Where are the Dead –
According to the Bible?

COMMENTARIES ON THE SUBJECT OF SOUL IMMORTALITY, HELL-FIRE, ETERNAL TORMENT, GEHENNA

"There is no dichotomy [division] of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]. The Israelite saw things concretely, in their totality, and thus he considered men as persons and not as composites. The term nepes [ne'phesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person… The term [psy·khe'] is the N[ew] T[estament] word corresponding with nepes. It can mean the principle of life, life itself, or the living being." [New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. XIII, pp. 449, 450]

"The Hebrew term for 'soul' (nefesh, that which breathes) was used by Moses…, signifying an 'animated being' and applicable equally to non-human beings… New Testament usage of psyche ('soul') was comparable to nefesh." [The New Encyclopædia Britannica (1976), Macropædia, Vol. 15, p. 152]

"The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture." [The Jewish Encyclopedia (1910), Vol. VI, p. 564.]

John L. McKenzie, S.J.'s Dictionary of the Bible (1965). He goes into great detail to show that the writers of the Bible were not influenced by Greek metaphysics and Plato in regard to the "soul" or "spirit." His concluding thought was that, "In modern speech, the Greek concept is usually read into the term (soul), and thus the concept of salvation may become Platonic rather then Biblical."

"The Christian concept of a spiritual soul created by God and infused into the body at conception to make man a living whole is the fruit of a long development in Christian philosophy. Only with Origen [died c. 254 C.E.] in the East and St. Augustine [died 430 C.E.] in the West was the soul established as a spiritual substance and a philosophical concept formed of its nature… His [Augustine's] doctrine… owed much (including some shortcomings) to Neoplatonism." [New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. XIII, pp. 452, 454.]

"The concept of immortality is a product of Greek thinking, whereas the hope of a resurrection belongs to Jewish thought… Following Alexander's conquests Judaism gradually absorbed Greek concepts." [Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de la Bible (Valence, France; 1935), edited by Alexandre Westphal, Vol. 2, p. 557.]

"Immortality of the soul is a Greek notion formed in ancient mystery cults and elaborated by the philosopher Plato." [Presbyterian Life, May 1, 1970, p. 35.]

"Do we believe that there is such a thing as death? …Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the completion of this; when the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul, what is this but death? …And does the soul admit of death? No. Then the soul is immortal? Yes." [Plato's "Phaedo," Secs. 64, 105, as published in Great Books of the Western World (1952), edited by R. M. Hutchins, Vol. 7, pp. 223, 245, 246.]

"The problem of immortality, we have seen, engaged the serious attention of the Babylonian theologians… Neither the people nor the leaders of religious thought ever faced the possibility of the total annihilation of what once was called into existence. Death was a passage to another kind of life." [The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston, 1898), M. Jastrow, Jr., p. 556.]

John R. W. Stott: "Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that 'eternal conscious torment' is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture. …It would seem strange, therefore, if people who are said to suffer destruction are in fact not destroyed… If to kill is to deprive the body of life, hell would seem to be the deprivation of both physical and spiritual life, that is, an extinction of being. … It is doubtless because we have all had experience of the acute pain of being burned, that fire is associated in our minds with 'conscious torment'. But the main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to secure destruction, as all the world's incinerators bear witness." (Essentials-A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue Page 315-16)

G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine, "the lake of fire … extinction and total oblivion."

Philip E. Hughes: "To contend that only the human soul is innately immortal is to maintain a position which is nowhere approved in the teaching of Scripture, for in the biblical purview human nature is always seen as integrally compounded of both the spiritual and the bodily… God's warning at the beginning, regarding the forbidden tree, 'In the day that you eat of it you shall die,' was addressed to man as a corporeal-spiritual creature-should he eat of it, it was as such that he would die. There is no suggestion that a part of him was undying and therefore that his dying would be in part only." [The True Image-The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ.]

Clark Pinnock: "This concept [that the human soul is immortal] has influenced theology for a long, long time but it is not biblical. The Bible does not teach the natural immortality of the soul."

17th century, essayist William Temple: "There are [scriptures] which speak of being cast into undying fire. But if we do not approach these with the presupposition that what is thus cast in is indestructible, we shall get the impression, not that it will burn for ever, but that it will be destroyed."

Orpheus-A General History of Religions, Salomon Reinach: "A widely spread belief was that [the soul] entered the infernal regions after crossing the river Styx in the boat of the old ferryman Charon, who exacted as the fare an obolus [coin], which was placed in the mouth of the dead person. In the infernal regions it appeared before the three judges of the place…; if condemned for its crimes, it had to suffer in Tartarus… The Greeks even invented a Limbo, the abode of children who had died in infancy, and a Purgatory, where a certain mild chastisement purified souls."

Encyclopædia Britannica (1970): "From the 5th century B.C. onward, the Jews were in close contact with the Persians and the Greeks, both of whom had well-developed ideas of the hereafter… By the time of Christ, the Jews had acquired a belief that wicked souls would be punished after death in Gehenna."

Encyclopædia Judaica: "No suggestion of this later notion of Gehenna is to be found in Scripture."

Webster's Third New International Dictionary, unabridged, under "Hell" says: "fr[om]… helan to conceal." The word "hell" thus originally conveyed no thought of heat or torment but simply of a 'covered over or concealed place.' In the old English dialect the expression "helling potatoes" meant, not to roast them, but simply to place the potatoes in the ground or in a cellar.

Grolier Universal Encyclopedia (1971, Vol. 9, p. 205): "Hindus and Buddhists regard hell as a place of spiritual cleansing and final restoration. Islamic tradition considers it as a place of everlasting punishment."

The Encyclopedia Americana (1956, Vol. XIV, p. 81): "Much confusion and misunderstanding has been caused through the early translators of the Bible persistently rendering the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades and Gehenna by the word hell. The simple transliteration of these words by the translators of the revised editions of the Bible has not sufficed to appreciably clear up this confusion and misconception."

Encyclopaedia Judaica: "It was probably under Greek influence that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came into Judaism. … Basically the two beliefs of resurrection and the soul's immortality are contradictory. The one refers to a collective resurrection at the end of the days, i.e., that the dead sleeping in the earth will arise from the grave, while the other refers to the state of the soul after the death of the body. … It was held that when the individual died his soul still lived on in another realm (this gave rise to all the beliefs regarding heaven and hell) while his body lay in the grave to await the physical resurrection of all the dead here on earth."

Arthur Hertzberg: "In the [Hebrew] Bible itself the arena of man's life is this world. There is no doctrine of heaven and hell, only a growing concept of an ultimate resurrection of the dead at the end of days."

Encyclopaedia Judaica: "In the rabbinic period the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is considered one of the central doctrines of Judaism" and "is to be distinguished from the belief in . . . the immortality of the soul."

The Concise Jewish Encyclopedia: "The Bible does not state a doctrine of the immortality of the soul, nor does this clearly emerge in early rabbinical literature."

The Jewish Encyclopedia: "The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture."

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible: "The nephesh . . . does not continue to exist independently of the body, but dies with it… No biblical text authorizes the statement that the 'soul' is separated from the body at the moment of death."

Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: "'Soul' in the O[ld] T[estament], then, does not indicate some immaterial part of human beings that continues after death. [Ne'phesh] essentially means life as it is uniquely experienced by personal beings…The basic meaning of [psy·khe'] is established by its O[ld] T[estament] counterpart, rather than its meaning in Greek culture."

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary: “(soul) does not designate a part of a human being, but rather the whole person… In this sense human beings do not have souls-they are souls."

New Catholic Encyclopedia: "The Biblical words for soul usually mean total person. … There is no dichotomy [division] of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]. . . . The term [ne'phesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person. . . . The term [psy·khe'] is the N[ew] T[estament] word corresponding with [ne'phesh]. . . . The notion of the soul surviving after death is not readily discernible in the Bible."

Georges Auzou (La Parole de Dieu (The Word of God): "The concept of 'soul,' meaning a purely spiritual, immaterial reality, separate from the 'body,' . . . does not exist in the Bible."

The Encyclopedia Americana: "The Old Testament concept of man is that of a unity, not a union of soul and body. Although the Hebrew word [ne'phesh] is frequently translated as 'soul,' it would be inaccurate to read into it a Greek meaning. . . . [Ne'phesh] is never conceived of as operating separately from the body. In the New Testament the Greek word [psy·khe'] is often translated as 'soul' but again should not be readily understood to have the meaning the word had for the Greek philosophers. . . . The Bible does not provide a clear description of how a person survives after death." It adds: "Theologians have had to resort to the discussions of philosophers for an adequate means of describing survival of the individual after death."

"The concept of 'soul,' meaning a purely spiritual, immaterial reality, separate from the 'body,' . . . does not exist in the Bible."-La Parole de Dieu (Paris, 1960)

Georges Auzou, professor of Sacred Scripture, Rouen Seminary, France, p. 128:

"Although the Hebrew word nefesh [in the Hebrew Scriptures] is frequently translated as 'soul,' it would be inaccurate to read into it a Greek meaning. Nefesh… is never conceived of as operating separately from the body. In the New Testament the Greek word psyche is often translated as 'soul' but again should not be readily understood to have the meaning the word had for the Greek philosophers. It usually means 'life,' or 'vitality,' or, at times, 'the self.'" [The Encyclopedia Americana (1977), Vol. 25, p. 236.]

"Much confusion and misunderstanding has been caused through the early translators of the Bible persistently rendering the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades and Gehenna by the word hell. The simple transliteration of these words by the translators of the revised editions of the Bible has not sufficed to appreciably clear up this confusion and misconception." [The Encyclopedia Americana (1942), Vol. XIV, p. 81.]

With this background in mind we turn to the teachings of Jesus, Paul and John on the subjects of death, soul, Hades, and resurrection.

Nazarene Commentary 2000©

Mark Heber Miller

©2000 All Rights Reserved