The lack of Scriptural evidence for an immortal soul

  • Question 194, from Laurie, Canada

    I recently read in a Jehovah Witness booklet that we have no immortal soul, we do not go to Heaven or Hell and that when the body dies, no spirit leaves it, we’re just gone until we’re resurrected to a new life on earth. This goes against everything I’ve ever been taught, yet they seem to have scriptures to back it up. Who is right and why?

    This question has been partly addressed before on freelance theology. It would appear from the question that the booklet in question has raised some interesting issues, which are worth examining.

    The notion of an ‘immortal soul’ does not have a particularly Biblical basis. Instead it draws from Greek philosophical ideas (namely Platonism) that heavily influenced early Christian theology. The idea of an immortal soul was thought to guarantee ‘continuity’ between a person’s death and their eventual resurrection on the day of judgement. Given that bodies were known to decay, the soul was thought to have to continue incorporeally (outside the body).

    As stated, this is not entirely faithful to the Biblical understanding of human beings. While there is a body and a soul, these are seen as linked. In fact, the one area where Christianity radically diverged from Greek Platonist philosophy was in an insistence on a physical resurrection, with spirits relocated into ‘perfect’ bodies that would not be susceptible to illness, ageing or death.

    Further, our understanding of ‘time’ as a concept is now more developed than it was during the first few centuries of Christian theological discussion. There is an understanding that time is a relative concept, and from an eternal point of view, there need not be any waiting around in a disembodied state. Instead we can pass ‘from death to life’, instantly ‘waking’ into the resurrection. Thus we ‘rest in peace, and rise in glory’ almost simultaneously. Put another way, to the person being resurrected it’s as if no time has passed. They are instantly ‘there’.

    The idea of a renewed Earth as the place resurrected humans end up living has a Biblical basis – the new heaven d the new earth mentioned in the book of Revelation. The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses stress the new Earth is because they believe only 144,000 people will be allowed into heaven. (This number is also drawn from Revelation.) The rest will therefore live on the new Earth.

    Heaven is a confusing concept in the New Testament and there is very little detail given. However, most commentators believe the number 144,000 is metaphorical and there are no residency limits on the Heaven.

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