The word “soul” in Revelation 6:9 is often interpreted as referring to the immaterial portion of human beings that survives death. The Greek word psuché is found seven times in the Book of Revelation. Quoted from the NASB:

  • “The souls (psuché) of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9)
  • “A third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life (psuché), died” (Rev 8:9).
  • “They (presumably, “our brethren”) did not love their life (psuché) even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11).
  • “Every living thing (psuché) in the sea died” (Rev 16:3).
  • “… horses and chariots and slaves and human lives (psuché)” (Rev 18:13).
  • “The fruit you (psuché) long for” (Rev 18:14)
  • “The souls (psuché) of those who had been beheaded … because of the word of God… came to life” (Rev 20:4)

In which of these verses would it be possible to understand psuché as referring to an immaterial portion of human beings? Given these uses, how likely is it that psuché in 6:9 refers to an immaterial portion of human being that survives death?

  • Psuche is a broader concept in Greek than 'soul' in English, the reason that (for example) the KJV translates it sometimes 'life' and sometimes 'soul'. It needs also to be understood in conjunction with pneuma. Peter writes of 'spirit, soul and body', which (if punctuated correctly) conveys 'spirit' as relating to both 'soul' and 'body' (the unscriptural expression 'body, soul and spirit' being unhelpful). There is much (too much) controversy in this area. It requires careful study. I agree, in Rev 6:9 'soul' is the immaterial (disembodied) existence after decease and burial. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 0:50

3 Answers 3


In which of these verses would it be possible to understand psuché as referring to an immaterial portion of human beings that survive death?

The quick answer is "none".

Rev 6:9 could be seen simply as a metaphor. Compare it with the non-religious In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders Fields, the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The entire poem is spoken by those that have been killed in war.

John the Apostle and John McCrae could each have been simply providing voices for the dead, what they would have said if they could. Nothing supernatural is happening in either case.

Revelation 20:4 describes the saints, people that were dead but have now been resurrected as immortal spirit beings.

… in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

— 1 Corinthians 15:52–54

Their immortality didn't survive death, it was given to them at Jesus's return.

All the other quoted scriptures simply refer to souls that have died, both human and animal.
There is no implication that their life-force continued after death.

  • Good answer +1. All souls dying (including animals and fish) suggests that "soul" in Revelation is just another word for "person" or life.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 21:55

A lot of people will reply that no, in Hebrew thought, there was no immaterial soul or soul-body dualism, as nefesh is just a word that means "vitality" and is not separate from "life". Similarly in Greek thought, psyche did not refer to an immaterial soul but was again just a word that meant "life" or "consciousness", but this is clearly not the case in scripture.

In some passages, there is a clear soul-body separation with the notion of the soul having a different fate from the body:

Matthew 10:28 (KJV 1900)

28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Acts 2:31 (KJV 1900)

31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.

Hebrews 10:39 (KJV 1900)

39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

From the context, we know this is not discussing the saving of physical life.

James 5:20 (KJV 1900)

20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Here again, this passage in James is not talking about avoiding physical death.

In other passages, soul is used for a generic "life" that includes both physical and spiritual life.

Acts 15:26 (KJV 1900)

26 Men that have hazarded their lives [psyche] for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So both senses apply for "soul". The sense of the earthly life in which all die, but also the sense of "life" in which believers do not die and there is a separate dispensation apart from the flesh. Both senses are used for soul, and care must be taken to understand which sense is meant.


The meaning of the word "soul" in Revelation

If we limit ourselves to an analysis of the word psuché in Revelation, the souls in 6:9 should not be understood as an immaterial but conscious part of human beings that survives death for the following reasons:

(1) Of the seven times that the Greek word psuché, that is translated in 6:9 as “souls,” is found in the book of Revelation, it twice refers to the souls of animals (Rev 8:9; 16:3). We do not normally think that animals have an immaterial portion that survives death.

(2) Furthermore, in both these verses, the souls of these animals die.

(3) The souls under the altar (6:9) are also mentioned in Revelation 12:11, which says that the psuché (life; literally, souls) of God’s people cease to exist when they die. Therefore, for both humans and animals, the psuché ceases to exist at the first death (Rev 12:11; Rev 8:9).

(4) The souls under the altar are again mentioned in Revelation 20:4, which is a description of Christ's return (cf. Rev 19:11). Since 20:4 says that they “came to life” at that time, the souls in 6:9 are not alive.

For a more detailed discussion, see - The meaning of the word "Soul."

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