:46; 2:35; Acts 14:2,22; cp. Ps. 84:2; 139:14; Isa. 26:9; (f) the seat of will and purpose, Matt. 22:37; Acts 4:32; Eph. 6:6; Phil. 1:27; Heb. 12:3; cp. Num. 21:4; Deut. 11:13; (g) the seat of appetite, Rev. 18:14; cp. Ps. 107:9; Prov. 6:30; Isa. 5:14 (‘desire’); 29:8; (h) persons, individuals, Acts 2:41,43; Rom. 2:9; James 5:20; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:14; cp. Gen. 12:5; 14:21 (‘persons’); Lev. 4:2 (‘any one’); Ezek. 27:13; of dead bodies, Num. 6:6, lit., ‘dead soul;’ and of animals, Lev. 24:18, lit., ‘soul for soul;’ (i) the equivalent of the personal pronoun, used for emphasis and effect:, 1st person, John 10:24 (‘us’); Heb. 10:38; cp. Gen. 12:13; Num. 23:10; Jud. 16:30; Ps. 120:2 (‘me’); 2nd person, 2 Cor. 12:15; Heb. 13:17; James 1:21; 1 Peter 1:9; 2:25; cp. Lev. 17:11; 26:15; 1 Sam. 1:26; 3rd person, 1 Peter 4:19; 2 Peter 2:8; cp. Exod. 30:12; Job 32:2, Heb. ‘soul,’ Sept. ‘self;’ (j) an animate creature, human or other, 1 Cor. 15:45; Rev. 16:3; cp. Gen. 1:24; 2:7,19; (k) ‘the inward man,’ the seat of the new life, Luke 21:19 (cp. Matt. 10:39); 1 Peter 2:11; 3 John 1:2” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

I have inserted this lengthy “definition” of “soul” to illustrate how misunderstandings have occurred and false doctrines are advanced in view of a lack of understanding as to the range of “soul” in the scriptures. For instance, “soul” is used in the sense of natural life (“a…Matt. 2:20”). In this vein, even animals have a soul (Gen. 1:30, nephesh translated “life” is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek psuche, “soul”). In this sense, the soul (natural life) can be destroyed (Matt. 2:20). However, the “soul” cannot be destroyed by man in the sense of Matthew 10:28 (see nuance “b”). Here “soul” is used interchangeably with “spirit.” Notice some subtle differences between “soul” and “spirit.”

“The language of Heb. 4:12 suggests the extreme difficulty of distinguishing between the soul and the spirit, alike in their nature and in their activities. Generally speaking the spirit is the higher, the soul the lower element. The spirit may be recognized as the life principle bestowed on man by God, the soul as the resulting life constituted in the individual, the body being the material organism animated by soul and spirit... (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “soul” is used in this lower sense to even denote the baser appetites of the flesh in Jude 19, “sensual” is psuche, dm).

Some examples of death.

The Bible contains a number of examples of people dying. We read of the beggar and the rich man dying and their attendant circumstances (Luke 16:22, more later). The most important death recorded in the Bible is that of Jesus. We are told that Jesus “yielded up his spirit” (Matt. 27:50, ASV, consistent with James 2:26). In the case of Jesus and one of the robbers with whom Jesus was crucified, we are told where their spirits went. “Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” Jesus told the penitent robber (Luke 23:43).

In order to fully examine death and the state of the subsequent state of the soul, we need to consider a few additional words and their usage. Words such as sheol, hades, gehenna, and tartarus. These words are pertinent because they are used regarding the state of the soul upon leaving the body.

Sheol is found 65 times in the Hebrew scriptures.

Sheol is translated “hell” (KJV) 31 times, “grave” 31 times and “pit” three times. Sheol is used of the physical grave wherein the body suffers decay (Isa. 14:11). Sheol is also used as the equivalent to death (Ezek. 28:8). However, sheol is used for more than simply death and the grave. Jacob believed the report his sons gave him regarding the alleged death of Joseph (Gen. 37:29 ff.). It is in this setting that we find an interesting use of sheol. We are told regarding Jacob:“…he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave (sheol, dm) unto my son mourning…” (Gen. 37:35). Some have sought to explain away this use of sheol by saying that Jacob simply wanted to be buried with Joseph. However, it was believed that Joseph had been “rent in pieces” and had no burial place (vs. 33). Hence, sheol is used in this instance for more than the physical grave.

The Greek word hades is another word of interest in our study.

Hades is found some ten times in the Greek New Testament. Hades is incorrectly translated “hell” in the King James. Thayer says of hades, “the common receptacle of disembodied spirits:Luke 16:23…” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 11). Sheol and hades, on occasion, have the same usage and meaning when referring to the region where the spirit or soul travels upon leaving the body. For instance, Jesus’ soul upon leaving his body went to sheol (the King James incorrectly has “hell” in Ps. 16:10). The apostle Peter used the Greek word hades when quoting Psalms 16:10 and applying it to Christ; thus showing that sheol and hades are tantamount, in this application (Acts 2:27).

Gehenna is found twelve times in the New Testament and always correctly translated “hell” (Mark 9:43-50). Gehenna or hell is the final abode of the wicked after the Judgment (Rev. 20:14). The Greek word tartarus is found only once (2 Peter 2:4). Tartarus is incorrectly rendered “hell” in the some translations. Tartarus appears to be the same compartment of the intermediate place where the rich man went (Luke 16:19-31).

The intermediate and ultimate place of the souls of all men.

You may have already gathered from our study that there is a place where the soul goes upon departure from the body, which is an intermediate place and then there is a final abode of the soul.

Jesus’ spirit upon leaving his body did not immediately go to heaven.

Jesus said to the robber that he and the man would be in paradise that day (Luke 23:43). “Paradise” is not here used for heaven. Jesus said after his resurrection and before his ascension that he had not gone to heaven (John 20:17). You recall that we studied that Jesus’ spirit went to hades; hence, hades and paradise are connected (Acts 2:31, Luke 23:41). Paradise is actually a section or compartment of hades where the saved go and await judgment. This brings us to a study of Luke 16:19-31.

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

 

24“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

 

27“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

An analysis of Luke 16:19-31.

This teaching was given by the Lord as an expansion and illustration of the teaching regarding the proper use of money found in verses one through thirteen of Luke sixteen. We are told that the “Pharisees were covetous” and esteemed material things (vs. 14, 15). Hence, Jesus’ teaching challenges the materialism of the Pharisees. Two men died, a beggar named Lazarus and a rich man (vs. 22). The beggar (his spirit) was transported by angels to Abraham’s bosom (vs. 22). The rich man was buried and “in hell (Greek hades, dm) he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (vs. 22, 23). Lazarus is comforted in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man is in a state of torment (vs. 23, 24, 25). The rich man is aware and from the fact that the rich man sees Lazarus (in comfort) and requests that he come minister to him, it appears that Lazarus is also in a state of awareness (how could Lazarus be comforted if he were unconscious and would the rich man have made such a request upon seeing Lazarus if Lazarus were unable to have responded?). Notice that Lazarus is “afar off” (vs. 23). As we have seen, Jesus went to hades. Since there are two very different conditions prevailing in hades, it is obvious that there are two sections or compartments. This is further indicated by the great fixed gulf that separates the place where Lazarus and the rich man were (vs. 26). Since Jesus went to “paradise” before his ascension to heaven, it is also apparent that “paradise” and “Abraham’s bosom” are the same, the compartment in hades where the saved go, a place of comfort as opposed to the place of torment (tartarus) where the wicked go. As stated, after the judgement, hades will be destroyed and those not found written in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire (gehenna or hell, Rev. 20:14). The saved will then be allowed entrance into heaven, the ultimate and final abode of the righteousness after the judgement (Rev. 21).

Some, however, object to the inclusion of Luke 16:19-31 in any discussion of the future of the spirit, claiming the passage is a parable. Some, I am afraid, do not know what a parable is.

The “all important question” seems to be is Luke 16:19-31 a parable?

If it is a parable, then the passage is not teaching consciousness immediately after death and before the final judgement, they tell us. However, where is the authority for saying if Luke 16:19-31 is a parable, then it is not teaching soul consciousness?

Our English word parable is from the Greek parabole. Parabole is from two Greek words, para, beside, and ballein, to throw; hence a parable is a placing beside or together, a comparison. Professor D. R. Dungan wrote in his venerable work Hermeneutics the following regarding the basic meaning of parabole:“...a story by which something real in life is used as a means of presenting a moral thought” (pg. 227). Moreover, he continues, “The actors in a parable are real - human beings are the actors, and they do nothing which they could not do; things were not related which could not be accomplished by the agencies employed” (Ibid.)

Dungan then addresses Luke 16:19-31 and comments, “Some have been heard to say, ‘It is nothing but a parable.’ Well, what of that? It is not said to be a parable, and yet there is much evidence that it was. But does that fact lessen the importance of its teaching?” (pg. 235.) Dungan proceeds to make practical application of Luke 16:19-31:

“The real import of the figure may be easily gathered by any one at all interested in knowing the teaching of the Master:

  1. It is not possible to serve two masters (13-14).
  2. After death, the conditions can not be changed....
  3. Praying to saints is of no value.
  4. Men are expected to prepare to meet God by the light of the revelation which He has furnished.
  5. There are no warnings to come back to us from the Spirit land.
  6. There is consciousness between death and the resurrection from the death.
  7. There is an intermediate state between death and the resurrection. This scene is laid on a condition that comes after death. It was before the resurrection, for there will be none on the earth to warn after the resurrection shall have taken place. But some one will say that the eternal state of these men being fixed, the judgment is passed with them, and therefore the resurrection, in their cases, has been accomplished. This is not true. Lazarus going back would be regarded as one going to them from the dead; and this could not be said of any one in the resurrection state” (pg. 236, 237).

If Luke 16:19-31 is a parable, then it presents real life situations in general. That is, greed, poverty, and potential (in detail) experience after death and before the judgement regarding the realm of hades. The teaching in general relative to hades must be acknowledged, even if it is a parable. If Luke 16:19-31 is not a parable, then there was a “certain rich man” and beggar named Lazarus who lived and died and experienced the exact details as mentioned regarding hades. If or if not a parable, it matters not regarding hades and the general prevailing conditions before the judgment - there will be soul consciousness, pain and or bliss, and this condition is fixed.

In conclusion, there is more to man than what is visible. Man, all men, possess an eternal spirit that is immortal (Matt. 10:28). This part of man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). All men (their spirit) will abide forever either in a place of bliss or torment (cp. Matt. 25:46). When the spirit leaves the body (death), it immediately goes to hades (the common receptacle of disembodied). If saved, there will be comfort; if lost, there will be torment. Following the Judgment, heaven (in presence of God) and hell (in presence of the devil and his angels, gehenna) will be the eternal abode of the soul (Rev. 20:14, 15- 21:1 ff.). After death, it is too late for repentance (Luke 16:26-31).

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