In the light of the foregoing it ought to be inconceivable that man has an ‘immortal soul’ or any immortal element within him naturally. We will now attempt to clear up the confusion surrounding the word ‘soul’.
The Hebrew and Greek words which are translated ‘soul’ in the Bible (‘Nephesh’ and ‘Psuche’ respectively) are also translated in the following ways:
The ‘soul’ therefore refers to the person, body or self. The famous ‘Save Our Souls’ (S.O.S.) clearly means ‘Save us from death!’ The ‘soul’ is therefore ‘you’, or the summation of all the things that make up a person. It is understandable, therefore, that many modern versions of the Bible (e.g. the N.I.V.) rarely use the word ‘soul’, translating it instead as ‘you’ or ‘the person’. The animals which God created are called “living creatures...every living thing that moves” (Gen. 1:20,21). The Hebrew word translated “creatures” and “living thing” here is ‘nephesh’, which is also translated ‘being’; for example in Gen. 2:7: “...and man became a living being”. Thus man is a ‘soul’ or ‘living being’, just as the animals are ‘souls’ or ‘living beings’. The only difference between mankind and animals is that man is mentally superior to them; he is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26; see Study 1.2), and some men are called to know the Gospel through which the hope of immortality is opened up to them (2 Tim. 1:10). As regards our fundamental nature and the nature of our death, there is no difference between man and animals.
“What happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts; one thing befalls them: (note the double emphasis): as one dies, so dies the other... man has no advantage over beasts...All (i.e. man and animals) go to one place (the grave); all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecc. 3:19,20). The inspired writer of Ecclesiastes prayed that God would help men to appreciate this hard fact, “that (men) may see that they themselves are like beasts” (Ecc. 3:18). It is therefore to be expected that many people will find this fact hard to accept; indeed, it can be humiliating to realise that by nature we are just animals, living out the same instincts of self-preservation, survival of the fittest and procreation. The N.I.V. translation of Ecc. 3:18 says that God ‘tests’ man by making him see that he is just an animal; i.e. those who are humble enough to be His true people will realise the truth of this, but those who are not will fail this ‘test’. The philosophy of humanism - the idea that human beings are of such supreme importance and value - has quietly spread throughout the world during the twentieth century. It is a considerable task to clear our thinking of the influence of humanism. The plain words of Ps. 39:5 are a help: “Man at his best state is but vapour”. “It is not for man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23 N.I.V.).
One of the most basic things that we know is that all human bodies - indeed all “living creatures” - eventually die. The ‘soul’, herefore, dies; it is the exact opposite of something that is immortal. Indeed, 652 of the 754 times the Hebrew word nephesh occur, it is used about the soul or creature dying. It is not surprising that about a third of all uses of this word in the Bible are associated with the death and destruction of the ‘soul’. The very fact that the word ‘soul’ is used in this way shows that it cannot be something which is indestructible and immortal.
“Whosoever will save his life (‘soul’) shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life (‘soul’) for my sake...shall save it” (Mk. 8:35). This is proof enough that the soul does not refer to any spiritual element within man; here, ‘soul’ (Greek ‘psuche’) just means one’s physical life, which is how it is translated here. We must give our lives/souls after the pattern of the Lord Jesus on the cross, who “poured out his soul unto death” (Is. 53:12).
Not that it makes any difference to Bible truth, but it’s worth mentioning that many eminent Bible students and theologians have come to the same conclusions as we’ve reached here - the soul isn’t immortal. One of the clearest evidences for this is in the following quote: "Contrary to what is usually supposed, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul finds no place in the Old Testament or the New" John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, On Being The Church In The World (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1960) p. 18.