1, 2. What do many people believe about those who have died?

MILLIONS of people in Africa believe that death is, not an end to life, but merely a transition, a passing to life in another realm. Many think that their ancestors who have died passed from the visible world to the invisible world, from the world of humans to the world of spirits.

2 These ancestors, or ancestral spirits, are believed to ensure the survival and prosperity of their families on earth. According to this view, the ancestral spirits are powerful friends, able to bring good harvests, promote well-being, and protect from harm. If ignored or offended, they are said to bring disaster​—sickness, poverty, and calamity.

3. How do some people worship the ancestors?

3 The living perform practices and rituals to honor and maintain a good relationship with the ancestral spirits. These practices are particularly evident in funeral and burial customs, such as wake-keeping and second burial. Worship of the ancestors is shown in other ways too. For example, before certain people drink alcoholic beverages, they pour some on the ground for the ancestors. Also, after a meal is cooked, food is left in the pot so that if the ancestors come, they will find something to eat.

4. What do many people believe about the soul?

4 Other people believe that the living possess an immortal soul that survives the death of the body. If a person lives a good life, the soul is said to go to heaven, or paradise, but if a person lives a bad life, the soul is supposedly condemned to hell. Often people combine this idea with traditional beliefs. For example, newspaper obituaries that announce church funeral services will sometimes also say that the person has “crossed over” or “gone to the ancestors.” These beliefs are all based on the idea that the soul, or spirit, survives the death of the body. What does the Bible say about this?

Soul and Spirit

5, 6. According to the Bible, what is the soul?

5 The Bible shows that the soul is not something inside a person; the soul is the very person himself. For example, when God created Adam, “the man came to be a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) Adam was not given a soul; he was a soul, a complete person.

6 Consequently, we read that souls are born. (Genesis 46:18) They can eat or fast.  (Leviticus 7:20; Psalm 35:13) They weep and faint away. (Jeremiah 13:17; Jonah 2:7) Souls can be kidnapped, pursued, and put in irons. (Deuteronomy 24:7; Psalm 7:5; 105:18) Some Bibles render the original-language word as “soul” in those verses, while others use the words “being,” “creature,” or “person.” All mean the same thing.

7. What Bible verses show that the soul can die?

7 Since the soul is the person, when a person dies, the soul dies. Ezekiel 18:4 says: “The soul that is sinning​—it itself will die.” Also, Acts 3:23 says: “Any soul [or, person] that does not listen to that Prophet will be completely destroyed from among the people.” So the soul is not something that survives the death of the body.

8. What is the spirit in humans?

8 The spirit is not the same as the soul. In humans, the spirit is the life-force that enables them to perform the activities of life. The spirit is like electricity. Electricity can run a fan or a refrigerator but cannot by itself move the air or make things cold. In the same way, our spirit enables us to see, hear, and think. But the spirit itself can do none of those things without the eyes, ears, or brain. That is why the Bible says of man: “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”​—Psalm 146:4.

9. What do the soul and the spirit not do?

9 According to the Bible, therefore, neither the soul nor the spirit leaves the body at death to continue life in the spirit realm.

Condition of the Dead

10. What does the Bible say about the condition of the dead?

10 What, then, is the condition of the dead? Since Jehovah is the one who created humans, he also knows what happens to us when we die. His Word teaches that the dead are lifeless, unable to hear, see, speak, or think anything. The Bible says:

  • “The dead . . . are conscious of nothing at all.”​—Ecclesiastes 9:5.

  • “Their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished.”​—Ecclesiastes 9:6.

  • “There is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in [the grave], the place to which you are going.”​—Ecclesiastes 9:10.

11. After Adam sinned, what did Jehovah say to him?

11 Think about what the Bible says about our first ancestor, Adam. Jehovah formed Adam “out of dust from the ground.” (Genesis 2:7) If Adam had obeyed Jehovah’s law, he would have lived forever in happiness on earth. However, Adam disobeyed Jehovah’s law, and the penalty was death. Where did Adam go at death? God said to him: “You [will] return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.”​—Genesis 3:19.

12. What happened to Adam at death?

12 Where was Adam before Jehovah created him from the dust? He was nowhere. He did not exist. So when Jehovah said that Adam would “return to the ground,” He meant that Adam would again become lifeless, like the dust. Adam did not live on in the spirit world. He did not ‘cross over’ to the realm of ancestral spirits. He did not go to heaven or hell. He returned to a state of lifelessness; he ceased to exist.

13. At death, what happens to both humans and animals?

13 Does the same thing happen to humans in general? Yes, it does. The Bible explains: “[Both humans and animals] are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust.”​—Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20.

14. What hope is there for dead ones?

 14 The Bible promises that God will awaken dead ones to life on a paradise earth. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) But that time is yet future. Presently, they are asleep in death. (John 11:11-14) We should not fear or worship them, since they can neither help us nor harm us.

15, 16. How does Satan try to make people believe that the dead are not really dead?

15 The idea that we do not really die is a lie spread by Satan the Devil. To convince people of this lie, he and his demons try to make people think that sickness and other problems are caused by spirits of the dead. It is true that some troubles are caused by the demons themselves. And it is true that some troubles have no supernatural cause. But it is not true that harm can come to us from those who are sleeping in death.

16 There is yet another way the demons try to make people think that what the Bible says about death is wrong. They deceive people into thinking that they have seen or talked with the dead. The demons do this through visions, dreams, spirit mediums, or other means. However, people contact, not dead ones, but demons who pretend to be people who have died. That is why Jehovah strongly condemns spirit mediums and those who inquire of the dead.​—Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Zechariah 10:2.