This article presupposes you listened to my January 29 message. In it, I told you that I wanted to say some things about the immortality of the soul, but did not have time. If you missed the message, you can find it in our sermon archive. Click on the sermon for January 29: "Should We Still Be Talking About Hell?" In it, I explain how I see more Biblical evidence (I may be wrong) that hell is a very real one-time event of judgment rather than a place of eternal torment.
I don't think I'm too far off base if I assert that most Christians believe the soul is immortal. Such a thought seems completely consistent with living forever – whether that forever is in heaven or hell. If the human "essence", which is commonly called the "soul", is immortal, then hell along with heaven must be an eternal, conscious state. I do not believe that the Bible teaches that the human soul is immortal. I believe the Bible teaches that only God is immortal. Human beings have the possibility of living forever with God (receiving an immortal existence) only if what God did for Jesus He does for them, namely resurrection. This is the promise of God for any who will put their trust in His Son.
I had originally thought that I would seek to explain in this article why I believe it is reasonable to conclude that the origin of an immortal soul came from the Greeks (most fully developed by Plato). I then would have traced the thought through Origen, Augustine and Thomas Acquinas. I would have further explained that the Jews historically did not believe in an immortal soul. In truth, the concept would have seemed blasphemous: "only God is immortal" would have been the cry of any who suggested such a thing.
However, following and evaluating such historical/philosophical developments might be less helpful than what I have decided to do: list each passage in the New Testament in which immortality is addressed. You will notice that nowhere present is the thought of humans possessing an immortal soul.
There are three Greek words which are translated "immortal or immortality."
Athanasia is closest to the English word "immortality." It is used twice.
1) 1 Corinthians 15:53-54. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” The context of this passage is resurrection. God will make His own immortal at the Resurrection on the Great Day of the Lord at the culmination of history.
2) I Timothy 6:15b-16a. God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal. Only God is immortal. You aren't. Get over it.
Aphtharsia can be translated "immortal", "imperishable" or "indestructible."
1) 1 Corinthians 15:53-54. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable (immortality), and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable (immortal), and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Clear enough.
2) Romans 2:7. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. "Immortality" is not something we possess, it is something to hope for.
3) 1 Timothy 1:10. (Grace) has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Immortality is not a human-born state, it is possible through being enlightened through the gospel.
Aphtartos is an adjective that describes immortality. It can include the thought of not being subject to decay. Rather than comment on each of these texts, I will just list them. They are: Romans 1:23; 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 1:23.
A pastoral word . . . I think we need to be aware that Jesus who spoke of the beauty of eternal life with God also spoke of the terrible possibility of judgment. Be careful not to dismiss the latter, but preoccupation with hell can be damaging. Rather, be preoccupied with the goodness and the promises of God.
Jesus: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16