What Happens to the Spirit When the Body Dies?


A typical Christian believes that a human consists of three parts, body, soul and spirit. But it is very vague to me, because I do not understand what happens to the spirit when the body dies. What is your position on this topic?


Though the concept is widely believer, the Bible does not state that the human being is made up of body, soul and spirit. The Bible speaks of a person as a whole, living being, which it frequently refers to as a “soul” The soul is the whole, living being, whereas, generally speaking, the Bible uses the term “spirit” to refer to the breath of life which animates the body. The word breath is translated from the Hebrew ruach or neshamah, both of which mean “breath,” “persons alive.” If God withdraws breath from man, he dies. “If [God] should determine to do so, If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath; all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15). The difference between a living body and the dead body is the presence or absence of the vital functions of life, one of which is the process of inhaling and exhaling which we call breathing.

An example of the life-animating power of breath occurs in the record of Elijah’s raising the widow’s son to life. When the child died, the text reads that “There was no breath left in him” (1 Kings 17:17). When Elijah restored the child’s life, it reads that “The soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:22 KJV), soul meaning living being, life, self, person. In other words, the child started to breathe again. There is no separate living property to the breath that we breathe; it is simply a life process because our bodies require oxygen to live.

When the writer of Ecclesiastes says “The dust will return to the earth as it was: and the spirit will return to God who gave it” he is saying when we die our breath joins the reservoir of air around us. He wasn’t saying our personality goes unto heaven when we die. If his was the case, then, he must be saying all spirits go to heaven at death for he doesn’t specify only the Good go unto God. What about the undying spirits of those who are criminal or disobedient through life? From this very problem arose the doctrine of eternal torment, to make an eternal place other than heaven for those who are sinful. (This is another doctrine which Scripture does not support. For more information on this topic, send for our booklet, The Devil and Hell of the Bible.)

No, the Bible does not teach that we are composed of three separate parts. We have bodies, and while we are alive, breathing, living beings, we are “souls.” When we cease to breathe, we cease to live, and cease to be a “soul.” We do not have within us an “immortal something” that never dies. All hope of future life depends upon a resurrection of the body and a change to the immortal state, which Christ will have power to impart when He returns (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:50).