The Jehovah Witnesses, The Seventh-Day Adventists and others believe that man has no eternal nature. They believe that when man dies, that he is “dead like Rover, dead all over”. They are materialists.
Materialists define “spirit” as “God’s active life force,” or “the breath of life”. It is claimed that such is given to man when he comes to life, and returns to God at death (Genesis 2:7; Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 3:19-21; Luke 23:46).
Reply – The term “spirit” is used in a variety of ways in the scripture. The term “spirit” has to do with what is invisible or immaterial. Foy Wallace Jr. in defense of man having an eternal spirit pointed out “the word incorruptible in 1 Peter 3:1-4 is the same Greek word (for) immortality in 1 Timothy 1:17” (Quoted by Johnie Scaggs Jr, 2002 Spring Bible Institute Lectureship, Jehovah Witnesses, p. 485).
Materialists point out that the term “soul” is used of animal life [Genesis 1:20 (life); Genesis 1:21, 24 (Living creature); Genesis 1:30 (life); Genesis 2:7 (soul)]. Thus, Man is not said to have an eternal soul.
Reply – The term ‘soul’ is used in a variety of ways in the scriptures. The term is used at times of God [Jeremiah 51:14 (Himself); Amos 6:8 (Himself); Psalm 11:5 (soul); Job 23:13 (soul)]. Robert Morey made this observation, “in no way can God’s nephesh (soul) be reduced to the principle of physical life, because God does not have a physical body” (Death and the Afterlife, p. 46). The term has to do with life, being or existence. The soul is distinguished from the body (Matthew 10:28). There is an existence beyond this fleshly existence (Philippians 1:21-24). This body is compared to a tent (2 Peter 1:13).
Materialists teach that sheol (Hebrew) or hades (Greek) are references to the grave. They teach that there is no conscious existence in sheol/hades.
Reply – the KJV translates sheol 31 times by the term “grave”. However, I would suggest that such is not a good rendering. Consider: (1) The original terms sheol/hades are never in the plural. However, the Bible does speak of “graves” and “sepulchers” e.g. Exodus 14:11. When such is spoken of in the plural, a completely different word is used (mnemion, or qeber). (2) The original terms sheol/hades are never used of that which belongs to man. However, a grave (qeber) may belong to a man e.g. Genesis 50:5. (3) Sheol/Hades are not spoken of as being dug, carved out, or occupied by burial. However, a grave (qeber) maybe (Genesis 50:5; 2 Samuel 3:31; 2 Chronicles 16:14; 32:33; Isaiah 22:16). (4) Sheol/Hades are not spoken of in a specific location. However, graves (qeber) is so spoken of in specific locations (Genesis 50:5; Exodus 14:11). (5) Sheol/Hades are not said to be inhabited by body and bones. However, the grave (qeber) is (2 Samuel 12:14; 1 Kings 13:30-31; Jeremiah 8:1; 26:23). (6) Hades is inhabited by those with consciousness [Luke 16:22-23 (now some will argue that this account in Luke is a parable and therefore is not expressing reality. However, parables are always couched in realistic language – e.g. “behold a sower went out to sow.”)] Jesus had power in hades (John 10:17-18 cf. Acts 2:27).
Materialists argue that there is no consciousness after death. Two favorite passages to support this view are Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Psalm 146:3-4.
Reply – Ecclesiastes 9:5 – (1) The words “know nothing” or “know not anything” are sometimes used in a qualified or relative way (cf. 1 Samuel 20:39; 2 Samuel 15:11; Job 8:9). (2) In context, the words are qualified by “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:6).
Reply – Psalm 146:3-4 – (1) The word “thoughts” are sometimes qualified (Isaiah 55:7). (2) “Thoughts” sometimes refer to purposes/plans (Job 17:11) or counsels (Psalm 33:11). (3) The context, men are weak. Their promises, purposes, and plans may not always be accomplished due to their own mortality. God is not like this. We can and should trust in Him.
Sometimes in studies with materialists, I say, “Instead of arguing these (points about man’s nature, the nature of the hereafter, etc.), let’s grant for a moment that all you assert is correct. God is a good God, and if I’m found in His favor at the Lord’s coming, I will be blessed (note: Jehovah Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventist would agree with this). Now, you tell me what to do to be found in His favor at that time.” Try shifting the study to this point. Let us each so live that we are prepared for that day.