Nazarene Space

Immortality of the Soul and the Afterlife

Immortality of the Soul and the Afterlife
By
James Scott Trimm



What happens when we die?  Many Christians believe we find ourselves as angelic beings in heaven, strumming on harps and hanging around on clouds.  This is, of course, totally unscriptural, and totally ignores the biblical doctrine of the resurrection.  On the other hand some Millerites (Millerites are Christian and para-Christian groups which descend from the teachings of William Millar, including SDA, The old Worldwide Church of God, the Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.) teach the doctrine of Soul Sleep.  But this doctrine is also not Scriptural.


The Immortality of the Soul

Belief in the immortality of the Soul has always been a foundational belief of Judaism.   

Josephus writes of the Pharisees of the first century: "They say that every soul is imperishable" (Josephus Wars 2.8.14) and "They hold the belief that an immortal strength belongs to souls" (Josephus Ant. 18.1.3).  

And as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has written: “One of the foundations of our faith is the belief in the immortality of the soul, and in life after death.” (The Soul; Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)

Rabbi Kaplan explains that the immortality of the soul is an inescapable conclusion of the premise that Elohim is omniscient (all knowing).  He writes:

But what happens to the real you -- the human personality? What happens to all this information -- the memories, thought patterns and personality traits? When a book is burned, its contents are no longer available. When a computer is smashed, the information within it is also destroyed.

What happens to all this information -- the memories, thought patterns and personality traits?

Does the same thing happen when a person dies? Is the mind and personality irretrievably lost?

We know that God is omniscient. He knows all and does not forget. God knows every thought and memory that exists within our brains. There is no bit of information that escapes His knowledge.

What, then, happens when a person dies?

God does not forget, and therefore all of this information continues to exist, at least in God's memory.

(An allusion to this is also found in the Kaballah. Gan Eden or Paradise is said to exist in the sefirah of Binah -- the divine understanding. This may well be related to the concept of memory. Souls, on the other hand, are conceived in the sefirah of Daas -- knowledge. One may say that while we live, we exist in God's knowledge; after death we exist in His memory.)

We may think of something existing only in memory as being static and effectively dead. But God's memory is not a static thing. The sum total of a human personality may indeed exist in God's memory, but it can still maintain its self-identity and volition, and remain in an active state.

This sum total of the human personality existing in God's memory is what lives on even after man dies...
(Immortality and the Soul; Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)


The Soul Sleep Error

Before I give a theology concerning the afterlife, I must first respond to some of the “proof texts” used by those who advocate a theology known as “Soul Sleep”.  This is a theology that teaches that a man’s soul ceases to exist at death, until his resurrection, at which time the righteous have immortality, while the souls of the wicked are destroyed in Gey Hinnom, and again cease to exist.

One passage cited to support the Soul Sleep doctrine is Genesis 3:19 “dust you are, dust you shall become”.  Of course if “dust you shall become” means we are unconscious or cease to exist in the afterlife then “dust you are” would means that we are unconscious or do not exist now.  And obviously an argument that proves to much, proves nothing at all.

Proponents of this theology often cite various verses from Ecclesiastes to support their position.  However the purpose of Ecclesiates is not to give Elohim’s revelation on the subjects it treats, but to explain how things appear without the light of Elohim.  Thus we read in the early verses of the book:

I Kohelet have been king over Yisra’el in Yerushalayim.  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven; it is a sore     
task that Elohim has given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.  I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.  I spoke with my own heart, saying: 'Behold, I have gotten great wisdom, more also than all that were before me over Yerushalayim'; yes, my heart has had great experience of     wisdom and knowledge.  And I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly--I perceived that this also was a striving after wind.  For in much wisdom is much vexation; and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.
(Eccl. 1:12-18 HRV)

For example “all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:14) is not Elohim’s revelation on the subject of life, but a pessimistic statement about what life seems like without Elohim’s revelation.  Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon uses the phrases “under heaven” and “under the sun” to emphasize the context of his statements.  In this context the book stresses how that, apart from Elohim’s revelation, a man’s life seems no more significant than an animals, that his death seems no different, and that we can see no afterlife.  For example:

I said in my heart: 'It is because of the sons of men,
that Elohim may sift them, and that they may see that
they themselves are but as beasts.'
For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts;
even one thing befalls them; as the one dies, so dies
the other; yes, they have all one breath; so that man
has no pre-eminence above a beast; for all is vanity.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust,
and all return to dust.
(Eccl. 3:18-20 HRV)

For the living know that they shall die; but the dead
know not any thing, neither have they any more
a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
(Eccl. 9:5 HRV)

Note that if we understand Ecc. 3:20 “all return to dust” means that there is no afterlife, then “all are dust” in the same verse, would have to mean we are not alive now!  And if the same interpretation is applies to all of Ecc. 9:5 then “neither have they any more a reward” would mean that there is no reward in the afterlife for any man.

Another book used to “prove” the doctrine of soul sleep is the book of Job.  The book of Job is similar to the book of Ecclesiastes, as much of the books contains the words of Job and his friends, but in the book YHWH rebukes Job’s unenlightened words saying:

1 Then YHWH answered Iyov, out of the whirlwind, and said:
2 Who is this that darkens counsel, by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up now your loins like a man: for I will demand of you, and declare you unto Me.
(Job 38:1-3 HRV)

Citing Job’s word’s in the Book of Job to support Soul Sleep is to make an uninformed use of the text of the book of Job.

Another passage often cited to support "Soul Sleep" is Psalm 146:4 "his thoughts are lost".  The Hebrew word for "thoughts" in Ps. 146:4 is עשתנות can also be translated "counsels".  It means that what thoughts that person might have shared with the world are lost. 


What the Hell?

There are three words translated “Hell” in most English Bibles, however “Hell” may not be the best translation for all or any of these words.  Let us examine these three words one at a time, and in the process, see what we may learn about the afterlife:


What is She’ol?

The first Hebrew word we will discuss is She’ol which the Greek texts render as “Hades.”  Some have taught that the Hebrew word “She’ol” (commonly translated “Hell”) should be simply understood as a Hebrew word for “grave” or “pit”.  However the Hebrew word She'ol always appears in the feminine form and NEVER has a definite artical in any of its many appearances in the Tanak. Therefore it is almost certain that SHE'OL is a proper noun, the name of a place.  As the Encyclopedia Judaica states:

“Several names are given to the abode of the dead, the most common being She’ol—always feminine and without the definite article—a sign of proper nouns.  The term does not occur in other Semitic languages, except as a loan word from Hebrew She’ol, and its etymology is obscure.”
(Encyclopedia Judaica; Article “Netherworld” p. 996)

In the Tanak the word SHE'OL is often contrasted with "Heaven" (Job 11:8; Ps. 139:8; Amos 9:2). According to the Tanak the wicked and godless nations go to SHE'OL (Ps. 9:17) According to Psalm 86:13 the soul goes to SHE'OL. According to Proverbs 15:24 SHE'OL can be avoided. In Prov. 23:14 a soul is delivered from SHE'OL. In Is. 57:9 a soul is lowered to SHE'OL.

So SHE'OL would seem to be the proper name of a place which may be contrasted with Heaven to which souls go and from which they may be delivered.

The First Century Jewish Historian Josephus describes the Pharisees as having a belief in this place of pre-resurrection afterlife.  He writes of the Pharisees:

"They hold the belief that an immortal strength belongs to souls, and that there are beneath the earth punishments and rewards for those who in life devoted themselves to virtue or vileness, and that eternal imprisonment is appointed for the latter, but the possibility of returning to life for the former"
(Josephus Ant. 18.1.3)

According to Ezek. 31:16-18 Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden) was cast into SHE'OL (Ezek. 31:16-18).  Thus Gan Eden has become a compartment within She’ol, where the righteous await the resurrection.  

The Book of Enoch describes this compartmentalized place of the pre-resurrection afterlife as follows:

1 And thence I went to another place, and he showed me toward the west a large and high mountain of hard rock.
2 And there was in it four hollow places, deep and wide and very smooth. How smooth are the hollow places and deep and dark to look at.
3 Then Rafa’el answered, one of the set-apart angels who was with me, and said unto me: 'These hollow places have been created for this very purpose, that the spirits of the souls of the dead should assemble therein, yea that all the souls of the children of men should assemble here.
4 And lo these are the pits for their imprisonment; they have been fashioned in this way till the day of their judgment and till the time of the end of the great judgment and till the time of the end of the great judgment, which is to be made against them.
5 ' There I saw the spirit of a dead man making suit, and his voice went forth to heaven crying unceasingly and making suit.
6 And I asked Rafa’el the watcher and set-apart one who was with me, and I said unto him: 'This spirit which makes suit, whose is it, whose voice goes forth and makes suit to heaven?'
7 And he answered me saying: 'This is the spirit which went forth from Abel, whom his brother Cain slew, and he makes his suit against him till  his seed is destroyed from the face of the earth, and his seed is annihilated from among the seed of men.'
8 Then I asked regarding it, and regarding all the hollow places: 'Why is one separated from the other?'
9 And he answered me and said unto me: 'These three have been made that the spirits of the dead might be separated. And such a division has been make (for) the spirits of the righteous, in which there is the bright spring of water.
10 And such has been made for sinners when they die and are buried in the earth and judgment has not been executed on them in their lifetime.
11 Here their spirits shall be set apart in this great pain till the great day of judgment and punishment and torment of those who curse for ever and retribution for their spirits. There He shall bind them for ever.
12 And such a division has been made for the spirits of those who make their suit, who make disclosures concerning their destruction, when they were slain in the days of the sinners.
13 Such has been made for the spirits of men who were not righteous but sinners, who were complete in transgression, and of the transgressors they shall be companions: but their spirits shall not be slain in the day of judgment nor shall they be afflicted from thence.'
14 Then I blessed YHWH of glory and said: 'Blessed be my Master, YHWH of righteousness, who rules for ever.'
(1Enoch 22:1-14)

Yeshua himself gives us a peek into the pre-resurrection afterlife in his account of El’azar and the rich man:

19 Now there was one rich man and he wore linen and purple, and everyday, he was luxuriously merry.
20 And there was one poor man, whose name was El’azar: and he lay at the gate of that rich man, stricken with sores.
21 And he desired that his belly be filled, from the crumbs that fell from the table of that rich man: but even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 Now time passed, and that poor man died, and the angels carried him to the bosom of Avraham: and also that rich man, died and was buried.
23 And while tormented in she’ol, he lifted up his eyes from afar, and saw Avraham, and El’azar in his bosom.
24 And he cried with a great voice and said, My father Avraham, have mercy on me.  And send El’azar to dip the tip of his finger in water, and to moisten my tongue for me, for behold, I am tormented in this flame.
25 Avraham said to him, My son, remember that you received your good during your life, and El’azar his bad: and now, behold, he is resting here, and you are tormented.
26 And with all these things, a great gulf is placed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you, are not able, nor from there, to pass over to us.
27 Then he said to him, I beg of you, my father, that you send him to the house of my father,
28 For I have five brothers. Let him go and testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment!
29 Avraham said to him, They have Moshe and the prophets: let them hear them.
30 And he said to him, No, my father Avraham, but if a man from the dead would go to them, they would repent.
31 Avraham said to him, If they will not hear Moshe and the prophets, even if a man would rise from the dead, they would not believe him.
(Luke 16:19-31 HRV)

Some have tried to dismiss this account as a mere parable.  However Yeshua does not introduce this account as a parable.  Instead he tells us “there was one rich man” and “there was one poor man” so as to tell us that these men actually existed and these events actually occurred.  However even if we were to accept that this account is a mere parable, the elements of the parable must be rooted in truth or the parable would be meaningless.  For example in the parable of the seed, seed sown in the various types of ground does in fact react in the same manner described in the parable.  A net cast into the sea does in fact bring forth fish.  The basic aspects of this account therefore, even if they are a parable, must be true.  Even if the events were meant as a parable, to be a valid parable with valid meaning, the events have to be events that at least COULD have happened.

In this account Yeshua describes Sheol as having at least two compartments, one is a place of rest, which he calls “The Bosom of Avraham” the other is not named, but is a place where one is “tormented in flame”.  We are told that the two are separated by “a great gulf” so that souls cannot cross from one to the other.


Souls are Conscious and Aware in She’ol

Of course the above passages have already demonstrated that souls are conscious and aware while in Sheol (thus the conversation between Avraham and El’azar in Luke 16:19-31 and Abel making suit in 1Enoch 22).  There are, however, several more:

9 And when He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar, the nefeshot [souls] of those who were killed because of the Word of Eloah, and because of the testimony of Yeshua that they had.
10 And they cried with a great voice and said, How long, YHWH, Set-Apart and True, do You not judge and require our blood of the inhabitants of the earth?
11 And there was given to each and every one of them a white robe. And it was said that they should rest for the period of a short time until it should be ended--even their fellows and their brothers who were about to be killed, as also they [had been].
(Rev. 6:9-11 HRV)


What is Gey Hinnim?

The next Hebrew word we will look at is Gey Hinnom sometimes abbreviated as Gehenna which the Greek transliterates into the Greek texts as “Gehenna”.

GEY HINNOM was a vally just outside of Jerusalem (Joh. 15:8; 18:16; Neh. 11:30; Jer. 19:2, 6) where pagans had offered up their own children to Ba'al and Molech (2Kn. 23:10; 2Ch. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31-32; 19:2, 6; 32:35). In the first century all of the refuse of the city was cast into GEY HINNOM and burned there.

In the Mishna GEY HINNOM is contrasted with Gan Eden and with the World to Come as the place where the wicked go (m.Avot 5:19-20; m.Eduy. 2:10) . The Talmud also contrasts GEY HINNOM with Heaven as a place where the wicked go (b.Ber. 28a). According to the Talmud GEY HINNOM is huge (b.Pes. 94a) and has seven compartments (b.Sotah 19b).

Josephus describes this place when he writes:

"They say that every soul is imperishable, but that only those of the righteous pass into another body, while those of the wicked are, on the contrary, punished with eternal torment"
(Josephus Wars 2.8.14)

"They hold the belief that an immortal strength belongs to souls, and that there are beneath the earth punishments and rewards for those who in life devoted themselves to virtue or vileness, and that eternal imprisonment is appointed for the latter, but the possibility of returning to life for the former"
(Josephus Ant. 18.1.3)

Yeshua alludes to Gey Hinnom as follows:

43 Now, if your hand offends you, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, than while you have two hands, to go to Gey-Hinnom,
44 <Where their worm does not die and their fire does not go out.>
45 And if your foot offends you, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, than while you have two feet, to fall into Gey-Hinnom,
46 <Where their worm does not die and their fire does not go out. >
47 And if your eye offends you, pluck it out. It is better for you that you enter the Kingdom of Eloah with one of your eyes, than while you have two eyes, to fall into Gey-Hinnom of fire,
48 Where their worm does not die, and their fire does not go out.
(Mark 9:43-48 HRV)

The phrase “their worm does not die” is taken from the last verse of Isaiah:

And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled
against Me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they
shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
(Isaiah 66:24 HRV)

According to Yeshua this verse of Isaiah speaks of Gey Hinnom.  No doubt Yeshua draws this connection from the Targum to this verse which reads:

And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men, the sinners, who have rebelled against my Word: for their souls shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and the wicked shall be judged in Gehinnom, till the righteous shall say concerning them, we have seen enough.
(Isaiah 66:24 Targum Jonathan)

Notice that the Targum which Yeshua clearly alludes to here, paraphrases “their worm shall not die” with “their SOULS shall not die” indicating the immortality of the souls in Gey Hinnom, and by implication eternal torment in “Hell”.

There is actually some debate in the ancient Jewish sources as to whether Gey Hinnom is a place of eternal torment, or whether souls sent there would eventually be released.  

Some sources seem to point to Gey Hinnom as a place of eternal torment.  As shown above the Targum Jonathan to Isaiah 66:24 speaks of Gey Hinnom as a place where the soul does not die.  One passage in the Talmus tells us:

When Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his disciples went in to visit him. When he saw them he began to weep. His disciples said to him: Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer! Wherefore weepest thou? He replied: If I were being taken today before a human king who is here today and tomorrow in the grave, whose anger if he is angry with me does not last for ever, who if he imprisons me does not imprison me forever and who if he puts me to death does not put me to everlasting death, and whom I can persuade with words and bribe with money, even so I would weep.
(b.Ber. 28b)

But while Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai  speaks of eternal punishment, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri held the view that the judgment of Gey Hinnom was only a temporary judgment:

Rabbi Akiva declared... The Judgment of the ungodly in Gehena is twelve months, for it is said, And it will be from one month until its [same] month (Is. 66:23-24).  Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri says: From Passover to Shavuot, for it is said from one sabbath until its next Sabbath.  
(m.Eduyot 2:10)

It is for this reason that many Rabbinical books (Such as the common English edition of the Tanya) render Gey Hinnom into English with the word “Purgatory” rather than “Hell”.

Yet another passage of Talmud teaches that punishment in Gey Hinnom is temporary in some cases, yet eternal in others:

Wrongdoers of Israel who sin with their body and wrongdoers of the Gentiles who sin with their body go down to Gehinnom and are punished there for twelve months. After twelve months their body is consumed and their soul is burnt and the wind scatters them under the soles of the feet of the righteous as it says, And ye shall tread down the wicked, and they shall be as ashes under the soles of your feet. But as for the minim and the informers and the scoffers, who rejected the Torah and denied the resurrection of the dead, and those who abandoned the ways of the community, and those who ‘spread their terror in the land of the living’, and who sinned and made the masses sin, like Jeroboam the son of Nebat and his fellows — these will go down to Gehinnom and be punished there for all generations, as it says, And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against me etc.
(b.Rosh HaShanna 17a)

If some souls are ultimately freed from Gey Hinnom after they are purged and purified in Gey Hinnom, it might explain certain passages.  

We read in 2nd Maccabees:

43 And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection:
44 For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.
45 And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.
(2Maccabees 12:43-45 KJV)  

This certainly implies that the eternal future of the dead, prior to the resurrection, may as yet be undetermined, that souls in Sheol, might yet be redeemed.  

This might also shed some light on a statement Yeshua makes concerning Gey Hinnom:

22 But I tell you, that whoever shall be enraged against his brother, he will be condemned to the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, You are nothing: he will be condemned to the council of the synagogue. And whoever says to him, You impious one: he will be condemned to the fire of Gey Hinnom.
23 And if you present your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you:
24 Leave your offering there before the altar, and go you first, to atone to your brother, and then come and give your offering.
25 Come to terms with your adversary quickly, while you are with him on the way: lest HaSatan deliver you up to the judge, and the judge deliver you up to the officer, and you be cast into the jail.
26 Amen, I tell you, you will not go out from there, until you have paid the last penny.
(Matt. 5:22-26 HRV see also Luke 12:58-59)

Here the “jail” (verse 25) is certainly Gey Hinnom (verse 22), but why does Yeshua add the statement “you will not go out from there, until you have paid the last penny.” (verse 26)?  In keeping with the Jewish traditions presented herein, is Yeshua not implying that, at least in some cases, Gey Hinnom is a temporary state?  

If so “blasphemy of the Ruach HaKodesh” would be one of the sins for which Gey Hinnom would be inescapable, as Yeshua says:

31 And therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven the sons of men:
but the blasphemy which is against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
32 And every man that says a word against a son of man, it will be forgiven him. But he
that says a word against the Ruach HaKodesh, it will not be forgiven him: neither in this
world, or in the world to come.
(Matt. 12:31-32 HRV)

It must be understood that this “temporary” Gey Hinnom, is not the temporary Gey Hinnom taught by the Soul Sleep doctrine, as these souls do not end their time in Gey Hinnom by being annihilated out of existence, (this is impossible, as we have already shown, the soul is inherently eternal) and as the Targum says “their soul does not die.”  Instead these souls are released, not annihilated.  

Of course the concept of a temporary stay in Gey Hinnom vs. a permanent stay there creates many questions.  WHo is the temporary stay for?  Do the unredeemed have an opportunity to become redeemed in Gey Hinnom?  Is this the meaning of "for this reason was the goodnews proclaimed to them which are dead" (1Kefa 4:6)?   Or are saved persons who have been unrighteous (not Torah Observant) purged in Gey Hinnom before they enter Gan Eden? 




What is Tachti?

One final word translated as “hell” in the KJV is Greek Torturous (Heb: Tachti) which appears in only one verse:

For if Eloah did not spare the angels who sinned,
but cast them down to takh’ti,
and delivered them into chains of darkness
to be reserved for judgment,
(2Kefa 2:4 HRV)

Takhti refers to the lowest parts of a pit, and in this case the lowest compartment of She’ol.  This compartment is reserved only for fallen angels and not for human souls.


Bringing it Together


Upon death the soul goes into SHE'OL.  The souls of the wicked go to a compartment known as Gey Hinnom while the righteous are kept in another compartment GAN EDEN which had been cast into SHE'OL (Ezek. 31:16-18). In between the two is a great fixed gulf (Luke 16:26). The souls of the dead await the resurrection in SHE'OL when they are reunited with their bodies and spirits at the resurrection. At that time GAN EDEN (or PARDES) is moved into the World to Come (the New heavens and the new Earth) (Rev. 2:7; 21:1; 22:2) while SHE'OL is cast into the lake of Fire (GEY HINNOM (Rev. 20:14)).

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