Most Christians believe they have an immortal soul. Upon their death, this soul will either ascend to heaven or descend to hell. This is false. “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man” (John 3:13). Jesus never promised eternal life in heaven. Moreover, the Bible does not contain the words “immortal soul.” Rather, Paul stated that only Jesus has attained immortality (I Timothy 6:16).
Right now, immortality belongs only to God (I Timothy 6:16) and to spirit beings (e.g. angels, demons). Instead, our fate is the grave. God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). And it’s “appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
God did not give us an immortal soul. Instead, He gave us a spirit in man: “But it is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding” (Job 32:8). This human spirit separates us from animals. It gives us the ability to reason and discern between right and wrong. It’s also instrumental in salvation: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:14-16).
God’s Spirit interacts with our spirit to create a new creature in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). We are then begotten, or conceived, by God. This is analogous to human creation. When our fathers’ sperm united with our mothers’ egg, we were conceived and born nine months later. Likewise, God’s Spirit unites with our spirit to create a new spiritual creature in Christ. We are spiritually conceived but not yet born. The nine months we spend in our mothers’ womb is analogous to the lifetime we spend nurturing this new creature in Christ. We feed it through Bible study, prayer, fasting, and obedience to God.
Although our temporal bodies decay daily, this new creature in Christ is renewed: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).
Paul contrasts our fleshy bodies, which he calls “tabernacles” or “tents,” with the spiritual new creature in Christ. “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life” (II Corinthians 5:1-4). We “groan” in our temporal bodies, forever yearning for the day when our spiritual bodies will emerge. The difference between our physical and spiritual bodies is almost indescribable. “There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (I Corinthians 15:40-44).
We cannot inherit the Kingdom of God in our temporal bodies. But the new creature in Christ will: “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed -- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (I Corinthians 15:50-52).
At the resurrection, this new creature in Christ is born. If we’re living when Jesus returns, we’ll be changed. If not, God will resurrect us, or rather, the new creature in Christ. We’ll shed our temporal bodies and be clothed with immortality. This will occur in the “twinkling of an eye.” At one moment, we’re flesh; at another, spirit beings. Jesus described the spirit body to Nicodemus: “You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).
According to the Bible, the dead are asleep. “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:16-20). Also, Luke writes that Stephen “fell asleep” after his stoning (Acts 7:60).
We came from dust, and to dust we shall return. The dead know nothing: “For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). Moreover, “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).
The word “hell” in the Old Testament is translated exclusively from the Hebrew word Sheol. Many of the older translators (e.g. the King James Version of 1611) translated Sheol as either “hell” or the “grave.” However, these older translators were products of their time, and therefore accepted the worldly traditions that have been passed down throughout the millennia. It’s helpful to remember Paul’s advice with respect to these traditions: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
As we’ve already seen, many early church fathers were neo-Platonists who embraced Plato’s ideas about the afterlife. Despite God’s unambiguous declaration to Adam - “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19) - these men Christianized Plato’s doctrine that immoral and amoral “souls” are tormented in the afterlife, and that good “souls” are rewarded with bliss. The older translators believed this nonsense, and unfortunately many people today blithely accept such pagan notions. The later translators, however, realized that these Old Testament scriptures referred to the “grave,” and in most places translated Sheol as the grave. (In a few other places, they did not translate Sheol. Instead, they included and italicized the Hebrew word in the translated sentence.)
The word “hell” in the New Testament is translated from the following Greek words:
a) Gehenna (occurs twelve times: Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33. Mark 9:43, 45, 47. Luke 12:5. James 3:6): This is from the transliterated Hebrew word Gai’ Hinnom, which means “Valley of Hinnom.” Anciently, this Valley of Hinnom was where human sacrifice occurred (II Kings 23:10; Isaiah 30:33; Jeremiah 7:31, 32; Jeremiah 19:11-14). “The place acquired an evil repute on account of the idolatrous practices carried on there” (Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, article on Valley of Hinnom). By the first century AD, in Jesus’ time, “perpetual fires (were) said to have been kept burning to consume the rubbish of the city (Jerusalem)” (ibid, same article). Thus, Jesus’ use of the word Gehenna (e.g. Matthew 5:22, etc.) evoked a place where people were once burnt alive. By using Gehenna in the context of God’s punishment (e.g. Matthew 10:28, 23:15, etc.), Jesus was using this place as an example of what God will do to evildoers: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire, says the LORD Almighty. Not a root or a branch will be left to them” (Malachi 4:1). Notice that evildoers will not burn eternally, but that they will be burnt and consumed by fire. The fire stoked by God at Jesus’ return will burn and consume the evildoers. This is the proper meaning of Gehenna fire (unfortunately mistranslated as “hell fire” in several older translations).
b) Hades (occurs eleven times: Matthew 11:23; 16:18. Luke 10:15; 16:23. Acts 2:27, 31. I Corinthians 15:55. Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14): This word should be translated as the “grave.” From Appendix 131 of the Companion Bible: “As Hades is the Divine Scriptural equivalent of Sheol….It may be well to note that while ‘Hades’ is rendered ‘hell’ in the New Testament (except once, where the rendering ‘the grave’ could not be avoided), Sheol, its Hebrew equivalent, occurs 65 times, and is rendered ‘the grave’ 31 times (or 54%); ‘hell’ 31 times (4 times with margin ‘the grave,’ reducing it to 41.5%); and ‘pit’ only 3 times (or 4.5 %)….The rendering ‘the grave’….exactly expresses the meaning of both Sheol and Hades. For, as to direction, it is always down; as to place, it is in the earth; as to relation, it is always in contrast with the state of the living (Deuteronomy 32:22-25 and I Samuel 2:6-8); as to association, it is connected with mourning (Genesis 37:34, 35), sorrow (Genesis 42:38. II Samuel 22:6. Psalms 18:5, 116:3), fright and terror (Numbers 16:27, 34), mourning (Isaiah 38:3, 10, 17, 18), silence (Psalms 6:5; 31:17; Ecclesiastes 9:10), no knowledge (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10), punishment (Numbers 16:29, 34; I Kings 2:6, 9. Job 24:19)…..corruption (Psalms 16:10. Acts 2:27, 31); as to duration, resurrection is the only exit from it (Psalms 16:11. Acts 2:27, 31; 13:33-37; I Corinthians 15:55. Revelation 1:18; 20:5, 13, 14).”
c) Tartaroo (or Tarturus) occurs only in II Peter 2:4 - “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons, to be held for judgment.” Some of the oldest manuscripts use the term “chains of darkness” in the place of “hell.” The former rendering is reminiscent of Jude’s description of demons: “And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Jude referred to fallen angels who, because they rebelled against God, turned into demons. These demons are reserved in “everlasting chains” until the future judgment of God. The word Tartaroo or Tarturus therefore applies only to these demons, and not to humans.
Hell is fictional. Moreover, the doctrine of hell is inextricably tied to the belief in the immortality of the soul. However, the Bible clearly states that only Jesus has attained immortality (I Timothy 6:16), and that our fate is the grave (Genesis 3:19, Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). However, there’s hope after the grave.
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming” (I Corinthians 15:20-23). The first resurrection (of the dead in Christ) occurs when Jesus returns; the living saints will be changed. The second resurrection of everyone not resurrected or changed when Jesus returns will occur one thousand years later (Revelation 20:5). The “second death” awaits everyone who consciously and stubbornly rejects Jesus: “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:13-14). This is the death from which there is no resurrection. (Send for our free audio tape entitled, "The Three Resurrections.")
God is the embodiment of love. Satan, on the other hand, is the embodiment of evil. The doctrine of hell is an evil, satanic myth designed to portray God as uncaring, mean, and unmerciful. That is not the God portrayed in the Bible. And it is not the God who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."