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Ministers, pastors, elders, overseers, leaders of churches have made many comments to those who have lost their loved ones prematurely, in a car accident, natural disaster, war, and the like. They make such comments, such as, “While we grieve for the loss of Julie Sanford, we know she is the one in a better place, and now she truly knows what joy, peace, and happiness are because she is with the Lord.” If we attended the funerals of different churches, we would find similar messages being given to the family of the loved one, who has died. What all of these messages have in common are the belief in survival after death.
Some teach that the human soul is deathless and cannot die. These ones believe that we possess an immortal soul, which is death proof. One commentator, J. Warner Wallace, in an article entitled (What Happens to Our Souls When We Die?), writes, “There is good reason to believe our afterlife experience begins the minute we close our eyes for the last time here on earth. For those of us who are believers, the instant our earthly bodies die our souls will be united with Jesus in the afterlife.” He goes on to write, “Each of us will leave our earthly bodies in the grave and our disembodied souls will go immediately into the presence of God or into Hades. Our destination is determined purely by our acceptance or rejection of God through our faith in Jesus Christ.”
The belief in most of Christianity is that we have a soul, not that we are a soul, and the soul that we have does not die. In other words, they believe that a soul within us is death proof, deathless, cannot die, i.e., is immortal. They observe that when a human body dies, it eventually turns into dust, (Gen. 3:19) but some part of the human must survive the body, and it is invisible to humans, untouchable, which some call the “soul,” while others call this immaterial part of man “spirit.” In order to get the theological position, we will quote Dr. Elmer Towns at length, He is a co-founder, with Jerry Falwell, of Liberty University, is a college and seminary professor, and Dean of the School of Religion, and Dean of Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary.
Theologians often debate the question of whether man is a two-part being (dichotomy) or a three-part being (trichotomy). Some verses seem to teach that man consists only of a body and soul, while others apparently teach a third aspect to man, the spirit. Sometimes the Bible seems to use the terms “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably, yet at other times a distinction between the two is more clearly made. Part of the problem is solved when we study the verses more closely and realize there are actually two ways to look at man. When we consider the nature or makeup of man, he is a two-part being. He consists of both material (the body) and the immaterial (the soul). In activity or function, however, the body, soul, and spirit of man each has a function. The distinction and similarity of the soul and spirit can be seen in a biblical discussion of the Word of God.
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The writer makes an interesting parallel. The joints and marrow are different in function, yet both are similar in that they are part of the bone structure of man. Thoughts and interests are also two distinct mental activities, yet they are similar in that they are activities of the mind. So the soul and spirit are distinct in function yet both are similar in immaterial composition. The writer is drawing five distinctions between things we may class together because of their similarity.
Soul. The Bible makes a clear distinction between the body and soul (Isa. 10:18). The term is used in the Bible to identify something that cannot be defined materially. The soul is that part of us that is life. At the creation of Adam, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). Man did not have a soul but he became a soul, and the life-principle was the breath (Hebrew ruah: spirit) of God. As a result, we say when man no longer has breath that he is dead. When Rachel died in childbirth, the Bible described it “as her soul was in departing, (for she died)” (Gen. 35:18). In the Old Testament, the word “soul” is used to speak of the whole person (Song of Sol. 1:7).
Spirit. A further consideration of the immaterial side of man will reveal additional aspects of truth in examining the spirit of man. The term “spirit” is sometimes used in Scripture to speak of the mind (Gen. 8:1) or breath (1 Thess. 2:8).
That part of man that survives death is called the “spirit” in the Bible. When Stephen was stoned to death, the Bible identifies his spirit as departing the body when his life ended. “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). This principle is seen in the biblical definition of death. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:28).
Relationship between the soul and spirit. The “soul” and “spirit” sometimes appear to be used interchangeably in Scripture (Gen. 41:8, and Ps. 42:6; John 12:27 and 13:21), because they both refer to the life-principle. We do not say man is a spirit, but that he has a spirit. On the other hand, we say man is a soul. The soul seems to be related to man’s earthly life while the spirit relates to man’s heavenly life. The knowledge of God is received by man’s spirit (1 Cor. 2:2–16) and interprets it for the total man. It is this spirit in man that is related to the higher things in man. The spirit of man is definitely related to the conversion experience. The apostle Paul acknowledged “The Spirit itself [the Holy Spirit] beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
Man is a unity. Man is the spiritual link between the life of God and the physical life of this planet. Man is a twofold being, possessing a dual nature in unity; a dual nature because he is spiritual and he is physical. At times these two natures seem separate but they operate as one. Man has one personality, but possesses two natures that interact on each other. First, man’s physical body is regulated by the material universe–he must eat, sleep, breathe, and live in dependence upon the earth. Man’s body is an essential part of his constitution, so much so that he would not be man without a body. But in the second place, man is immaterial. This is the life of God that entered man when God breathed into him and he became a living soul. Man became immortal and will live forever because God, his source, is eternal. Since man was made in the image of God who created all things, man has creative abilities, to rule the physical earth.
Man with his dual nature is a unity. The material receives direction by the immaterial, and man’s spiritual nature grows in harmony with physical well-being. God created man as a well-balanced unity. Those who harm their body sear their personality.
Sin entered God’s perfect world as a foreign element and violated divine law. As a result, man was ruined spiritually and will die physically. God’s purpose was thwarted and man’s constitution was affected. The only thing that can restore his spiritual condition is the grace of God through the message of the gospel. Man’s spiritual rebirth also guarantees for him a resurrected body that will again be made like his Maker.
We would agree with some of Towns’ point, but would also disagree with much. We will not take the time to refute systematically what he has written, we will just deal with what the Bible really teaches, and that will do it for us. Before delving into what the Bible really teaches, we will comment on one thing that Towns said, “God’s purpose was thwarted.” He is talking about God’s intended purposes for man, (1) that he procreate with Eve and fill the earth with perfect humans, (2) that he cultivated the Garden of Eden until we would have had a paradise earth, (3) that he care for the animals. Now, are we to believe that Satan could actually thwart God’s intended purpose?
THWART DEFINED: to prevent somebody or somebody’s plan from being successful
Why not say that Satan sidetracked God purpose at best. If God had a purpose for man, are we to believe that one little act of Satan and Adam prevented him from seeing that purpose accomplished? God’s purpose will be successfully accomplished through Jesus Christ. Satan merely delayed the inevitable fulfillment of God’s will and purpose.
The Human Soul
Let us turn to A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, based on the Lexicon of William Gesenius and edited by three clergymen, Drs. Brown, Driver and Briggs, in its corrected edition of 1952. On page 659, under the Hebrew word Néfesh, this Lexicon is honest enough to make this admission, in column two: “2. The néfesh becomes a living being; by God’s breathing neshamáth hhayím into the nostrils of its basár; of man Genesis 2:7; by implication of animals also Genesis 2:19; so Psalm 104:29, 30, compare 66:9; man is néfesh hhayáh, a living, breathing being Genesis 2:7; elsewhere néfesh hhayáh always of animals Genesis 1:20, 24, 30; 9:12, 15, 16; Ezekiel 47:9; . . . 3. The néfesh . . . is specifically: a. a living being whose life resides in the blood . . . (hence sacrificial use of blood, and its prohibition in other uses; . . . ) . . . c. Néfesh is used for life itself 171 times, of animals Proverbs 12:10, and of man Genesis 49:3c . . . ”
Let us turn also to the Lexicon for the Old Testament Books, by L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, in its edition of 1953, which gives definitions in both German and English. On page 627 of its Volume 2, this Lexicon says, under Néfesh: “the breathing substance, making man and animal living beings Genesis 1:20, the soul (strictly different from the Greek notion of soul) the seat of which is the blood Genesis 9:4f; Leviticus 17:11; Deuteronomy 12:23 (249 times): 3. néfesh hhayáh living being; Genesis 1:20, 24 (= animals) 2:19 . . . 2:7; 9:10, 16. . . . 4. soul = living being, individual, person . . . who kills a person Numbers 31:19, . . . destroy lives, persons Ezekiel 22:27; . . . 7. Néfesh breath = life (282 times) . . . ” And on page 628, column 1: “Néfesh a dead one (has developed from a person) Leviticus 21:1; Numbers 6:11; 9:10; Leviticus 22:4; Haggai 2:13; Numbers 5:2; 9:6f; 19:11, 13 . . . ”
Many have wondered what happens to the soul after death. Do humans have a soul that is apart from them? What is the soul? Is the soul, some invisible force within us, which survives after death? While this seems farfetched to some, many believe this to be true. Many have heard the claims on television, in book and magazines, about those, who claim they have had so-called life-after-death experiences. Here is a question for you as a reader, before we look at the first Bile verse, ‘Does the soul breathe to stay alive?’ Likely, many would answer “no” to that question. Let us see what the Bible says.
A Soul Breathes
Genesis 2:7 American Standard Version (ASV)
7 And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
The Christian apostle Paul, writer of fourteen books of the Bible, supports Moses’ writings, saying, “So also it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living soul’ … The first man was from the earth, a man of dust.” (1 Cor. 15:45, 47, UASV)
Human soul = body [dust of the ground] + active life force (“spirit”) [Hebrew, ruach] within the trillions of human cells that make up the human body + breath of life [Hebrew, neshamah] that sustains the life force from God.
Genesis 2:7 tells us that God formed man out of the “dust of the ground.” In other words, he was formed from the elements of the soil. This body needed life and so God caused the trillions of cells in his body to come to life, giving him the force of life. Ruach “spirit” is the active life force that Adam now possessed. However, for this life force to continue to feed these trillions of cells, there needed to be oxygen, sustained by the breathing. Therefore, we all know what God did next: he “breathed into his nostrils the breath [neshamah] of life.” At this point, Adam’s lungs would sustain the breathing the life force into those body cells.
If we are to understand fully what the “soul” is, we must investigate what the Hebrew and Greek words mean. The Hebrew word translated “soul” is nephesh. What does “nephesh” mean? The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary says,
In the Hebrew OT, the word generally translated “soul” is nephesh. The word occurs over 750 times, and it means primarily “life” or “possessing life.” It is used of both animals (Gen. 9:12; Ezek. 47:9) and humans (Gen. 2:7). The word sometimes indicates the whole person, as for instance in Gen. 2:7 where God breathes breath (neshamah) into the dust and thus makes a “soul” (nephesh). A similar usage is found in Gen. 12:5 where Abram takes all the “souls” (persons) who were with him in Haran and moves on to Canaan. Similarly in Num. 6:6 it is used as a synonym for the body—the Nazirite is not to go near a dead nephesh (Lev. 7:21; Hag. 2:13). (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, 1523)
Soul as “a living creature”
The American Standard Version has our literal rendering of nephesh at Genesis 2:7, “and man became a living soul.” The English Standard Version offers an interpretation of nephesh, “and the man became a living creature.” (LEB same) The Holman Christian Standard Bible offers an interpretation of nephesh, “and the man became a living being.” (NASB same) You will notice that Genesis 2:7 makes it all too clear that Adam was not given a soul, he does not have a soul, but that he became a living soul, i.e., a living creature, a living being. Therefore, the “soul” is the person, the creature, the being, not what we have. When we look at the Hebrew Old Testament using a literal rendering, this is born out.
Leviticus 5:1 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
|5 ‘Now if a person [nephesh, soul] sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt.|
Leviticus 23:30 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
30 As for any person [nephesh, soul] who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.
Deuteronomy 24:7 Lexham English Bible (LEB)
7 “If a man is caught kidnapping somebody [nephesh, a soul] from among his countrymen, the Israelites, and he treats him as a slave or he sells him, then that kidnapper shall die, and so you shall purge the evil from among you.
Judges 16:16 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
16 It came about when she pressed him daily with her words and urged him, that his soul was annoyed to death.
Job 19:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 How long will you torment my soul, And break me in pieces with words?
Psalm 119:28 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
28 My soul weeps because of grief;
Strengthen me according to Your word.
We notice here in the above verses that a soul sins, a soul works, a soul can be kidnapped, a soul can get annoyed, a soul can be tormented, and a soul can weep. These things happened to persons, to creatures, to beings, not inanimate objects within the human body, which is supposed lives on after death. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary says,
New Testament Greek word psuche carries many of the same meanings as the Hebrew nephesh. Often the soul is equated with the total person. Romans 13:1 says, “Everyone [soul] must submit to the governing authorities” equating “soul” (one) with “person” (cp. Acts 2:41; 3:23). There will be “affliction and distress for every human being [soul] who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 2:9 HCSB). Soul in the NT also indicates the emotions or passions: “But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up and poisoned the minds [psuche] of the Gentiles against the brothers” (Acts 14:2 HCSB). In John 10:24 the Jews asked Jesus, “How long are You going to keep us [our souls] in suspense?” Jesus also told the disciples that they should love God with all of their souls (Mark 12:30), indicating something of the energy and passion that ought to go into loving Him. (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, 1523)
When we look at the Greek New Testament using a literal rendering, “soul,” the basic idea inherent in the word as the Bible writers used it, namely, that it is a living person, a living creature, or a living being; or, the life that a person or an animal has as a soul.
John 12:27 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.
Acts 2:43 American Standard Version (ASV)
43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
Romans 13:1 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
13 Every person [psuche, soul] is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 Lexham English Bible (LEB)
14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, console the discouraged [oligopsuche, literally “those of little soul,” i.e., “discouraged.”], help the sick, be patient toward all people.
1 Peter 3:20 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons [psuchai, souls], were brought safely through the water.
We notice here in the above verses that a soul can become troubled, fear can come upon a soul, a soul is to be in subjection to the governmental authorities, a soul can get discouraged, and souls can be delivered through a flood. These things happen to a person, a creature, a being, not an inanimate object within the human body, which supposed lives on after death. We note to from our quote of The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, animals are “souls” too.
|Genesis 1:24 American Standard Version (ASV)
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures [nephesh, soul] after their kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind: and it was so.
|Numbers 31:28 American Standard Version (ASV)
28 And levy a tribute unto Jehovah of the men of war that went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the oxen, and of the asses, and of the flocks:
Soul as the Life of the Creature
“Soul” is used in Scripture as a reference to the life that a living person, a living creature, a living animal has. This does not negate what we learned in the above. We are living “souls,” i.e., living persons. It does not change a thing to use “soul” in the sense of our possessing “life.” Below are a few examples.
Exodus 4:19 American Standard Version (ASV)
19 And Jehovah said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return into Egypt, for all the men are dead who sought your life [nephesh, soul].”
Joshua 9:24 American Standard Version (ASV)
24 And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants, how that Jehovah your God commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; therefore we feared greatly for our lives [nephesh, souls] because of you, and have done this thing.
2 Kings 7:7 American Standard Version (ASV)
7 Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life [nephesh, soul].
Proverbs 12:10 American Standard Version (ASV)
10 A righteous man regards the life [nephesh, soul] of his beast; But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
Matthew 20:28 American Standard Version (ASV)
28 even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life [psuche, soul] a ransom for many.
Philippians 2:30 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life [psuche, soul] to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
Now, we do not want to misrepresent the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, by quoting two paragraphs, where this author would agree, and not go on to the next paragraph, where they would disagree with this author. There are two positions, when it comes to the biblical position of the body and the soul. We would disagree with the first, which is “holistic dualism—that there is a difference between body and soul, but the two are linked together by God such that humans are not complete when the two are separated.” Our position that we would agree with, would be the second, which is the “monistic view that the soul is not separable from the body at all. Nearly all who have held the second view have also believed that after death Christians ‘go to sleep’ and await the resurrection.” (Bold mine, more on this below) The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary holds to the holistic dualism position, as they write,
It is also the case that the NT speaks of the soul as something that is distinguishable from the physical existence of a person. Jesus made this point when He observed, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; but rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28 HCSB). James seems to have the same thing in mind when he concludes his letter, “He should know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life [soul] from death” (James 5:20 HCSB; cp. Rev. 6:9; 20:4). This may be the idea found in Mark 8:36, “For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life [soul]?” (HCSB). Scripture clearly teaches that persons continue to exist consciously after physical death. Jesus pointed out that as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He is the God of the living. These still live, their souls having returned to God (Eccles. 12:7). (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, 1523)
We will take their texts one at a time, offering the text, and then offering a thought that will clarify what was meant by the author.
Matthew 10:28 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
What is meant by this is, man can kill the body alone, but he cannot kill “life,” as in everlasting life. The prospect of life is in the hands of God alone. He can kill both the body, which is used to represent what we have here and now, but he can also kill any prospect that we have at everlasting life. Again, man can kill the body; he cannot kill the person for an eternity, as the hope of a resurrection is in hands of God.
James 5:20 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
20 let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life [soul] from death and cover a multitude of sins.
First, we should point out that, the ‘life [soul] that is saved from death’ is, not the one doing the helping, but rather, it is the sinner. Our works do not save us; we are saved by the loving-kindness of God, in offering his Son as a ransom sacrifice for all, who trust in that sacrifice. (Acts 4:12) The person who was saved was walking down the path of eternal death, from where there is no hope for eternal life. When the one Christian helped the sinner turn back from his error, by spreading love and counsel, as well as prayer, he helped this sinner stay on the path of life, eternal life, by way of the atonement sacrifice of Christ.
Mark 8:36 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
36 For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life [soul]?
Here again, it is not referring to the person’s life in this present imperfect age, but eternal life that is to come after Jesus brings the last enemy to nothing, death. We will deal with Ecclesiastes 12:7 below.
Can the Soul Die?
When we die, what happens to the soul? If you recall from above that the “soul” is the person, the being, the creature, i.e., us, and the life that we have. If you recall from above, the Human soul = body [dust of the ground] + active life force (“spirit”) [Hebrew, ruach] within the trillions of human cells which make up the human body + breath of life [Hebrew, neshamah] that sustains the life force from God. In other words, the “soul” is we as a whole, everything that we are, so the soul or we humans can die. Let us look at a few verses, which make that all too clear.
Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
19 For the fate of the sons of men [humans or people] and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.
In other words, when we breathe our last breath, our cells begin to die. Death is the ending of all vital functions or processes in an organism or cell. When our heart stops beating, our blood is no longer circulating, carrying nourishment and oxygen (by breathing) to the trillions of cells in our body; we are what are termed, clinically dead. However, somatic death has yet to occur, meaning we can be revived, after many minutes of being clinically dead, if the heart and lungs can be restarted again, which gives the cells the oxygen they need.
After about three minutes of clinical death, the brain cells begin to die, meaning the chances of reviving the person is less likely as each second passes. We know that it is vital that the breathing and blood flow be maintained for the life force (ruach chaiyim) in the cells. Nevertheless, it is not the lack of breathing or the failure of the heart beating alone, but rather the active life force (“spirit”) [Hebrew, ruach] within the trillions of human cells which make up the human body + breath of life [Hebrew, neshamah] that sustains the life force from God.
|Psalm 104:29 (ESV)
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
|Psalm 146:4 (ESV)
4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
|Ecclesiastes 8:8 (ESV)
8 No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.
|Ezekiel 18:4 (ESV)
4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
|Leviticus 21:1 (ASV)
21 And Jehovah said to Moses, Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, There shall none defile himself for the dead [Or “for a soul.”] among his people;
|Numbers 6:6 (ASV)
6 All the days that he separates himself unto Jehovah he shall not come near to a dead body [Or “soul.”].
Again, the death of a “soul” means the death of a person …
|1 Kings 19:4 (ASV)
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper-tree: and he requested for himself that he [Or “his soul.] ”might die, and said, It is enough; now, O Jehovah, take away my life [soul]; for I am not better than my fathers.
|Jonah 4:8 (ASV)
8 And it came to pass, when the sun arose, that God prepared a sultry east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and requested for himself that he might die [Or “that his soul might die.”], and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
|Mark 3:4 (ASV)
4 And he said to them, Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life [Or “soul.”], or to kill? But they held their peace.
As you can see from the above texts, a “soul,” or person can die. However, how are we to understand those texts that say the “soul” went out of a person or came back into a person?
Soul Departing and Soul Coming into a Person
Genesis 35:18 English Standard Version (ESV)
18 And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
Are we to understand from this that Rachel had some inner being, a soul, which departed from her at death? No. You will recall from the texts from above that the term “soul” can also be used in reference to the life one has. Thus, this is a reference to her life that she had leaving her. Note the Lexham English Bible, “And it happened that when her life was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-Oni. But his father called him Benjamin.” (Bold and underline is mine) Therefore, it was her “life” that she had, which departed from her, not some inner being.
1 Kings 17:22 American Standard Version (ASV)
22 And Jehovah listened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.
Here again, the word “soul” is the “life” that someone has. The New American Standard Bible reads, “The life of the child returned to him and he revived.” The Lexham English Bible reads, “The life of the child returned within him, and he lived.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible reads, “The boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.” (Bold is mine)
|John 11:11 (ESV)
11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”
|1 Kings 2:10 (ESV)
10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
Notice that Lazarus’ death is equated with being asleep in death, while King David is referred to as sleeping in death. This gives the reader a hope, as just as easily as you and I can awaken a person from sleep, Jesus is going to awaken people from death, a death like sleep. We are going to look at these verses a little differently that we have with the others. We will pause for a moment to see how a literal translation is best (which has already been demonstrated), with an interpretation in a footnote. Moreover, it is important that we read those footnotes. Otherwise, we can come to the wrong conclusions.
Souls Have Blood
As we know by now, the Bible’s viewpoint is that the living human creature is the human soul. In addition, though, the Bible states that the human soul has blood.
Jeremiah 2:34 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
34 Also on your skirts is found the blood of the souls of the innocent poor; you did not find them breaking in. But in spite of all these things,
Genesis 9:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
5 Surely I will require your blood of your souls; from every beast I will require it. From every beast will I require it. And at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the soul of man.
The Creator himself shows us the level of dependence of the human soul upon the blood stream by saying,
Leviticus 17:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul.
Leviticus 17:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 “For as for the soul of all flesh, its blood is identified with its soul. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the soul of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’
Deuteronomy 12:23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
23 Only be sure not to eat the blood, for the blood is the soul, and you shall not eat the soul with the flesh.
Souls can Eat Fat and Blood
Human souls can eat both blood and Fat, but God prohibited it. Nevertheless, the point is that human souls can eat fat and blood. All of the different points being made with these Scriptures are that the soul is the person, not some entity inside of us that goes to another realm somewhere when we die.
Leviticus 7:25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
25 For whoever eats the fat of the animal from which an offering by fire is offered to Jehovah, even the soul who eats shall be cut off from his people.
Leviticus 7:27 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
27 Any soul who eats any blood, that soul must be cut off from his people.’”
The human soul can also eat the dead animal souls. Thus, we see in this one verse that animals are souls as well and that if any Israelite violated certain parts of the Mosaic Law he would be cut off by expelling him or even executing. However, the text refers to the soul being cut off.
Leviticus 17:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 And every soul who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean.
Human Souls Desire to Eat Meet
Deuteronomy 12:20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 “When Jehovah your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because your soul craves to eat meat, your soul may eat meat whenever you desire.
Deuteronomy 23:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
24 “When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you satisfy your soul, but you shall not put any in your basket.
Proverbs 27:7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 A soul who is full loathes honey,
but to the soul who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.
The reader may wonder why this author is using a translation that is not even fully complete at the time of penning this book. It is because the “so-called” literal translations (ESV, HCSB, even the NASB) are letting their readers down.
|Leviticus 17:11 (ESV)
11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.
|Leviticus 17:11 (HCSB)
11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for[a] your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement.
[a] Leviticus 17:11 Or to ransom
|Leviticus 17:11 (NASB)
For the [a]life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the [b]life that makes atonement.’
[a] Leviticus 17:11 Lit soul
[b] Leviticus 17:11 Lit soul
Only the NASB, at least, places the literal rendering in the footnote, when it should be in the main text. Leviticus 17:11 is indicative of all the verses above. This has allowed the reader to see they are not getting what they were promised, i.e., a literal translation. We have shown the translations and their footnotes. We have only looked at the ESV, HCSB, and the NASB. First, nephesh “soul” or souls” appear three times in Leviticus 17:11. The NASB used the corresponding English “souls” once but does not stay faithful to their literal translation philosophy the other two times. However, unlike the others, they at least offer the reader a footnote, so he will know what was actually in the main text. The HCSB does not remain faithful to their claim of being literal one time out of the three, nor do they offer the reader a footnote. The ESV used the corresponding English “souls” once but does not stay faithful to their literal translation philosophy the other two times. Worse still, they did not offer the reader a footnote, so he will know what was actually in the main text.
Why should we be so concerned over the literal rendering versus an interpretative rendering? Why should we be so worried about the necessity of being constant? One might ask. How can I know the truth about the Hebrew term nephesh (translated “soul” by the USAV) and the Greek term psuche (translated “soul” by the USAV)? If we look to the dynamic equivalent (interpretive) translations and the literal translations, we will discover that they use more than thirty English words when they translate nephesh and psuche. What English readers are not aware of, because most do not even add a footnote, which most English readers bypass anyway; there is just one Hebrew word and one Greek word behind all of those different English words.
We are not suggesting that the interpretation translation is incorrect, just inappropriate. Genesis 35:18 in the ESV says, “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.)” First, notice that the ESV translators are not shy about using the rendering “soul” here, whereas they use an interpretive word in most other places, with no footnote. Why? Would it be because, to the average reader, Genesis 35:18 appears to support that we do have an immaterial part of humans that leaves when we die? Would it be that if we rendered nephesh and psuche as “soul” in all the other places, it would negate such an idea? Now, the interpretive translations here actually explain what is meant. These translations render the phrase “her soul was departing” as “her life was departing” (LEB), “With her last breath” (HCSB), and “her life went from her” (BBE). We can clearly see that no immaterial part of Rachel survived her body after her death. She was dead, awaiting a future resurrection.
Yes, we cannot fully understand what the Bible authors meant by their use of nephesh and psuche, if the translator is not consistent in his rendering of those terms. When a serious Bible reader has a translation that shows
- that we do not have a soul,
- but that we are souls,
- animals are souls,
- souls eat food,
- souls have blood,
- souls die,
- and dead bodies are even called souls,
they will come to understand that the Bible scholars who say the immortal soul concept is not found in God’s Word but is found in Greek literature are correct, as opposed to those scholars, like Elmer Towns, who claim an immaterial part of the human is found within the Scriptures. Now, even though the dynamic equivalent translations are correct as to the meaning, it is clear that the literal translation consistently rendered, with the interpretive rendering in a footnote will give us a clear understand of the soul. Thus, let us take a few more moments contrasting the dynamic equivalent translation with the literal translation.
Dynamic Equivalent Translations Hide the Truth
1 Kings 2:10 Essentially Literal Translation (ASV, RSV, ESV, NASB)
And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.
And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.
Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
1 Kings 2:10 Though-for-Thought Translation (GNB, CEV, NLT, MSG)
David died and was buried in David’s City.
Then he died and was buried in Jerusalem.
Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David.
Then David joined his ancestors. He was buried in the City of David.
One could conclude that the thought-for-thought translations are conveying the idea in a more clear and immediate way, but is this really the case? There are three points that are missing from the thought-for-thought translation:
In the scriptures, “sleep” is used metaphorically as death, also inferring a temporary state where one will wake again, or be resurrected. That idea is lost in the thought-for-thought translation. (Ps 13:3; John 11:11-14; Ac 7:60; 1Co 7:39; 15:51; 1Th 4:13)
David’s sleeping with or lying down with his father also conveys the idea of having closed his life and having found favor in God’s eyes as did his forefathers.
When we leave out some of the words from the original, we also leave out the possibility of more meaning being drawn from the text. Missing is the word shakab (“to lie down” or “to sleep”), ’im (“with”) and ‘ab in the plural (“forefathers”).
Psalm 13:3 American Standard Version (ASV)
Consider and answer me, O Jehovah my God: Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death
John 11:11-14 American Standard Version (ASV)
After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” The disciples therefore said to him, Lord, if he is fallen asleep, he will recover. Now Jesus had spoken of his death: but they thought that he spoke of taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
Acts 7:60 American Standard Version (ASV)
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
1 Corinthians 7:39 (Updated American Standard Version)
A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if her husband should sleep (koimethe) [in death], she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:51 American Standard Version (ASV)
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed,
1 Thessalonians 4:13 American Standard Version (ASV)
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope.
Those who argue for a though-for-thought translation will say the literal translation “slept” or “lay down” is no longer a way of expressing death in the modern English-speaking world. While this may be true to some extent, the context of chapter two, verse 1: “when David was about to die” and the latter half of 2:10: “was buried in the city of David” really resolves that issue. Moreover, while the reader may have to meditate a little longer, or indulge him/herself in the culture of different Biblical times, they will not be deprived of the full potential that a verse has to convey. (Translating Truth, Grudem, Ryken, Collins, Polythress, & Winter, 2005, 21-22) Therefore, we offer a word of caution here. The dynamic equivalent can and does obscure things from the reader by overreaching in their translations.
His Spirit Goes Forth and He Returns to the Earth
Psalm 146:4 Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)
4 His spirit goes forth; he returns to his earth, In that day have his thoughts perished.
Are we to understand that there is some spiritual being within us, which then departs from us at death? No, this is not the understanding, as the Psalmist next words were, “In that day have his thoughts perished,” (“all his thinking ends,” NEB). How, then, are we to understand this verse?
In the Hebrew Scriptures, we have ruach, and in the Greek New Testament, we have pneuma, both with the basic meaning “breath.” This is why other translations read, “His breath goes forth.”
|Psalm 146:4 (ESV)
4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
|Psalm 146:4 (LEB)
4 His breath departs; he returns to his plot;
|Psalm 146:4 (HCSB)
4 When his breath leaves him,
You will notice this further clarified, when Moses informs us of what took place at the flood. However, we look at the literal translations first, followed by other literal translations that choose to define the use of the term “spirit.” Note how we will use a footnote in the literal, and the others that chose to define.
|Genesis 7:22 (NASB)
22 of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life [breath of life], died.
|Genesis 7:22 (ASV)
22 all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life [breath of life], of all that was on the dry land, died.
|Genesis 7:22 (YLT)
22 all in whose nostrils [is] breath of a living spirit [breath of life] — of all that [is] in the dry land — have died.
Other literal and semi-literal translations,
|Genesis 7:22 (ESV)
22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life [“a breath of spirit of life”] died.
|Genesis 7:22 (LEB)
22 Everything in whose nostrils was the breath of life [“a breath of spirit of life”], among all that was on dry land, died.
|Genesis 7:22 (NRSV)
22 everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life [“a breath of spirit of life”] died.
Therefore, “ruach” and “pneuma,” i.e., “spirit” can refer to the breath of life that is active within both human and animal creatures. Then how do we explain Ecclesiastes 12:7?
Ecclesiastes 12:7 English Standard Version (ESV)
7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Are we to understand that a spiritual being within us, leaves us at death, and returns to God? No. We just learned that the “spirit” is the “breath of life,” which sustains human and animal life. Once we lose our “breath of life,” and are dead, the only hope of having it restored comes from God. Therefore, “the spirit returns to God,” in that our only hope for living again, but this time for eternally, comes from God. It is only God, who can restore the “breath of life,” which allows us to live again. Keep in mind too, this person was never in heaven with God, so the idea of him as a spirit person returning to God is not what is meant. How can he return to God, if he was never in heaven with God to begin with? Again, it is the “breath of life,” which enables the person to live that returns to God, not literally, but in the sense of his having the power to restore it.
|Ecclesiastes 12:7 (LEB)
7 And the dust returns to the earth as it was,
|Ecclesiastes 12:7 (NRSV)
7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.
All conservative Christians would point to the Bible as the final authority on all doctrine. This is true of our understanding of the soul as well. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the Hebrew word nephesh (translated “soul” in the UASV) is found 754 times, first in Genesis 1:20. In the Greek New Testament, the Greek word psuche (translated “soul” in the UASV) is found by itself 102 times, first in Matthew 2:20. In each case, a literal translation, looking to give its readers what God had said, should render this Hebrew and Greek word “soul,” with the interpretive rendering in the footnote. By doing this, the reader of the Bible will be able to see how the word “soul” is used within the whole of the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
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 For a discussion of Hades, i.e., hellfire, please see the following
 Towns, Elmer (2011-10-30). AMG Concise Bible Doctrines (AMG Concise Series) (Kindle Locations 3584-3630). AMG Publishers. Kindle Edition.
 In the above quotation the Hebrew words neshamáth hhayím mean “the breath of life.” Basár means “flesh,” and néfesh hhayáh means “a living soul,” whether applied to animal or to man.
 Lit In case a man is found kidnapping a soul of his brothers of the sons of Israel
 Lit. all the men who were seeking your soul are dead.
 For a discussion of the hellfire doctrine, please see, WHAT IS HELL? Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith by Edward D. Andrews
 Or your blood of your lives (your lifeblood)
 Lit from the hand of
 Heb., nephesh, as in 2:7; Gr., psuche.
 The Creator of the heavens and the earth, Adam and Eve views blood as standing for life.
 i.e., atonement by the soul in it
 The ASV, ESV, NASB, and other literal translations do not hold true to their literal translation philosophy here. This does not bode well in their claim that literal renderings are to be preferred. I am speaking primarily to the ESV translators, who make this claim in numerous books.