The Soul

Frederick William Grant

The Hebrew word for "soul" is (nephesh), the equivalent of which in Greek is (psuche). A fact significant enough in view of what has already come before us when speaking of the word for spirit, is that both nephesh and psuche are, equally with ruach and pneuma, derived from words which signify "to breathe." The same idea of viewless activity enters into them. Even Dr. Thomas tells us that nephesh is from the verb to breathe, although with the characteristic dishonesty which marks all that he says upon the subject, he gives its primary meaning as "creature." "Nephesh," he says, "signifies creature, also life, soul, or breathing frame, from the verb to breathe." "To return then to the philology of our subject, I remark that by a metonomy, or figure of speech whereby the container is put for the thing contained, and vice versa, nephesh, breathing-frame put for neshemet ruach chayim, which, when in motion the frame respires. Hence nephesh signifies life also breath and soul."* One would think, from the admitted derivation of the word from the verb to breathe, that the metonomy, if such there be, would be all the other way, and that the primary meaning would be "breath," and so life or soul. In point of fact, nephesh is only once suggested as breath in the margin of Job xi. 20, and without necessity, and for "life" only as the principle or source of life - a meaning easily derived from the soul being strictly that source of life to the body. So that "soul" (in the common acceptation of the word) is properly the primary Scriptural meaning, and the other meanings are derived from it.

*Elpis Israel, pp. 27-29.

Dr. T., on the other hand, stoutly contends that soul and body are one. "Now if it be asked, what do the Scriptures define a living soul to be? The answer is, a living natural, or animal body."* But I would ask Dr. Thomas or any other who takes the position, if he could understand such an expression as "everything wherein there was a living body?" You find in Gen. i. 30, "everything wherein there was a living soul." Now if the soul be in the body, it cannot be the body, and the fact that it is called a "living" soul precludes the possibility of translating it "life," as materialists love to do. A "living life" would make no sense;† a "living breath" would be no better; and the passage shuts us up to the necessity of allowing that something is alive within the "breathing-frame" which Dr. Thomas speaks of; so that the soul and it are distinct from each other.

Ibid., p. 27.

*Miles Grant does not see the difference between "living a life" and a "life living." "We often hear the expression, ‘We should live a life of virtue'; so, in the passages under consideration, it would be correct to say, ‘and my life shall live' " (The Soul, p. 18). This is a notable specimen of discernment or the want of it... If I can talk of "giving a gift," I can therefore talk of a gift giving; and if I can speak of thinking a thought, I can equally speak of a thought thinking!

Dr. Thomas thinks he has Scripture for his identification of soul and body. Let him speak for himself. "Writing about body the apostle says, ‘There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body.* But he does not content himself with simply declaring this truth; he goes further, and proves it by quoting the words of Moses, saying, ‘For it is written, the first man Adam was made into a living soul,' and then adds, ‘the last Adam into a Spirit giving life.'... The proof of the apostle's proposition, that there is a natural body as distinct from a spiritual body lies in the testimony that Adam was made into a living soul, showing that he considered a natural or animal body and a living soul as one and the same thing. If he did not, then there was no proof in the quotation of what he had affirmed."†

*I Cor. xv. 44.

†Elpis Israel , p. 28.

Dr. Thomas had here to misquote Scripture in order to get his argument, such as it is even then. The apostle does not say "for," but "and." He is not proving his statement. by the passage produced. Why should he undertake to prove that Adam had a natural body? He is showing, rather, how the difference between the first and last Adams, these heads of the human race, naturally or spiritually, illustrates the difference between the natural and the spiritual states, and confirms there being such a difference between what we are now and what we shall be. "Paul quotes the declaration of Moses," says Mr. Roberts, "to prove the existence of the natural body" This writer has told us that the spirit of man is very easily seen; now he wants proof of the existence of the body!*

*His treatment of all this in "Man Mortal" needs little notice, save to illustrate the hopeless difficulty of his position. He invokes Dr. T.'s metonomy to account for Gen. i. 30, but wisely refrains from applying it to the case in hand. I have already shown that no meaning given by them to soul will account for it: living body, living creature, living life, living breath - none of them will do here. The metonomy cannot sustain so great a burden.

He admits that there may be "something alive" in the body, as you may call the red heat of a fire "something alive" within the coal! This is his "inevitable fiction," of course again, and it does, indeed, with him seem " inevitable."

To all his blunders as to my meaning, I must refer my readers to my book itself for a reply. Mr. R. often seems to have written his comments before he was fairly possessed of the meaning of what he writes about.

Now, note that it is even of "the beast of the earth," and from that down to every creeping thing of which this is said. It is not said that the beast has a spirit; it is said that it has a soul. So much so, that all the lower animals are called "souls," just as much as men are. This is to be observed, for it is in itself an answer to the materialistic theories of organization of the most complete kind. It cuts off at once all those arguments as to the faculties of the brutes, their display of attachment, etc., which men ground so much upon. Scripture leads us to account for these, not by reason of their organization, but their possession of a "living soul," as even in man, while it refers the understanding of all human things (I Cor. ii. 11) to the spirit which only man possesses - his sensual faculties,* appetites, nay, his affections, etc., are ascribed to the "living soul" - a soul so distinct from the life of the body, that they that "kill the body" cannot "kill the soul" (Matt. x. 28).

*For a very good account from the side of science of the difference between man and brute, I would refer to Mivart's "Lessons from Nature," chap. vii. (Appleton & Co.)

Mr. Constable will perceive, therefore, that we are one with him as to the fact that man and beast are alike possessed of living souls. We do not disguise the truth as to this, but contend for it. When he proceeds from this to infer that "the simple and proper meaning of the Hebrew word nephesh, when applied to the lower creatures, is life animal life,"† he goes beyond the record. Gen. i. 30 applies expressly to the lower creatures, and how can we say, "everything wherein there is a living life"? The only other meaning be ascribes to it, when applied to man, is "person" (p. 36), and "wherein there is a living person" will scarcely do either.

†Hades, p. 34.

Gen. Goodwyn has still another definition: "The soul, as distinguished from the mere body or soul-tabernacle, may he considered as that combination of parts of the inner man, which is the seat of the mind and affections, and having the breath of life gives action to the outer members of the body. When the spirit, the animating principle, is withdrawn, the man, soul and body, ceases to exist, dies." His Scripture for this seems to be Gen. ii. 7, "where Adam is said to have become a living soul. His inner organs received life, or breath of existence and action."*

*Truth and Tradition.

Thus the inner organs of the body seem with him to be the soul, the outer only, the soul-tabernacle or body. It would be well to attempt something in the way of proof of so startling a proposition as that the lungs and other parts not defined are not the body! "In the body," "out of the body," "absent from the body," "putting off the tabernacle," would certainly have a new significance in this way. But I think it scarcely needful to pursue this further.

Man has, then, a living soul; nay, he is one. How he became so Gen. ii. 7 informs us: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Now, upon the most cursory glance at this, it is evident that something more took place in man's creation than in the creation of the brute. It is plain that God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life, and that He did not into the brute's. Roberts, indeed, contends that Psa. civ. 25-30 supplies what is omitted in Genesis. He obtains this by means of the old confusion between God's Spirit and the breath of life. Nor does any one deny that "God giveth unto all life and breath and all things." The question is why was the gift given in this especial way to man alone? "No matter," says Mr. R., "if they all have it." But the point is, did God come in in this special way to give merely the same gift after all? The language is phenomenal, as Old Testament language largely is, and that makes one only the more to ask, is this breathing of God not a form of expression pointing to the communication of something from Himself and more akin to Himself, than is implied in water or earth simply producing?

Surely it is so. For although what is communicated may not be yet fully shown - and it is quite the character of an initial revelation, that it should not be - it is plain that man has a link here with God Himself which the beast has not.

And this is not by a higher bodily organization. His body has been before perfected. It is by the way he receives life. Now, if the breath of life alone were communicated (and every beast has it as much), there is no real difference answering to this difference of communication: the phenomenal language has no corresponding meaning. But thus it is that man - only dust before - becomes a living soul. And that purports that he is now characterized; as we have seen before in the beast, by something now living within that man who was just now but dust. He is a living soul; not by the completion of his bodily organization, but by the addition of a new constituent of being. He is now not a mere body, nor a body instinct even with the breath of life: he is become a "living soul."*

*Mr. Morris' gloss that nephesh chayah means a "vigorous soul" will be repudiated by any scholar. In a secondary sense (chayah) is used for revival and recovery, but its simple ordinary established meaning is "living." It is in contrast with (hayah), "to be," as the being of a stone, for instance, is distinct from the life of an animal.

Still, why is man called a living soul, a title which is his in common with all the animate creation, rather than a "living spirit," which would distinguish him from them? The answer would seem to be that the point of contrast is not with the lower animals, but with the class of God's creatures to which as a moral being man belongs. The angels are spirits, never souls. The distinction between them and man, "made a little lower than the angels," is thus that man is a soul. That which links him with the inferior creatures, is that which distinguishes him from pure "spirits," such as angels are.*

*Because he has this in common with the beasts, Mr. R. must not include that it is inferred that man's soul is just what the beast's is. If "all flesh is not the same flesh" even, why need all souls be the same .

And if God speaks of His "soul," condescending as He does to our familiar human speech, He is never called a soul as He is a spirit.

The fact here manifest, that the soul is thus put for the whole man himself as what characterizes him, or gives him his place among God's rational creatures, serves to explain many passages which would otherwise present difficulty. We have in our ordinary language similar uses of the word "soul," which certainly have not grown up from a materialistic idea of it. Thus we talk of "so many souls on board a ship," "every soul was lost," and no one is deceived by it. There are, however, other renderings of the word nephesh, and other uses of soul, which we shall look at in their place. As usual, the deniers of the Scripture doctrine make a great display of various meanings given to the word. Says Miles Grant,* "Nephesh, the word rendered soul, is translated in forty-four different ways in the common English Bible. We now propose to give all these variations, and quote the texts that contain them."

*The Soul, what is it? p. 20.

Now I would say that nothing is more common than various renderings of the same word in our ordinary translation. Good as it is, and in most cases giving the sense with sufficient accuracy, it often varies from literal exactness. With all this variation there is far less difference than would at first sight appear. Mr. Grant himself reduces these meanings essentially to four, "creature, person, life and desire." "Soul," of course, disappears out of this catalogue, although it is the translation of nephesh 475 times out of 752. And we are, therefore, to translate Gen. i. 30, "everything that creepeth upon the earth wherein there is a living creature," or "wherein there is a living person," or "wherein there is a living life," or "wherein there is a living desire." Choose which you will, reader, so that you give no currency to the supposition of an immaterial soul in man!

Mr. Grant has very ingeniously given in his book all the variations from the ordinary meaning of the word nephesh but he has only given select specimens of passages which retain that meaning. I will supply the deficiency, and present him and my readers with a few of those omitted passages:

  • Gen. xlii. 21: When we saw the anguish of his soul.
  • Numb. xxi. 4: The soul of the people was much discouraged
  • Deut. xi. 18: Ye shall lay up these my words in your soul.
  • I Sam. xviii. 1: The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.
  • I Sam. xxx. 6: The soul of all the people was grieved.
  • 2 Sam. v. 8: The blind that are hated of David's soul.
  • Job xiv. 22: The soul within him shall mourn.
  • Job xxiii 13: What his soul desireth, even that he doeth.
  • Psa. xiii. 2: How long shall I take counsel in my soul.
  • Psa. cvi 15: He sent leanness into their soul.
  • Psa. cvii. 26: Their soul is melted because of trouble.
  • Psa. cxix. 20: My soul breaketh for the longing it hath.
  • Isa. x. 18: And shall consume from the soul even to the flesh.
  • liii. 11: The travail of his soul.
  • Mic. vi. 7: The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul.

Now, in these examples, the soul is distinguished from both body and flesh. It longs, it grieves, it hates, it loves. It is indeed a living thing, as Gen. i. 30 declares.
Take, again, the New Testament equivalent of nephesh - psuche:

  • Matt. x. 28: Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul.
  • xi. 29: Ye shall find rest unto your souls.
  • xii 18: In whom my soul is well pleased.
  • xxvi. 38: My soul is exceeding sorrowful
  • Luke i. 46: My soul doth magnify the Lord.
  • John xii. 27: Now is my soul troubled.
  • Acts ii. 27: Thou will not leave my soul in hell (hades).
  • xiv. 22: Confirming the souls of the disciples.

How impossible would it be to translate with Mr. Constable "life" or " person" in these passages; or "body" or life" with Dr. Thomas and his followers; or "inner organs" with Goodwyn; or "creature, person, life or desire" with Miles Grant! Take, for instance, the very first example, and try upon it any or all of these various renderings. Is it not plain that not one of them will make even the smallest sense?

Mr. Constable has indeed done his best to defend his position, but he owns that be takes the expression in its "less obvious sense," and one to which he is compelled, as he thinks, by "the general doctrine [of Scripture] upon this subject." The latter assertion is surely incorrect, and a little examination will show us that the sense he gives it is not merely the "less obvious," but impossible.

He allows that if soul here be life, "man can and does destroy" it. But he argues "it is a momentary death: what he has for the time extinguished is reserved by God to shine through all eternity: it is not therefore, in God's eye or mind, lost, destroyed or perished."

This will not answer, however. For it is plain that the Lord contrasts killing the body here with destruction of body and soul in hell. Now man can only kill even the body for a season: he cannot prevent the resurrection even of that. What he can do as to the body he can do just as much (or as little) to the life, and therefore there would be no ground for the distinction between the one and the other which the passage manifestly makes. The Lord says, man can kill the body, not the soul. Mr. Constable says he can kill the soul (or life) also, but only for awhile; and that is equally true of the body. According to Mr. C. it should have been "Fear not them which kill neither body nor life." This is not a "less obvious," but an impossible sense.

But again, how could one even talk of "killing the life" much more of "killing the body and the life"? What is killing the body but destroying its life? I must plead ignorance as to killing the body and the life being different things at all. Nay, further, since "killing" is already "taking life," I must confess I fail to see how you can talk of taking the life of life or "killing life."

Thus, then, without the need of considering the passages with which he has sought to prop up his argument (passages which will be examined, however, in another place) we may safely assure ourselves that the Lord speaks of a true soul in man which man cannot kill even for a moment. They can, for a moment, the body, but God will raise it up. Not even for a moment can they kill the soul.

The dilemma has been attempted to be avoided in another way. Says Miles Grant: "We think it does not mean this present soul or life, for the reason that the destruction threatened is not in this life, but in the world to come. Man can and does take this life."

Therefore "soul" has to be rendered the "life to come." But this it never means: the life to come, or life eternal, is zoe never psuche. So much so that Goodwyn says: "Wherever the word psuche is found it is in direct contrast with zoe, and used to express the natural life or soul capable of being destroyed, put to death, or perishing." This is, of course, as to the latter part of it, merely his own view, and in flat denial of the passage before us; for how, if it be the natural life, merely, can man, who kills the body, not kill it? But the "life to come" it is not. Psuche, in a secondary sense, is "life," because the soul is (in effect) life to the body. This natural life man does and can take; so that psuche here must be (spite of the protest of materialism) that which lies back of the life itself - the veritable soul, which out of man's reach altogether.

Roberts attempts an argument, however, from John xii. 25: "The man losing his life in this world for Christ's sake is said to save it. When? When the Son of man comes (Matt. xvi. 25-27). If he is to save his psuche then, surely it is now a psuche or life to come." Now the Lord's words are that "he that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." How could a man keep his life to come unto life to come! It is his present life he in some way* keeps, not merely for ever, but to life eternal. By and by we shall look more closely into what "life eternal" is, end shall then find it is not mere eternal existence, but far more. His human life will enter this new condition. But that shows the distinction between the two, and that it is this human life the Lord speaks of in the passage. As I have said, Scripture expresses these two things by different terms: it is always eternal zoe, never psuche; and Mr. Roberts cannot deny it.

*In what way will be better considered further on.

But to give up here is to give up all as to the soul's immortality, and it is no wonder, therefore, they hesitate. The doctrine they denounce finds in this verse as literal expression as need be. If it be Platonic, Scripture is then Platonic; or rather, Plato is thus far Scriptural.

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