Human beings are not merely biological creatures composed of matter and brain waves. We are comprised of both body and soul, as we see clearly in Scripture in passages like Matthew 10:28. The soul is the thing that distinguishes humans from the animals, who are merely biological creations. But what exactly is the soul, and where does it come from?
The soul is the part of us that is spirit. Our souls are the seat of the will, which we discussed last month, as well as our reason. When God breathed into Adam the breath of life (Gen. 2:7), he added a soul to the body he had formed for Adam from the dust of the ground. Because human beings are pervaded by sin from the time of Adam and Eve, and sin affects not only the body but also the soul by corrupting reason and will and turning them to evil, the soul is also fallen into sin.
It is an interesting question to consider the origin of your own soul. As can be demonstrated from science, your body was composed by God using the flesh and DNA of your parents. God didn’t fashion you directly from clay, but formed you using your parents as agents, and the womb of your mother to grow and nurture you.
But from where did your soul originate? There are two ways Christians have answered that question. Some have answered that God mysteriously creates a new soul and joins it to the baby in the womb at the moment of conception. Since sin is passed down from parents to children going all the way back to Adam, those who teach soul creationism would argue that the soul becomes sinful through contact with the sinful body.
The other answer to the question of the origin of the soul is called “traducianism.” It points to the creation of the human being from the parents and applies this to the soul as well. Just as your body was fashioned by God from the “material” provided by your parents, so also your soul is created by God from the souls of your father and mother. In this theory, the propagation of original sin is easily explained because sinful soul is created from sinful soul.
This question is one of the Bible’s “open questions.” An open question isn’t merely something that Christians have disagreed on. There are plenty of doctrines that the Bible is clear on that nevertheless Christian denominations and teachers have denied and contradicted. Rather, open questions are questions that the Bible does not specifically answer one way or the other. Scripture does unequivocally state the God is the creator of the soul (Jer. 38:22, Ps. 119:73), but it does not describe whether God uses the soul material of the parents in the process or not. Lutherans have generally favored traducianism as the more likely explanation, but since the Bible does not answer this question, we cannot say with certainty one way or the other.
One thing the Bible is very clear on, however, is the state of the soul after death. When we die, our bodies and souls are separated from one another. Neither one is destroyed, because our bodies rest in the ground awaiting resurrection, and our souls continue to live even after the death of the body.
While Scripture does not speak
in great detail of the state of the soul after death, it does proclaim clearly
there is a different outcome for the souls of believers from that of unbelievers.
The souls of unbelievers are kept “in prison,” a place of punishment until
Judgment Day (1 Pet. 3:19-20). We might call this “hell,” but it is distinct
from the final punishment that will occur for unbelievers on the last day,
where they will suffer not only in their souls, but also their bodies (Rev.
The scripture describes the souls of unbelievers as dwelling in God’s hand (Acts 7:59). We also know from the words of Christ to the repentant thief on the cross that even this intermediate state of the soul after death but before the resurrection is with Christ and can be described as “paradise” (Luke 23:43, Php. 1:23). Some have theorized that the soul merely “sleeps” until the day of the resurrection, but this is inconsistent with what Jesus said to the thief on the cross. He wasn’t merely going to sleep until the resurrection, but was that very day with Jesus in paradise.
When we comfort ourselves and our families with the promise of heaven in the face of death, I think most of us have in mind this intermediate state of the soul after death but before the resurrection. While it is a paradise, we also know that it’s not the final state of the Christian. In Revelation 6, we are given a picture of the martyrs, who have been put to death for the sake of God’s Word. We know they are in the presence of Christ, because they are “under the altar” (Rev. 6:9). However, these souls who are in the presence of Jesus in paradise know that something is not yet complete. They cried out with a loud voice, “O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been (Rev. 6:10-11). What they are waiting for is the resurrection of the body and the Day of Judgment, which will be better for the souls of Christians than even the paradise of heaven they are enjoying now until that time.
The final state of man, then, is for soul and body to be reunited to life. Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 15, But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:20-26). Neither body nor soul will be destroyed, but will be reunited to live before God in his kingdom forever.
I hope you enjoyed this discussion of the origin and state of the soul. While there is so much more that can be said about the human being, we’ve finished our brief survey of what the Bible says about being human. However, we are not quite done with the series just yet! Next month, we will discuss some prevailing ideologies in our day that contradict what God says about humanity. As always, please contact me with questions or comments.