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Death, Hell and Immortality

What the Bible teaches on the subject of what happens to us at death

From the book "Life and Immortality" by Basil Atkinson, M.A.,
PhD. With some added comments by Keith Hunt.


     ".......In the sections that follow I have sought to use
positive arguments drawn from Scripture only and to examine as
far as possible all relevant scriptural material.....We will ask
ourselves the following questions. If man's consciousness is
carried by an invisible part of him which survives, how is it
that unconsciousness can supervene from a physical accident such
as a blow on the head? Should we not reasonably have supposed it
to continue unaffected by sleep, accident, or any physical cause?
If the godly are in a conscious disembodied state of bliss after
death but before resurrection, how is it that there is no hint of
recollection of it by the half dozen or so persons whose
resurrection to life on earth is described for us in the Bible?
If the godly dead are now in a state of perfect satisfaction and
bliss, what is the object of their resurrection?
If the ungodly are in conscious misery for eternity and above all
if they continue in increasing sin for eternity, how can be
believe the apostle's supreme declaration in 1 Corinthians 15:28
that God will be all in all without narrowing its scope and
distorting its meaning?.....Finally I would ask all who are
interested and especially any who remain unconvinced by the
arguments of the sections that follow or feel doubts over them to
look up carefully the references given and earnestly and honestly
to search the Scriptures to see whether these things are the same time to remember that God speaks of Himself
as the One "who only hath immortality" (1 Tim.6:16), words which
language forbids us to interpret as the ONE Who only has no
beginning, but as the One Who alone has natural immortality in


     "As we cannot understand what the Bible reveals about
immortality and a future life until we discover the nature of
death, so we cannot understand what it teaches about the meaning
of death until we first obtain a clear idea of the nature of
man.....We must go to the Scriptures and seek to read them
without the intrusion, as far as possible, of any preconceived
ideas, in the light of the Holy Spirit's guidance. If we are
given grace to do this we can be assured of finding the truth. No
one who believes that the Scriptures are God's Word written can
believe that they can be inconsistent with themselves. Thus
humble study and research must reveal a clear and consistent
teaching on any subject....into which we are led to search. It is
evident that the Scriptures must be clear and not confusing.

                     The Creation of Man

     It seems clear that our starting point should be the account
of the creation of man at the beginning of the Bible....for this
enquiry the best starting point will be Genesis 2:7, where we
read, 'And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a
living soul.' A frequent interpretation of this verse is that it
describes how man was made in the image of God by being given an
immortal soul in contradistinction from the animals......In a
moment we will examine the verse closely and show, we hope, that
taken by itself it cannot bear such a meaning. Meanwhile let us
look at the word translated 'soul' , the great Hebrew word
NEPHESH......We find it in Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, and 30. In all
four verses the word refers to animals.....These verses show us
that the fish and seas- monsters (v.20,21) are souls, as are the
cattle, reptiles and other beasts (v.24). In verse 30 the land
animals and birds are spoken of as each having within them a
living soul.....The same expressions are used of men.....Both men
and animals ARE souls. They are not bipartite creatures
consisting of a soul and a body which can be separate and go on
subsisting. Their soul is the  whole of them and comprises their
body as well as their mental powers. They are spoken of as
HAVING a soul, that is, conscious being, to distinguish them from
inanimate objects that have no life. In the same way we can say
in english that a man or an animal IS a conscious being and
HAS conscious being.

                      Animals and Souls

     In addition to the four passages that we have looked at in
genesis 1 there are NINETEEN passages in the OT (Old Testament)
and ONE in the NT (New Testament) which use the word
NEPHESH or its Greek equivalent in connexion with animals.....Of
these nineteen passages FOURTEEN describe animals as souls
(Heb.nephesh), and FIVE are of peculiar interest. Thus
we have in Lev.17:11, 'For the life of the flesh is in the
blood.'  'Life' is the translation of the Hebrew NEPHESH, so that
the passage reads, 'the SOUL of the flesh is in the blood.' In
the same chapter and the fourteenth verse we read, 'For it (that
is, the blood) is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for
the life thereof....for the life of all flesh is the blood
thereof.'  In each case the word 'life' is the translation of the
Hebrew NEPHESH,so the passage reads, 'For the blood is the SOUL
of all flesh; the blood of it is the SOUL.....the SOUL of all
flesh is the blood.'  The expression 'all flesh' leads us to
conclude that these references to blood comprise both man and
animals.....Soul and blood are identical.....Fifth and lastly we
find in Job 41:21, where Leviathan is being described.....the
words, 'His breath kindleth coals.' The word 'breath' is the
translation of the Hebrew NEPHESH......

                      The Image of God

     We have thus seen that the animals are spoken of in
Scripture as being SOULS and as HAVING a soul, but few will
suppose that this fact in the case of the animals carries with it
IMMORTALITY.....the psalmist tell us that, though man was in a
position of honour at the time of his creation, he has become
like the PERISHING beast (Ps.49: 12, 20). There is therefore an
natural deduction that the possession of a soul or conscious
being, by man, which resides in his blood, cannot carry
immortality with it either, unless we have some direct word to
the contrary. No such word is forthcoming in the Scripture. But
is not man made in the image of God? Indeed he is (Gen.1: 26, 27)
and in this respect differs supremely from the animals. But there
is NO MENTION of IMMORTALITY in connection with the
image.....There is nothing in the fact that man is made in the
image of God that should lead us to suppose that he is possessed
of a NATURAL immortality. On the contrary there is MUCH in
Scripture to DENY it, as we shall see.

                      Man a Living Soul

     Man is described as a soul by the Hebrew word NEPHESH and
the corresponding Greek word about a HUNDRED AND FIFTY-TWO times
in the OT and about SIXTEEN times in the New. This and other uses
of the word have so confused our translators that it is
translated in FIFTY-FIVE DIFFERENT ways in the OT alone. It would
be a waste of space to give a list of all the passages where a
person is referred to by the word nephesh as they can be found in
any Concordance which gives the original words, but a few are as
follows:  Gen.17:14; four times in Ex.12; Lev.7:27 (twice);
Num.19:18 Deut.27:25 (where it is important to notice that Moses
speaks of 'slaying an innocent soul' (Hebrew nephesh, translated
'person')). To continue the list we find the same reference and
meaning seven times in Joshua 10 (all translated 'souls'); in 1
Sam.22:22; 2 Kings 12:4; Isa.58:10 (the second occurrence of the
word 'soul'); Jer.38:16 (a pointed and meaningful use);
Ezek.22:27 (where shedding blood is the same thing as 'destroying
'souls' ); Prov.19:15; 1 Chron.5:21.
     In connection with this use of the word nephesh the
following passages, all but one in the Pentateuch, are of great
importance and significance. About thirteen times a DEAD person
is referred to as a dead soul, translated 'dead' or 'dead body.'
We shall be treating these passages in our second section, but it
seems desirable to list them here. They are Lev.19:28;  21:1, 11;
22: 4;  Num. 5:2;  6: 6, 11;  9: 6, 7, 10;  19: 11, 13;  Haggai
2:3.  Thus the Bible speaks of human death, which is so common in
the experience of us all, as the DEATH of the SOUL.

                      The Soul of Man 

     We have now found that the Scripture conclusively teaches
that a human being IS a soul in the same sense in which an
animal, a bird, or even a fish, is a soul.....At this point we
have to remember that we too in English may refer to a person as
a soul. If anyone arouses our pity we may say, 'Poor soul!' We
may talk of a person of beautiful character as a lovely
soul.....Now this use in English of the word 'soul' to mean a
person does not in any way interfere with the more normal and
what we might call the THEOLOGICAL USE of the word to mean an
immaterial part of a human being that can subsist apart from his
body, and the question may well have arisen in the minds of some
of our readers whether this cannot be true of the Hebrew word
nephesh also. There are other uses of nephesh which we will
proceed to examine, but nowhere in the Bible is there a passage
in which this word or its Greek equivalent is used in the
accepted theological sense of the word 'soul' today.....

               Frequent Weak Sense of Nephesh

     The next use of nephesh that we shall look at is the most
FREQUENT of all. It is what we might call the weak use. Thus
'my(thy,his) nephesh,' as the case may be, is equivalent to 'I,' 
'thou,'  or  'he.'  It may be used with a proper name such as
'David's nephesh' meaning david or David himself. Examples are
very numerous.  The word is used in this sense about TWO
HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-ONE times in the OT.  Examples are to be found
in Gen.27: 19, 'sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may
bless me' ;  Ex.15: 9, 'my lust (Heb.nephesh, that is, I) shall
be satisfied upon them' ;  Lev.16: 29, 'ye shall afflict your
souls (that is yourselves)' ;  'these sinners against their own
souls (that is, themselves)'  (Num.16: 38);  Deut.14:26, 'what
soever thy soul lusteth after' ;  we notice here that what the
soul (that is, the person himself) desires is oxen, sheep, wine,
or strong drink;  Josh.2: 13, 'deliver our lives (Heb.nephesh,
meaning us) from death' ;  Judges 16: 16, 'his soul (that is, he)
was vexed unto death' .......
     This usage of nephesh, 'my (thy) soul,' etc., for 'myself,'
etc., has so engrained itself into the Hebrew language that it is
used when speaking of the LORD GOD HIMSELF......Its use in
Isaiah 5: 14 is very striking and singular. The verse reads,
'Therefore hell (that is, sh'ol, the grave) has enlarged herself'
(Heb.naphesh, her soul). This instance is enough to prove how
UNEMPHATIC the word nephesh is in the phrase and that it is
simply equivalent to a pronoun......
     It is true that we could take a MINORITY of cases of this
phrase in the PRESENT-DAY theological sense provided we READ INTO
the word nephesh a conception that we do not find in it elsewhere
in Scripture, but they can be taken AS WELL in the sense of the
MAJORITY of instances, in which it is quite plain that the
nephesh can only mean the PERSON as a WHOLE. This being so our
faith in the consistency of Scripture and the principle of
interpreting it by itself, oblige us to take them CONSISTENTLY in
the sense of the MAJORITY.
                  The Soul and the Emotions

     There are about a HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SIX passages in the OT
in which the soul (Heb.nephesh) is especially connected with the
desires or emotions. This usage arises out of the weak use of
nephesh which we have just treated and many cases are on the
boarder-line. Except that they deal with desires or emotions they
could well be placed among the passages where nephesh means 'I'
etc., or 'myself' etc. In fact we can add about fifty-four
instances to that usage of the word, such as Genesis 34: 8;  1
Samuel 2: 16;  23: 20 and possibly 30: 6, four cases in
Isaiah, five in Jeremiah, six in Ezekiel, three in the Minor
Prophets, eleven in the Psalms, five in Proverbs, four in Job and
six in the Song of Solomon. These last six all consist of the
expression 'My soul loveth.' Among these instances are one which
refers to an animal (Jer.2: 24) and three which refer to God
(Jer. 12: 7;  15: 1;  Ezek. 23: 18)......
     .....about twenty-two instances in which the word 'soul' is
added to the word 'heart' in such expressions as 'with all thy
heart and with all thy soul' (nephesh). In the combination of
HEART and SOUL we see we see the combination of CONSCIENCE and
WILL (heart) with conscience BEING (soul - nephesh)......The
people are called upon with all their heart and soul to seek the
Lord (Deut.6: 5; 13: 3; 30: 6), to serve Him (Deut.10: 12; 11:
13; Josh.22: 5; 1 Chron.28: 9), to lay up His words (Deut.11:
18).....All of these engage the conscience, but some also the
emotions, the memory and faculty of knowledge. There is NOTHING
in these examples to lead us to the idea of an IMMATERIAL PART of
a human being carrying his personality and consciousness
and able to SURVIVE his death. 
     We have seen that the nephesh DIES when the BODY (which is
part of it) dies......None of these....say a word about
IMMORTALITY or LIFE beyond death.....this concentration of the
word nephesh on the mind and emotions is a natural and
intelligible use.

                      Mind and Feelings

     We must now look carefully at the remaining examples of
nephesh which emphasises the MIND and the FEELINGS as opposed to
the whole man. They number about fifty and may be divided into
nine sections. (1) We find the nephesh to be the organ of resolve
or determination: 'If it be your mind that I should bury my dead'
(Gen.23: 8).....(2) The nephesh is spoken of as the seat of
feelings in general. Thus: 'for you know the heart of a stranger'
(Ex.23: 9).....(3) There are about fifteen examples the nephesh
as the seat of sorrow, the Hebrew often using the phrase
'bitter of soul'.....
     Of course there are is an outer and an inner side of man,
but no word is said in Scripture here or elsewhere about the
IMMORTALITY of the latter. The soul is thought of as being
'within' man in contrast to his 'flesh' in the same way as is the
soul or nephesh of an animal. Those who keep, love and study a
dog or cat can of course see the flesh and by means of it
communicate with its little happy affectionate childlike mind,
but do they not often say, 'I wish I knew what was passing in his
little mind'? Because the dog has teeth and a stomach it can eat
its food, but it is because it has a nephesh that it can enjoy it
- and miss it when it does not get it.
     (4) There are about eighteen cases in the OT in which the
nephesh is spoken of as the seat of desire. There are four in
Deuteronomy including the desire to eat grapes (Deut.23: 24) and
the desire for wages (Deut.24: 15).....(5) Another emotion the
seat of which is the nephesh is anger, of which there are four
examples to be found in Judges 18: 25; 2 Samuel 17: 8; Ezekiel
25: 15 and 36: 5.....(6) An interesting example is found in 1
Samuel 1: 15, where Hannah says, 'I....have poured out my soul
before the Lord.' She is referring to her fervent prayer, but the
words might equally well be an example of the weak use, 'my soul'
meaning 'myself.' The passage stands on the boarder line. (7) A
doubly interesting passage occurs in 1 Samuel 2: 35, where
nephesh (translated 'mind') is shown to be the cradle of PURPOSE,
the purpose being that of the Lord Himself: 'And I will raise me
up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in
mine heart and in my mind.'  (8) There are two passages in which
the emotion which rises in the nephesh is joy. They are Ezekiel
25: 6 and Proverbs 16: 24.  (9) Lastly we have a very interesting
example from Proverbs 27: 9, where the nephesh is seen to be the
origin of the counsel or advice. 'Hearty counsel' in that verse
is in Hebrew 'counsel from the soul.'

                The Nephesh in Life and Death

     There are about a HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FIVE passages in the OT
in which the meaning of nephesh slides lightly into that of LIFE
and is sometimes best translated in English by the word 'life.' 
Clearly we cannot list the whole, but we will select some
examples at random.....Ex.21: 30, 'he shall give for the ransom
of his life whatsoever is laid upon him,' that is, for the ransom
of his soul or himself.....Deut.19: 6, 'Lest the avenger of the
blood pursue the slayer...and slay him' (Heb.'slay him in soul').
Notice that the avenger kills the soul.....1 Samuel 28: 9,
'wherefore then lay you a snare for my life, to cause me to die?'
The Hebrew says, 'a snare for my soul (nephesh).' Notice the
woman expects the death of her soul.....Jonah 2: 5, 'The waters
compassed me about, even to the soul,' that is, my life was
almost gone and I was almost drowned. Jonah expected to loose his
soul, that is, himself, by drowning.....
     Among those passages in which nephesh occurs with the
emphasis upon LIFE and DEATH, of which the above are examples,
there are half a dozen which need CAREFUL examination.
     The FIRST is in 1 Kings 17: 21,22, part of the story of the
raising to life of the widow's sone at Zarephath by Elijah the
prophet. There we read: 'And he stretched himself upon the child
three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I
pray you, let this child's soul come into him again. And the Lord
heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into
him again, and he revived.' 
     Now this may be the VERY TEXT for which some of our readers
will have been looking. If we were to take it in ISOLATION, we
could take it to mean that the soul leaves the body at death and
was in this instance recalled by Elijah's prayer....First,
neither here nor elsewhere in the Bible is anything said about
IMMORTALITY in connection with the soul. Secondly, of hundreds of
occurrences of the word nephesh this is the ONLY one that permits
us to think along such lines, lines that are in open
CONTRADICTION to the only conclusion that can be drawn from a
great many other occurrences of the word. Thirdly, if we look in
the margin of our Bibles we shall find that the Hebrew original
of the last words of verse 21 reads, 'let this child's soul
come into his INWARD part again.'  This puts a different
construction on the passage. The soul does not here return to the
body. It returns to the child's inward parts, those parts which
are the seat of the emotions and thoughts, which we have already
seen to be associated with the nephesh. This is a perfectly
intelligible way of expressing the child's coming to life again.
In any case we can see that the writer did NOT think of the soul
as being the REAL child or carrying his personality......"

     If this passage proves the "immortality of the soul"
doctrine preached by some, then surely the child would have told
his mother and Elijah all about the after life he had
experienced, be it in heaven, or some other neutral place such as
purgatory (while he waited to see if he was going back to his
body and to live as human again on earth), and surely it would
have been recorded for us so we could know that the soul was
immortal and we did "go somewhere" after the death of the body,
still thinking and reasoning and conscious of all that was going
on around the activities of our physical body. But not one word
is said that this was the fact of human life or that the child's
mother and Elijah knew and believed that this was the truth of
the soul of men, that it was immortal (Keith Hunt).

     Continuing from the book by Atkinson:
     " Our NEXT passage is in Isaiah 10: 18, 'it...shall consume
the glory of his forest and of his fruitful field, both soul and
body.' .....The forest and the fruitful field are FIGURES for the
people and the land of the king of Assyria, about whom the
passage is speaking. The phrase 'both soul and body'  is
explained in the margin as 'from the soul and even to the flesh.' refers to the death of men by fire with subsequent
burning of their corpses.  This again need not be taken as a
literal prediction, but as a FIGURE OF SPEECH for the destruction
of a nation and empire taken from the burning of a forest.

     If we turn to Jonah 4: 3, we shall read Jonah's prayer,
'Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech you, my life from me.' 
'Life' here is Hebrew nephesh. Jonah prays that his soul might
be taken from him. Notice that Jonah does not leave his body, but
Jonah's soul leaves HIM. The passage is similar to 1 Kings 17:
21, 22. It is quite rightly and properly translated, '
life from me.'  This is exactly what it means.

     There are two passages in Proverbs 28 which we ought to look
at. In verse 17 we read, 'A man that does violence to the blood
of any person (nephesh) shall flee to the pit.'  Nephesh here has
its fundamental meaning of a man or person, but the phrasing is
interesting. In verse 25 we find the words, 'He that is of a
proud heart stirreth up strife.'  The  'proud heart' is in Hebrew
an insatiable (or wide) soul (nephesh). This is an occurrence of
nephesh thought of as the seat of desire.

     Lastly we turn to Job 33: 29, 30: 'Lo, all these things
works God oftentimes with men, to bring back his soul from the
pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.'  In
isolation this text might refer to resurrection, but the
preceding context, as well as natural probability, makes it more
likely that it refers to PRESERVATION FROM DEATH. In either case
we notice that it is the soul (nephesh), the WHOLE man, that
descends to the pit of death.

     Our study of the meaning of NEPHESH, the soul of man, now
comes to an end....note (1) that never once in over SEVEN HUNDRED
AND FIFTY occurrences of the word is the idea of IMMORTALITY
connected with it and (2) that from only ONE passage, 1 Kings 17:
21, 22, and that taken in ISOLATION, could we reasonably infer
that Scripture speaks of the NEPHESH as a SEPARATE ENTITY that
LEAVES the body at death. Even so, we hope that in dealing
with that passage we have shown conclusively that this CANNOT be
its meaning. "


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