Paul expressed his great longing to “attain unto the resurrection of the dead,” (Philippians 3:10-12). He encouraged other believers to “look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,” (Philippians 3:20-21). Paul’s hope was that when he was resurrected, his mortal body would ‘put on immortality’ (1 Corinthians 15:50-55).
Does the New Testament teach an “immortal soul” concept?
Based on the fact that many individuals in the Bible expressed their future hope for the resurrection, we considered in previous blogs whether or not the teaching of the ‘immortal soul’ is Scriptural. We looked at the word for ‘soul’ in the Old Testament – the Hebrew word ‘nephesh’ and saw that it could be used for ‘body, person, creature, himself, person,’ etc. as well as ‘soul’. From looking at all the places where ‘nephesh’ is used, we found that any breathing thing, man, bird, fish, or animal, is referred to as a ‘living soul’. The equation in Genesis 2:7 is, “BODY OF DUST + BREATH OF LIFE = LIVING SOUL”.
What is a soul in the New Testament?
Does the New Testament word for ‘soul’ have the same meaning as in the Old Testament?
In the Greek New Testament, the word used for ‘soul’ is ‘psuche’, meaning ‘breath’, and translated into KJV English as ‘heart, life, mind, soul, heart, heartily’. Since the concept of an ‘immortal soul’ was introduced into the early Christian church from Greek mythology (see online Encyclopedia Britannica – The Soul – Religion and Philosophy) many modern translators and Christians still hold fast to this belief. Dr. Strong, who put together Strong’s Concordance believed in the immortal soul teaching. Therefore, in his personal definition of the meaning of ‘psuche’, he writes that “the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (distinguished from other parts of the body)”
Is Dr. Strong correct? If we examine all the places where ‘psuche’ is used, will we discover that the ‘soul’ differs from the body, and is not dissolved by death? How is this ‘psuche’ used in the Bible?
A New Testament search on ‘psuche’
If you have a Bible program, a thorough search of how ‘psuche’ is used will be very informative. Occasionally, the word ‘psuche’ has been translated in the KJV as ‘soul’, quite often as ‘life’. We have listed out a few of the most ‘telling’ passages. The Discovery Lesson on “What is a Soul” will have others. Try reading the passages below, using ‘soul’ for every occurrence of ‘psuche’, and then try with the word ‘life’.
“For whoever would save his life <psuche> will lose it, but whoever loses his life <psuche>for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul <psuche>? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul <psuche>?” (Matthew 10:25-26)
“Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life <psuche>for the sheep.” (John 10:15; see also John 13:37-38
“Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul <psuche> in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul <psuche> was not left in hell <hades> [hell or grave], neither his flesh did see corruption.” (Acts 2:26-27,31 KJV)
“It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives <psuche>for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:25-26 KJV)
“And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life <psuche> is in him.” (Acts 20:10)
“And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives <psuche>… And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life <psuche> among you, but of the ship.” (Acts 27:10,22)
“And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life <psuche>, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.” (Revelation 8:9)
From the passages above, you can see that the Old and New Testaments are in agreement. Both use the words for soul to refer to animals, and a life that can be given up or ended. Since it’s clear from the passages above that a soul can die, we cannot validate Dr. Strong’s personal definition for this word.
Is the ‘spirit’ immortal?
However, some would say that the ‘spirit’ of man is immortal. If you like to do your own research, click here on the Discovery Lesson, Do we have an Eternal Spirit?
When we considered the word ‘spirit’ in the Old Testament we found that it refers to wind, breath, emotions, special spirit gifts from God, and a life-giving force for both man and animals.
What about the New Testament?
Is the New Testament word for ‘spirit’ consistent with what we have discovered in the Old Testament?
Looking up the word ‘spirit’ in the KJV, we discover the Greek word is ‘pneuma’. Dr. Strong says it means ‘a current of air, i.e. breath or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, I.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, demon or (divine) God, Christ’s spirit, the Holy Spirit’. The word ‘pneuma’ has been translated into KJV English Bible as ‘ghost, life, spirit, mind.’ It is from this Greek word that we get English words such as pneumonia and pneumatics, both which have to do with the movement of air!
The Holy ‘Spirit’ Power
The word ‘pneuma’ is used for the ‘spirit’ part of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 1:18, when Mary was, “found with child of the Holy Spirit <pneuema>”. The Holy Spirit is God’s miraculous power.
Unclean ‘spirits’ = mental disease
‘Pneuma’ is used often of unclean ‘spirits <pneuema>’ in Matthew 12:43-45; Mark 5:13, etc.. The symptoms displayed by those with the unclean ‘spirits’ are mental disorders, which we are now able to treat with medicine and counselling.
‘Pneuma’ is used of Jesus’ ‘spirit’ in Mark 8:12, “And he sighed deeply in his spirit <pneuema>.” We are told to restore sinners in the ‘spirit <pneuema> of meekness’ (Galatians 6:1). It is good to be ‘poor in spirit <pneuema>’ (Matthew 5:3), in other words, ‘humble’. Emotions are a precious gift from our Heavenly Father, as He also feels anger, love, joy, jealousy and sadness. Animals don’t enjoy this gift to the full extent that we do. Life without emotion, would be dreadfully dull! However, we are expected to rule our emotions, not allow the emotions to rule us. (Proverbs 16:32).
Holy ‘Spirit’ Gifts
When Jesus was baptized, the ‘spirit <pneuema>’ came down on him like a dove (John 1:32-33). The Holy ‘spirit <pneuema>’ gave the Apostles gifts of tongues and healing. (Acts 1:8,16) The ‘spirit <pneuema>’ gave the apostles direction on where and what to preach, and even caught them away to various places (Acts 8:29,39; 11:12, 28; 16:7).
This very same ‘spirit’ of God which gives us life and animates our beings, is also a power that transcends anything that we experience in our human existence now!
Imagine being able to to speak in languages which we’ve never learned, to be unaffected by snake venom, to read the minds of others, to heal those who are sick and to raise the dead! God has occasionally given mortal men these special gifts in the Bible. Imagine being filled with the ‘spirit’ ‘without measure’, like Jesus was (John 3:34). If mortal men experienced the ‘spirit’ power to this extent, will not immortality in a spiritual body be an incredible experience? (Joel 2:28-31; Isaiah 32:15; 1 Corinthians 14:35-49)
The ‘Spirit’ Goes Back to God
Jesus “gave up the ghost <pneuema>” when he died. When he was being stoned to death, Stephen asked for God to receive his ‘spirit <pneuema>’. (Acts 7:59-60)
We are given the encouragement, “But if the Spirit <pneuema> of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit <pneuema> that dwelleth in you.” (Romans 8:1)
Just like we saw in the Old Testament, when we die, the “‘spirit <ruwach>’ goes back to God who gave it’” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). BUT the Romans 8 passage tells us this ‘spirit’ will raise us up to life again!! Just like Jesus – the ‘first to rise from the dead’ – we have the hope of being reenergized by God’s ‘spirit’ in a new and much more powerful way that will last forever!
This higher calling of the ‘spirit’ mind is revealed to a greater extent in the New Testament than in the Old. In Romans 8, Paul discusses at length, the contrast to being ‘in the flesh’ – carnally-minded, or ‘in the spirit’ – spiritually-minded. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (See also Romans 8:6-9)
Jesus said that we have to be “born of water and of the spirit” to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:5-8). God is looking for a change of allegiance in our minds and thinking. The recorded words of God and Jesus in the Bible have power to cause this transformation, if we take them in. As Jesus said to his disciples, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.“ (John 6:63)
In our investigation into the soul and spirit in the Bible, we have seen that a body created out of dust, plus the breath of God equals a LIVING SOUL – whether man, animal, bird, insect or fish! We don’t ‘have a soul’, we are souls – i.e. living creatures. The breath breathed into mankind and all other breathing creatures, is the spirit of God, an animating life-force that gives us the ability to live, to think, to feel, and to react. Most importantly, God hopes that human-beings will use this ability He has given, to think spiritually, and respond in a loving, thankful way to Him.
1 Corinthians 2:12 “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”