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We have looked extensively at the euphemistic idiom of sleep for death, but what is death? Anyone who has buried a relative or beloved pet knows what a corpse is. It is a body without life. Body death is the only type of death natural observation can determine. Human senses and instrumentation are incapable of gauging the vitality of the other parts of man. Body death is only one type of dying referenced in the Bible. Humans are more than just flesh. We are spirit, soul, and body.[1] To understand death, we must examine what death means to each one. Doing so will require delving into the Hebrew and Greek terms behind our familiar English verses.

Body Death

James 2:26
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. KJV

The above is as straightforward a definition of body death as one can get. A body is dead when its spirit is gone.[2]

Matthew 27:50
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. NKJV

The Greek word translated “yielded” in the verse above is the aorist tense of aphiemi. This word is composed of apo, meaning “from,” and hiemi, meaning “to send.” With the loud declaration of “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,”[3] Jesus sent his spirit out of his body and his body died. He offered his life as a sacrifice to the Father. His death was an act of his will, not the result of the nails.

Mark 15:37
And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. KJV

The New King James, English Standard Version, and New International Version all translate “gave up the ghost” as “breathed his last.” Though this is clearer to our modern ears than “gave up the ghost,” I still think it misses the mark. Breathing has two actions, inhaling and exhaling. How often do you exhale when told to breathe? We associate breathing primarily with inhaling. The Greek word behind “gave up the ghost” is the aorist tense of the verb ekpneo. Ek is a preposition that means “out of.” Pneo means “to breathe.” Jesus cried with a loud voice then breathed out. This is how he sent his spirit out of his body. When he did so, his body died. But it didn’t stay that way.

John 2:18-22
18 Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
21 But he spake of the temple of his body.
22 When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. KJV

He said he would raise it up and raise it up he did.

Soul Death

Psalm 89:48
What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave? Selah NKJV

The Hebrew word translated “grave” in the verse above is sheol. This word is equivalent to the Greek term hades. It is the abode of the dead, frequently translated “hell.” Grave, in the sense of where a body is buried, is in the Hebrew qeber. The following table[4] highlights the difference in these terms.

Qeber (Grave)

Sheol (Hell)

Bodies go in graves.

Souls go to Sheol.

Can be bought and sold.

Can’t buy off (Isa. 28) or out of (Ps. 49).

Of a particular size.

Stretches (Isa. 5:14).


Never localized.

Sepulchers above ground or in caves.

Under the earth, “the lower parts.”

Not contrasted with Heaven.

Opposite of Heaven (Ps. 139:8).

Translating sheol as “grave” obscures what the psalmist is asking. Translating it as “hell” causes it to lose its specificity, as I share in this short YouTube video entitled “Hellish Confusion.” Hell conjures up all kinds of images of final and eternal torment. But sheol/hades is not the place of final and eternal torment, the lake of fire is. As a matter of fact, sheol/hades itself is cast into the lake of fire.[5]

Sheol/hades is where dead souls go. It is where the soul of Jesus went when he died on the cross. This is what Peter said on the day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:27, 31
27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [hades], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell [hades], neither his flesh did see corruption. KJV

Jesus’s soul was not left in Hades.[6] Not left means it was retrieved. Who retrieved it?

John 10:17-18
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. KJV

“Life” in verse 17 is in the Greek psuche, which is the word for breath or soul life. Jesus said he would lay down his soul and take it up again. No one would take it from him; he would lay it down through his own power and take it up again because the Father’s command authorized him to do so. There is no commandment of God that does not grant authority.[7]

The Lord Jesus took—lambano in the Greek, to take hold of with the hand in a self-promoted action—his soul from Hades and resurrected his body from the grave.

James mentions another aspect of soul death that bears looking into.

James 5:19-20
19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. KJV

Note that the sinner of verse 20 is one of the brethren of verse 19. “Brethren, if any of you do err,” he said. His comment about the one who converts the sinner is startling. He “shall save a soul from death.” James is referring to the soul of a born-again saint. This means that it is possible for a saved person who continues in sin to suffer soul death.

Mark 8:35-37
35 For whosoever will save his life [psuche] shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life [psuche] for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? KJV

When we confessed belief in the resurrected Christ and called Jesus Lord, our spirits were regenerated, created new in His image through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But our souls still have to walk out that sanctification. What we keep of our souls out from under His lordship, we will lose. What we submit to Him, we save.

Spirit Death

Genesis 2:17
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. KJV

Adam lived to be 930 years old. What died the day he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? We know it wasn’t his body because if it had, we wouldn’t be here. His soul didn’t go immediately to Sheol, so it wasn’t his soul. Adam breathing, eating, and procreating after he ate the forbidden fruit is evidence that death is not a cessation of existence; it is a change of state. The Adam on the other side of sin was not the same as the Adam before. His spirit was dead. As his children, we were born spiritually dead.

Ephesians 2:1
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, NKJV

Do you remember your conversion experience? Were you alive when you made your confession of faith? Of course you were, but not spiritually. This doesn’t mean that you didn’t have a spirit. If your spirit was absent, you would have been a corpse. And corpses do not get born again. A dead spirit is one that is separated from God. To make our redemption complete, Jesus offered his spirit to the Father, which also meant separation from Him.

Matthew 27:46
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? KJV

This declaration from the cross was prophesied by David and recorded in the 22nd Psalm. Psalm 31 also spoke prophetically of the crucifixion.

Psalm 31:22-24
22 For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.
23 O love the Lord, all ye his saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.
24 Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord. KJV

The Son put His hope in the Father and the Father strengthened His heart, made alert the innermost part of His being. In other words, the Father raised the Spirit of the Son from the dead.

Revelation 1:17-18
17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. KJV

He experienced the fullness of death in order to give us the fullness of life.

[1] 1 Thess. 5:23.
[2] Spirit travel is a bit different. It is more of a spirit man stretch than a complete exit of the spirit from the body. See 1 Cor. 5:3-5 and Ezek. 8:3. Paul’s journey described in 2 Cor. 12:1-4 could have been a vision or an out of body experience during one of the times he died (2 Cor. 11:23).
[3] Luke 23:46.
[4] Adapted from Dr. Chuck Missler’s “Heaven and Hell: What Happens when You Die?”
[5] Rev. 20:14-15.
[6] Neither was David’s, eventually, but that lesson for another time.
[7] “Power” in John 10:18 is the Greek word exousia, which means authority. Every commandment of God comes with the power and authority to execute it. Even negative commands—the “thou shalt nots”—grant us the authority of self-control.