QUESTION: Hi Dr Cheng, there is one issue that I don't believe is the truth regarding death that is written in the Bible regarding death, that our soul dies when the body dies and that we cease to exist after that.
This issue is what stops me in studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Yesterday I was overcome by a great feeling of joy, having a thought that I might decide to do a Bible study again, but as usual, the above issue stopped me from going any further, again.
I don't know what to do. Could you please offer me some advice, in Gods Name. Thank you.
ANSWER: Hi, Collin,
Thank you for submitting your question, which I'll be glad to answer below.
To answer your question, we need to understand the meaning of the Hebrew word "nephesh," from which "soul" is translated in the Old Testament. Let's see a few verses in the creation account that contain "nephesh" to understand its meaning. I'll put "nephesh" in brackets to the right of a word to indicate that it's the original word used:
1) "God created the large sea creatures, and every living creature [nephesh] that moves, with which the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind." (Genesis 1:21, WEB)
2) "God said, 'Let the earth produce living creatures [nephesh] after their kind, livestock, creeping things, and animals of the earth after their kind'; and it was so." (Genesis 1:24)
3) "Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul [nephesh]." (Genesis 2:7)
From the above, we see that "creature" and "soul" are translated from "nephesh." Sea creatures, land creatures, and humans are all called "nephesh." Hence, "nephesh" (or "soul") means "living creature." A goldfish is a soul, and so is a little boy. So we can correctly say, "The poor soul died" when our beloved pet passed away. This is why the Jehovah's Witnesses explain that when we die, our souls die, because "soul" ("nephesh") is synonymous with "living creature." In this sense, they are correct.
However, "nephesh" also refers to "life" in the Bible. For example, in Genesis 35:18, it speaks of Rachel's nephesh (life) departing, as she was dying due to her troubled childbirth. In this sense, nephesh departs when we die.
Therefore, when we explain what "nephesh" means, we have to do so in the right context. We cannot give a generic answer that explains everything.
The Bible does not support the common belief about souls. For instance, many of us believe that after we die, our "souls" come out of our bodies, float around the room, and can feel emotions and see our weeping loved ones. But the Bible simply does not support this. The Bible does not tell us that our nephesh has a mind of its own or is a conscious entity that can think.
In conclusion, it is correct to say that our souls die when we die, because "soul" ("nephesh") means "living creature." It is also correct to say that our "soul" ("nephesh") departs when we die, depending on the context, as "nephesh" has multiple meanings. However, "nephesh" is never explained by the Bible as a conscious being. Therefore, when we die, our thoughts cease, and we do not know anything. This is why the Bible sometimes calls death "sleep."
Like a deep sleep, all the dead will be resurrected; the righteous unto eternal life, and the wicked unto eternal death (John 5:28-29; Daniel 12:2). Hence, death is not the end of our existence if we are righteous followers of Christ and of Yahweh. When Jesus returns, all the righteous will be resurrected and be given eternal life with him and Yahweh! This is the hope that the apostle Paul urged all believers to hold on to (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
I hope I've fully clarified the issue concerning death and our nephesh. If you need me to clarify anything further, please don't hesitate to ask.
Studying the Word of God and living by it is the wisest thing we can do now, as the whole duty of humanity is to serve our Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:13). I pray that you will be led to the right Bible study partners so you can deepen your understanding of and relationship with our dear Heavenly Father. If you wish, I'd be more than happy to be Bible buddies with you. You can learn about my online Bible study class at http://www.ultra-ability.com
I teach the Bible in depth from Genesis to Revelation via e-mail only, so everything progresses in my students' own comfortable pace.
Thank you again for your question, and have a great day.
www.Ultra-Ability.com Ministry - Learn the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation in depth
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: So everything that we have learnt during our lifetime is gone. We will be just bones in the grave or ash if we are cremated. How can God resurrect bones or ash and put back to life the millions of dead in the world. What sounds logical is that all our knowledge and experiences are ina non physical body and whenChrist comes we will be given a new immortal body. I think that this explanation makes more sense. We are not plants that die and go into the ground and cease to exist.
Thank you for your question and comments. I'd be glad to respond to them below.
You said: So everything that we have learnt during our lifetime is gone.
My response: No, this is not what the Bible says. From what I've gathered from the Bible, it appears that every person once resurrected will know exactly who they are, and who others are, and they will retain memory of the past. The apostle Paul urged Christians to hold on to the hope that they will be reunited with others (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), so this clearly shows that we will recognize others and thus remember the past.
Additionally, after our resurrection, God will comfort people of their painful past (Revelation 21:4). If people would lose their memory, then it would be unnecessary for God to comfort them.
You said: We will be just bones in the grave or ash if we are cremated. How can God resurrect bones or ash and put back to life the millions of dead in the world.
My response: Do you truly believe that the Almighty Creator of the universe who created the very first body from the lifeless dust of the ground (Adam) and gave it life would be unable to revive dead bodies or even raise them from the ashes?
You said: What sounds logical is that all our knowledge and experiences are ina non physical body and whenChrist comes we will be given a new immortal body. I think that this explanation makes more sense. We are not plants that die and go into the ground and cease to exist.
My response: Please tell me where and how the Bible supports the "explanation" you provided. If we believe in Yahweh and trust that the Bible is His Word, then we have to decide to listen to it, one hundred percent of it. We cannot pick and choose which parts of the Bible we like and disregard the others, nor should we come up with our own explanation that is not supported by the Bible.
God does not have to work according to our own philosophy or what makes sense to us. By His very nature, Yahweh works outside of science and the laws of nature. His miracles do not and cannot make sense according to our logic, as miracles are outside of the laws of nature. Moreover, we are not God, so cannot and should not determine how God ought to carry out His work.
We are not like plants. We will all be resurrected someday after our deaths. Hence, death is not the end of our existence, only a temporary sleep. We will be like a seed that lies dormant in the soil during winter and "comes to life" in spring.
Thank you again for your question and comments. If you have any other question, please don't hesitate to ask.