Chapter 6 - What is Death?

What is Death?

Verily, verily I say unto you, If a man keep my saying he shall never see death.

John 8:51

Summary of Argument

In this passage Jesus Christ states that He saves us from death. He means exactly what He says.

When they gathered for the next meeting, it was John who started the inquiry.

“What did Christ mean when He said:

If a man keep My word, he will never see death."1

"It means," said the First Elder, "That He has given us eternal life so we will never die."

"Never die?" Said John, "Do you think that you will never die? We will all die, my friend. Christ Himself died."

"Certainly," said the First Elder, "We know everyone dies. But Christians are promised eternal life after death. We will live for the rest of eternity with Him."

"True," said John, "But you will die before you live the rest of eternity with God. So why does this scripture say that you will 'never see death?'"

“It means that we, you know, we never really die. We just pass on.” Responded the Second Elder.

John continued, “But remember, there is another scripture that makes it abundantly clear that we all do really die. It says ‘It is appointed to men but once to die.’2 No matter how you try to whitewash it with eternal life, everybody is going to die at least once. We should all face up to that irreversible fact. So, what did Christ mean when he said that if a man keeps His word he would never see death?”

There was a long pause, and then the First Elder replied, "It's because the word for death does not really mean death in the Bible. It really means separation from God. So, when a Christian dies he does not really die because death does not really mean death; it means separation from God. That's what Christ meant when he said that we would never die. He meant that we would never be separated from God. But when the unbeliever dies, he will separated from God and burned alive forever."

“So," said John, "When Christ said we would never see death, He was really saying that we would, in fact, see death, but not really. We just won’t be separated from God?”

“That’s right,” said the First Elder.

"So the word for death in this scripture does not really mean death? It means something else?"


"And it means something else in this scripture because…"

"…Because if it really meant death, then…"

"Because if it really meant death, then there could be no eternal torment because the person would be actually dead?" Said John.

"Right." Said the First Elder. "That's why God just separates the unbeliever from Himself instead of killing him; so He can torment him forever. Whenever the word death applies to the eternal state, it never means actual death. It means separation because it has to."

John continued, "You say that death just means separation from God for the unbeliever, but the unbeliever was never united with God in the first place. Unbelievers are already dead in their sins.3 So the death of an unbeliever does not separate him from God because he is already separated from God. The only thing that separates man from God is sin. Death has nothing to do with it.4"

“There, you see, you are very wrong,” Said the First Elder. “Death can’t really mean death in the Bible because if it did, scripture would be contradicting itself! Christ said that we would never see death, and well, like you said, all of us will, in fact, see death. If scripture is infallible, then it can’t contradict itself. So death in the Bible has to mean something else besides actual death.”

John replied, “Scripture is indeed infallible and it never contradicts itself. If we will just read what it says and take God at His Word, we will find that scripture needs no protecting and no fudging, no circumventing and no re-defining. I suggest that we read the word death to mean exactly what it says and see where that takes us."

“Well then, John,” said the Second Elder, “How can you explain Christ’s statement that anyone who keeps His word will never see death5 if death in the Bible is really death and we all really die?”

“The explanation is simple.” Said John. “There are two deaths. The first death is when the body dies. Scripture refers to this death when it says that all men will die, ‘It is appointed unto man but once to die, and then the judgment.’6 This is the death that everyone dies—the death of the body. We can't escape the first death. Everyone is appointed to this death.

"But after the body dies, there is a 'second death.'7 This is the death that not everyone dies—the death of the soul."

"Not everyone is appointed to die the second death. Only those who have not trusted in Christ will die the second death. It is the second death that Christ was talking about when He said that if we follow His word, we will never see death.8 He was not saying that all Christians would stop dying nor was He saying that death in the Bible is not really death. He was saying that we would never see the second death because the second death is God's eternal punishment for sin.9

"Christ has already died that death in our place-He died the second death for us." Said John. "He died the death that we would have had to die, the death that would have been the inevitable result of our sin.10 That is called substitutionary atonement.11 Christ died in our place, and His death was our death; he paid for our sins with his death. He did not suffer eternal torment for us. He died for us."

"So, where does it say that a soul can die?” Asked the Second Elder. "Everyone knows that souls are immortal. Haven't you heard of the immortal soul?"

“Scripture does not teach that the soul is immortal. Scripture teaches unequivocally that soul that sins shall die." Said John. "And scripture teaches that souls die because of sin. Perhaps the most direct scripture is found in Ezekiel:

Behold all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.12

“Psalms teaches that we have a soul and that God delivers our soul from death, meaning that some souls do die:"

Thou hast delivered my soul from death…”13

In Ezekiel we also find a clear delineation between the physical body and the soul, and how the soul could be saved from death:

… when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.14

“These scriptures unequivocally teach that there is a soul and that the soul that sins shall die. They are not referring to the body; they are referring to a separate entity. They are referring to the soul. So, to answer your question, yes, the soul can certainly die and it certainly does die. In fact, it is not the death of the body that we should fear, but the death of the soul:"

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.15

"All those references to death," said the First Elder, "say death but they don't mean death. They mean separation of the body and the soul or separation from God so the sinner's soul exists eternally and consciously feels pain forever. The soul is immortal because when scripture says that it dies it does not really mean it. It only means that it will be separated from God."

John responded, “We know that Christ teaches that whoever keeps His words shall never see death,16 and we know that when the souls of those who did not keep Christ's words are thrown into the lake of fire and it is called the second death.17 What dies in the second death, my friend?"

"Nothing." Said the First Elder.

There are 50 scriptures that say that the soul that sins will die and they say it in both Hebrew and Greek.18 You have no basis whatsoever to say that these words do not mean exactly what they are defined to mean. You depart from scriptural truth when you say that death does not mean death in scripture. Scripture is repeatedly clear that the soul dies and that it dies the second death. That is the reason why it is called the second death. Where does it say in scripture that death is anything but real death?"

“I will have to get those verses for you,” said the First Elder. "Whenever scripture refers to death and the afterlife, it doesn't mean death."

“Those verses that you keep talking about are just not there. The belief that death in the Bible means separation comes from the need to re-define death so that eternal torment will be possible. Because if death in the Bible means real death, there could never be eternal torment because they would all be dead because they all die in the second death."

“Death means separation in the Bible,” the First Elder was adamant. “When Christ said that He saves us from death, He did not mean that. He meant that He saves us from eternal torment. The wages of sin is eternal torment.”

"How many sins?"

"What do you mean how many sins? All of your sins however many that is."

"What about just one sin. Is that enough to be sentenced to conscious torture for the rest of eternity?"

"Yes." Said the First Elder. "Any one sin is enough."

"So the Christ rejecting boy who steals a shirt will be burned alive for eternity?


"Just like Satan?"

"Well, not as hot, I am sure, but he will burn for eternity for that shirt."

“So when you die, will you will be separated from God?”

“Who me? No. I won’t because I have trusted in Christ. I will never be separated from God. When I die I will go to be with the Lord.”

“So your death won’t be the same as the death of an unbeliever?”

“No. My death will be different. It won’t be a separation from God.”

“So 'death' when it applies to you means something different?” Asked John.


"And when scripture says that the body dies in the first death and then says that the soul dies in the second death, one death means one thing and the other death means another thing?"

"Right. No matter what the word is, the soul never dies. It does not really die in the second death. Nothing dies in the second death because death is not really death. Your soul is immortal. God can't kill your soul."

"So, is that what the scripture means when it says 'Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.'19

"No matter."

"Then tell me this. If God did want to say that the soul really dies, what would He say?"

"Well, in Ezekiel where it says that the soul that sins shall die, He could say 'really truly die' or He would use another word that means real death."

"What other word? There is no other word. There are 10 words for death used in the Bible and you have re-defined them all. There is no other word that means death."

"OK but you are quoting Old Testament verses from Ezekiel20 and Psalms.21 What about the New Testament?"

"Right, and what about Jesus Christ when he says that he saves us from death?"22

"He does not say 'soul' in that verse. He does not say that he saves our soul from death."

"So Jesus Christ does not save our soul from death?"

"No. Jesus Christ saves our soul from eternal torment."

"So what does He save from death? It can't be your body because your body actually dies; you said so yourself."

"Jesus doesn't save anything from death."

"Tell me, what word would Jesus have used if He wanted to say that He saves us from death and not eternal torment?"

"Beats me. I suppose He could have said that He saves us from 'real death' or 'not-the-separation-kind of death.'

"Is there is no word that means plain death all the time?"

"I don’t know what the different words are, but I know that when you say death like in second death, it is not death like the death of the body even though it is the same word."

"Well," said John, "perhaps there is simply no word that means actual death all the time. Do you think?."

"You got that right. I suppose there is no word that means real death all the time. Whenever you read death, unless it is talking, you know, about real death, you have to hear 'continued conscious eternal existence where you can feel pain because you are being burned alive for the rest of eternity."

"So when the scripture in Ezekiel says that the soul dies23 it does not mean really death, right?"


"So חומ does not really mean death?24"


"That's the word the Ezekiel used to say what happens to the soul that sins. You are saying that חומ does not mean death. It really means separation and the Hebrew dictionaries are wrong. Is that what you are saying?"

"Right. The Hebrew dictionaries are wrong if they say the word means real death."

"So what word would Ezekiel have used if he wanted to say that the soul really dies? What about saying that the unredeemed are destroyed?"

“That word wouldn’t work,” said the First Elder, “because the Bible already says that they are destroyed for eternity and that's not death either.25 Destruction really means eternal existence and pain. It means that they are just constantly being destroyed and tormented but never, you know, actually destroyed.”26

"They are never actually destroyed?"

"Right. They are just on their way to be destroyed all the time but they never get there."

"So if He wanted to say that they are really destroyed for eternity and never come back, what would He say?"

"He would have to say that they are destroyed completely forever."

"That's what He says."

"No, He says that the unbelievers will be punished with eternal destruction."

"Does that mean forever?"


"Does that mean destruction?"

"No. Destruction does not mean destruction."

"So what does it mean?"

"It really means eternal destroying not eternal destruction. It all depends on what you see when you read it. When you read about what happens to sinners you have to see them being burned alive forever. That's when you understand what these words really mean."27

"What if I told you that the word that scripture uses for destruction really means destruction and not destroying.28 Would that make any difference to you?"

"No. That would not change my opinion."

"So what word could be used if scripture meant to say that their souls are actually destroyed forever? And what other word could Ezekiel have used to say that the soul that sins will die? Or Paul, what other word besides plain death could he have used to say that the wages of sin is death? Or Christ, what other word could He have used except a word that means actual death?"29"

"I have no idea."

"And what about the rest of the 50 scriptures that say death is the penalty for sin? What other words could they have used to say that the penalty for sin is actually death?30

"It all depends on what you are trying to say," said the First Elder. "You have to see them in the context of the doctrine."

"So you know of no word that could ever mean that their soul actually destroyed or actually dies?"

“No,” said the elder, “whenever the Bible says that souls die, they don’t really. Whenever the Bible says that souls are destroyed eternally, they are not really destroyed. Whenever Jesus Christ says that He saves us from death, He doesn't.”

"And how do you know all of this, if the words in scripture do not say it?'

"Because that is the doctrine. It has always been the doctrine and always will be the doctrine."

“So you know what the real meaning of the words by applying the doctrine to them?”

“Exactly.” Said the First Elder. “Now you are getting it. They can't mean real death or the doctrine does not fit! And you have to see them all burning in hell before you can understand that those words mean something different.”

"So where did this doctrine come from if scripture never uses the words "eternal torment" to describe the eternal fate of the unredeemed?"

"What do you mean where did it come from? It comes from scripture!"

"But you just said that the meaning of the words are determined by the doctrine. So what comes first, the meaning of the words or the doctrine?"

"Well, the doctrine comes from the church and it determines the meaning of the words."

At this point the Second Elder entered the discussion. “John, are you saying that when the Bible says the unredeemed will suffer the second death, it means that the soul that did not die in the first death does die in the second?”

“Yes.” Said John. “That is what the words mean. That is why the Bible calls it the second death, and never mentions eternal torment for anybody except for Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet."31

“So, it’s symmetrical.” Said the Second Elder. "It is eternal life or eternal death. Christ died in our place. He paid our death-penalty. He died instead of us."

“Yes. That is why Christ tells us that He saves us from death. The message is always life or death.32 Over and over again the message is life or death, not death or eternal torment. Christ never even mentions eternal torment.

“If the unredeemed never really die, said John, but instead live on in eternal torment, how is Christ saving us from death? In order to make that fit, you have to re-define death. And what about this scripture:"

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death…33

“So what,” said the First Elder, “How does that help your case?”

“Well," said John, "aren’t you arguing that death, as in ‘second death’ really isn’t death at all but continued eternal existence in eternal torment?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well then,” said John, "Revelation 21:4 says that at one point in time after the final judgment 'there shall no more death.' If death really means separation from God and there is no more death then separation from God will cease and there will be no more eternal torment."

"No," said the First Elder, "There it just means that the first death will cease. It's not talking about the second death."

"But its still the same word." Said John.

"You are just stringing scriptures together for your own benefit," said the First Elder.

"But are they scriptures?" Asked John.

"Yes, of course they are scriptures."

"Are they true?"

"Well, yes they are true, but you have them saying there is no eternal torment!"

"Am I saying that or are they saying that?" Asked John.

"They are going to say eternal torment whatever they say!" Said the First Elder.

There is no scripture that says the unredeemed
will be tormented eternally

After a break, they resumed their discussion.

“Check your concordance,” said John. “Church doctrine or no church doctrine, there is no scripture that applies the words ‘eternal torment’ or similar words to the unredeemed. Of course, there are scriptures that people use to support the doctrine,34 but none of them even mention eternal torment.”

“Well, even if there are no scriptures that come out and just say it as clearly as they say that Satan will be tormented forever, that's what they mean,” said the First Elder.

"Do you believe that the body, the physical human body, actually dies? Asked John.


"So when the Bible refers to a dead body of a human or the body of a dead animal it means that the body is actually dead?"

"Yes, of course."

"So in the case of the body only, death really means death?"


"But when the soul dies, it does not really die like the body did. It continues to exist in conscious pain for the rest of eternity?"


"So you are saying that death has two opposite meanings. One meaning is the termination of conscious existence and the other is the continuation of conscious existence?"

"That's one way to see it."

"So, if eternal torment is true, the words for death have two opposite meanings depending on how they are used?"

"I suppose that's true." Said the First Elder.

"Then, would it be fair to say," asked John, "That the verity of the doctrine of eternal torment turns on whether the Greek and Hebrew words that mean actual death everywhere else do not mean death when used in the context of the eternal state of the unredeemed?"

"Yes." Said the First Elder, "That is a fair statement."

"Because if the unredeemed actually die in the second death, then they cannot be tortured because they are dead?"


"That would mean that all the scriptures that tell us that sin kills really mean that sin does not actually kill but results in eternal conscious sentient existence?"


"And that when Christ tells us that he saves us from death, He does not mean that. He really means that He saves us from eternal torment-even though there is no scripture in the Bible that explicitly says so?"

"Exactly." Said the First Elder.

"I just wanted to be sure that I understand what you are saying." Said John.

1. John 8:51 “If a man keep my saying he shall never see death.” See also John 11:23-26.

2. Hebrews 9:27 "It is appointed unto men once to die ... "

3. Colossians 2:13 “And you, being dead in your sins…”; Ephesians 2:1 “And you…who were dead in trespasses and sins.”

4. See 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 of it thou shalt surely die.” When Adam and Eve ate of the tree, they died spiritually. That is they were separated from God.

5. John 8:51

6. Id.

7. Revelation 21:8 “…unbelieving…shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

8. John 8:51

9. See Appendix 1 - Scriptures Teaching Death as the Final State

10. John 8:51 is a testimony to the astounding consistency of scripture. Christ was teaching that obedience to Him would result in never seeing the second death. But scripture does not mention of the second death until some 30 years after the Crucifixion when John wrote the book of Revelation..

11. See Appendix 7 - Effect of the Doctrine on Other Doctrines page 201

12. Ezekiel 18:4. This scripture shows that death is the result of sin.

13. Psalm 56:11,13. This scripture shows that the soul can die or it can live.

14. Ezekiel 18:27

15. Mt. 10:28

16. John 8:51 “…If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.”

17. Revelation 21:8 “…unbelieving…shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Note also that the departed souls are resurrected in some manner for the sole purpose of judgment.

18. "Scriptures Teaching Death as the Final State" on page 141

19. Matthew 10:28

20. Ezekiel 18:4 "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth shall die..."

21. Psalm 56:13 "For thou hast delivered my soul from death ..."

22. John 8:51 " Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.."

23. Ezekiel 18:4

24. See "Scriptures Teaching Death as the Final State" on page 141

25. See Comment on Eternal Punishment page 59

26. Id.

27. Id.

28. Id.

29. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish…"

30. Scriptures Teaching Death as the Final State page 141

31. Revelation 21:8 " "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (nasv).

32. Revelation 1:18 "[I am] He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death."

33. Revelation 21:4

34. See Appendix 2 - Scriptures Used to Support Eternal Torment