Actually, most of the misconceptions about hell reflect a basic misunderstanding of what the soul is. Many believe that the Bible teaches that man has an immortal soul,”[1] but of the more than 450 instances in which the word “soul” is used in the Bible there is not a single mention or intimation that man has an immortal soul. In fact, the Bible clearly teaches that it is God “the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16). We can only have immortality if God gives it to us; it is not an intrinsic part of our nature.

The account of the creation of man in Genesis 2:7 shows what a soul is. “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.[2] The combination of dust (physical body) plus the breath of life (spirit) created a soul. The soul is simply the whole person, and the word soul is used repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament for person or life.[3] When a person dies the opposite happens; the breath of life returns to God, the body becomes dust again and the soul ceases to exist. “If He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14,15)[4]

Nor is there any indication that the "spirit" or "breath of life" is an intelligent entity, the “real inner person” which has an existence apart from the body. This idea is from Greek philosophy and gradually pervaded Christian theology, but it is foreign to Biblical thought. The Biblical soul is the whole person: the body, mind, heart, emotions, personality, inner self, that which seeks after God or turns away from Him. Peter made it clear, speaking of the resurrection of Jesus, that it is the soul, not just the body that is resurrected. “Concerning the resurrection of the Christ… His soul was not left in Hades [the grave], nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:31). When a person dies (the first death) the soul (whole person) sleeps in the grave,[5] awaiting the resurrection. The resurrection is the rising out of the grave of the soul. And in the case of the wicked, it is this resurrected soul that is destroyed in hell.

“The Lord preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked[6] He will destroy” (Psalms 145:20). “The wicked shall be no more; indeed you will look carefully for his place but it shall be no more…into smoke they shall vanish away” (Psalms 37:10,20). “Those who war against you shall be as nothing, as a nonexistent thing” (Isaiah 41:12). “You have destroyed the wicked; You have blotted out their name forever and ever…Even their memory has perished” (Psalms 9:5-8). These texts and many more emphasize the complete obliteration of those who are destroyed, with no hint of an inner spiritual entity that continues to live on.

Since God “alone has immortality,” He is the source of all life. This means that there is no such thing as an independently immortal soul separated from God— the soul must be continually receiving life from God or it will cease to exist. It is inconceivable that God would continually infuse life into souls that were eternally separated from Him in hell.

Continue to next section: AN ACT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOVE

[1] Many have taught that because God made man in His image, man must have an immortal soul. However, the Bible does not specify what it means to be made in the image of God. In fact, man does not share the most basic characteristics of God: omnipotence (all powerful), omniscience (all knowing) and omnipresence (present everywhere) Therefore it is presumptuous to select a characteristic of God, such as His immortality, and assert categorically that this is what it means to be made in the image of God, especially when God specifically says that He alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6: 16).

[2] The Hebrew word for soul here is Nephesh, the same word that is used consistently in the Old Testament for soul.

[3] For example, “Man is also chastened with pain on his bed, And with strong pain in many of his bones, So that his life abhors bread, and his soul succulent food.” (Job 33:19,20). “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19).

[4] See also Ecclesiastes 12:6,7.

[5] Paul, speaking of those who would be resurrected, called them “those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). When Stephen was stoned, “he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). Jesus, speaking of Lazarus, said “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up’. Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well. However Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead” (John 11:11-14). Daniel shows where they sleep: “Many of those who sleep in the dust shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Jesus made it clear that sleeping in the dust is the same as being in the grave: “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28,29).

[6] The Old Testament frequently uses the Hebrew word rasha, often translated wicked, to characterize those who do not follow God. The basic meaning is "guilty one" in contrast to "righteous one." This does not mean that the wicked are sinners and the righteous are not; Christians are declared to be righteous instantaneously by repenting of their sins, confessing to God and accepting His forgiveness (John 1:8,9). For this reason this commentary uses "unrepentant" instead of "wicked" (except when quoting the Bible) to show that the "righteous" have the same intrinsic nature and have exhibited the same types of behavior as the "wicked."