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Soul - What Is It?

by Gregory John Monroe  
9/05/2011 / Education


Is the soul some intangible, immortal entity that can exist on its own, apart from the body? Most Christians think it can. In fact, the prevailing wisdom is that upon death, the soul leaves the body and immediately floats off to heaven or hell. Are these notions Biblical?

In Genesis 2:7, it is written that "God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul"(KJV). So here we have a lifeless body that was animated by God's breath and it BECAME a living soul. That means that prior to God's breath of life there was no soul. From this we can see that a soul is a living human being; the combination of body and God's breath of life (not regular air). Technically then, a soul is a living being, and is properly translated that way in most modern language Bibles. The king James version chose to derive "soul" from the Greek word "psuche" which means "life."

As described in the Bible, the soul is conscious life that can only exist when the other two factors of body and divine breath combine; much like a box can only exist when boards and nails combine to make it a box. If the nails are pulled out and laid besides the boards, there is no box. Another example is likening the body to a light bulb. When the electric current (representing God's breath) flows into the bulb, light (representing the soul) occurs; it is a new creation so to speak. Turn off the switch, though, and the light doesn't exist anymore. It doesn't go somewhere; it's just gone. The same with the soul; it ceases to exist.

Furthermore, contrary to popular opinion, the soul is not immortal; for scripture clearly says that the soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4). The lie that the soul is undying originated from the Garden of Eden when the serpent told Eve, "You surely will not die." Since then the lie has been propagated through pagan tradition and Greek philosophy, finally entering the church.

Even though with that bit of history, some will raise the objection that scripture states that when one dies, the spirit returns to God--"Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). Of course, the objection is meant to imply that the spirit returning to God is the soul. But the root word for "spirit" in the Greek is "pneuma," which means "breath" or "air." That same Greek word also has another meaning. It means "spirit." For example, the Greek term for "Holy Spirit" is "Hagios Pneumatos," "Holy Breath" or "Holy Spirit." This shows that there is no disembodied thinking, feeling being returning to God, but instead it is the interchangeable terms "breath of life" or "spirit."

Another objection that can be raised is that the Bible sometimes uses the terms "body," "soul," and "spirit" together in a passage. Admittedly, that does seem to treat the three as separate matters. But the Bible is not getting away from its definition of a soul mentioned in Genesis 2:7, which says that a soul is the totality of a person. There is no contradiction. The Bible merely uses these three terms in reference to the three components that make up a soul. Here's the breakdown of the three terms...

Soul

Again, technically, the soul is a living person. It is our natural life of thinking, learning, choosing, loving, hating, feeling. It is our life of "self," our sinful human nature. All of these things are faculties of the mind. And because it is our mind that controls and directs the body; for all intents and purposes, it can be concluded that our mind is the seat, the base, the identity of our soul. Therefore, the Bible and this writing, can rightly speak of the soul as a reference to the mind.

Spirit

When the Bible speaks of our spirit, it is not referring to our breath nor the Holy Spirit. It is speaking of that godly image component of us that is humanly spiritual. This is attested to in Zechariah 12:1, "The Lord which forms the spirit of man within him;" and in Romans 8:16, "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." The human spirit is that innermost component within our self-consciousness. It is what causes even the most primitive people to want to worship in some form; for the human spirit seeks to commune with the spiritual realm, just as our mind seeks to interact with other minds, and our bodies desire contact with the physical world.

God formed this spiritual component within us as a point of contact between Him and us. It is where the Holy Spirit dwelt within man before the fall, and it is where the Holy Spirit returns and resides in one upon conversion. From our human spirit, the Holy Spirit contacts and operates through our mind. This is called having the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5).

Body

After the fall, when man became self-dependent, sin contaminated the natural desires of the body with lust; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Our flesh even became hostile to God; unable and unwilling to submit to His Law (Romans 8:7). The Bible refers to this condition as "the body of sin" (Romans 6:6). It's not as though the body is sinful in and of itself, but that the law of sin is present in our flesh. And because of that, our flesh, our sinful nature, cannot be changed; for that which is born of the flesh is flesh (John 3:6). That is why God crucified our flesh, objectively, on the cross in Christ Jesus.

However, subjectively, sin remains in our flesh, and that is why we need the daily help of the Holy Spirit. Without His help, and we surrendering to that help, both our bodies and minds will remain under the power of sin. As intended by God, and was so at creation, the body is to serve the soul (mind); in turn, the soul is to be directed by the Holy Spirit dwelling in the human spirit.

Conclusion

The soul is the life, the existence of a human being. It is the totality of mind, spirit, and body. It is not a separate, independent entity that survives death. Of course, this teaching flies against popular christian doctrine, and raises questions concerning the state of the dead. Those questions will be answered in a forthcoming article.

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