But Jesus says the soul cannot be killed
Text in question: Matthew 10:28
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
Proof texts: Matthew 10:28, Ezekiel 18:4, 20
Jesus Christ foretold persecution many times. He warned His hearers that persecution would accompany the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. In Revelation, He warns future generations of the persecution they would face because of their faith in Him. He warns His church that at the close of history a time of trouble “such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time” will occur (Matthew 24:21). For God’s people to endure these times without wavering in their faith, Christ offered the words of encouragement we find in the text in question, Matthew 10:28. We understand, and believe, that our bodies may die, but our soul does not.
The problem here is twofold. First, the text contains a different message depending on the reader’s understanding of what constitutes a “soul.” Second, people who use this text to prove the existence of an immortal soul often fail to read the second part of the same verse.
If we read this text with a pre-determined idea that the human soul is an immortal, intangible part of us that lives on after death, then Jesus’ words do seem to confirm that the soul cannot be killed. However, if we read the same text with an understanding that a soul is the joining together of a body and the breath of God (see Genesis 2:7), Jesus’ words are a promise of a life to come even when this life ends. He promises that, although our bodies may be destroyed now, He will create for us new bodies at the resurrection and that our souls will once again live. The text remains perfectly valid even with an understanding that humans “go to sleep” when they die, awaiting the resurrection day. Therefore, this text cannot be used to prove anything conclusive about the soul without further evidence.
Thankfully, further evidence does exist! And we need to read no further than the second half of the same verse to get clarification from Jesus. The entire text of Matthew 10:28 reads:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
When we consider the second half of the verse, it becomes clear that the soul can, indeed, die. Further, it states that hell is the place where souls go to die. This calls into question the concept of eternal torment without end in hellfire, but that’s another topic.
Though we should always be willing to accept Jesus’ words as true, we can be comforted in knowing that His words are supported by the rest of the Scriptures. Jesus says that the soul can be destroyed and will thus die. We see the same thing stated twice in Ezekiel 18.
Ezekiel 18:4 records God as saying:
“Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die.”
Ezekiel 18:20 explains:
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
The text in Matthew does, indeed, say that mankind cannot kill the soul. The soul can only be destroyed in hell, and man does not have the power to send anyone there. That is a job that belongs only to the righteous Judge, the Almighty God.
*All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.