The 2nd and 3rd century Christians attempted to defend their faith to Greeks by presenting the Gospel in Greek ways of thinking. They sought to demonstrate that the Gospel was rational by showing that it was compatible with Greek philosophy. In doing so they created a synthesis of Biblical truth and Greek philosophy. There were a number of ideas of Greek philosophy and pagan thought which crept into Christian theology. One of those ideas was the view that the body was bad, and was a prison of the soul, which was good. Salvation, for Greeks, was the release of this immortal soul from the mortal, sinful body. This was a Greek, not a Hebrew (or Biblical) idea.
Jostein Gaarder, in his novel on the history of philosophy, Sophie’s World (Phoenix House, 1995), writes:
Remember that from the Jewish point of view there was no question of the “immortality of the soul” … that was a Greek … thought. According to Christianity there is nothing in man—no “soul”, for example—that is in itself immortal. Although the Christian Church believes in the “resurrection of the body and eternal life”, it is by God’s miracle that we are saved from death and “damnation”. It is neither through our own merit nor through any natural—or innate—ability. (134)
The idea that the soul is immortal—and even that we have a soul at all—was derived from Plato and other Greek philosophers, though second century Christians adopted this teaching into their own writings. While this idea was incorporated into Christian theology quite early on, it is not a Biblical idea. The Bible never speaks of an “immortal soul.” The Bible certainly does affirm that there is life after death, but this is on the basis of the resurrection of the dead. This is something which God decrees—if He did not raise the dead then the “souls” of the departed would be forever dead.
The Bible declares that “God alone is immortal” (1 Tim 6.16). God alone possesses immortality by nature. Humans are by nature mortal. The book of Job asks: “shall mortal man be more just than God?” (Job 4.17).
After the Fall of Adam and Eve the humans are removed from the Garden so that they will not become (or remain) immortal:
The Lord God said: “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3.22)
Death was part of the curse of the Fall—as a result of their actions, Adam and Eve were deprived of immortality. Romans 6.23 says that “the wages of sin is death”—and we should probably think of this not simply as physical death—but as extinction.
Paul says that the ultimate fate of the unredeemed is “death” (Rom 6.21, 23), or “destruction” (2 Thess 1.9; Phil 3.19). Ezekiel says that “the soul that sins will die” (Ezk 18.4).
However, the Good News of the Gospel is that God has offered eternal life—immortality—as a free gift through His Son. Romans 6.23 goes on to say that “the gift of God is eternal life.” We should clarify this by saying that those who do not receive this gift of God do not have eternal life—they have only death. It is not that all people are eternal—and that some have an eternity of bliss while others have an eternity of suffering and torment. Rather, some have eternal life, or immortality, while others do not have eternal life at all.
Because humans are mortal, their natural end is death—there is nothing beyond the grave. However, God has offered a gift of eternity, so that those who believe may continue on beyond the grave in His Presence.