I am a soul. But I need a soul too. How can that be?

The word “soul” in Scripture is confusing, not in the original language but certainly in English, because it has at least two quite different meanings. And the only way to differentiate between those two meanings is to look at the word in its original language, and in its context.

In Matthew 10:28, for instance, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” The word for “soul” in that verse, according to my Greek Lexicon, is “an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death.” Jesus is making a very clear point here, that death has the power to kill our physical body, but death does not have the power to kill or “dissolve” the soul. The soul in that verse, in both its original language and in its context, is immortal. It cannot die. There is such a thing, then, as an immortal soul.

But then there’s 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where Paul writes: “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word for “soul” in that verse comes from the Greek word meaning “breath” or “breath of life,” which my Greek Lexicon defines as “the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing.”

The soul in this verse, then, means something quite different to the soul in Matthew 10:28. Here it means the power that makes our physical bodies alive. And every human has it. We are all living souls, meaning we all have this vital force within us that makes us living, breathing creatures.

It is not, however, immortal, because this vital force depends on our breathing, so when we stop breathing at death this vital force and its power to animate life in us comes to an end. A person could, therefore, kill the soul by simply stopping us breathing.

Jesus, however, talked about an essence which differs from the body, that cannot be killed by stopping someone breathing. If someone, therefore, managed to kill my soul by cutting off my breath, that need not be the end of me, because Jesus talked of a soul that can survive death and continue to live beyond it. And that’s the soul our soul needs. Our physical breathing soul needs the undying essence soul. Our soul needs to be given a soul.

It’s a pity that just one word “soul” describes both types of soul, because how can a soul be given to a soul? – but in the original language it makes total sense. Our physical soul can be given an immortal soul, so that death isn’t the end of us.

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Are we born with an immortal soul?

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” So it sounds like the soul is immortal. The Greek word for “soul” in that verse also means immortal. According to my Greek Lexicon it means “an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death.” Death dissolves the body, but not the soul. The soul is immortal.

But are humans born with this immortal soul? Because if we are it raises the awkward question of why God would risk giving us an immortal soul when it could easily become evil and continue being evil forever. Is that why Jesus died, then, to save our immortal souls from hell?

No, because salvation is not about saving our souls, it’s about “the redemption of our bodies,” Romans 8:23. It’s our bodies that need saving, not our souls, because without bodies humans don’t exist.

When God created the human body he called it good, and if Adam and Eve had followed God’s instructions – and eaten off the Tree of Life instead – they could have remained in their superbly crafted bodies forever (Genesis 3:22). If they’d eaten off the Tree of Life it would have given Adam and Eve the “essence that is not dissolved by death.” Eating off the Tree of Life would have given them an immortal soul.

Which means, of course, they weren’t born with an immortal soul, because they lost out on their immortality when they ate off the wrong tree. But God didn’t abandon the human race to its extinction. He took on the life of a human being and substituted the death of his human body for ours, to save our bodies from extinction.

He then made it possible for us to receive an immortal soul again, not by eating off a Tree of Life, but by John 3:36 – “Whoever puts his faith in the Son has eternal life.” Believe that God sent his Son to redeem our bodies and God then gives us the essence of eternal life, an immortal soul that no one but he can destroy.

That’s why John wrote, “Dear friends, NOW we are children of God,” 1 John 3:2. We weren’t children of God when we were born, but we are now BECAUSE we believed in what God sent his Son for. Now “we are his offspring” (Acts 17:28), and being God’s offspring he’s given us the essence of immortality that makes us his children forever.

All we need now is an immortal body to go with our immortal soul, and according to Paul that’s exactly what God gives us at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42).

What happens to bad immortal souls?

Many Christians believe all humans have an immortal soul, so what happens to an immortal soul that goes bad? Does it die? According to Matthew 10:28, however, the soul can’t die – unless God destroys it – and why would God destroy a soul if he made it immortal? Immortal means immortal.

But if we all have an immortal soul that can’t die, that means an evil immortal soul can’t die either, can it? So now what do you do with it? The answer for many Christians has been hell with a capital ‘H’. Immortal souls that go bad go to Hell, and since these souls are wicked, Hell will be a horrible experience. And since souls are immortal they must go on suffering in Hell forever, too.

But endless torment in Hell paints a horrible picture of God. Why does he make the wicked suffer in never-ending physical and mental agony when Matthew 10:28 says God can destroy the soul? Why would God let a soul go on living in its wickedness when he has the power to kill if off? And surely God would want to kill if off, because why would he want wicked souls hanging around like a bad smell forever?

Well, obviously he doesn’t want that because Scripture talks of Hell being a garbage dump where the wicked are burnt up and destroyed. But if that’s true, it creates another dilemma, because if wicked souls can be burnt up and destroyed, they’re not immortal, then, are they?

Do all human beings actually have an immortal soul, then? Scripture answers that question clearly. It says we all fell short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and that made us ALL “fit only for destructionRomans 9:22. Destruction means destruction, not living on in some other place like Hell. We were all destined for the garbage dump to be burnt up and destroyed forever. That was the end result for all of us, clearly showing we never had immortal souls in the first place.

Fortunately, verse 23, being burnt up and destroyed forever isn’t what God made us for. He made us “for pouring the riches of his glory into.” So rather than destroy us, he’d rather show us how kind he is, verse 24. And rather than giving us what we deserve, he puts up with us (verse 22). Why? Because he’s a God of mercy (verse 23). We are all “objects of God’s mercy,” living demonstrations of how great his love is, verse 23, because God “is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish” 2 Peter 3:9.

Even if there is such a thing as a bad immortal soul, therefore, it is God’s aim to save it.