What is the Soul?
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.Genesis 2:7
The soul that sinneth, it shall die.Ezekiel 18:4
first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
If a man die, shall he live again?Job 14:14
The man who does not care about the existence of God or the validity of the Bible may not care about the question What is the soul? But how could those who can see the abundant testimony to God in his creation and their own experience not care about the answer to a question that touches the most elemental aspect of their lives? Nearly everyone acknowledges that death is a reality, and that the physical body which carries us through this life also perishes. But the Scriptures speak of souls; and man has taught that the soul is something which lives onindestructiblythe product of a God who cannot destroy that which he has created.
Our powers of reason tell us differently. Everywhere in the realm of human endeavor the objects which man forms are subject to his own power to destroy them. The creature, whether inanimate, animate, or robotic, is always subject to the will of its creator.
Notice, however, that nowhere do the Scriptures say that the soul is immortal. It makes no difference how many people may teach this idea. A person searching the Scriptureswhether in translation or the original textcannot find such a statement. Prove it for yourself. Pick up any one of the concordances to the Bible available at any library or religious book store. Try to find that expression immortal soul. You will quickly discover that no such expression is found in the Scriptures. But quite to the reverse of your expectations, you will easily find that the Scriptures say that God is able to destroy both soul and body; and again, the soul that sinneth, it shall die. (Matthew 10:28; Ezekiel 18:4).
The dictionary defines immortal as meaning not mortal; not liable or subject to death. A creature which can be destroyed, therefore, is not immortaldeath-proof, as the meaning of the word immortality demands. This simple fact is proof that neither bodies nor souls are immortal. Theologians may argue long and hard to prove their points, but they cannot countermand these two simple statements.
Men have struggled over this question for centuries because they have tried to prove, using the Scriptures, an unscriptural idea. As a result their definitions of what the soul is have been undefined, vague, and elusive. It has been taught that the soul is something in us, but no one seems able to explain either where or what it is. Theologians like to claim that this vague unknown entity is the real intelligent being and that the body which houses it is just some sort of metaphysical tool. As science probes into the processes by which our bodies operate, man is finding that we are little more than a rather extensive chemical and electrical factory and that the workings of the physical affect the function of the mental and emotional and vice versa. This seems directly at odds with the way a Methodist Bishop of some years ago described the soul: It is without interior or exterior without body, shape or parts, and you could put a million of them into a nutshell. This well meant attempt to describe the soul seems to us rather a good definition of nothing! But our question remains unanswered. Merely scoffing at false answers is no help because there remain aspects of humanity which do defy description.
In this discussion one can never discount the effect upon man of the fall into sin. Man's condition today is far from what it was in Eden, at which time God pronounced his creation very good. Sin has lead to the cultivation of many of man's lower capacities and the disuse of many of his higher intellectual abilities. These capacities, however are still present, awaiting development. But that is not the case among animals. However hard one attempts to train the animal in the emotional and moral skills so easily learned by man, the animal seems inherently unable to grasp the same lesson. Simply, the Creator has endowed the human creature with a finer organism. We all breathe the same air, are made of similar flesh and bones, possess some form of intelligence, but man possesses a higher intelligence and is treated by his Creator as being on an entirely different plane. Actually, it is the proportion to which sin degrades a man and results in the emphasis of his meaner traits that men are said to be brutish or animalisticwords meaning that such men more nearly resemble animals than possessing the finer sensibilities of the human race.
To this the Scriptures agree. We read, To you it shall be meat, and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life [Hebrew: nephesh chaiyaha living soul] (Genesis 1:30). Again, Let the waters bring forth the moving creature that hath life [Hebrew: a living soul] (1:20see marginal readings).
The same lessonthat the life principle in all creatures that take their breath through nostrils is the same is taught in the account of the Great Flood (Genesis 6:17; 7:15,22). This fully agrees with King Solomon's statement that man and beast all have one breath or ruach, the Hebrew word for `spirit' or `kind' of life. He says further that both animal and man die similarly (Ecclesiastes 3:19). Going a step further Solomon controverts early heathen theories about the afterlife: Who knoweth the spirit of man that [it] goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that [it] goeth downward to the earth (Ecclesiastes 3:21)? Even early men had begun to speculate on some after-life to which men went at death. This wise man challenges any proof or knowledge to that effect. This challenge to others to produce some proof of their theories or else to admit that they have no certain knowledge on such subjects follows Solomon's statement of the truth on this subject in that third chapter of Ecclesiastes.
There is a direct conflict between modern human teachings and the inspired Word of God. The Scriptures claim that the dead do not know anything. Theologians say that they know everything. The Bible claims that the dead are really dead and have really suffered the penalty for sin pronounced upon our raceDying thou shalt die (Genesis 2:17, literal Hebrew). The opposers take up Satan's deluding statement to Mother Eve, saying You shall not surely die. They attempt to prove that the dead are not dead; that God's penalty against sin did not go into effect and that death, far from being the sentence or curse upon our race, is a blessing, a step in a general process of evolution. The two theories are as far apart as the poles, and the two teachers of these theories are God, on the one hand, and Satana liar from the beginningon the other. Which shall we believe?
No wonder many of Christianity's great theologians are leaving the doctrine of the Atonement. Having been blinded by the Adversary, they are taking many of their followers along with them. But the Bible declares that as by a man [Adam] came death, so also by a man [the man Christ Jesus] comes the resurrection of the dead; that as all in Adam die, even so all in Christ shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:21,22).
While assuring us of the justice of the Divine sentence of death, the Scriptures declare that our Creator is a God of mercy and of pity. When there was no eye to pity and no arm to deliver us, his Arm (the Lord Jesus) brought salvation to us. What did he do for us? He laid down his life for us; he died for our sins; he died the just for the unjust; he poured out his soul unto death; he made his soul an offering for [our] sin, and by his stripes we are healed (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 3:18; Isaiah 53:4,6,10).
Nothing is more evident than that our Lord Jesus did not suffer an eternity of torment as the price of our redemption. Hence, if the matter needed proof, we have it here. Eternal torment was not the penalty for our sins. On the contrary, the fact that our Lord Jesus died for our sins and that the heavenly Father accepted that sacrifice of his life on our behalf proves that it was our lives that were forfeited by sin. The fullness of the divine penalty against the human race was the deprivation of life. The race, under sentence of death, has entered the prison house of deaththe grave, sheol, hades. So it was that our Redeemer when he relinquished his life for us, went also to sheol, hades, the grave. He took our place and suffered the penalty for our sins.
But just as Jesus' death ransoms man from the sentence of death, he is able to promise that the hour cometh in which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of Man, and come forth; and they that hear [obey his voice then], shall live. Thus, simply, he encourages us to trust and hope in the resurrection of all our dear friends who go down into the prison of death. We may extend our hopes beyond those who demonstrate the sanctifying power of the spirit of God in their lives. These, as a rule, are but a few of earth's billions. But Jesus' promise extends far beyond these to all humans. As the apostle said, I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [our sleeping friends], that ye sorrow not even as others, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died [a ransom for all] and rose again [that he might be Lord and lifegiver to all] even so [let us truly believe that] those also which sleep in Jesus [whom he purchases with his precious blood] will God bring by him [from the prison house of death] (margin). The first resurrection is the resurrection of the blessed and holy, of the sanctified in Christ Jesus, his body.
The work of Christ and the church in bringing man back from the condition of death will have many aspects. The first work, however, will be in awakening him to a physical condition similar to that in which he died. Society will then be much improved. Knowledge will have replaced ignorance. The reign of righteousness and a law of love will have supplanted the selfishness and greed of this world. Satan will then be bound, preventing him from deceiving the nations during Christ's kingdom. Under the favorable conditions of that mediatorial kingdom, mankind will be required to progress in the knowledge of the Lord. They will have to bring their ideas and lives into agreement with his law of love. Whoever will refuse will be cut off from lifein the Second Death (Acts 3:22, 23), after what the prophet describes metaphorically as one hundred years of trial (Isaiah 65:20). Notice, however, that the prophet says that such a one, under the changed conditions then in existence, will be considered a relative lad.
Judgment will be upon all in that day, not just upon those who fail to make progress and are cut off from further opportunity. Those who seek righteousness and apply it in their livesliving in harmony with the laws of the kingdomwill be blessed under that judgment. Year after year they will grow mentally, physically, and morally strongertoward the full standard of perfect manhoodthe image and likeness of the Creator as first presented in father Adam.
If men were correct in their theories about consciousness in the death condition, it would have been remarkable that Lazarus gave no account of his experiences during those four days. As it is, however, no one will claim that he was in a hell of torment, for our Lord calls him his friend; and if he had been in heaven, would our Lord have called him back from such a superior state. What sort of friendship would that have been? But our Lord expressed it simply, Lazarus was sleeping. When Lazarus was revived our Lord awakened him to life, to consciousness, to his sentient [feeling] state. This was evidently a favor that Lazarus and his friends greatly appreciated.
The thought pervades the Scriptures that we are now in the night of dying and sleeping. The kingdom of Christ, the figure of speech used by the Scriptures, is a period of awakening in the morning, of resurrection. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psalms 30:5).
The apostles also used this hopeful and peaceful figure of speech. Luke says Stephen the martyr fell asleep (Acts 7:60). Paul, in his Antioch speech, used the same expression when speaking of David (Acts 13:36). Peter says much the same concerning the fathers that fell asleep (2 Peter 3:4).
Similarly, if the supply of oxygen is cut off, the flame ceases just as if the candle were destroyed. Whether an extinguisher is used or a snuffer, the results are the same: the light is extinguished. If the breath of life is cut off from man, the reaction is the same: the soul, life, existence ceases. So it is that the body continues to exist, even though a person may die of drowning or asphyxiation. The lighted candle might be used to ignite other candles, but once extinguished the candle can neither re-ignite itself or be used to ignite other candles. Again, this is very similar to the human life. Under God's provision the human can propagate its species so long as it lives. But as soon as the spark of life is cut off the soul or being has ceased and all power to think, to feel, or to propagate has ended. The Scriptures use this illustration in connection with Jacob's household: All the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls (Exodus 1:5). Jacob received his life as well as his physical body. The product of these two were his soul or intelligent being. It had been passed on from Isaac, Abraham, and thence from Adam to whom alone God had directly imparted life. Jacob passed the life, organism, and soul to his posterity. So it has been with all mankind ever since.
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