Does the Soul Survive Death?

Read John 11:17–26


The question at this point is not, “Will the dead live again?” There are those who believe that the dead will indeed live again but deny that the soul survives death! To be sure, this is a strange theory, but it is held by some people.

Neither is the question now, “When a man dies, does his soul survive in a state of consciousness?” That question, too, is very interesting and will be considered in a future Outline.

The present question is simply this, “When a man dies, does his soul survive?”



I am not thinking now primarily of materialists. We all know that the out-and-out materialist teaches that the thought-process or the human “soul” is the secretion of the brain, as bile is the secretion of the liver; and that, accordingly, just as the production of bile ceases when the liver dies, so also the thought-process ceases when the brain stops functioning. But it is not our purpose to pay much attention to these materialists. In their desire to reduce everything to matter they are rejecting the universal testimony of nature and of the senses. Besides, they do not even claim to stand on the same platform with us, for they reject the Bible, while we accept it.

I am thinking especially of the Russellites, the Watch Tower people, International Bible Students, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Millennial Dawnists, or by whatever name they may be called in your community. These people claim that they believe in Scripture. Nevertheless, they reject the idea of survival after death. Thus, according to J. F. Rutherford, “the thief (of Luke 23:40–43) went out of existence (italics are mine—H.), and must remain dead until the resurrection” (Heaven and Purgatory, p. 23). And if you refer to the fact that Jesus told this penitent thief, “Verily I say unto thee, Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise,” Rutherford answers that the proper translation or interpretation of that passage is really this: “On this day I solemnly put a question to you, Shall you be with me in Paradise?” (same pamphlet, p. 21).

Constant reference is made, of course, to such passages as Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20; 9:2, 3, 5, 10. Now, according to these passages, the same thing happens to both men and beasts, in that they all die, and the dead know nothing. “This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event for all.”


Let no one scare you with these quotations from the book of Ecclesiastes. That book speaks of goads and nails (Ecclesiastes 12:11). There are those who interpret the goad as being the problem, viewed as a stimulus to earnest reflection, and the nail as the solution, which is nailed down in this or that observation of wisdom. The goad, according to that interpretation, would be that which perplexes the man who looks at things from the standpoint of the earth (“under the sun”). Well, as it looks from here, is it not true that men and beasts all die, and that when they die they lose all direct contact with this world? Are they not all the same in that respect?—But there is also a nail, a solution. Viewed from the region above the sun, the author of Ecclesiastes knows that the lot of the righteous is not the same as that of the wicked (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Also, he knows that there is, indeed, a life after death. Man’s spirit does not go out of existence. On the contrary, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the Spirit shall return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Dr. G. Ch. Aalders, in his excellent commentary on Ecclesiastes, says, “Does this saying mean to exclude all activity from the life after this life? Not any more than the saying of our Savior recorded in John 9:4 (“Night is approaching when no man can work”). Such expressions refer only to the cessation of all ‘toil under the sun,’ that is, of all human activity here on earth” (Commentaar op het Oude Testament, p. 205).

And what shall we say with respect to Rutherford’s translation or interpretation of Christ’s word to the penitent thief? How utterly childish! Jesus, then, is supposed to have said, “Verily I say unto thee today.” Well, of course, he said it today. When else would he be saying it? And as to the suggestion that after the solemn introduction, “Verily I say unto thee,” Jesus asked a question, and did not follow up his introductory words with a solemn declaration, as he does in every similar instance, where is there even the slightest ground for such a thoroughly ridiculous notion?


From the section which was read at the beginning of this lesson (John 11:17–26) it became evident that Jesus assured Martha that believing is followed by living, and that living and believing is followed by never dying. “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never, never die.” We agree, of course, that the continued life of which Jesus here speaks is far more than mere continued existence. But, at least, it implies continued existence, which is all we are interested in just now.

Let us now return to Ecclesiastes, the very book from which the Russellites love to quote. The passage which we have in mind is 3:11, “He has set eternity in their heart” (thus rendered in the text of the American Standard Version; see a similar translation in the Revised Standard Version. The new Dutch rendering has “Oak heeft Hij de eeuw in hun hart gelegd”). If this rendering he correct, the passage would mean that man’s soul reaches out for the life after this life. But even if, with Dr. G. Ch. Aalders, a slightly different rendering should prove to be the correct one, so that the passage would mean that God has placed in man’s soul the urge to reflect or meditate on whatever happens during the course of time (op. cit., p. 77), the main conclusion would be the same, namely, that according to the solution arrived at even by the author of Ecclesiastes, man is not in every respect like the beast. Man has a reflecting, meditating soul; the beast has not.

Then take Exodus 3:6 in the light of Matthew 22:32. It is clear, is it not, that (according to the words of our Lord) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were definitely alive, even though their bodies were in the grave. They were destined for the day of the resurrection.

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) teaches that both these characters are alive immediately after death. Neither of them has gone “out of existence.”

Hebrews 11:13–16 shows that the heroes of faith had considered themselves “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” and that they had been seeking and actually reached the heavenly country which God had prepared for them.—Indeed, even at this very moment there is in existence “the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven.” There live also “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23).

There are many more Scripture passages which prove that the soul survives the body. We shall refer to some of them in future Outlines.


A. Questions Answered in the Outline

1. What is the question which we are seeking to answer in this Outline?

2. What are the arguments of those who deny the soul’s survival?

3. How do you answer these arguments?

4. What evidence does the Old Testament offer for the position that the soul survives the death of the body?

5. What evidence for this position does the New Testament offer?

B. Additional Questions

1. Would you consider the general resurrection at the end of the age to be proof for the survival of the soul after death?

2. Did Jesus go “out of existence” when he died? See luke 23:46.

3. Did Stephen go “out of existence” when he died? See Acts 7:59.

4. What happened to Elijah when his life on earth was finished? Did he go “out of existence”? Do you think he found anyone else in heaven besides God and Enoch?

5. What is the practical significance of the doctrine discussed in this lesson?