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Soul and Self

Frederick William Grant

Facts and Theories as to a Future State

We may now proceed still further in proof of the distinct meaning and harmonious use of these words in Scripture; each added harmony discovered being of course new proof of the reality of man's spiritual being, and of the complete Scriptural recognition of the fact.

We have seen the intimate alliance of soul and body, the very appetites (as we speak) of the body being ascribed to the soul. This makes it little wonder that "soul" and "life" should be so far identified as to be expressed even by the same word. What ground have we from Scripture, indeed, for speaking of any "vital principle" apart from the soul? It seems plain that there is no such thing; and that "life" is but the permeation of the body with the soul. The soul is the life while it abides in connection with the body. The life is (so to speak) the PHENOMENAL soul. It is no wonder, then, if these two meanings should easily in Scripture run into one another, and be both covered by the same Greek or Hebrew word.

That they do so is seen in a passage which Mr. Constable has very strangely himself brought forward to show the influence of "Platonism" in moulding the common translation of our Bible. He would have the word psuche, which stands for soul and life in Luke xii. 19-23, uniformly rendered "life" all through. To most readers this will surely appear impossible and absurd. Fancy a man represented as apostrophizing his life thus: "Life, thou hast much goods, etc.,... take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry"! Yet, on the other hand, who can avoid the connection with the moral of this very story, "Take no thought for your life"? Instead, then, of manifesting the Platonism of the translators, it does show how near akin in Scripture, although impossible to be confounded, soul and life are.

Nor only this. The word for "natural body" - the body we now inhabit - is a word taken from this word psuche (its adjective, psuchic), one for which we have no equivalent in English, but which speaks of the body in its present state, as related in a special way to soul rather than spirit, for it is contrasted with the "spiritual" body of the resurrection (1 Cor. xv. 44).

This leads to a third use of the word "soul" in Scripture, which has been already glanced at, but which it will be of use now to consider more at length. As pervading and vitalizing the body, the soul, it is evident, connects itself with the practical life which we live in the flesh in a special way. We have seen that man's distinctive title, as compared with the rest of moral beings, is that he is a "soul". It is, accordingly, the word used for the "person," the "self," while thus in the body. It is, indeed, the only true word in Hebrew for either,* while in the New Testament psuche is used correspondingly in several places. It is thus the emphatic I or he. "My soul" is but myself: the soul of a person is but the person himself.

*"Person" is the translation of six other words in our version, but of these, three are but words for "man" ('Adam, 'ish, 'enosh), and would be better given so. Ba'al is used but once (Prov. xxiv. 8). Panim, only in the phrase "accepting persons," lit. "faces." Methim again but once. For "self" we find, beside nephesh, only once " ar" Eccl. ii. 3.

Even in our own language, where, certainly, it is not materialism which has induced such a mode of speech, we speak of "souls" in a manner which should convict us, with such as Mr. Constable, of ourselves disbelieving the immortality of the soul. We speak of so many "souls" being on board a ship, nay, of these "souls" perishing in the waters. Think how impossible for those who believe in an immortal soul, to speak of souls perishing in the waters! It is, perhaps, impossible to justify such language to Mr. Constable, and yet we do believe in the immortality of the soul in spite of that. Somehow to us, as to the writers of Scripture, the man who dwells in this "natural" body, is pre-eminently a "soul." "Soul" characterizes him, while in the flesh at least, in some sense beyond spirit or body. The body he possesses is a soul-body; the life he lives a soul-life; the man himself is a "living soul."

Can we explain this identification, while yet the body is what is most evident to the senses, and the spirit the higher and intellectual part, and which really separates man from the beast? I believe we can very intelligibly explain it.

For, as to the body, what is it apart from that which animates and connects it with the scene around, nay, which holds even together its very component parts in one organic whole? It is the soul with which we have practically to do; our intercourse is of soul with soul; when the soul is gone, the body is but the relic of what we once knew.

And even as to the spirit, its connection with the outer world is also by the soul. The aperture of knowledge is by the senses. The word we have before seen, in I Cor. xv., to be translated "natural," is twice elsewhere translated "sensual" (James iii. 15, Jude 19), and is really "psychic," from psuche, soul. The soul is thus really the life here, the man himself as part of this creation. Soul, life, self, are so near akin to one another as almost to merge in one; but the key to the harmony is in no wise the materialistic conception but the reverse.

And this is confirmed in a remarkable way by the use of Scripture, which, when speaking of the disembodied state, identifies man with his spirit rather than with his soul. Not that what kills the body kills the soul. This, as we have seen, the Word emphatically denies. But yet if the present life be emphatically the soul-life - the living man the living soul - death is the end of this form of existence. The soul though not extinct in death, may well be said, according to the true phrase in Lev. xxiv. 17, 18, to be "smitten" by it. And, while in death the "soul departs" from the body (Gen. xxxv. 18), and in the case of one raised from death "comes into" it again (1 Kings xvii. 21), man in the disembodied state simply is constantly and consistently a spirit, not a soul, with two exceptions only which limit this in a way which serves to show only more convincingly the reality of the distinction we are making.

The two exceptions are Acts ii. 27 (which is only the quotation of Psa. xvi. 10), and Rev. vi. 9. Both of these evidently refer to death and the connection with the body. The souls under the altar are the "souls of them that were slain for the word of God," - "smitten" souls which cry for vengeance. While "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell" (or hades) no less is connected with the thought of the partner-body from which it had been sundered, but which is not allowed to see "corruption" in the tomb.

Ordinarily, the. common language of the day, which speaks of departed spirits, and of ghosts (which is but the Saxon equivalent of the same word), is based upon the older and scriptural usage. A "spirit," as in Acts xxiii. 8, 9, was the common term for one passed into the unseen state. The Pharisees confessed their belief in "spirits," carefully distinguished from "angels," and in opposition to Sadduccan infidelity. So the disciples thought the risen Lord a "spirit," and the Lord answers them, "a spirit hath not flesh and bones. So the departed saints are "spirits of just men" (Heb. xii. 28), while the unrighteous on the other hand are "spirits in prison" (1 Pet. iii. 19). So "the spirit departs to God that gave it" (Eccl. xii. 7); and the Lord commends His Spirit to the Father (Luke xxiii. 46), Stephen to Him who has the keys of death and hades (Acts vii. 59).

Again the "spiritual" body of the resurrection argues the new condition upon which the saint enters then. "Flesh and blood" - two combined - "cannot inherit the kingdom of God " (1 Cor xv. 50).

We are anticipating here what may seem rather to belong to a future stage of our inquiry, but it seemed needful in order that we might have a full view of the Scripture teaching as to what man is. There is surely a consistency in all this which is the consistency of truth itself. We shall pursue this further in the next chapter. In the meanwhile we may take up the objections of Mr. Constable to that view of "soul" which we have been maintaining here.

Thus he complains of the various translation which in our common version is given to the word. He argues that the translators, "despite their Platonic views, are compelled to give ‘animal life,' as a true and proper sense for that word, which they generally translate by a term which they suppose to mean something infinitely higher in meaning than ‘animal life.' Just as if a word can have for its primary sense two meanings wholly different from each other!"

Where our translators have given this rendering of animal life I cannot find. Mr. Constable's object in introducing "animal" into it is plain, however. It is to let us know that soul-life (if I may use the expression) is common to the lower animals along with man, and to let us infer that it can be no higher a thing in us than in the "beasts which perish." This is to decide the question of the soul's immortality by sleight of hand. The inference is not a just one. If all flesh," as the apostle argues, "is not the same flesh," how much less need all souls be the same? Why not say of all "life "even as much, except that its folly would be too transparent? Therefore the additional word dropped in, the responsibility to be assumed by the translators, while Mr. Constable is its author!

I have shown also that "soul" is really the primary meaning of both the Greek and Hebrew words in Scripture and yet how closely connected the secondary meaning of "life" is. The two are certainly in nowise "contradictory," however little it is possible to confound them either. Mr. C. may urge, indeed, that thus our translators, and we after them, vary the translation as we please, in order to escape from the difficulties attendant upon an honest construction of it. He does adduce Matt. xvi. 25,26, and Luke xii. 19-28, as examples where psuche stands for life and soul, and where he claims it must at least be uniformly rendered.

But we have already seen that as to the latter passage it is clearly impossible. Did any one ever address such an impersonality as his "life," and bid it "take its ease," etc.? Yet this is the rendering Mr. Constable demands! The same uniformity of rendering would in other places give still more manifest absurdity, as in John iii. 8, already noticed, where "wind" and "spirit" are the same word. The rule he would apply is in short not without many an exception, these exceptions being determined by the connection in which the word is found. In Matt. xvi. 25, 26, Alford and others, who are sufficiently orthodox, render the last verse as Mr. C. would do, without the least idea of its being "forbidden by their theory." My own view is that which the parallel passage in Luke ix. 25 seems evidently to show to be the true one, that "soul" is here, as so often in the Old Testament, the synonym of self. "His soul" in Matt. xvi. 26 is interpreted by the passage in Luke to be "himself." The doctrine the Lord propounds is that a man must take his choice of this world or the next. He must be as a man of the world lost here or lost hereafter; but I do not see how it could be better expressed in English than it is in the way that Mr. Constable demurs to, albeit it requires the double rendering of psuche by life and soul, a rendering which would be only inadmissible, if it required a meaning for the word which was not thoroughly established elsewhere.

Mr. Constable has produced some passages to show that the soul is mortal, and although it may seem anticipating, yet as the subject has been already somewhat before us, it will be well to consider them here.

And first as to the Old Testament, he brings forward Lev. xxiv. 17, 18, "literally translated" - "he that killeth the soul of a man... the soul of a beast," expressions similar to which abound, he says, in the Hebrew Scriptures. With these he joins Joshua's destruction of "all the souls" in the cities of Canaan (!) and the phrases "my soul shall live " (Gen. xii. 13), and "let my soul die" (Numb. xxiii. 10). He urges also Job's soul choosing death (vii. 15), and Elihu's words (xxxiii. 22): "his soul draweth near to the grave." Also that "in the 33rd psalm, we are expressly told that the souls even of God's people are exposed to death; and in another psalm (lxxviii. 50), that the soul is not "spared from death"; while the final end of the wicked in hell... is described as the death of the sinful soul (Ezek. xviii. 20).

Again as to the New Testament, he contends that Mark iii. 4 should read, "to save a soul or to kill it," and so Luke ix. 54-56, Acts xv. 26, Rom. xi. 3. He urges Rev. xvi. 3, "every living soul died in the sea; " and adds, "Once more John tells us that all souls, whether of the righteous or the wicked, after death continue without life until the resurrection. In Rev. xx. 4, he tells us that in the prophetic vision of the future with which he was favoured, he saw ‘the souls of them that were beheaded' in a living state. He goes on in verse 5 to speak of other souls. He tells us that these latter did not live again till after a certain period. Hence we gather of the former that they had been raised to life, i. e., had been without life, in a condition of death, till the resurrection."

Mr. Constable's own canon of interpretation is simple enough, "that the word psuche has evidently, when spoken of as a constituent part of human nature, one uniform meaning." This, he says, is "life." So that in the last quotation the apostle John tells us, "I saw the lives of them that were beheaded," etc.," and they," the lives, " lived." He saw these lives, to use Mr. C.'s language, "in a living state." So in Rev. xvi. 3, "every living life," - the word "living" makes things still plainer, Mr. C. thinks - " died in the sea.-" So Job spoke of his life choosing death, Elihu of its going to the grave, Abraham of his life living, and Balaam of its dying; while he that killed the life of a man was to be put to death, etc. This is all ordinary and quite intelligible English to Mr. Constable, and which ought to commend itself to his readers without even the necessity of a word to make it plain!

How is it that he does not see the impossibility of such renderings, and on the other hand that there is a legitimate use of soul in English, which explains in good measure the difficulty he seems to have? Why should he have more difficulty, for instance, in understanding Joshua's destroying "all the souls" in Canaan, or every "living soul" dying in the sea, than if it had been a newspaper paragraph as to a shipwreck, and "not a soul saved"? Would this suggest to him, as similar language in Scripture seems to do, how wrong our thoughts are about the "salvation" of "souls"? There is a childish simplicity in such remarks, which would provoke a smile if the subject were not too grave. In Mark iii. 4, Mr. Constable would even force the translation into "save a soul or to kill it," actually introducing the "it" where there is none, to bring in the killing of a soul in the most striking way! Why it should not be "life" there, he can only argue upon his principle of uniformity of meaning, which we have already practically tested and found wanting.

The "souls of those beheaded" in Rev. xx., presents but little more difficulty, for the reviving of these souls is expressly called a "resurrection." It is therefore but an instance of the use of soul of a man for the man himself, which I have already referred to. This completes the list of New Testament passages.

The first from the Old Testament (Lev. xxiv. 17, 18) I have. already referred to. The expression here and elsewhere, as Gen. xxxvii. 21, Deut. xix. 6, 11, xxii. 26, Jer. xl. 11, is invariably "smiting the soul," and we have seen its force. The verb is not the true word for killing, nor would there be sense in speaking of killing the life of a person, because "killing" by itself means "taking life," and taking the life of the life would be an insufferable expression.

It is scarcely needful again to speak of Joshua. "My soul shall live," "let my soul die," "to deliver their soul from death," "He spared not their soul from death." "the soul that sinneth, it shall die," are all similar expressions to those we have noticed in Revelation.* Nor does Ezek. xviii. 27 speak of punishment in hell, although commonly taken in that way, but of Divine government in the world.
*Examples will be found without any difficulty in the Old Testament. See for instance Lev. xi. 48, Josh. xxiii. 11, Esth. iv. 13, ix. 31, Job xviii. 4, xxxii. 2, Psa. cv. 18, Isa. v. 14, xlvi. 2, Jer. iii. 11.

Again, Job's soul choosing death presents no difficulty: how it should show that it dies, much more becomes extinct, Mr. Constable should explain. In Job xxxiii. 22, were the common rendering correct, the vivid poetry would scarcely require so narrow an interpretation. But shachath is not the "grave" : it is the "pit," as in vers. 18, 25, 28, 30,* the abyss, darker and more dread than the grave.
*Or "corruption," not necessarily of the body merely but "pit" is more usual, and the true meaning here.

This then is his whole argument. At the very best superficial, it is in many cases inconsistent and self-destructive in the extreme. His failure is not from want of will nor of mental ability: it is the failure of error to overthrow truth, and, thank God, whatever the advocate, fail it must.

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