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Is Spiritual Death in the Bible?

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Question: What is spiritual death? I’ve heard it explained as separation from God. Does that phrase appear in the Bible? I don’t think it does. Is it Biblical?

Answer: We should always be careful about adopting terminology that doesn’t explicitly appear in the Bible. Sometimes it can be helpful. At other times, it can be misleading. In this case, you’re right that the term “spiritual death” doesn’t appear in the Bible. However, I think the ideas of “spiritual death” and of death as “separation from God” both reflect Biblical truth. Here’s why.

Let’s start by clarifying what those terms don’t mean.

First, spiritual death and separation from God don’t mean being separated from God’s omnipresence. God is everywhere. We’re finite, and He’s infinite. As David said, there is nowhere we can flee from His presence, whether in heaven or “hell” [Sheol] (Psalm 139:7-12). You can never be separated from God’s omnipresence.

Second, they don’t mean being separated from God’s providence. God governs the world of created things, whether living or dead, so no one can escape from that. Even those who will end up in the Lake of Fire will still be under God’s providence.

With that clarified, where in the Bible do we get the idea of spiritual death or death defined as separation from God?

I think both ideas are implied by salvation itself.

How so?

The first thing you should understand is that Jesus is life (John 1:4). As the Lord said,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6a, emphasis added).

When Jesus says He is the life, He was talking about salvation. As John wrote:

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son (1 John 5:11, emphasis added).

In other words, you do not get eternal life apart from Jesus—it is Jesus! He shares His own life with everyone who is “in” Him.

How do you get in? By believing.

When you believe in Jesus, you become united to Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:5), are given eternal life (John 3:16; 20:30-31), and become like branches drawing life from the Vine (John 15:5).

Now, think about what that means. If believers get life through union with Christ, what does that imply about unbelievers? It implies they are dead because they are separated from Christ. Union=life. Separation=death. Hence, Paul could say of the Ephesians before they came to faith:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1; cf. v 5).

In other words, they were spiritually dead. But once they believed in Jesus, they were “made alive” and became united to Christ (cf. Eph 2:5-9).

So, back to our question: is spiritual death or death defined as separation from God in the Bible?

While those phrases don’t appear in the text, the concepts are implied by the nature of salvation itself.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.

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2 comments on “Is Spiritual Death in the Bible?”

    1. That's a good question. In two ways. First, it's the opposite of "physical," i.e., the body. Physical death relates to the body, whereas spiritual relates to our soul/spirit. Second, it is "spiritual" in the sense of relating to eternal salvation, where God's life is given to the believer through the regeneration of our human spirits.

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