Isn’t the idea that man has an “immortal soul” (a phrase which is not found in Scripture) refuted by the clear teaching of Ez. 18: 4, Matt. 10: 28 and 1 Tim. 6: 16?
Admittedly the phrase “immortal soul” is not found in Scripture––but then, neither is “mortal soul”! The absence of a phrase proves nothing. For example, the word “substitution” is also not found in the Bible, but the concept certainly is (see 1 Pet. 3: 18). Actually the Scriptures always connect both mortality and immortality in relation to man with his body and never with his soul or spirit (see Rom. 6: 12; 8: 11; 1 Cor. 15: 53, 54; 2 Cor. 4: 11; 5: 4). Immortality means not subject to death––it is not the same as never–ending existence. Adam in the Garden certainly had never–ending existence, but he was not immortal because he was liable to die if he sinned (Gen. 2: 17). Some translations (such as the AV of Rom. 2: 7 and 2 Tim. 1: 10) mistakenly use the word “immortality” when the Greek original has “incorruptibility”––but these words are never muddled up in Scripture. This vital distinction is seen in 1 Cor. 15: 42–50, where Paul deals with the resurrection of the saints. Speaking of the saints who will still be alive at the last trumpet, he uses the words “mortal” and “immortality”. Man as alive in the body is mortal––liable to die––and hence needs immortality. Speaking in relation to the bodies of the saints who have already died he uses the words “corruption and “incorruption”––these are already dead, but are liable to corruption––and what they require is incorruptibility. Thus “For this corruptible must needs put on incorruptibility, and this mortal put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the word written: Death has been swallowed up in victory” (vs 53, 54). Hence “mortality” and “immortality” are restricted in Scripture not only to man’s body but to man’s body when it is still living.
As to the Scriptures raised, Ez. 18: 4 reads as follows: “the soul that sinneth, it shall die”. It is not sound reasoning to deduce from this that the soul of man is mortal because Scripture uses the word “soul” on many occasions simply to identify a person (for example, Gen. 12: 5). That is the way it is used in this passage in Ezekiel. Indeed, we still use the word today in that sense when we speak of a ship going down with “the loss of two hundred souls”.
Matthew 10: 28 reads as follows: “And be not afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; but fear rather him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”. Some think this means that if man cannot kill the soul, then there is one who can––this is erroneous. The first part speaks of those who can kill the body but not the soul. The second part does not use the word “kill” at all, but speaks of one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. The Greek word used for “destroy” is quite different from that used for “kill”, and the use of these separate words is obviously intentional. Now whilst the word for “destroy” is a very strong one in the Greek, the fundamental thought conveyed by it is never “annihilation” but “ruin” or “loss”––what is lost to another, as when a sheep is lost to the shepherd. It is the Greek word used in Matt. 15: 24 and Luke 15: 4, 6, 24, 32. A soul “destroyed” in hell has not ceased to exist––the word refers not to a loss of being, but of well–being. Thus the wineskins that burst were “marred”––same Greek word (Mark 2: 22 AV)––they were ruined, not obliterated.
Finally, there is 1 Tim. 6: 16 which, speaking of God, says “who only has immortality”. Now to argue from this on the lines that since God alone is immortal then man’s soul must be mortal just will not do! As immortality means “not subject to death”, what shall we say as to Luke 20: 36? There the Lord says of men “neither can they die any more, for they are equal to angels”. Angels are clearly immortal! The fact is, not only is the conclusion of the argument wrong, but the premise is defective as well: Scripture does not say that God alone is immortal, but that God alone has immortality. The sense is that immortality characterises or marks God alone, not that He is the only one that is immortal. Creatures may be immortal, but God alone possesses immortality in Himself independently. Our immortality is derived not inherent. Thus “in him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17: 28).
Satan would love us to believe that our souls do not live forever, and that a lost eternity is make–believe. By contrast, the Son of Man came “to seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19: 10). Man is lost now, and if he remains lost then his portion forever will be eternal punishment (see Matt. 25: 46). Reader, has the Gospel shone into your heart, or is it veiled––“veiled in those that are lost” (2 Cor. 4: 3)?