The Bible Teaching on "Soul"
Preface to the Second Edition
The first edition of this essay appeared in 1987 in Oxford, England, when the New Covenant Assemblies of Yahweh was very young and had only just embarked on its spiritual and theological journey of discovery. In spite of the enormous changes that have taken place in 25 years, during which the Ministry has not only received many hundreds of revelations (published as the Olive Branch in 1997) but also - in the light of new revelation - had to make a number of doctrinal adjustments, there has been remarkably little need to modify the contents of this particular article. Indeed, the recent publication of the Hebrew/Aramaic Version of the New Testament (Hebraic-Roots Version - HRV) has tended to reinforce the original position that I took and which has since passed into use as general NCAY doctrine.
Because the way in which we view the human soul profoundly influences the way we look at the spiritual life and in particular our modus vivendi in the world that precedes the resurrection, I have always considered this subject to be of the greatest importance. Accordingly, I hope this second edition will continue to inform and inspire as much as the original did and serve as a helpful study guide.
Arvika, 20 July 2002
Updated 4 May 2014
For a good number of years now I have been asked by several people to write a short discourse on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul or spirit. For several years I hesitated, being unsure myself exactly what the Bible teaching on this was, on account of it being a highly complex subject which has in turn caused considerable division of opinion in Christianity. That such division exists between those who believe the soul is not immortal (e.g. the Jehovah's Witnesses, the followers of Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, the Christadelphians, Seventh Day Adventists, many Messianic Jews, etc.), and those of the majority of Christians who believe it is, is evidence that the Bible leaves considerable scope for interpretation.
It is my purpose in this short article to examine as thoroughly as space permits the various shades of meaning of the original Hebrew Old Testament and Greek versions of the New Testament, remembering as we must that the latter was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic before being subsequently rendered into Greek for distribution in the wider Roman Empire where Greek was the lingua franca of the time.
We do sometimes face considerable difficulties rendering the concepts and words of an ancient language like Hebrew into a modern one like English where such may have little or no meaning. Bible translators constantly face this problem. How, for example, do you translate "lamb" in the expression, Lamb of God into a language where no word for sheep exists? The Bible Society faced this problem in Papua-New Guinea and had to render the Greek into "Pig of God" which to most of us sounds blasphemous (given the unclean status of pigs in Scripture). But to Papua-New Guineans, the pig was a sacred animal, and the designation used for Christ in their language conveyed the desired sacral quality. Though I personally strongly disagree with the decision, I can understand the train of thought which led to the translators' choice of wording. Sometimes we must use approximations in order to convey a concept even if this is, at times, at the expense of literal accuracy.
Many African peoples have no concept of snow. Why should they in, for example, a tropical rain forest environment? How does a translator therefore render the Hebrew sheleg (e.g. Jer.18:14)? In English, moreover, we only have one word for snow, but in Finnish there are many. How does one translate all the different Finnish words for snow when in English we are limited to only one?
One handicap that English has in the variety of meanings we ascribe to single words. We, for instance, speak of "love" but the Greeks spoke of at least four varieties (all of which are found in the New Testament): agapé, meaning selfless, sacrificial love (e.g. Mt.5:43-45), eros, meaning sexual or erotic love, philia, meaning friendship, companionship or platonic love, (cp. Philadelphia = "City of Brotherly Love"), and storgé, meaning the love of a child for its parent, brother, or sister. There are other Greek words for love too which narrow the concepts even further. Because we have only one word to describe all four main Greek types it is perfectly natural that we should be unclear as to what someone else is talking about unless the context of the word usage makes that clear. If someone says, "I love him", it could refer to sexual attraction, brotherly affection, Platonic friendship, etc..
We face similar problems when confronting Hebrew and Greek ideas about "soul" and "spirit". As I hope will become clear, there was considerable confusion as to the non-physical aspect of man, so much so that different words are used interchangeably to describe what are, in effect, totally different things. It is in such circumstances that fresh revelation, expressed in the medium of contemporary language, can be helpful. Because language is in constant flux there may yet remain many concepts that the ancients understood which are for now concealed from our view. Ancient Hebrew contains many puns and paronomasia (playings on words) that are impossible to translate into English (or any other modern language) just as much English cannot be rendered into other modern languages (let alone ancient ones).
It is important this point is made from the start to preclude losing our way. We also need to remember that in the past few thousand years there has been a vocabulary explosion to meet the needs newly emerging concepts (and interestingly paralleled by a contraction and loss of a huge vocabulary of other English words relating to spirituality and concerns that carnal, secular man has no interest in). Even computer terminology has spilled over into our social language so that we now speak of people "interfacing", which can mean anything from conversing to empathising, or the whole range of human contact. Ancient Hebrew vocabulary was very small by our standards and so frequently one word had to serve many different concepts simultaneously, much as our word "love" does in English. This is particularly true of the Hebrew and Greek terms for "soul" and "spirit", words which even within our own language have become interchangeable.
The Teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses
Although many Christian groups advocate the mortality of the soul/spirit, I choose the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) by way of illustration and because I am very familiar with their teachings. The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (WBTS), the organisation behind the JWs, gives a comprehensive biblical exegesis of their position which is largely mirrored by the Armstrongites, Adventists, and the others.
For a detailed exegesis, the student should consult the WBTS publication, Aid to Bible Understanding (NY, 1971), pp.1532-5 and 1541-8 under the titles, Soul and Spirit, respectively, or the more recent two-volume tome, Insight on the Scriptures (1988), pp.1004-8 and 1017-27, under the same titles. For a simpler presentation, see Make Sure of All Things: Hold Fast to What is Fine (NY, 1965), pp.463-8 which list the scriptures employed by the JWs in defending their position. (These are too long to reproduce here but I am sure your local JW friend would be glad to loan or sell you these inexpensive books).
The JWs teach that the soul of man is not eternal but mortal, and it can die. Animals likewise have souls, though man has the pre-eminence by special creation (from a statement of the WBTS containing 12 fundamental doctrines of the JWs, as quoted in Walter Martin & Norman Klann in Jehovah of the Watchtower (Bethany House, Minneapolis, 1981)).
This doctrine is confirmed in another publication of the WBTS called, You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (NY, 1982) which says: "... the dead cannot do anything and cannot feel anything. They no longer have any thoughts ... At death man's spirit, his life-force, which is sustained by breathing, "goes out". It no longer exists. So man's senses ... which depend on him being able to think, all stop working. According to the Bible, the dead enter a state of complete uncon- sciousness" (p.77). This is further confirmed by numerous articles in the WBTS magazine, the Watchtower, and an earlier and widely distributed book, Let God Be True.
The Bible Teaching on Soul and Spirit
There are three words in Hebrew used to describe the non-physical nature of man (although sometimes they are used of the physical body too), and they are nefesh (soul), ruach (spirit), and lev (heart). There is a great deal of overlap of the primary meanings of each. In addition there is a fourth concept in Hebrew called neshamah of which we shall speak more later.
1. Soul (Heb. nefesh cpn, Gk. psuché yuxh)
The Hebrew word nefesh occurs 754 times in the Old Testament (OT). It's primary meaning is "possessing life" as is shown in Genesis 2:7. It is frequently used of animals (Gen.1:20,24,30; 9:12,15-16; Ez.47:9). It is occasionally identified with the blood, as something necessary to physical existence (Gen.9:4; Lev.17:10-14; Dt.12:22-24). In many cases it indicates the life principle where it is most commonly used in the Psalms, but is by no means confined to them.
According to the JWs a 'soul' is a living creature (as opposed to a dead one), made up of a physical body (the dust of the earth) and an 'active force' which leaves him when he dies. This force is to them, quite simply, God's 'breath' (ruach) or 'holy spirit'. Thus nefesh and ruach are two quite separate things in JW vocabulary, nefesh being made up of dust (matter) and ruach, the latter having no personal 'mind' or existence. An analogy popular with the JWs is to liken the ruach to electricity, i.e. a non-personal force. Thus the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) in JW jargon is God's invisible, non-personal 'active-force'. In no sense, then, is the ruach a spirit-person, as orthodox Christians, Latter-day Saints, and many Messianics believe.
Though such a simple distinction would make biblical exegesis much easier for us, no such distinction in fact exists in Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures or the Greek translations of the NT.
Evangelical Christians believe that the soul is "that spiritual nature in man which is more than what is found in the creation. It is spiritual, reasoning, and immortal (Lev.17:11; Eccl.3:21; Mt.10:28), and is synonymous with the life of man (Ps.7:5; 333:19)" (Master Study Bible: New American Standard, Nashville, 1981, p.2193). JWs would agree with the first proposition but not the first.
Roman Catholics, who use 'soul' synonymously with 'spirit', argue that it is "the primary principle of life" and has "an existence apart from matter and an operation in which the body takes no part" (Addis & Arnold, Catholic Dictionary, London, 1955, p.753).
Orthodox theologians entertain two main doctrines on the nature of man: (1) dichotomy, which declares that there are two essential parts in man, the body (which is material), and the soul (or principle of life); and (2) trichotomy, which declares that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess.5:23). Such theologians maintain that the Bible does not declare for either view, and cite Genesis 2:7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Unlike the JWs, however, they would maintain that the Bible clearly teaches us how man obtained his higher spiritual nature, soul, or personality (Gen.2:7) and that this is to live on as part of the Divine Plan (Jas.1:21; 1 Pet.1:9), and point out the supreme value placed on the soul by Christ (Mt.16:26).
The single word nefesh cpn ('soul') covers SEVEN areas of activity or conscience. It is well to remember the snow analogy used earlier to recall the difficulties that are bound to result in such a situation.
(a) Physical Appetite. This is something we associate with the physical body but in the OT it is applied to a spiritual activity. For example:
"... his soul (nefesh) loathes bread" (Job 33:20)
"... they tempted God in their hearts (nefeshim) by asking meat for their lust" (Ps.78:18)
"... their souls (nefeshim) loathe every kind of food" (Ps.107:18)
"... there is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul (nefesh) enjoy good in his labour" (Eccl.2:24)
"... my soul (nefesh) desired the first-ripe fruit" (Micah 7:1)
(b) Emotion. Here we see the concept of personality manifest. For example:
"... was not my soul (nefesh) grieved for the poor?" (Job 30:25)
"... rejoice the soul (nefesh) of thy servant" (Ps.86:4)
"... their soul (nefesh) is melted because of trouble" (Ps.107:26)
"... O thou whom my soul (nefesh) loveth" (Song of Songs 1:7*)
"... Your new moons and your appointed feasts My [Yahweh's] soul (nefesh) hateth" (Is.1:14*)
*These two passages are very important because they show that 'self' and nefesh are two different things for both man and God. Yahweh and man are identical, therefore, in spiritual make-up, for both their 'souls' are capable of love. They suggest that the soul is a component of at least two things. Thus, if the soul (nefesh) is body + ruach, as the JWs maintain, then what is the other component? There is no answer to this unless nefesh is defined differently. Since Yahweh-God has a soul (nefesh), and since Yahweh-God is undoubtedly immortal, does this not suggest that man's soul (whatever it is) is immortal too? There is no other way these passages can be interpreted in the kind of mathematical, logical, and consistent way that that is required if all usages of such words as nefesh are considered as being equivalent.
(c) Will and Moral Action.
"... O my soul (nefesh), come not into their company; O my spirit (ruach), be not joined in their company" (Gen.46:9*)
"... My soul (nefesh) chooses strangling and death rather than these my bones" (Job 7:5**)
"... Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul (nefesh)" (Ps.25:1)
See also Dt.4:92*; Ps.24:4; 119:129,167
*Notice here that nefesh and ruach are used separately in a spiritual sense as though they were two separate, yet similar, aspects of the self. Dt.4:92 adds 'heart' (lev) as a third aspect (heart and soul),
**Notice here that nefesh and 'bones' are clearly distinguished; the nefesh is challenged to choose between death and the physical body ('bones'). If, as the WBTS claims, nefesh includes the body (dust/bones), how can it choose a part of itself? The choice presented is between the soul staying with the body or leaving it (and its pain). Dichotomy is clearly indicated here.
(d) An Individual or a Person. This is the sense most commonly used by the WBTS:
"... the soul (nefesh) shall touch no unclean thing" (Lev.7:21)
"... no soul (nefesh) of you shall eat blood" (Lev.17:12*)
"... Behold, all souls (nefeshim) are mine" (Ezek.18:4)
*Compare this with Gen.9:4 - "But the flesh (body) with the life (nefesh) thereof, which IS the blood (dam) thereof, shall ye not eat". Here nefesh and dam (blood) are the same thing, i.e. 'life'. Can a nefesh (soul/person) eat nefesh? Clearly there are two different uses of nefesh here - one means a PERSON (all of him) and the other simply means 'life principle' as represented by blood. Thus we see two widely different meanings for the same word.
(e) Self (used with a pronominal suffix).
"... his soul (nefesh) was vexed unto death" (Judg.16:16)
"... My soul (nefesh) hath dwelt too long amongst those that hate peace" (Ps.120:6)
"... my soul (nefesh) hath not been polluted" (Ezek.4:14)
"You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh (basar) for the dead (nefesh)" (Lev.19:28*)
"... all the days that he [the Nazirite] separates himself to Yahweh he shall not go near a dead body (nefesh)" (Num.6:6*)
"... If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body (nefesh) ..." (Hag.2:13)
*Here we find a DEAD BODY being called a nefesh. But a living soul is also a nefesh. According to the WBTS a soul (nefesh) is body (dust) + ruach (spirit) but in these three examples we have bodies, from which have departed the ruach (spirit(s)), also called nefesh. Yet in Gen.25:18 exactly the OPPOSITE is true (see (g) below).
(g) Nefesh Departs at Death
"... as her [Rachel's] soul (nefesh) was departing (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin" (Gen.35:18*)
*Here is conclusive proof that the nefesh (soul) DEPARTS AT DEATH, in this case, Rachel's, as she was giving birth to her son Benjamin.
This NEFESH is used to refer to a dead body, the departed 'spirit' of a dead person, the 'self' (ego), the whole person (body and spirit), will and morality, the emotions, and the physical appetite. In a nutshell, there is potential for great confusion as the word is used to mean different things, even opposites (like a dead body and a living soul), in a clearly interchangeable manner. In short, in the Hebrew nefesh we have a word similar to the English love or snow.
All of this should serve as a clear warning against trying to develop intricate spiritual anatomical theologies of human beings from the Old Testament or making over simplistic claims as to what a 'soul' or 'spirit' is. Clearly the WBTS doctrine (and that of other soul-sleeper advocates like the Adventists) is right in certain contexts only.
In the light of what we have unearthed about nefesh let us consider some of the favourite scriptures used by the JWs to defend their position:
"... let my soul (nefesh) die the death of the upright ones" (Num.23:10, NWT)
Does nefesh herein refer to (a) the physical body, (b) the spirit, (c) body and spirit, or (d) some other aspect of life? There is no telling.
The JWs, of course, will claim that it refers to (c), but how can they be sure? Is it dogma that will determine their choice of alternatives (pre-conceived doctrine)? Obviously an interpretation of this scripture, and others we shall be looking at, will depend in large measure what we understand by ruach (spirit). But before we do that, let us consider the Greek equivalent of nefesh as used in the New Testament.
Psuché yuxh (psyche) is the Greek New Testament (NT) word corresponding most closely to the Hebrew nefesh and occurs in the Gospels with similar meanings. Here, though, there are eleven cases where life after death is implied. In all four Gospels, pneuma (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ruach) sometimes denotes the principle of life, although at other times it stands for a higher level of spiritual life. Kardia corresponds to lev (heart) and also occurs in a spiritual or psychical sense.
Paul uses psuché 12 times with four different meanings:
"... they seek my life (soul/psuché)" (Rom.11:3)
"... the first man Adam was made a living soul (psuché)" (1 Cor.15:45)
"... I call Eloah (God) for a record of my soul (life/psuché)" (2 Cor.1:23)
"... for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life (soul/psuché) to complete your service to me" (Phil.2:20, RSV)
"... we were willing to share with you not only the gospel of Eloah (God) but our own souls (lives/psuché), because you were dear to us" (1 Thes.2:8)
(b) Desire. (Compare with (b) under Nefesh)
"... doing the will of Eloah (God) from the heart (soul/psuché)" (Eph.6:6, RSV).
"... I have you in my heart (soul/psuché)" (Phil.1:27)
"... work heartily (psuché)" (Col.3:23)
(c) Emotions (as (b) above).
"... may your spirit (pneuma), soul (psuché) and body (soma) be kept sound and blameless" (1 Thes.5:23*).
*Could impersonal 'spirit' be kept "blameless"? This clearly demonstrates that spirit is personal.
"... tribulation and anguish upon every soul (psuché) that doeth evil" (Rom.2:9)
"... let every soul (psuché) be subject unto the higher powers" (Rom.13:1)
Paul uses pneuma for the higher aspects of the human spiritual life, distinguishing human nature (psychikos) from divine grace (pneumatikos) (1 Cor.2:14-15). When Paul uses psuché along with pneuma in 1 Thess.5:23 ("I pray Eloah (God) your whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved") he is merely describing the same immaterial (spiritual) part of man in its lower and higher aspects.
This is an important revelation and may be summarised thus:
RUACH/PNEUMA = Higher Spiritual Aspect
NEFESH/PSUCHÉ = Lower Spiritual Aspect
This 'lower' aspect would appear to include the body (dust) as well. We shall return to Paul's clarification on the difference between Ruach/Pneuma and Nefesh/ Psuché later.
2. Spirit (Heb. Ruach hwr, Gk. Pneuma pneuma)
The Hebrew word ruach occurs 378 times in the OT and is derived from the verb meaning "to breathe out with violence through the nose". It sometimes stands for the 'life centre' and is virtually a synonym for nefesh, but such cases are comparitively few. Generally, ruach is to be regarded as the ANIMATING PRINCIPLE in relation to which nefesh is the LIVING BEING.
In addition to its reference to the human aspect, ruach is also used to refer to elemental wind (Ex.10:3; 14:21; Job 21:18; Ps.1:4; 35:5; 107:25; Ezek.1:4; 1 Ki.19:11) but it is always under Yahweh's control and effects His will (Amos 4:13; Job 28:15; Prov.30:4; Ps.104:3; 135:7; 148:8).
In Ezekiel's famous valley of dry bones vision we are given examples of various uses of ruach in close proximity (Ezek.37:1-14). In verse 9 it means 'wind', in verses 5,6,8,10 'breath', and in verse 14 'spirit'. This example should remind us that the context can only reveal the exact meaning where one word can be rendered differently.
As a psychological term ruach is the 'dominant impulse or disposition' (Gen.26:35; Num.5:14; 14:24; Job 20:3; Ps.32:2; 51:10; 2 Ki.19:7). Many instances occur where the state of ruach in a man leads to a particular course of action (cp. Prov.16:32; 25:28; Hag.1:14). In other words, ruach is not a constant but can be a variable constituent of nefesh.
Evil spirits as personal entities are frequently mentioned (e.g. 1 Sam.17:16; 18:10; Num.5:14; Hos.4:12; 5:4) and 1 Ki.22:19-25 shows that a personal spirit is intended. On the other hand, many uses of ruach imply a beneficial supernatural influence (e.g. Ex.28:3; Dt.34:9; Isa.28:6; Zech.12:10). The immanence of Yahweh is made evident when His will is effected everywhere by His Ruach (Spirit) (cp. Ps.104; 139). The earliest appearance of this word in this connection is in Gen.1:2 (cp. Job 32:8; 33:4). Especially noteworthy is the connection between the Ruach (Spirit) and the divine covenant with Israel (Hag.2:5) and the equipping of various officials for the service of Yahweh (Num.11:25; 1 Sam.11:6; 16:13; Mic.3:8; Isa.11:2-3; 61:1). In three instances 'Ruach haQodesh' ('Holy Spirit') occurs (Ps.51:11; Isa.63:10-11). Whereas many of the phrases used to describe the Spirit of Yahweh are impersonal (consistent with JW belief), the activity, knowledge, and character elsewhere attributed to the Ruach (Spirit) point clearly in the direction of personality and deity (contradicting JW belief). Thus trying to pin down the nature of ruach ('spirit') seems to be as difficult as that encountered in trying to pin down the meaning of nefesh ('soul').
Pneuma, the corresponding Greek translation of Ruach in the Greek New Testament (remembering as we must that the original was written in Hebrew and Aramaic), appears 220 times in the NT. No fewer than 91 of these, with or without qualification as to character or source, stand for the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). The general meanings of pneuma are similar to those of ruach (as would be expected), but there is a noticeable change of emphasis, especially in the Pauline epistles, where it is seldom used to denote the 'life-principle' or 'breath', and is much more common with higher associations. This is generally passed over by the WBTS in favour of those passages which support their preconceived doctrine.
'Wind' is the correct translation in John 3:8, but elsewhere the word for wind is anemos. The meaning 'breath' is relevant in 2 Thess.2:8. A further meaning of pneuma is the immaterial (spiritual) part of man's constitution. Along with sarx it denotes the whole human personality (2 Cor.7:1; Col.2:5). The same idea is brought about by its combination with soma (1 Cor.5:3-5; 7:34) from which we derive our English word 'somatic' (of the body). Here body and spirit are sharply distinguished, holiness being achievable in either or both as two separate parts. Closely linked with this usage is that where the word means the part of man which survives death (Mt.27:50; Lk.8:55; 23:46; John 19:30; Acts 7:59; Heb.12:23; 1 Pet.3:18-19; Rev.11:11).
As a psychological term pneuma represents the seat of perception, feeling, will, a state of mind, or may be equivalent to the ego (Mk.2:8; Lk.1:47; Jn.11:33; Ac.17:16; 18:25; 19:21; Mt.26:41; 1 Cor.4:21; Gal.6:1; 1 Pet.3:4; Rom.8:16; 1 Cor.16:18; Gal.6:18).
Many instances in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and a few in Acts refer to evil spirits, but the most distinctive use of pneuma in the Greek translation of the NT is seen in the cases where the divine Ruach (Spirit) is indicated, and especially where She* is directly connected with Christ or the One which She* represents. (*The Ruach is consistently and without exception feminine in Hebrew and Aramaic in both the Masoretic OT and the Hebrew/Aramaic NT. There is considerable gender confusion in the Greek rendering because of the construction of that language 1). Sometimes She is described as "of Eloah (God)" (e.g. 1 Cor.2:11,14), at other times as "of Yahweh" (Aramaic Ac.8:39 - the Greek uses "Lord" and wrongly gives the impression that Christ is being referred to), or "of Christ" (e.g. Ac.16:17; 1 Pet.1:11; Phil.1:19). Several passages have the expression Ruach haQodesh ('Holy Spirit') (e.g. Mt.12:32; Mk.3:29; Lk.12:10). In two places the Ruach (Spirit) is set alongside the Father and the Son in a context clearly implying Deity and jurisdictional equality (Mt.28:19; 2 Cor.13:14 cp. 1 Pet.1:2).
The limited vocabulary of the early Hebrew language coupled with an imprecise OT revelation on the nature of man and his make-up leads to words like nefesh and ruach that have a multiplicity of meanings and frequent equivalencies that lead to their interchangeable usage. This being so, the 'scriptural algebraic' method popular amongst JWs and others is clearly not always valid. The Bible is an unfolding revelation. Accordingly we find in the NT not only a clearer delineation between the spirit and physical body, but also a better understanding of resurrection and the afterlife. This revelation has continued, unabated, throughout all generations. We are still learning, still receiving new insights from the Elohim (Godhead). The use of 'proof-texts' to establish a the truth of a particular (and often preconceived) doctrine is unwise at best and hazardous at worst because of the simple fact that not all parts of the Bible are necessarily equal in their inspiration when it comes to the understanding of certain doctrines. If we take the words of Yah'shua (Jesus) literally, viz. that the New Covenant revelation and Torah (Law) is a 'filling up' or 'completing' of the Old (Mt.5:17), then we are obliged to view Scripture as unfolding from the incomplete to the complete. It is no accident, therefore, that people like the JWs and other proponents of soul-sleeping prefer to use OT scriptures to those of the NT which give a better perspective and fuller revelation.
A typical error, not just of JWs but of all Christians, is to confuse the symbolic, metaphorical, poetical and allegorical with the literal. The Bible is a highly symbolic book and is far more abstract that our literalistically-inclined Western minds have been trained up to be aware of. This literalistic approach has generated errors and false theological paradigms that could have been avoided with careful study and an understanding of the Hebrew mindframe. The West is, philosophically speaking, still very Greek-orientated, and the early church was led into unscriptural speculations about many important doctrinal areas (such as the Godhead) as it shifted its mental base from Jerusalem to Athens and Rome.
Our study reveals that the JWs and others subscribing to their teachings about 'soul' and 'spirit' have arrived at some correct conclusions but as many false ones as well. And half-truths, as we all know, can be dangerous. When a JW or an Adventist cites a favourite scripture like, "The soul (nefesh) that is sinning - it itself will die" (Ezek.18:4, NWT), one needs to remember just what the word 'soul' means. The context clearly reveals that nefesh here means a person. Who "dies"? Is it the body, the ruach, or the whole person? What indeed is "dying"?
There is no biblical evidence that the ruach (spirit) can die. Indeed, as the WBTS itself points out, the ruach at death returns to Yahweh who gave it (Eccl.12:7). But is the ruach simply Yahweh's "active force" that gives the body life or may it be also a spirit person with an existence and conscience independent of the physical body? The WBTS would say the former. However, the testimony of all the scriptures dealing with this subject is that both propositions are true. So, yes, there is a non-personal active force, if you like, that returns to Yahweh but there is also a spirit-person, one who has consciousness and who may also become unconscious under certain conditions. The JWs have seized on those scriptures which refer to ruach as a non-personal divine force but ignored those which clearly point to a conscious spirit-person. Obviously, then, we cannot have a meaningful theology on the Soul and Spirit without considering both aspects.
That 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is an embarrassment to the WBTS is demonstrated by their mutilation of it in their New World Translation (NWT), a version of the Bible created without reference to Hebrew or Greek texts and modified by men without scholastic ability to conform the Word to their own preconceived doctrines. (To this date the WBTS has never published the names or credentials of the NWT ''translators"). Their rendition, which can be compared with any other translation, reads:
"May the very God of peace sanctify you completely. And sound in every respect may the spirit and soul and body of you [brothers] be preserved in a blameless manner in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess.5:23, NWT).
The WBTS's own Emphatic Diaglot (which uses as its ground text a minority Catholic Vatican MS #1209 with recension by J.J.Griesbach) puts it rather better:
"And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your whole person - the spirit and the soul and the body - be preserved blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Taking all the scriptures together on this subject, we may with some justification conclude that a 'whole person' is one who has three, overlapping constituent parts - spirit (ruach), soul (nefesh) and body (belem) - the Greek equivalents being pneuma, psuché, and soma. At this point, though, we need to introduce another Hebrew word that is rendered 'spirit' and that is neshamah:
"To whom have you uttered words? And whose spirit (neshamah) came from you?" (Job 26:4).
We may speculate and suggest that these refer to the spiritual, mental and emotional aspects of man, which one day will be reunited to the physical body by resurrection, thereafter becoming inseparably connected. Notice that in this model a portion of the nefesh (soul) dies along with the belem
(body) which would harmonise with those scriptures beloved of the WBTS and Adventists. Scientific studies have been performed using Kirlian photography which shows a kind of psychic energy surrounding living matter (such as a living leaf detached from a plant) which progressively disappears as it dies. Might this be a portion of the nefesh that dies along with the body, an invisible energy that dissipates into nature? Might this be the physical aspect of the nefesh character-print of a dead person left behind by the neshamah-ruach-nefesh which is sometimes sensed by the living?