WHAT leaves the body at death? Is it the spirit and what is the difference between the soul and the spirit? This is a very cornplex subject. Death is described in the Bible as the giving up of the spirit (pneuma; Luke 23:46) and the laying down or departure of the soul (AV: life, Greek: psuche; John 10:11,15,17).A full study of such a question needs a list of every occurrence of where the words spirit, soul, life and body are used throughout the Bible.Then each verse has to be examined to see how these terms are used alone in each context and in combinations of one or more of these words in relation to a person or body.

In the absence of such detailed research, an assessment is possible on the basis of several key verses.


...and I beheld and lo the sinew and flesh came up on them (the dry bones) and the skin covered them but there was no spirit in them. - Ezekiel 27:8

...spirit of life (Greek: zoe) out of God entered into them and they stood up on their feet... referring to the two witnesses. - Revelation 11:11

...a body without spirit is dead... (as were the dry bones of Ezekiel 37:8.) - James 2:26

A principle is evident in the verses: it is the spirit that gives life to the creature and the spirit originates from God. The spirit is an essence or substance (like breath) which has no shape nor visible form to indicate its presence. (This is to be distinguished from spirit beings that can exist independently of a body). Hence when the creature dies, the body goes to corruption but the spirit which gave it life returns to God from whence it came.


The soul is neither body nor spirit. Paul refers to three components in I Thessalonians 5:23, when he asks for a blessing for the whole assembly and refers to it as a living entity having a body (soma), soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma). Jesus states that God is a spirit and hence we find in Matthew 12:18 a reference to Godís Soul (psuche) and Godís Spirit (pneuma) - Jesus is the physical manifestation of the Godhead. In Acts 2:27, Peter quotes David as saying Thou wilt not abandon my soul (psuche) in hell (Greek: Hades, Hebrew: Sheol - the spirit is not mentioned because it has already returned to God)

Soul is used throughout Scripture in reference to any living thing. It expresses the nature, character and personality of the individual - whether man or anirnal. Hence it identifies the individual and accounts for the differences between one individual arid another The difficulty in explaining it arises because, while body and soul can be separated, the soul and the spirit can only be distinguished (Hebrews 4:12).

In the Greek text of John 10:17, Jesus said that He lays down His soul (psuche) for Israel. The word psuche means soul - not body not spirit and not life (as translated in the AV). And in this same verse Jesus stated He would take up His soul again when He rose from the dead. In Luke 24:37. when Jesus appeared to the Apostles after His resurrection, they all took fright thinking they were seeing a spirit. But Jesus said ... a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have. Hence Jesus, when resurrected, had His own body, His own soul and His own spirit (commended to the Father from the stake) which gave Him life.

Thus in terms of the original question, when a liiving thing dies whether it be plant, animal or man:

a. its body goes to corruption,

b. its spirit (the life-principle) returns to God,

c. but what happens to the soul depends very much on whether we are discussing animal, vegetable, natural man or an Israelite!

By putting His Name Jehovah (The God of the Living) on Israel (Exodus 6:3,4) God, in effect, guarantees their ultimate resurrection and continuity as an Eternal People. But because all Israelites must die (as a consequence of Adamic sin) it is necessary to preserve the souls of all Israelites from the time of death until their resurrection to either everlasting life or to shame and age-long contempt (Daniel 12:2).Therefore,when an Israelite dies (whether good or bad), we are told;

a. the body goes to the grave and corruption,

b. the spirit returns to God,

c. but the soul - that quality which identifies the individual person - sleeps with the fathers in Sheol.


From Acts 2:27 we can establish that Hades is the New Covenant equivalent of Sheol in the Old Covenant. From the usage of Sheol it is best translated by (The) Grave - that is, not just any grave. The more popular meaning of Hades as "the unseen world" is derived from its common Greek usage outside of the Bible. In an 1877 commentary on the Prayer Book, we find the following notes against the word Hell (in the Apostles Creed) it states:

"Hell", Hades, the unseen world, into which the soul passes when it is separated from The body and where it awaits the resurrection of the body and the final judgement. This clause shows that Christ had a reasonable human soul, which was subject at death to exactly the same law as we are subject to.

We have been taught to believe that after Jesus died on the stake, He descended into Hell, meaning some awesome place below. But this is not true - His soul descended into The Grave where there is no work, device, knowledge or wisdom - (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It is certainly not Satanís domain. (Until the time of Jesusí death, Satan legally owned the dead bodies (Jude 9) but Jesusí death paid the price for these bodies, including His own). Consequently, Jesus states (Revelation 1:18) that He holds the keys of Death and The Grave. After the Day of Judgement, The Grave and Death will be cast into the Lake of Fire, the lake, the (one) of fire - (Revelation 20:14).

Peter states that Jesus having died in the flesh was quickened in the spirit. After He had risen, Jesus went and proclaimed, not preached, His victory over death to the angels in prison (Tartarus, 2 Peter 2:4, I Peter 3:19). These are not the souls in The Grave because that is the place from which He had just risen and the souls in The Grave have no knowledge of anything, including such a proclamation by Jesus.

The spirit which quickened Jesus was His own spirit returning to Him at tile end of His three days in the heart of The Earth. This was in accordance with the power and authority which He held but had laid aside at the start of those three days (on the morning of Thursday, 14th Nisan). Similarly, at the First Resurrection, it is only those spirits that hear and understand the shouted command of the voice of the Son of God (John 5:25) that will leave their place with God to raise their respective souls from The Grave. (Those amongst the living who are acceptable are changed into their eternal form in the twinkling of an eye, - I Corinthians 15:52).


In the Old Covenant, Ge-Hinnom, the Vale of Hinnom (the vale of burning), was the place outside the gates of Jerusalem where children were passed through the fire in worship of Moloch. In later times the valley was the place where carrion (carcasses, offal etc.) and other refuse from the Temple was destroyed by means of a fire always kept burning. At the time of Jesus the valley had become the rubbish dump for Jerusalem where the cityís garbage and other worthless refuse was incinerated in a continual fire. It was from this historical basis that Ge-Henna became associated with the true place of destruction in the New Covenant Scriptures. It should be translated as The Place of Destruction which conveys something of its meaning, rather than transliterated which conveys none of its meaning. Hence we find in the Greek text of Matthew 5:22 that Jesus refers to The Place of Destruction, the (one) of fire and in Matthew 18:8 the AV refers to the hell of fire, but the Greek refers to the fire, the eternal (one). From these references it follows that The Place of Destruction and the Lake of Fire and Sulphur are one and the same.

As stated earlier, when an Israelite dies, the spirit returns to God and the body goes into the ground. The soul goes to The Grave where it is held incommunicado until the resurrection. Sheol occurs 65 times in the Old Covenant Scriptures. Its factors, 5 x 13, tell us that The Grave is a place of division affecting the spirit (13 is the number of Division - rebellion does not occur before there is division, 5 is the number of Spirit). The Grave divides the soul from the spirit. Hades is used only 10 times in the New Covenant Scriptures - 10 is the number of sufficiency (for example, 10 Commandments are sufficient to embody the Law). The 10 occurrences of Hades and its association with death tell us that physical death is a sufficient price to pay for our sin (under the Law) and no further price is to be paid. But the price to escape eternal death is a different matter.

At the First Resurrection, those who have already died but are deemed acceptable to Jesus because of their belief in Him will be raised. They will live in their eternal form wth their body, soul and spirit intact. Those who are not acceptable and those who die during the Millennium will be raised from The Grave at the Second Resurrection. They also will have their body, soul and spirit but will face the judgement of the Great White Throne. This is not a judgement based on active belief but judgement based on ignorance of or rejection of God and how that individual treated his fellow Israelites. Some will receive the judgement foretold in the parable of the Ten Talents - their spirit will be taken from them and given to others and the remaining husk of body and soul will be cast into the Lake of Fire. It is not the casting in that is to be feared but the doom which follows. That destruction is total extinction of both the body and the soul. For such a person no etemal life is possible.


It is unfortunate that both the AV and RSV have mistranslated Sheol and Hades indiscriminately as Hcll, the grave, the pit and Ge-henna to the confusion of all who read those versions. The worst part of the confusion is that it hides from us the relatively simple and straight-forward understanding of what happens to us at death arid why there is nothing to fear in dying. Everyone has the capacity to verify these things for themselves by using an interlinear version to identify which Hebrew or Greek word has been used in the relevant verses. It takes some extra effort to reveal the meanings contained in the correct words and in the related numbers. But the magnitude of that effort is far outweighed by the magnitude of the reward.

(With acknowledgements to RXWRNP - 29 March 1993)


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