WHAT is THE SOUL?
Do you have a soul? Is it something
inside of you?
SAY, Carl," exclaimed John Jones, as he and Carl Smith, chum and fellow church member, left the office for their Monday noon lunch, "that sure was a wonderful sermon Dr. Johnson delivered last night. Best explanation I ever heard of where the soul goes at death."
"Sorry I missed it," said Carl "How did he explain it? That's always puzzled me."
"Well, he said that what we call death is not really death at all, but merely the release of the soul from the body. It's only the body that dieswe, ourselves, are immortal souls. He said the soul is IMmaterialnot composed of matter, but of spirit, and can never die. When a person dies, if he's saved, the soul leaves the body, and, Dr. Johnson explained, at almost the same instant, it arrives in heaven millions of miles away, where it enters a body all prepared and waiting for it."
"Well, what about the body prepared up in heaven," asked Carl, "is it just like the one the soul had lived in here on earthdoes it LOOK the same?" "Oh sure. Dr. Johnson said we would look exactly like we do here. Just the same."
"Well," said Carl, "I suppose Dr. Johnson knows." Then, suddenly bursting into a laugh"Look, John! I know I oughtn't to laugh at such things, but it just popped into my mindthere are thousands of people dying over the world every day, and it must take an awfully big warehouse up in heaven to keep all those new bodies waiting.
"And say, listen! I suppose if a baby dies, his soul enters a body that is baby-size and looks just like the baby did here; but if that same baby DOESN'T die until he's an old man, then I suppose his soul enters a body in heaven that is full man-size and looks like he had come to look, here, as an old man. Do those bodies prepared up there keep growing and changing just as ours do here, all ready for whatever second we die and go to heaven?"
"M-m-m," mused John. "I don't know. Dr. Johnson didn't explain that."
"Well, I think we must admit that seems a little strange. And then, what of the resurrection? What happens to the body the soul lives in, up in heaven, when the earthly body is resurrected out of the grave down here?"
"Oh, Dr. Johnson said the soul leaves its body in heaven at that time, and returns almost instantaneously to earth and enters its former body that died, as that body is resurrected out of the grave."
"Well," said Carl gravely, "I suppose I ought not to question such things. Of course Dr. Johnson knows what the Bible says. But it does seem a little well, sort of strange, to me. I can't see WHY God would have us leave this body, go to heaven and enjoy a better one up there, and then leave all that and return back here and get back into this same old body, resurrected again. And then what happens? Do we stay here on earth in our resurrected bodies, or take another trip to heaven IN THEM? WHERE do we spend eternity?"
"Oh, come, come, Carl!" laughed John a little impatiently. "We can't know all those things. We have other things to do and think about. It's up to us to just take the preacher's word for it, and let it go at that!"
"Yes, I suppose so," rejoined Carl. "Still, that does seem like the most important subject in life. Say, John, I tell you what!" Carl exclaimed suddenly, "here's the public library. What d'ya say we stop in for a moment and look up the word 'SOUL' in the big unabridged Webster's dictionary? I wonder just what the word 'SOUL' meansjust what IS the soul, anyway?"
"There!" whispered John, as the two men started reading the Webster definition of "SOUL" "That's the way Dr. Johnson explained it. See, it says here the soul is 'an entity conceived as the essence, substance, or actual cause of individual existence, separate in nature from the body and usually held to be separable in existence."
"Uh-huh," Carl said softly, "I guess so. Look, here's some more. It says, The Egyptian distinction of soul and spirit dates from the earliest times, and the... Egyptian conception of the divine origin of the soul... and of its future state... outlines also the main belief of all Western peoples. The Christian conception of the soul is derived from the Greek as well as from the Bible.'
"Say, man!" exclaimed Carl "That looks like our idea is not taken altogether from the Bible, but mixed with Egyptian and Greek conceptions. Look! This next paragraph in fine print shows the real BIBLE meaning. It's quoted from 'A Dictionary of the Bible by James Hastings.' Why, that isn't what our church believes, John. Wonder if that really IS the Bible teaching? That indicates the soul is material made of MATTERand applies to animals as well as men! Why, that would make the soul MORTAL, not immortal. Wait! Read the rest of this."
John continued reading the Webster definition: " "The more exact Christian conception was reserved for the Church Fathers, especially St. Augustine, who taught that it is simple, immaterial, and spiritual. He argued its immortality.' "
"Say," broke in Carl, "Wasn't St. Augustine one of the Roman Catholic leaders? I thought we Protestants were supposed to be PROTESTING against the unscriptural errors introduced by middle-age Catholic leaders."
Present Conception Pagan
The two men read the remainder of the dictionary explanation, indicating that the present conception of the soul was gradually formulated by the so-called Church Fathers (who actually began the Great Apostacy and middle-age Catholic leaders, based upon human reasoning under pagan and heathen influence.
"Oh, well," argued John, "surely whatever our church and most all churches teach today must be right. All these churches couldn't be wrong. Come on, let's go eat."
"No, wait!" insisted Carl. "My interest is aroused now. There's something decidedly funny about all this. The matter of the soul has always been a mystery to me, and now that I've started I want the TRUTH! Let's see if that Hastings' Bible Dictionary is in the library."
They were surprised to find that this Bible dictionary filled several large volumes. They selected the volume containing the article on "soul" This is what they read:
What the Bible Dictionary Says "SOUL is throughout a great part of the Bible simply the equivalent of 'life' embodied in living creatures. In the earlier usage of the Old Testament it has no reference to the later philosophical meaningthe animating principle, still less to the idea of an 'immaterial nature' which will survive the body."
"Well, what do you know about that!" ejaculated Carl "The BIBLE meaning has no connection with this present-day philosophical meaning we've been taught since we were babies. The BIBLE meaning is just the opposite!"
"Oh, what's the difference?" said John, a little impatiently. "Come on, I'm hungry."
"You go on, then, I'm going to read thru this article. My head's swimming, now. I'm going on thru with this, till I get it straight."
"Oh, all right," laughed John, "I'll stay."
"Look at this," Carl continued reading: " 'A living soul' in Genesis and other records is simply an 'animated being,' and the word is applied equally to the lower animals and to man."
John broke in: "Look! down here in the fine print is an abridged analysis from the Oxford Hebrew Lexicon. Let's read it." So they read:
"Usage of the Hebrew terms for 'soul.'
"Wait," exclaimed Carl, "Wasn't the Old Testament written originally in Hebrew?"
"Sure," replied John, "I know that much."
"Then the Hebrew usage must be the correct meaning, as God revealed and inspired it originally in Hebrew."
"Yes, guess that's right. Let's read on." So they read:
"1. (Heb.) nephesh, lit. that which breathes, the breathing substance or being; its source of life is the nishmath bayyim breathed into the nostrils by its basar by God (Gen. 2:7) in virtue of which man became a nephesh bayyah, this expression elsewhere always of animals. (Gen 1:24, 30; 9:12, 15, 16; Ezek. 47:9); ... The life of the nephesh resides in the blood. (Gen 9:4, 5; Deut. 12:23, 24; Lev. 17:10, 11, 12, 14). Nephesh is used for life itself, either of (a) animals (Prov. 12:10) or (b) of man (Gen. 44:30; Ex. 21:23; Lev. 24:17, et. al.). Nephesh, as the essential of man, stands for the man himself, and is used even of deceased persons (Num. 6:6; Lev. 21:11), where dead nephesh are called dead BODY. Nephesh is used for the seat of the appetites: e.g., hungry soul (Ps. 107:9; 107:18)."
"Those underscored words are all Hebrew words, aren't they?" asked John.
"Yeah, sure," said Carl, "But look, man, what this means! The original Hebrew word God inspired for soul is "nephesh," and it means "that which BREATHES." A nephesh, or a soul, then, is 'the breathing being,' this says. And it says it means animals, as well as men. An animal is a breathing being. That doesn't sound as if it were proper to say man HAS a soul, but rather that man IS a soul."
"Yes, but my goodness, John! Surely the Bible can't teach any such thing as THAT. I just COULDNT believe that! Why, I can think, and reasonAnimals don't have human intelligence. SURELY the real ME inside this body is an immortal soul, just as we've always been taught."
"Yes, that's the way it seems to me, too. But I remember reading in the Bible, There is a way that seemeth RIGHT to a MAN, THE END OF WHICH ARE THE WAYS OF DEATH. (Prov. 14:12). It's only natural for us to believe what we've always heard and been taught. But how do we KNOW what we believe is true? Right now is the first time I ever looked into it to PROVE itand here we don't want to accept and believe the PROOF when we find it. How did we come to believe the soul is an immortal spiritual essence that does our thinking and consciously survives the body at death? Did we ever look it up to PROVE it? No! I see now we've believed it only because we've heard it, and been taught it. Maybe that's why everybody else believes iteven the preachers, maybe. But now I'm looking into the PROOF, I'm going to believe what I find proved, not what I've just carelessly taken for granted."
"O.K., Carl. Guess you're right, but it's hard to believe, just the same."
WHAT the BIBLE SAYS
"Let's look at some of these Bible references," suggested Carl. "It says in this article that the source of life of the soul, or nephesh, is something God breathed into the nostrils, and it gives Gen. 2:7 as the reference."
"Good idea, agreed John. "Here's a Bible on the shelf here. Now let's see, here it is, 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.'"
"See, John, it says there that what God breathed into his nostrils was the breath of life. But my goodness! That doesn't sound like I've heard that quoted. Why, that's the same text I heard a minister quote at a funeral only last week, but he didn't quote it that way! The way he quoted it was that God breathed into him the SPIRIT of life, and so man HAS an IMMORTAL SOUL. Why, I've always supposed that was what the Bible said. I never looked it up for myself before. John, this is amazing! It sure has my head swimming! But right here it is in the Bible we can see it with our own eyes. What God breathed into his nostrils was the BREATHSay! That's just what we breathe thru our nostrilsBREATH AIR! Sure, we have to get oxygen into our lungs, or we DIE! It's called the breath of LIFE here. That makes sense, but it's sure a new one on me!"
"Oh, I don't see anything to get so excited over," said John. "I've heard you can prove ANYTHING by the Bible. How can we know we understand that right? When I'm sick, I call a doctor, I don't study up on medicine and try to understand it. If I go to court, I hire a lawyer to handle itI pay HIM to know the law for me. Isn't that what we pay the preachers forto know the Bible for us?"
"Well, I've always taken that for granted, too, Johnbut look! This is too plain. Why, any little CHILD could see what this says in plain language. And come to think of it, the preachers don't all agree, do they? Neither do the different churches. One claims the Bible says one thing, and every other one claims it says something different. Didn't Jesus say that God revealed these things to babes, but hid them from the wise and prudent? Say, this is so plain and simple a little babe could understand it. Believe me, I'm going to start looking into what I believe for myself, and study the Bible for myself, and when I find anything as plain and simple as this, I'm going to believe it.
"Now looknotice just what this says, John. It says God FORMED man. That would mean the man was shaped, put together, formed out of material already existing, wouldn't it? First God created the material, then He put it together in such a way He formed man of it. And the material was DUST MATTER."
"Yeah," replied John, "but that was merely the BODY. I've heard Dr. Johnson explain that. That wasn't the real MAN he formed out of material dust."
WHAT THE SOUL REALLY IS
"But the Bible says here that it was, Carl. It says that what God formed out of material dustjust the dust of the groundwas MAN. It doesn't say the BODY, which the real man was later to be put intoit says MAN. That's plain! But that man must have been a corpsehe had no life in him. And then God breathed the breath of life just AIRand that's material, too, not spiritinto the MAN'S nostrils, and then the MAN formed out of material dust BECAME a living soul Now I'm beginning to see it. It doesn't say God put an immortal soul INTO the BODY, it says the MAN, which is just dust from the ground formed into a MAN, became a living SOUL when, and after he began to breathe air, which is the breath of LIFE. That means man IS a soulnot that he HAS a soul, but this fleshly body breathing material air IS a soul.
"Now that's what this article in the Bible dictionary says. The nephesh OR SOUL is the breathing being, a breathing body, and its source of life is the air breathed into its nostrils. Why, we've had that just backwards. I always supposed the soul was what gave life to the body, but this shows the breathing body is the soul and it is the breath, or air, that gives life to the soul."
"Well, now MY head's swimming," exclaimed John. "Why, I just can't believe that!".
"Well," rejoined Carl, "I'm getting my eyes opened. I'm beginning to see that one CAN'T know what to believe if he just takes for granted whatever he hears whatever is popularwithout checking up on it. Say, don't you suppose perhaps God gave us our brains to STUDY with? Isn't it just mental laziness to always take the other fellow's word for everythingespecially such an important subject as this?"
"Well, let's look up some of these other texts," John said. "This Bible dictionary says this same expression, nephesh, or soul, applies elsewhere to animals. The first texts given are Genesis 1:20, 24, 30. Let's read that. Here it is. It says:
" 'And God said, let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.' Well that doesn't say anything about a living soul," objected John.
"But wait, John. Maybe the Hebrew word nephesh is used in the original Hebrew. How could we find out? I wouldn't know a word of Hebrew, even if they had a Hebrew Bible here. Let's ask the librarian."
The librarian was glad to help, and explained that in the big exhaustive concordance of the Bible, which she took from the shelf, every word that occurs in the entire Bible is listed in alphabetical order, as in a dictionary. After each word is listed every text in the Bible where that word occurs, together with a partial quotation from each text, followed by a number. This number, she explained, is the key by which the original Hebrew word (or, in the New Testament, the Greek) may be found. In the back of the immense book is a section listing all the original Hebrew words, listed by number beginning with 1. Another section listing Greek words in the same manner follows.
Learning the Original Hebrew
"I think," explained the librarian, "you'll find that this word 'creature' is translated from the Hebrew word 'nephesh.'"
The men turned to the word "creature" in the concordance, and opposite the quotation from Gen. 1:20 was the number (5315). Turning to the Hebrew section in the back of the book, they found: "(5315) nephesh (neh-phesh) prop, a breathing creature, i.e., animal or (abstr) vitality."
"Well, what do you know about that!" exclaimed Carl. "Say, I'm learning something new about how to study the Bible. This shows that, as God originally inspired His revelation, fish are called the moving nephesh, only instead of translating the word nephesh into the English word 'SOUL' the translators used the word 'creature.' But as God inspired it in Hebrew, He called the fish nephesh, the same as He called man nephesh."
Looking up the other references in the same manner, the men learned that in verse 21 it reads:
"And God created great whales, and every living nephesh that moveth ..." and in verse 24, "And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living nephesh after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth, after his kind'
The men were astonished.
"That's enough to floor anyone!" exclaimed Carl "But there it is! No use denying it. The nephesh, or soul, is merely the living, breathing, animal being, whether man, or fish, or beast. This says CATTLE are living nephesh, or SOULS! They certainly are not immortal! I'm beginning to see that the SOUL is only MORTAL life, material animal life, never immortal life."
Can the Soul Die?
John had been looking in the concordance under the word "soul." He made an amazing discovery.
"Well, what do you know about this! Whatever the soul is, it is something that can DIE. Look at this text." He pointed to Ezekiel 18:4: "The soul that sinneth, it shall DIE." And again, in Ezekiel 18:20: "The soul that sinneth, it shall DIE" John broke in.
"But Carl! I can't believe that! I simply CANT! Why, I've heard Dr. Johnson talk hundreds of times about our 'immortal souls.' Why, the IMMORTALITY of the soul, he says, is the one cardinal belief of Christianityour one great hope! Listen, we've gotten all this out of the Old Testament. You know we're a NEW Testament Church. The New Testament may give us a different teaching."
"No, John, it couldn't. I'm not much of a Bible student, but I do know the New Testament Scriptures say 'ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God,' (II Tim. 3:16), and that the Scripture 'came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.' (II Pet 1:21). It begins to look like these holy men of old time spoke faithfully as God inspired, while most of our modern leaders have been speaking by the will of men, as influenced by pagan philosophies."
"Well," persisted John, "Let's look in this exhaustive concordance for the words 'IMMORTAL SOUL'"
"Well, of all things!" ejaculated Carl "The word 'immortal' is used only ONCE in all the Biblein I Timothy 1:17. That's in the NEW Testament. Let's read it."
They read: "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God."
"That," John admitted, "applies only to God, and not to man. But surely we'll find it under 'IMMORTALITY.' The New Testament must teach the 'IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL' if that's our greatest hope. Here we are, 'IMMORTALITY.' This word is used FIVE times, and all in the New Testament. Here, let's look up I Timothy 6:16 first."
"Yeah, that," said Carl, upon reading the text, "is also speaking only of Christ, according to the 14th and 15th verses. It says He, 'ONLY, hath immortality.' That means other men do not have it, and therefore must be MORTAL. That surely backs up the Old Testament Scriptures, John. Amazing as this is to me, I'm about convinced. No getting around thatChrist ONLY, of the human family, has immortality. John, I'm beginning to see why we NEED Christ! He is the only one who HAS immortalitythe only one who can give it to us!"
"Yes, that's just it!" gasped Carl suddenly, continuing, "I'm beginning to see it all now," excitedly. "The Bible says the wages of sin is DEATH. Not life in a different place or condition, DEATH! But eternal life is the GIFT of God thru Jesus Christ our Lord. Why, sure! Here I've been believing the wages of sin is ETERNAL LIFE in hellnot actually a matter of life and death, but of DESTINATION! But this New Testament teaching is that eternal life is something WE DO NOT HAVE Christ ONLY has itand it is something God GIVES to us, THRU Christ, who, alone, has it! Man! This certainly is humiliatingsure cuts one's pride to realize we are not immortal like gods, but mortal like cattle and fishes. Guess we NEED humbling. But this certainly EXALTS CHRIST! You know, I see now, as never before, just how LOST the human race isHOW WE DO NEED CHRIST!"
'Yes," confessed John, "I'll have to admit that. But let's look up these other four texts."
One by one they turned to them, and read, in II Tim. 1:10, Christ brought immortality to light THRU THE GOSPEL; Rom. 2:7, we are told to SEEK for it, which would be ridiculous if we already possessed it; I Cor. 15:53, and 54, the righteous who seek for it and receive it as God's gift thru the Gospel and thru Christ, shall put it on AT THE RESURRECTION!
"And that," said John, "is every text in the whole Bible where the word 'IMMORTALITY' occurs. So the Bible says NOTHING WHATSOEVER about the 'immortality of the soul', and we can't find the words 'immortal soul' anywhere in the Bible! Well, Carl, I'm stumpedperplexed. WHY do the preachers keep talking about the 'immortality of the soul,' and about 'our immortal souls,' when there's NO SUCH THING anywhere in the Bible? WHY?"
"John," replied Carl, "I just can't answer why the preachers are telling us thatbut we've simply got to admit we have looked for ourselves, and found the TRUE BIBLE TEACHING, and it's consistent from one end of the Bible to the other!
"But wait! Look! I just happened to turn to this text, I John 3:15: 'Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.' John, there's the clincher! Even a man who hates his brother is a human being, and this says such human beings have no eternal life abiding IN them. Don't you see? If they had an immortal soul or spirit, or anything that would consciously survive death, they would have eternal life abiding IN them. This certainly says unsaved men are just MORTALnothing immortal in them!
"And," Carl continued, "I remember now the Scripture that 'as the Father hath life IN Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life IN Himself' (John 5:26), and God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (I John 5:11-12). The eternal life which is God's GIFT thru the Gospel is NOT INHERENT IN USit is IN Christ! He ONLY has it! Well, I'm ready to believe the Bible."
"Yes, but Carl, all this surely brings up a lot of questions. WHERE are the dead? Doesn't the body return to the dust, and the spirit to the God that gave it?"
"Listen, John," replied Carl, thoughtfully, "I'm beginning to understand one point leads to another. Sure, this brings up many other UNEXPLAINED questions. And we could take OUR IDEA of some of these questions and use them to knock out of our minds the TRUTH we just now learned. Let's not do that. I admit I can't square what we have learned here with the Questions you just asked. I haven't studied INTO them for myself yet. But I mean to, and until I do, I'll reserve judgment. We thought we were right on THIS question. But we have now PROVED we are MORTAL, that the BREATH gives us our life. We've spent our noon hour here at the library, but I've been fed on SPIRITUAL manna this noon.
"And say," Carl continued with intense interest, "I'm getting a new conception of what it is to be BORN AGAIN! It's not a REFORMATION of our immortal souls! Let's come back tomorrow again."
By Herbert W. Armstrong