Bible Question:

In Ezekiel 18:4, it says the soul that sinneth, it shall die. What does this mean since a soul cannot die like the body dies?

Bible Answer:

The Bible teaches that a person will live forever. Each person will either suffer eternal punishment or experience eternal life. That is the message of Daniel 12:2 and Matthew 25:46.

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2 (NASB)

These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25:46 (NASB)

Therefore, some people wonder about the meaning of Ezekiel 18:4. Here is the verse from the King James Version Bible.

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. Ezekiel 18:4 (KJV)

What follows is an explanation of the meaning of this verse. You will learn the meaning of the phrase the soul that sinneth it shall die.

Body, Soul and Spirit

Meaning of Soul

The most important word in Ezekiel 18:4 is “soul.” It occurs four times in this verse. The Hebrew word from which “soul” is translated is nephes. This word does not refer to the “spirit” of a man or woman. It refers to the “life” in the body that makes it function. Daniel Block makes this helpful comment about nephes,

English possesses no satisfactory equivalent for nephes. The expression is not to be understood in some Grecian sense as “souls” (AV, RSV, NASB), that is, nonphysical aspect of the human constitution, in contrast to the body that the soul indwells.[1]

John B. Taylor in the IVP series states,

The Hebrew soul (nephes) represented the totality of the person or the life-force within him.[2]

As further proof that soul or nephes does not refer to a person’s eternal spirit, notice that nephes is used in reference to the birds in Genesis 1:20. In verse 21, it is used in reference to all living creatures in the waters. In verse 24 it refers to cattle, creeping things, and beasts on the land. Animals do not have eternal spirits. In summary, nephes refers to the life-force that causes a person’s body to function. Consequently, the phrase “the soul that sinneth it shall die” is not describing spiritual death. It refers to physical death. When Adam sinned, God chose to allow the curse to fall on all the creation. Animals physically die because they are part of the fallen creation.

Meaning of Ezekiel 18:4

Therefore, the first part of Ezekiel 18:4 states that Yahweh declared all living beings, nephes, belong to Him.

Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die. Ezekiel 18:4 (NASB)

That includes the father and his sons. The important statement is that all living beings, nephes, are His. Then at the end of the verse, we are told that the nephes that sins will die. The contrast is exquisite. God declared He can make all lives or nephes die, if they sin. God can stop those who are physically living from  continuing to live.

If we continue reading from verse 5 to 9, we discover that God urges us to live righteously. If we do, then we will not die prematurely in this life! The message is that God gave us a general principle for us in this physical life in Ezekiel 18:4. However, there is also a spiritual principle too! Christians will reveal that they are true Christians by obeying God, and verses 5-9 list just some examples.


Because Adam sinned, he died physically and spiritually when he disobeyed God (Genesis 2:16-17). The message is that God had designed the bodies of both Adam and Eve to live forever. But because of their sin, they died a physical death. Also, all of their descendants will die a physical death also (Romans 5:12, 18; 3:23; 6:23)! Therefore, we must understand that the phrase ” the soul that sinneth it shall die” refers to spiritual death also! God has warned us in Ezekiel 18:4 that God may cause some people to physically die prematurely because of their sin. It is also a warning that our pattern of sin reveals if we are a real Christian (1 John 3:4, 9-10).  Because of the curse, everyone is born into this world spiritually dead or separated from God. Those who never become a Christian are alive physically but continue in spiritual death! Those who decide for Christ and accept the salvation He offers become spiritually alive or born again.  To die spiritually is to forever be separated from God.

Now I have a question for you. When you die, will you live forever in eternal punishment or experience eternal life with God? To learn the answer, visit “Searching For God” or “Are You A Christian? — Looking For Evidence.”

You can learn the difference between the soul and spirit at “What is the difference between the soul and spirit?



1. Daniel Block. The Book of Ezekiel. Chapters 1-24. Eerdmans Publishing. 1997. p. 562.
2. John B. Taylor. Ezekiel. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Inter-Varsity Press. 1969. p. 149.

Suggested Links:

Searching for God — In Search of God — Go To Heaven
Are You A Christian? — Looking For Evidence
What is the difference between the “soul” and “spirit”?
Is there a difference between spirit of man and the Spirit of God?
Does man have a soul? Does he just return to the dust?
Is our soul or spirit at the right hand of God?