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This is a question for those who see Christian anthropology of one part (Monism). The belief that human soul is not immortal and that man is a unity, that is, not a duality of soul-body, or a trichotomy of spirit-soul-body, but holistic, one part.

The first part of my question is, how do you understand – in light of man not being dualistic and such – references to soul and spirit in the Bible, in general (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:23, NIV)?

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is a soul? What is a spirit?

And finally, if humans beings are completely dead after death, how are references to "sleep" (i.e. death) understood in the Bible?

For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NIV):

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him

If the person is dead, how can we talk about him as sleeping?

Or consider Psalm 16:10 (NIV):

because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

Same question applies, how can a dead person be abandoned in a realm? I understand this is to be taken metaphorically somehow. But, in essence, if a person ceases to exist.

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    As to asleep meaning dead: "After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died" John 11:11‭-‬14 ESV - it appears to be a simple euphemism Apr 15, 2023 at 19:45
  • Hi @IsaacMiddlemiss, thanks! That's plain and simple. So then, when Jesus raises Lazarus... I guess my question is, this being new for me, how is Lazarus still Lazarus and not someone else?
    – Dan
    Apr 15, 2023 at 19:54
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    If God can create life from nothing, it doesn't seem so strange to think he can bring back exactly the same person from non-existence. I haven't written a full answer as I do not hold to mortalism, just conditional immortality/annihilationism Apr 15, 2023 at 20:00
  • @IsaacMiddlemiss Good answer! Agreed!
    – Dan
    Apr 15, 2023 at 22:00

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What is a soul? What is a spirit?

For the difference between soul and spirit, see my answer to Jesus' Soul and Spirit?.
Omitting the relevant scriptures, a brief summary is:

Soul:

  • Souls are simply bodies, both human and animal, that are capable of being alive.
  • People don't have souls, they are souls.
  • Souls aren't immortal; they can die (Ezekiel 18:4 says, "the sould that sinneth, it shall die").

Spirit:

  • Spirit is an immaterial supernatural substance or energy that exists in various forms and serves various purposes.
  • All living souls have spirit that animates them.
  • Unlike the animals, humans also have spirit that gives them consciousness and understanding.
  • Some humans are given a gift of additional spirit.
  • Jesus's sacrifice enabled mankind to receive a different kind of spirit, the ultimate gift in which part of God's own spirit is given to man.
  • After a Christian has received God's spirit by the laying on of hands, it becomes part of that person and can be seen as their character. It becomes their duty to develop a perfect character.
  • Finally those pre-nascent spirits will be reborn with the gift of immortality.
  • There is of course also holy spirit that God uses to communicate and interact with the physical world.

If humans beings are completely dead after death, how are references to "sleep" (i.e. death) understood in the Bible? If the person is dead, how can we talk about him as sleeping?

"Sleep" is simply a euphemism for death, just as today people don't "die", they "pass away" or "go to a better place".

"you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay"
— how can a dead person be abandoned in a realm?

The realm of the dead is a metaphor for the grave, as is evident from the reference to decay. The Hebrew and Greek words for grave are often translated as "hell", which doesn't have the supernatural meaning that is popularly attributed to it.

When someone (or any animal) dies, their body (soul) stops breathing and its animating life-force spirit returns to God. That spirit is not alive itself, so any concept of immortality is inapplicable to either the soul or the spirit.

The dead body eventually rots and disappears; the person no longer exists in any form.

God is capable of recreating that person though, either as a mortal physical body (the second resurrection) or as an immortal spirit (the first resurrection).
The question of where a person is between death and resurrection is meaningless.

Without the complications created by the pagan concept of immortal souls and the image of eternal torment in an inferno popularized by Dante's famous fantasy novel, the Biblical account becomes quite simple and easy to understand.

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  • Thanks ray! I was under the impression that "souls" are animated bodies, and not just synonym with "body" (Genesis 2:7). But if soul is to be understood as a living human being (body + breath of life) then it becomes unclear to me what "spirit" means.
    – Dan
    Apr 16, 2023 at 6:53
  • Or are you saying that souls are indeed living human beings and "spirit" means the rational part of men? I.e. his personality, will, intelect, etc.?
    – Dan
    Apr 16, 2023 at 6:54
  • @Dan, souls are simply the physical part of living or formerly living animals. Numbers 9:13 says "Whosoever toucheth the dead body …", and the Hebrew word for "body" is the same word that is usually translated as "soul". ¶ "Spirit" simply means a non-physical substance. There are many kinds of spirit, one of which is simply the animating breath that gives life to a soul. Another is the "spirit in man" that gives self-awareness and intelligence. Ultimately people can become spirit, but until that born-again resurrection they have no immortal attributes. God and the angels are spirit beings. Apr 16, 2023 at 11:53

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