A friend asked me about this the other day, and I had to research it, so I thought I would post what I learned.
The idea of an immortal soul which lives on after death is part of many people’s understanding of christianity. But it probably isn’t true.
What the Bible says
In both the Old and New Testaments, the words translated as soul (Hebrew: nephesh; Greek: psyche) clearly mean a living person, sometimes even a living creature (e.g. in Genesis 1 & 2). In Jewish thought people are not divisible into parts (soul, body, etc) but are unified beings.
People are mortal, not immortal, and when we die we return to dust. The christian hope is not in the immortality of the soul but in the resurrection of the body, via the grace of God.
- The idea of a soul as separate from the body and able to live on after the body has died, appears to come from Greek thought (specifically Plato and his followers), not from the Bible or Jewish thought.
- When Jesus talks about God destroying body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28), he is talking about the destruction of physical bodies and the life or self that is contained within them. I believe he means what he says, that we are not immortal, and those who refuse God’s grace forfeit eternal life (see Hell – what does the Bible say?).
- This more biblical view of soul meaning a living person removes some of the difficulties christians have faced of trying to determine when the soul enters the body at birth and leave sit at death. These questions are no longer applicable.
To see the words used in the Bible and their meanings, which lead to these conclusions, see Do we have an immortal soul?