Saturday, August 4, 2012

Eternal Soul?

I was recently turned down from serving in a particular ministry because I was unable to completely affirm their statement of faith, which included the doctrine that unredeemed souls will be tortured for all eternity.  I have been studying the doctrine of hell for over a year now, and I will continue studying it, as I have no desire to be wrong about this!

(For my recent series about what I have learned in light of what scripture says, click here for the first post). 

It is very disconcerting to me (okay, terrifying) to question a doctrine that has been taught in Christianity for over 1500 years.

The Rob Bells are saying, no, no... all souls will eventually repent from that torturous place and be saved... which is universalism.  Most others are saying, no, God's word is clear that unbelievers are condemned forever, so therefore they will be forever tormented.

What if we are asking the wrong question?

Many of us have been taught all our lives that humans have a soul which is separate from the body. But as I have been digging into what the scriptures actually say, I have changed my mind.  I no longer believe that humans have a soul  that floats away to heaven (or hell, or purgatory) upon bodily death.  Read on if you are still with me and are not thnking "Heretic, heretic!!"

Let's go to Genesis 1.  In verse two, we see the spirit of God hovering over the waters.  The word for spirit is ruach.  Even with my limited knowledge of Hebrew, I know that Ruach ha Kodesh means the Holy Spirit.  Ruach means breath, or wind.  The very breath of God was hovering over the waters.

Skip to day five in verse 20.... God filled the waters with chai nephesh - living creatures.  The words chai and nephesh are repeated in verse 21 in regards to the great sea monsters.

Day 6 - verse 24; we see them again:  chai nephesh... living creatures, this time formed on land; each after their own kind.  (So much for evolution).

In verse 26, an interesting account becomes even more so.  Let Us make man in our image (tselem), according to our likeness (demoot).  The Hebrew word for man is 'adam.  (Thus his name).   The different Hebrew words for image and likeness are simply synonymous.  The plurality of God here is fascinating and worthy of a separate post... watch for that soon.

In verse 28, Adam and Eve were told to rule over every living thing - chai.  In verse 30, dietary instructions are given to all living souls - the word is nephesh - both human and animal.

Chapter 2 of Genesis goes back in time and gives us more details on the creation of man.  Verse 7 tells us  Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed (naphach) into his nostrils the breath (n'shamah) of life (chai), and man ('adam) became a living (chai) being (nephesh).

Wait!  Chai and nephesh were the same words used for animals and fish.  Where is the separate, disembodied eternal soul that man is supposed to have?  Does being made in the image and likeness of God require a separatable (is that a word) being?  Or does it mean that humans simply have a capacity within themselves (their nephesh - soul) that animals don't have?  The capacity for love, the capacity to reason, the capacity to think, to make choices; the capacity to worship their creator?

Further along in verse 17, we discover the penalty for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil - death.   We'll come back to that in a bit.

In verse 19, we see the man (adam) naming the living (chai) creatures (nephesh). 

In chapter 3 verse 20, Adam named his wife Eve (chava), because she will be the mother of all living (chai).

The Lord God then needed to kick Adam and Eve out of the garden.  Verse 22 says that if He left them there, with their new knowledge of good and evil, they could figure out that they could eat of the tree of life and live (chayah) forever.

This is mind boggling to me.  I grew up with the idea that "people had souls, animals did not."  I even checked the Greek Septuagint, and the same words for living (zao) souls (psuche) were used for humans and animals in Genesis.

During the flood, Genesis 7:22-23 tells us, All in whose nostrils was the breath (n'shamah) of the spirit (ruach) of life (chai), all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things (new word - y'kum, meaning all that exists) which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Every word here that describes life, breath, soul, spirit, and so forth applies to both man and beast.

When Lot was fleeing from Sodom in Genesis 19, the angel told him to flee for his life (nephesh). There are many more examples throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament).

When we move to the B'rit Hadashah (New Testament), we find the word that is translated spirit is pneuma. Again, this is a word that means breath, life, or wind, just like the Hebrew ruach. It is used over 300 times in the New Testament.  The Greek word psuche is translated soul.  Think of the word psych... our mind, our thoughts, our inner being.  Our nephesh, as it would read in Hebrew.  We don't HAVE a soul, we ARE a soul!  And so are all the other living creatures on earth.

Nephesh and psuche are used in scripture 976 times, and translated into over 40 different words!  But always, they are referring to living (or dying) creatures here on earth.  But never once do they refer to a soul that is consciously existing post mortem

Many will look to Ecclesiastes 3:11, which says He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.  One might say, See?  God has put eternity in their hearts - therefore they must have eternal souls!  But if you really look at this verse (in the middle of Solomon's musings on the meaning of life), that is not what it is saying.  The word for eternity is olam, which can mean the world, the universe, long duration, everlasting, perpetual time.  More importantly, we need to look at the word for heart - leb.  It means emotion, mind, desire.  God has definitely given man the desire for eternity, for significance, for meaning.  This is why there are so many religions!  They are all about man trying to reach (or become) God.  But the true faith is about God reaching man, which He has done through His Son Yeshua.

Over and over again, scripture tells us that the penalty for sin is death and destruction - starting in Genesis 2:17.  Do we believe what scripture says, or do we redefine words like perish and death and destruction to match what we believe about the automatic eternity of every human soul? The Rob Bells of the world ignore the many verses that call for the destruction of the wicked, but frankly, so do the eternal torment folks.

As it turns out, the idea of a disembodied soul comes from the pagan religions that stemmed from Babylon, and was made popular by the Greek philosopher Plato.  The idea was later picked up by the church as paganism crept in, beginning especially in the fourth century when ancient Rome took over Christianity and got rid of all of the Jewish roots of the faith.  When you really think about it, only GOD is eternal; which means no beginning and no end.

It is interesting to note satan's words to Eve in Genesis 3:4:  Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die."  How do we know when satan, the Father of Lies, is lying?  The answer is, whenever he is speaking.  This early lie of satan is still believed today by people all over the world:  you WILL live forever, be it in smoking or non-smoking.

Just a side note about the word hell before I move on... there are four words in scripture translated into that one word hell, which has its origins in paganism.  The four Biblical words are sheol (Hebrew), Hades, Gehenna, and Tarturoo (Greek).  Ironically, the final judgment place, the Lake of Fire, is not translated hell at all; in fact, hell (Hades) is cast into it in Revelation 20:14.

Scripture tells us about the future resurrection.  Jesus spoke of the resurrection in Luke 14, Luke 20, John 5, and John 11.  The best Biblical illustration of what this resurrection will look like can be found in 1 Corinthians 15.  Believers who are asleep (dead) will be raised imperishable.  There is no mention of one's conscious soul floating down from heaven and rejoining his or her new body.  (Genesis doesn't mention a disembodied soul either, for that matter.   You'd think that if it were the truth, it might have been mentioned in the Book of Beginnings).

When we die, our bodies will "sleep" in the ground until the resurrection, according to the passage in 1 Corinthians 15.  The beautiful thing about sleep is that when you awaken, it seems like the night flew by and morning was instantaneous.  Thus to be dead is to be immediately in the presence of the Lord.  Our time stops until the Lord returns and awakens us with a shout... and a new body that will never get sick and never die - woohoo!  (I have a friend who is a Catholic and faithfully prays to Mary and the saints... This idea - that they are dead asleep and awaiting the resurrection - sure would burst her bubble).

But we will only be awakened at the Lord's return if we are covenanted to God through the plan that was in effect while we were on earth... this called the first resurrection.  Today the plan in effect is via the Messiah - Yeshua, who two thousand years ago, shed His blood and died so that we can be reconciled to God through repentance and faith in Him.  At the first resurrection, believers from both Old and New covenants will rule with Him on earth during the one-thousand-year reign.  Our position in this messianic kingdom will depend on the works that we have done while on earth.  Our entrance fee was paid for by the sacrifice of Yeshua.  Revelation 20:6 says, Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

The second resurrection does not occur until after the Millenial Kingdom.  Revelation 20:5 and also verses 11-15 describe what happens to the rest of unredeemed humanity - they are not found in the Book of Life and are cast into the Lake of Fire.  Since scripture shows them to be complete physical beings (and not a disembodied soul), they will perish in the Lake of Fire.  Matthew 3:12 says, He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  Note that the fire continues to burn, but the chaff is burned up - ie: destroyed.

For a long time, I had been wondering why the unbelieving dead had to be raised up, only to be cast into the fire.  Why wouldn't God just leave them dead?  Then one day, I read the following verse and it became clear to me.  Philippians 2:10-11 says, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  This comes from Isaiah 45 (except that Yeshua isn't mentioned yet) and is also repeated in Romans 14:10. 

It occurred to me that this hasn't happened yet!  Every knee has NOT YET submitted to the Creator and Ruler of the universe.  This is why the sea had to give up its dead (the wicked who died in the flood).  All those who died without acknowledging God still need to do that, for His Glory. And sadly, it will be too late for them.

As it says in Hebrews 9:26-27, And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Have you received forgiveness through Yeshua?  If you have not, I pray that you will turn your back on sin and receive Him today as your Redeemer!  He truly is the only way to eternal life! 

For more on this subject, click here.

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