Another Blog from UK Partnerships for Christ (www.upfc.org.uk)

Reasoning from the Scriptures Review “SOUL” by Jason Wright

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TOPIC “SOUL”

To begin let us define the position of the Watchtower. Page 375 of “Reasoning from the Scriptures” states under the topic “soul”:

“Definition: In the Bible, “soul” is translated from the Hebrew ne’phesh and the Greek psy.khe’. Bible usage shows the soul to be a person or animal or the life that a person or an animal enjoys. To many persons, however, “soul” means the immaterial or spirit part of a human being that survives the death of the physical body. Others understand it to be the principle of life. But these latter views are not Bible teachings.”

Notice the emphatic conclusion, viz. the Bible does not teach that man has a “soul” but rather humans and animals are by nature living “souls”. Our first WT proof text is Genesis 2:7.

“Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of the dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul” The Reasoning book argues “Notice this does not say that man was given a soul but that he became a soul, a living person”

Here the WT presents an essentially naturalistic view of human nature. God breathes life into Adam and animates the body. The animated body or human is now a “living soul” Consequently for the JW the predominant meaning of soul is the “physical organism” which would also includes animals (see Gen 1:20, 21, 24-25). In WT theology all living things are “souls”.

Such an understanding naturally leads to the conclusion that at death, the living “soul” becomes a “dead” soul, in other words the physical organism dies and the individual ceases to exist. Consequently the WT teaches that only at the resurrection can a deceased person live again.[1]

Before going further let us qualify the Hebrew word “soul” ne’phesh[2] and its Greek counterpart psyche’ by employing Vines Expository Dictionary which the WT often quotes from. The dictionary provides six definitions depending on context.

1)    It refers to the actual life of the body

This definition would agree with the WT conclusions on the basis of Genesis 2:7. However as is so often the case ne’phesh has a variety of meanings. Professor Vine goes on;

2)    It applies to the immaterial, invisible part of man.

This is a very clear statement from Professor Vine, one that the WT would vigorously object to!

3)    The word “soul” is used to denote the seat of personality

4)    Used to denote the seat of the sentient element in man-that by which he perceives and reflects and feels and desires

5)    It represents the seat of will and purpose

6)    It represents the seat of appetite (Exodus 12:16)

As can be seen the words ne’phesh/psy.khe’ have a wide variety of meaning and application depending on context. However the WT has chosen to use definition 1) applying this definition to all occurrences of the words ne’phesh/psy.khe’ in scripture.

The R.B. under the sub-heading “Where does the Bible say that animals are souls?” (page 376) correctly applies definition 1) to Gen 1:20, 21, 24-25 wherein Jehovah says “Let the waters swarm forth a swarm of living souls (ne’phesh)” but then no Bible scholar understands this to mean a swarm of immaterial spirits! Why? – Because the context dictates the interpretation.

The Reasoning Books next proof texts are 1 Cor. 15:45, 1 Peter 3:20 and Joshua 11:11 likewise the WT correctly applies the words ne’phesh/psy.khe’’ to the whole person. However the million-dollar question is does this lay down a rigid exegetical precedent? Well if Hebrew and Greek dictionaries are anything to go by we actually have multiple definitions depending on context. Let us examine some of these.

Genesis 3:18 “And as her soul (nephesh) was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.” CJB

Notice that Rachel’s ne’phesh or soul was departing her body. How are we to understand this statement? The text makes clear something left her body. The WT would argue this is simply the “life force” However that is not what the text implies. Therefore we cannot use definition 1) to interpret this verse, rather it is definition 2) that applies in context.

The NT also reveals an understanding of disembodiment. Listen to how Paul and Stephen described death.

2Co 5:8-10 “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. “

Phil. 1:23-24 “For I am hard-pressed from both [directions], having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for [that] is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”

Acts 7:59 “And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon [the Lord] and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”

Clearly Paul and Stephen understood that at death their disembodied soul would go to be with the Lord. In fact Jesus promised such:

John 14:1-3 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

John 17:24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

However despite the biblical data the WT tenaciously hangs onto its annihilationist doctrine. To add credibility to their claims that the ne’phesh/ psy.khe’ always refers to the whole person, on page 377 of the R.B. the WT quotes three independent authorities. Let us analyze one of these quotes from the Jewish Encyclopaedia.

“The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.”—The Jewish Encyclopedia (1910), Vol. VI, p. 564.

To read the full J.E. article on “soul” visit http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8092-immortality-of-the-soul

What you will find in this J.E. article is an honest assessment of the development of the meaning and understanding of “Soul” through Israelite History. It is true that Israelites understood human nature as the “whole person” but then this is also true of Christianity. Genesis 2:7 presents a creative combination of an earthly element and a heavenly element, Man became a living being in the image of his Creator. He begins life on the earth in a vessel of clay, but his intended destiny is everlasting life in a glorified body. Paul discusses this destiny in 1 Cor. Chapter 15 wherein he discusses resurrection and immortality for all believers!

Incidentally if you compare the original articles quoted by the WT in the R.B (page 377) you will find that the WT selectively supplies only “half quotes” – These selective quotes are red herrings to convince the reader that independent scholarship supports the WT interpretation of ne’phesh/ psy.khe’. What baffles and amazes me is that WT writers can actually cherry pick portions of academia (often sources they ironicly condemn) that suits their needs without personal doubts arising. I guess that just highlights how indoctrinated a JW is.

Coming back to scripture a candid assessment of all the biblical data reveals a development of life after death concepts. Let us briefly explore this development.

In the OT death is seen as the natural end of life (Num. 16:29), even a welcome relief (Job 14:2 2). In other cases, death is personified as an enemy (Ps. 18:4f) or separation from the community/Yahweh (2 Sam. 12:23). This begs the question: how did the Israelites understand their own nature in relation to life and death? Was there anything beyond the grave, good or bad?

We have already seen the witness of Rachel that her ne’phesh departed at death. But where did her ne’phesh go? OT writers used the word “Sheol” to describe not just the grave but an actual abode ‘the place of the dead’[3]. The nature of Sheol is ambiguous; it is a place void of happiness or meaningful interaction. It is simply the underworld; the abode of the dead, the place of disembodied souls. It is important to understand this embryonic perspective of existence in Sheol because it relates directly to “life after death”

Proverbs 21:16 “The man who wanders out of the way of understanding shall rest in the assembly of departed spirits MKJV.

Death is likened to resting with the disembodied souls. Psalmists and wisdom writers also touch on these afterlife concepts.

Psalm 89:48 asks; “Who can live and not see death? (mâveth; place or state) Who can save himself (his nephesh; soul) from the power of the grave?” (Sheol; the place of the dead) CJB

 Isaiah 14:9 Sheol (underworld) beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades (disembodied spirits) to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations.

What can we conclude? First physical death was separation from this life. In death a person (ne’phesh/shade/rephaim) went into Sheol. (Job 14:13, Psalm 88:10). The exact understanding of death and the afterlife was not codified in the OT; much is illusion. However, enough evidence permeates the OT to understand the formulations of further post-mortem concepts, such as resurrection, heaven and eternal punishment (Psalm 16:10, Job 14:13, Dan. 12:2).

Thus the OT scriptures are clear that the ne’phesh in certain contexts describes the inner man, that which transcends the life principle and to which is attributed reason, emotion, will, and worship. Consequently man’s nature made in “the image of God” transcends the animal principle of life/soul[4] and transcends death. Jehovah does not simply “hold a memory” of the deceased person, but rather the disembodied spirit exists either in Sheol/hades (for the unsaved) or in heaven (for the saved). Both groups await resurrection to either Judgment/eternal punishment in Gehenna (unsaved) or immortality in eternity (saved).

A computer is a useful illustration to help us understand human nature. A computer essentially has an outer case, this we could liken to the human body. Internally the computer has circuit boards, electrical mechanisms, a hard drive etc. However even if the computer is “powered up” it will not function without one essential ingredient – the software. You and I are that software – our consciousness, reason, and emotion – that which makes us who we are is the human software. That software transcends death, because it is not physical. Just as software on a computer adds no mass to the hard drive, our “soul” the inner person has no mass. Thus as Paul rightly observed we individualy exist in our body. While it is true to be fully human we must have a body (that’s why there will be a resurrection!) , during the intermediate state we exist as disembodied “souls”.

This leads us to the next R.B. sub-heading “Can the human soul die?” To prove it can the WT quotes Ezekiel 18:4 “Ezek. 18:4: “Look! All the soulsto me they belong. As the soul of the father so likewise the soul of the sonto me they belong. The soul* that is sinningit itself will die.(NWT)

This has been revised in the latest NWT to read: Look! All the souls*—to me they belong. As the soul of the father so also the soul of the son—to me they belong. The soul* who sins is the one who will die. (* = lives)

Notice the emphasis “soul = lives” and the soul/person can die. Does this prove the WT position? Ne’phesh does mean a “living person” in this context but this is not an exegetical rule. It is the context that determines the meaning.

Matthew 10:28 is also employed to prove the “soul” = “life” and that the “life” can be destroyed. However Jesus point was to show that God has power over his disciple after he dies whereas human adversaries can do nothing beyond killing the disciple’s body. It is actually a confirmation of life after death and Gods control of the human destiny!

Acts 3:23 is also listed as a proof text, but again in the context it refers to the individual and proves nothing about the immaterial soul. These proof text argue from silence.

The next R.B. sub-heading has a interesting question. “Is the soul the same as the Spirit?” Three scriptures are quoted to prove that the spirit refers to the life force whereas the soul refers to the whole person/animal (Eccl 12:7, 3:19, Heb 4:12). We can agree that there are similarities between the death of animals and humans. The physical phenomena are the same. However as has been established humans have an immaterial part, that which makes us human. So in the spiritual realm there is a big difference between animals and humans. Animals are not made in the image of God and thus exist as purely physical creatures, thus at death no part lives on. Humans are not animals we are Imago Dei[5] beings and as such have a transcendent “soul”.

Incidentally in Christian theology mans composition is split between TWO classical schools of thought: (1) Trichotomy (three parts)—body, soul, and spirit, and (2) Dichotomy (two parts)—body and soul (or spirit).[6]

The next R.B. sub-heading asks the question “Does conscious life continue for a person after the spirit leaves the body” To prove that we cease to exist the WT employs Psalm 146:4 and Psalm 104:29. In the context of verse 146:3 the psalmist is simply contrasting life with death. The writer warns against placing trust in human officials. They will die and their plans will perish with them. At death the spirit separates from the body, which returns to dust. Therefore it is foolish to put too much hope in what people can do. The dead have no more input or power over the living. Interestingly the verse actually confirms body/ne’phesh separation at death.

Finally the R.B. attempts to link belief in life after death with paganism. Here we do encounter a theological problem. The emphasis is on the doctrine of the immortal soul. We have established that both the Israelites and Christians believed in life after death. However did either group believe the “soul” was immortal?

The R.B. quotes the N.C.E. The Christian concept of a spiritual soul created by God and infused into the body at conception to make man a living whole is the fruit of a long development in Christian philosophy. Only with Origen [died c. 254 C.E.] in the East and St. Augustine [died 430 C.E.] in the West was the soul established as a spiritual substance and a philosophical concept formed of its nature. . . . His [Augustine’s] doctrine . . . owed much (including some shortcomings) to Neoplatonism.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. XIII, pp. 452, 454.

Incidentally I found an active JW quoting verbatim the R.B. on a Catholic forum, suffice to say he/she was banned![7]

Before I address this question we must be honest about the development of the “immortal” soul concept. What we have established is that man is a composite whole and that at death the immaterial part of the individual is disembodied and awaits resurrection. Does this mean the “soul” is immortal as it lives on after death? The majority of theologians would agree with the platonic view that the soul is immortal.[8]

However if we search the scriptures for the word “immortal” we will find no mention of the “soul” being immortal. Yes the “soul” exists after death, but this does not prove immortality. The Bible simply does not categorically state wether the soul is immortal or conditional. In fact if immortality is achieved at death why do we need a resurrection? The Corinthians argued this way. Here is an alternative view just to keep you on your toes!

“For Paul, however, immortality is a natural attribute of God alone (1 Tim. 6:16) and a future acquisition of the righteous gained by means of a resurrection transformation (Rom. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:52-54). Immortality is conditional, but only in the sense that there is no eternal life except in Christ. This does not imply that existence beyond death is conditional and that unbelievers will be annihilated. Because, in New Testament usage, immortality has positive content, being more than mere survival beyond death, its opposite is not non-existence but the ‘second death’ (Rev. 20:6, 14) which involves exclusion from God’s presence (2 Thes. 1:9). All human beings survive beyond death but not all will become immortal in the Pauline sense.[9]

Essentially bodily resurrection of the saved = immortality. Paul argues this with the Corinthians explaining that; if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, neither can we be, and if we are not to be raised then immortality is unobtainable. Paul thus rejects the dualistic Greek view that the human soul is trapped in a body and awaits release through death. Rather Paul corrects his brethren and explains fullness of life and immortality comes finally at the bodily resurrection of the saints.

“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1Co 15:16-17, 35,42-44, 49-53)

Hence the R.B is partly correct that philosophy and Platonism have influenced the “immortal soul” doctrine. However this does not prove that man has no “soul” rather it simply addresses the development of Christian theology concerning the nature of the soul.

Finally a question from me! We have established that humans have an immaterial part to them that is disembodied at death. But where does this “soul” come from? Sadly I have heard Christians say that “souls/Spirits” are made in heaven and await a human body on earth. This idea of pre-existence and transmigration comes from Greek philosophy. The doctrine did affect the Alexandrian School, Origen being a chief proponent. In modern times this view is similar to Mormonism and cannot be proven from scripture. As we have established God made man Imago Dei a composite whole (Trichotomy/ Dichotomy) so we should reject the Greek view of transmigration.

That leaves us with two Biblical theories. 1) Traducianism 2) Creationism, both of these views are valid and acceptable explanations. Both views agree that the soul comes into existence at conception.

According to Traducianism the souls of men are propagated along with the body by generation, and therefore transmitted to the children by the parents. In other words at conception a new Imago Dei being comes into existence. Just as original sin was passed onto Adams offspring so creative life was passed onto offspring. Traducianism would argue that no scripture speaks of God creating a “soul” separate from the whole person.

The second view Creationism while agreeing with Traducianism that the soul comes into existence at conception argues that God himself performs the creative act of making the soul. That is, the origin of the soul is not procreative but divine. The major problem with this view is how do we reconcile a sinful body with a divine pure soul? How would such a combination interact? For myself Traducianism better explains the transferal of sin to the “whole” person body/soul/spirit. However we cannot be dogmatic on this as the Bible is ambiguous on this subject.

To put the final nails in the coffin of the R.B. topic on the “soul” I list below scriptures you can use with JW’s to prove to them the soul/spirit/body composition of man.[10]

THE SPIRIT:

Zech 12:1 “the Lord [Jehovah]…forms the spirit of man within him.”

Matt 26:41, Mark 14:38 “Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Mark 2:8 “Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves…”

Mark 8:12 “And sighing deeply in His spirit, He said…”

Luke 1:46-47 “And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Rom 1:9 God, whom I serve in my spirit”

Rom 8:16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

1 Cor 2:11 “For who among men knows the [thoughts] of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him?”

1 Cor 5:5 “I have decided] to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

1 Cor 6:20 “glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s”

1 Cor 14:2 “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in [his] spirit he speaks mysteries.”

1 Cor 14:14 “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.”

2 Cor 7:1“Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit”

2 Ti 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit.”

THE SOUL

1 Ki 17:21-22-“O Lord [Jehovah] my God, I pray thee, let this child’s life [Heb. soul] return to him.” And the Lord [Jehovah] heard the voice of Elijah, and the life [Heb. soul] of the child returned to him and he revived.”

Matt 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gr. gehenna].”

Acts 20:9-10 “…fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life [Gr. soul] is in him.”

Rev 6:9-11 “And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also.”

Rev 20:4 “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus…and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

I have only really scrapped the surface on this subject. Further reading is suggested. Recommended theological helps below:

“Systematic Theology” Louis Berkhof, Banner of Truth Trust (Esp. The Constitutional Nature of Man pages 191-201)

“Christian Theology” Millard J. Erickson, Baker Books (Part 5 Humanity)

“Shades of Sheol – Death and the Afterlife in the Old Testament” Philip S. Johnston, IVP Academic.

“Death and the Afterlife” Dr. Robert A. Morey, Bethany House Publishing

“Life in the face of Death – The Resurrection Message of the New Testament” Edited by Richard N. Longenecker, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub.

“Raised Immortal – Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament” Murray J. Harris, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub.

JW Helps:

“Correcting the Cults” Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes, Baker House Pub.

“The Watchtower in Light of Scripture” Peter Barnes, Challenge Ministries

http://outofdarknessonline.com/ministry_materials/audio/witnesses_nature_of_man/

CONCLUSION:

We have seen that the Hebrew and Greek words ne’phesh/psy.khe’ can refer to the whole person/animal but contextually can mean up to six different things, one of which is “disembodied soul” An examination of the biblical data confirms that humans have an immaterial part which lives on after death unlike the animals. We have also seen how the Watchtower cherry picks scripture creating “proof texts” and sadly how independent scholarship is only half-quoted by the WT which confirms the Watchtowers intellectual dishonesty when quoting academia.

We have also looked at some of the deeper aspects of Mans composition and I would encourage you to do further research into this fascinating subject. Overall we have debunked the narrow WT view “soul = human/animal” and let Gods word speak for itself. Amen!

So that’s it for the “Soul” I hope you found the review useful. Please continue to pray for those trapped in the Watchtower. They desperately need to hear the truth of scripture and the Gospel of salvation.

God bless

Jason Wright

 

 


[1]
A good question to ask a JW is “If we cease to exist at death what does Jehovah put in the resurrected body?” The answer is often that Jehovah remembers us. However if what is returned to the body at the resurrection is only a memory then surely we are not actually the same person? If we cease to exist at death then the resurrection is actually a recreation of the whole person from scratch not a resurrection!

A second question worth asking a JW concerns the “anointed 144,000 class”. These one’s presumably go straight to heaven at death. Therefore the question to ask is when the body dies and the individual ceases to exist what actually goes to heaven? They might answer that Jehovah instantly changes them into “spirit creatures” but this does not answer how the personality, character, memories etc. are transferred from non-existence into a new spirit body.

The problem the JW’s have is twofold 1) how to explain non-existence then re-existence 2) How to explain transferal of the personality etc. into the resurrection body.

[2] Cf. http://www2.mf.no/bibelprog/vines?word=%AFt0002707

[3]The definite article occurs sixty-six times in the OT and always means “the realm of the dead “Shades of Sheol” Philip S. Johnston 2002:70-71.

[4] Death and the Afterlife by Dr. Robert A. Morey page 49.

[5] http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/theogloss/imago-body.html

[6] http://www.gotquestions.org/trichotomy-dichotomy.html

[7] http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=631623

[8] http://www.gotquestions.org/human-soul-mortal-immortal.html

[9] http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/life-after-death_harris.pdf

[10] http://www.kevinquick.com/kkministries/books/reasoning/spirit.html

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