Origin of the Myth of Human Immortality?

· Bible, immortality, Mu-church, spirituality


The Fall

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Gen 3.3-5
Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD Godhad made.

And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Though the concept of human souls being immortal is traced commonly to Greek philosophers (such as Plato), it’s clear from Genesis that this lie originated with Satan (the Father of Liars) in the very beginning of human history — in the Garden of Eden.

Though belief in the immortality of the soul has been dominate throughout Christian churches for at least 1700 years, the idea doesn’t come from the Bible — it’s not taught anywhere in Scripture. What the Bible actually teaches is that no person is immortal other than God Himself. Paul puts it this way in 1Tim 6.13ff:

I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things and Christ Jesus… Who alone is immortal…

God’s Plan was not for the human soul to be immortal… His Plan (all along) was to draw individuals into Himself — and since He is immortal, in Him, we are as well.

As difficult it is to step back from concepts we’ve accepted (as taught) for much of our lives, when we discover that a belief we’ve held is rooted in pagan philosophy and not the Scriptures, it’s critical for us to re-evaluate that belief. This particular belief, in fact, has serious consequences for the hope which we hold for the Afterlife.


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  1. Tracy

    I read the ‘related article’ and it seems a distinction is being made between the ‘immortality of the soul’ and ‘life everlasting’. I guess the first question, then, would be exactly what is the ‘soul’? The Jehovah Witnesses teach, and I was/am convinced that this is a Biblically sound perspective/definition, that a ‘soul’ is a living being in its totality… an animal is a ‘soul’, a fish is a ‘soul’, I am (not, I have) a ‘soul’. Since I define a ‘soul’ this way, I think I miss the point of the distinction.

    I do recall, however, considering the common idea that most people seem to have that the ‘soul’ ascends out of the body and goes to heaven when a person dies. I’ve always thought of this idea of the ‘soul’ as the ‘spirit’, but either way, this was a confusing thought to me. I thought the Bible said that we will all be raised at the last trump, so I thought I would die and remain in remains 🙂 until I was resurrected along with everyone else to stand before Christ in judgment. Of course, to my awareness, this would be but a moment, the twinkling of an eye, but as far as those living on earth are concerned, when I’m dead, I’m dead… until that glorious day! The confusing part is when the Bible says that when we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord… or when Paul says that if he dies he will be with Christ which is better than being alive in the flesh. So do we ‘go to heaven’ right when we die or only later? Don’t know if it really matters, but I’m wondering if this is what is meant by the immortality of the soul… it leaves the body right away and doesn’t die?

    As for the garden… it does seem implied that if the first couple did not eat the forbidden fruit, then they would indeed have lived forever. So I guess this could mean that God did at first possibly create humans to live forever… i.e. to be immortal… or at least created the possibility of immortality. But my son made an interesting observation recently… God creates humans to be in ‘our likeness’ (Gen. 1:26), then after their ‘dirty deed’ declares, “Behold, the man has become like one of us.” (Gen. 3:22) My son’s thought was that the whole Adam-Eve story (Gen. 2-3) is a blown up version of the making of man in Genesis 1:26-27… making man, male and female, and making them ‘like God’. If there’s anything to that, the ‘fall’, though tragic in a way, was part of the original plan and has the positive outcome of imparting moral sense to humanity… since it is specifically defined that ‘being like one of us’ means ‘knowing good and evil”. There’re a lot of ideas about what it means for man to be in the image and likeness of God, but I think the suggestion that morality is a distinguishing feature of humanity is pretty persuasive. Does any other creature have a moral sense? Isn’t moral freedom a prerequisite for accountability? And couldn’t you say moral freedom makes intimacy and relationship much more meaningful… maybe even possible? I mean, dogs can love, but it just isn’t the same as human love because they don’t seem to have much choice about it… if you feed them and play with them, they love you, no matter who you are, and if you are mean to them, they bite you, no matter who you are. They don’t seem to have the capacity to go beyond these instinctive constraints and so their love isn’t really ‘freely chosen’.

    And, as for the snake, I find it interesting that the word ‘subtil’ (KJV) used to describe the serpent’s creaturely uniqueness is more often used as a positive thing in the rest of scripture… at least in the Proverbs. The Hebrew word is used 11 xs; 3 in the sense of crafty or subtil, and 8 to mean prudent, in a good way. Incidentally, it is also possibly a word-play on ‘nakedness’ which is a word from that same Hebrew root. Don’t know what all that means… only that the satan is never outside of God’s sovereignty and, like in Job, even when his doings are sneaky, deceitful, mean and painful, God still uses it/him/them to accomplish His purposes. I’m also thinking of the section in 1Kings 22:19-23 when God authorizes a lying spirit to be put in the mouths of the prophets of Ahab.

    Anyway… I’m in with the idea that immortality is something intrinsic only to God and is a gift that only God can grant to other kinds of creatures.

    Also though, if this is so, it seems, um, uncharacteristic of God, to grant somebody immortality only to have them spend the endless days in eternal torment. Makes you wonder about the doctrine of hell.

    Just curious… are angels supposed to be immortal? That is, of course, did God grant angels immortality? If so, it makes sense that hell would exist to house the rebellious and sinister angels. Since they can’t die… where else would you put em? I would certainly rather not be made immortal at all if that were my eternal destiny!!!

    • emdog

      That’s an encouraging response! (So, which “son” observed that about Gen 2-3? I certainly agree with it’s being a re-telling of the creation of humankind in Gen 1, “filled-out”.)

      You’re coming to some of the conclusions I hoped people would after reconsidering the standard “immortality” of the soul. Looking more closely at your response, you said that “it seems a distinction is being made between the ‘immortality of the soul’ and ‘life everlasting’” and you’re right. “Life everlasting” is what God offers freely (but does not bestow) to every person. But the phrase, “immortality of the soul” is a Greek term (not in the Bible) which specifically refers to the idea that every human being has or is a soul that is immortal. This is where Paul’s comment to Timothy is telling when he explains that there’s “only one” Who is immortal — and that’s God.

      We also are not immortal. Paul explains in 2Cor 15.50ff that when Jesus returns, everyone who has trusted in God for their salvation will be resurrected, and that it will be true for each one that “this corruptible [earthly flesh] must put on incorruption, and this mortal [earthly flesh] must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

      The verse tense is future: when “this mortal shall have put on immortality, then…” We are not immortal now (in our flesh) but when we are raised from the dead (the first death), in our unity with Christ, we’ll share HIS immortality. Individual humans were not made to be individually immortal — we’ve been made capable of entering into or “putting on” Christ’s immortality. [The word for “put on” is ἐνδύσασθαι and is the same as is used in Eph 4 for “put on the New Man who is patterned after God”.]

      Since people (deceived by centuries of incorrect teaching) believe every, individual person has an eternal soul, the question arises, “for those who are not received into the Kingdom of God — then what happens to them?”

      The answer (both simple AND biblical) is that after having died once (in their corruptible flesh), they’re raised from THAT death only to face the second death. Hence, Rev 20.14: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death”; and 21.8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

      Now — here’s the crux of the modern problem: if we first assume that every “soul” is created immortal, then when they are thrown into the Lake of Fire, they’ll be there forever and ever. Throughout the centuries, many Christians have objected to this idea based on their knowing our Father to be merciful, loving, gracious and kind. And twist the picture as mich as you will, there’s no way to make an eternity burning in Hell a merciful, loving, gracious and kind action.

      But look what happens if you reject the Greek philosophy! If you do NOT assume every person is created immortal but that they are mortal and they’re able to cease existence at some point, then when Jesus says “destroy”, He probably means “destroy”: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Mt 10.28]

      You commented: “The confusing part is when the Bible says that when we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord… or when Paul says that if he dies he will be with Christ which is better than being alive in the flesh. So do we ‘go to heaven’ right when we die or only later? Don’t know if it really matters, but I’m wondering if this is what is meant by the immortality of the soul… it leaves the body right away and doesn’t die?”

      The verse to which you refer — Php. 1.23: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better”; and the VERY interesting 2Cor 5.1ff: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved [his corruptible body], we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens [his incorruptible body]. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven [incorruptible], if [NB: “IF”] so be that being clothed we shall NOT be found naked…” Just a mo… Naked? Naked here is a reference to the possibility that Paul could shed his earthly (corruptible) flesh to be “present with the Lord”, but there’s a chance (an “if”) that the corruptible flesh might be PUT OFF and yet the incorruptible flesh (eternal) not immediately “put on” — leaving him temporally “naked”: i.e., a soul not clothed yet by incorruption. That “being clothed” awaits the Second Coming of Christ. In the meantime, where would Paul’s “naked soul” be found? “Present with the Lord”. (And if Paul didn’t understand exactly how this was going to work ((excuse me!)) I don’t imagine I’m ever going to figure it out either.)

      He continues:

      “For we that are in this tabernacle [corruptible flesh] do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, [i.e., Paul’s not longing to be “naked”, but he certainly is longing to “put on” his incorruptible flesh.] but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now He Who has [accomplished] for us the selfsame thing is God, Who also hath given unto us the [down-payment] of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”

      So evidently, prior to the Resurrection, for those who die in the flesh they’ll be “naked” until Jesus comes again… A state that’s STILL preferable to living in this corruptible flesh (which Paul is more than willing to put up with for the sake of those he loves and are still alive.)

      Your thoughts: “So I guess this could mean that God did at first possibly create humans to live forever… i.e. to be immortal… or at least created the possibility of immortality.” Don’t get confused: being immortal and living forever are two, different things. Don’t forget 2Tim in which Paul says that only ONE is “immortal”, and that’s God. We aren’t MADE immortal nor does immortality become a human characteristic — Jesus IS the One and Only Immortal and He graciously invites us into union with Himself, thus sharing His immortality as well. It’s still a quality that only He (as God) possesses.

      You bring up the Fall, considering, “though tragic in a way, [the Fall] was part of the original plan and has the positive outcome of imparting moral sense to humanity… since it is specifically defined that ‘being like one of us’ means ‘knowing good and evil”. The idea that our “knowing good and evil” is fortuitous isn’t found in the text. If you stay faithful to the text, it’s clearly a “bad” thing and is associated with their immediate “death” (as “in the day that you eat thereof…”)

      What happened when Adam ate the forbidden fruit wasn’t that he obtained “moral discernment” — what happened is that he took from God the divine right of judging good and evil. Prior to his taking the fruit, Adam relied on God for a sense of what was “good” or “bad”… but immediately upon eating the fruit, he and Eve saw they were naked.

      Look specifically at the only change in “knowing” that actually occurred. After all, if they “gained knowledge” from the eating of the fruit, what knowledge did they “gain”? The only “knowledge” the “gained” was personal shame. Gen 2. 25 says that Adam and Eve were both naked “and they were not ashamed”. Actually, they didn’t NEED to be ashamed because God didn’t consider nudity to be “wrong”. But when Adam and Eve usurped God’s place of being the Judge, they immediately started judging — and judging incorrectly.

      Think about it: if I lived in a world of Good and Evil (which I do), which is better: that I rule myself and make my own choices about what thing is good and which is bad? Or am I better off if I live in such a Relationship with my Father so that He leads me, HE is the One Who decides what in my life and experience is “good” or “bad”. Curiously, when I DO enter into that kind of submitted Relationship (union) with Him, He then turns EVERYTHING into good. [Rom 8.28]

      That means that Adam’s act of eating the fruit truly was an act of rebellion, but not simply through his disobedience but through his arrogance and pride that he took unto himself that which was God’s alone — Judging between Good and Evil.

      BTW — I agree with your observation that God uses Satan to accomplish His good will. A powerful example of this is seen when you lay two parallel passages from the OT books of history side-by-side. 2Sam 24.1 & 1Chr 21.1: These are the same, exact story told from two different perspectives. They refer to David’s sin of numbering Israel but whereas Chronicles says that Satan provoked David to sin, 2Sam says that “moved David” to do it. Was it Satan or was it God? The answer is, “Yes.”

      About angels — I know I’ve been TAUGHT that, but even now we’re digging into things that have been seriously MIStaught. (Uncondentional immortality.) About demons, Jesus said this:

      Mt 8:29
      And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?

      Lk 4.34
      Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.

      Again, I think the word “destroy” just might mean “destroy”. Some bring up “unquenchable fire” but I wonder if the point isn’t that when someone is thrown into that Fire, he’ll never come out of it… It cannot be quenched. The Fire can be unquenchable even if those thrown into it are destroyed. Certainly more to think about.

      Bless you, Tracy! Love to delve into the Word with you!


  2. Michael

    Perhaps a different approach to the subject of whether the “soul” is immortal or not is to explore what the soul exactly is. It seems to be tied into our physical being and yet at the same time there appears to be a metaphysical reality associated with it as well. I base this observation of the use of the word “soul” in the OT usage that appears to have the term linked to our biological existen e. And yet in the NT there are passages that refer to “body and soul” and other passages that seem to hint at a “trans physical” existence. But if this is so, then what survives beyond this life here? I suspect that which is the authentic self is what survives. This is the “new creation” of which NT scripture speaks. My ego, the false-self dies and is no more. That which is of God through Christ continues in some form and according once again to scripture will one day experience a new incarnate life. But what about the unbeliever? I believe that is up to to Papa God. Paul the apostle indicates that for those who did not have the chance to hear the “Good News” would still be able to have an “after life” (continued existence in some form after life here) based upon their response to what I paraphrase as some sort of “hard-wired God code”. Which I know really ticks off the more ultra-orthodox fundies who insist that God fries any who do not subscribe to their dogmatic doctrinal interpretation of scripture. In the end the bigger picture is to live in the revelation of Love that God has given us in Christ and that Papa God’s Love, Grace and Mercy has a broad reach that goes beyond anything we can imagine. In the end, Love Wins.

    • emdog

      You’re observing a fundamental assumption: that there exists something called a “soul” even though it’s relatively undefined. You’re right. Truth to tell — the more we know about the “soul”, the less we understand about “it”.

      People assume that whatever it is that “survives” will be subjectively the same as that which “enlivened” the flesh (or, as Paul put it, dwelt in the “tent” before “breaking camp” and dousing the “fire”.) But that personality (not “person”) which enlivened the flesh of a human being “exists” only in the neuro-chemical processes of the brain. Alter those processes (as with an operation to “split” the brain chord to stop seizures), and the “personality” changes radically — leaving “two persons” at times (one in the left hemisphere of the brain; the other in he right.)

      But the Bible treats one meaning of the soul as the same as the “person” within the tent. For example: Scripture passages may speak of x-number of “the people fled” or of “…added unto them about three thousand souls”.

      I agree with your speculation about there being an “authentic soul”, but not that whether the “unbeliever” has a soul which continues to exist is “up to God”. It seems clear to me that the Bible teaches there will be a “Second Death” at the end of this age. This “Second Death” is a death in which one’s soul — not being united with Life (Who is God) — will be resurrected as well as those who are united with God in Christ — the one resurrected unto Life, but the other resurrected unto death: a second death since the cessation of a person’s breath (and the return of the body to the dust) is the “First Death”.

      And you’re right: in the end, Love Wins (I can hear the Bell ring on that one!)

      Thanks Michael!


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