Watchman Willie Martin Archive

Many Christians stumble, and misunderstand the word "soul" as used in the scripture. In fact, it is one the major stumbling blocks which stand in the way of the understanding of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles; it is the one which substitutes the Platonic concept of the soul for the truth of Scripture.

Plato's concepts began to dominate Greek culture in the fourth century B.C. and are still popular today. In all most any university library one can find many more books on Plato than you will on Christ. Plato held that "souls" are a part of the invisible and permanent realm and are not affected by the change and decay of the visible world; therefore they are immortal. He taught that this immorality is the natural attribute of an incorporeal substance that extends into the past as well as into the future. (Renaissance Thought and Its Source, Paul Oskar Kristeller)

While the idea of immortality had existed in pagan religions, especially among the Egyptians, it was Plato and his followers who made it a major part of Greek thought which has had a big role in Western culture. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia the concept of the immortal soul "came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato."

In the third century A.D. the school of Neoplatonism was firmly established by Saccas and Plotinus and the immortality of the soul was incorporated into Christian thought. Tertullian, Bishop of Carthage, boldly proclaimed the immortality of the soul as a Christian doctrine, but he claimed no Biblical basis for it, plainly admitting, "I may use the opinion of a Plato, when he declares: 'Every soul is immortal." (The Ante‑Nicene Fathers, Vol. III).

The traditional doctrine of immortality holds that every person is given, at birth, an eternal "soul," which survives death, to live somewhere forever. The trouble is that THIS DOCTRINE IS DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED TO THE BIBLICAL TEACHING THAT ETERNAL LIFE IS THE GIFT OF GOD, AND IMMORTALITY IS GIVEN ONLY ON THE CONDITION OF ONE'S FAITH IN CHRIST (John 3:16; Romans 2:5‑11; 10:9‑10) {hence called "conditional immortality"}. Thus, we must answer the two questions (1) What is the "soul," and (2) Is it immortal?

The word "soul" comes from the Hebrew word "nephesh" in the Old Testament and from the Greek word "psyche" in the New. Its first appearance is in Genesis 2:7. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and MAN BECAME A LIVING SOUL."

Brown-Diver-Brigs Definition: #5315  nephesh‑a soulself,, life, a creature, a person, an appetite, a mind, a living being, a desire, an emotion, a passion

a) what breathes, the breathing substance or being, a soul, the inner being of man

b) a living being

c) a living being (with life in the blood)

d) the man himself, aself, a person or an individual

e) the seat of the appetites

f) the seat of emotions and passions

g) the activity of mind (uncertain)

h) the activity of the will (uncertain)

i) the activity of the character (uncertain)

This is not a description of putting a "soul" into the man but of HOW MAN "HIMSELF" BECAME A LIVING SOUL. Neither is the soul something that is detachable, an entity that can live either in or out of the man. Rather it is simply the "living being," A TERM APPLIED IN SCRIPTURE TO BOTH MAN AND ANIMAL AS WELL AS MANY OTHER THINGS.

Here we apply the "law of first reference" ‑ the way a term is used in its first appearance in Scriptures is the way it should generally be interpreted in Scriptures following. Note how it is used in Genesis 12:5, when Abraham and Lot took "THE SOULS THAT THEY HAD GOTTEN IN HARAN..."

Other versions more correctly say "the people," as this is obviously the meaning. It is said of Jacob that his offspring numbered "seventy souls." (Exodus 1:5) In Genesis 12:13 Abraham told Sarai "MY SOUL SHALL LIVE because of thee." {Sarai was certainly not Christ!}

In Genesis 19:20 one could save his "soul" by going to the city of refuge. In Genesis 34:8 a man's "soul" was longing for a woman. In Lev. 4:1; 5:1 and many many other Scriptures a "soul" could sin. In Lev. 5:2 a "soul" could touch an unclean thing. In Lev. 5:4 a "soul" could swear. In Lev. 7:18 a "soul" could eat. The priests were commanded to share any "soul" they purchased with their own money, THAT ALL THE HOUSE MIGHT EAT OF IT, obviously referring to an animal having a "soul." (Lev. 22:11) Scriptures speak of souls as eating, speaking, fasting, being beheaded, and many other things that are done ONLY BY PEOPLE IN THEIR PHYSICAL LIVES.

In the New Testament, the word "psyche" occurs over 100 times. It is sometimes translated "life" and sometimes "soul," admittedly leaving room for confusion. For example, Christ asked, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own life, or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?" (Matthew 16:26) But some versions render it" what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" leaving many to think that the "soul" is something they possess, which can be kept or lost or bartered away!

Whether in the Old Testament or the New, the "soul" is the principle of life, that which animates man. Luke writes of "two hundred three score and sixty souls" in the ship of Paul (Acts 27:37), referring to the people aboard. When Paul prayed, "I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:23), he was praying for the spirit, life and body ‑ for the entire person. The common idea that man "has a soul" which can live apart from the body is not known or taught in scripture.

In the words of Howard Hayes, "The prevalent notion that the 'soul' is a mysterious, ineffable, immortal something which man HAS or POSSESSES rather than something which he IS has corrupted Christian thought and speech...there is no account or record that Christ came to save anything other than people, and IN NO INSTANCE DID HE COMMISSION HIS DISCIPLES TO 'SAVE SOULS' APART FROM PERSONS." (Questioning a Tradition, Howard Hayes ‑ in recent years this book has become out of print because it is not "politically correct.")

Since man is all one, all of man is mortal, for he were partly mortal and partly immortal then he must be two beings, and his body should be no more a part or him than a tree is part of a house. Yet this is the traditional doctrine of "immortal soul," that when a man's body is killed, the real man is unaffected.

It is the outgrowth of the first lie man believed. God had warned Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden tree they would "surely die" (Gen. 2:17), but the tempter said it would be all right: "You will not surely die." (Gen. 3:4)

Therefore, by adopting the Platonic concept, man can believe that death only affects him physically, while his "soul" lives on. It is hard to tell how much damage this concept has done to the understanding of Christ's death to meet the penalty for sin.

The term "immortal" occurs only once in the King James Version, in (1 Timothy 1:17 and is a mistranslation of "aphtharto" which means "incorruptible.' "Immortality," from "anthanasian, is used three times in the New Testament. In (1 Timothy 6:16), Paul affirms that only God has immortality. In (1 Corinthians 15:53‑54), Paul speaks of the resurrection, when "this mortal SHALL PUT ON IMMORTALITY." This clearly teaches that in this life we are mortal and will not become immortal until the day of resurrection.

One of the best known commentaries states: "Nowhere is the immortality of the soul distinct from the body taught; a notion which may erroneously have been derived from heathen philosophers. Scripture does not contemplate an anomalous state brought about by death as the consummation to be earnestly looked for, but the resurrection." (Jamieson, Faucett and Brown's Commentary)

The "Golden Text" of the Bible tells us that God gave His Son that "whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) The issue of life and death is set before us throughout the Bible. Christ said that the hour would come when He would raise all the dead, some to eternal life and some to judgment. (John 5:28‑29) It is already revealed what the judgment will be: death. "The soul that sins shall die." (Ezekiel 18:20) The wages of sin is death," Paul tells us, "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

We do not have an innate immortality, but we do have the offer of immortality to be conferred as a gift, by the grace of God, upon those who are in Christ at His coming. It is through faith in Christ that the Christian has assurance that he ‑ NOT JUST A PART OF HIM CALLED "SOUL" ‑ will be raised from death and made immortal in the image of God.

If one is ever to attain immortality, it must be the gift of God at the resurrection. It is to be real people, changed and made immortal, that will inhabit the "new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness." (2 Peter 3:13)

"Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:15) "Who has abolished death and has brought LIFE and 'IMMORTALITY' to light through the gospel." (2 Timothy 1:10)

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