Table of Contents
Part VI: A Fresh Look at the Meaning
of the Word "Soul".
The Emergence of the Soul
LET ME give
three simple illustrations to show by analogy what I mean when
I speak of the soul as a "resultant." The first is
from the field of chemistry, the second from electricity, and
the third, physics.
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Chemistry demonstrates that table
salt is really composed of two elements, sodium and chlorine,
a solid substance and a poisonous gas. The combination of something
which is material and of something which is non-material (in
a loose manner of speaking) leads to the appearance of something
very different from either of its components, yet entirely dependent
upon them for its continuance. The salt emerges as a result of
bringing together the two elements, each of which occurs by nature
in an entirely different state, i.e., solid and gas. But all
that one observes, commonly speaking, is the salt. Yet this has
no existence in its own right. Real as it is, it is still a resultant.
And if an exact definition of it is to be given, it will be given
as a formula, NaCl, i.e., equal proportions of sodium, and of
The second illustration is the
electric light. When we switch on the light, we are not really
switching on the light at all, but the electricity, i.e., something
that, like the spirit which "comes and goes" (John
3:8), we cannot see except indirectly. This electricity must
have some material means of travel, in this case the wires. The
action of the switch is to create a bridge completing a solid
passageway for the otherwise invisible electron (or else ion)
flow. By a special design, radiant energy is emitted and this
is what we recognize as the light. We speak of switching on the
light rather than the electricity because it is the light which
strikes our senses most forcibly under normal circumstances.
Nevertheless, the light is
entirely due to this
invisible activity within material substance causing something
which is visible. We turn the light out by stopping the electrical
According to my analogy, that which
stands for the soul in these two illustrations is salt and light.
As we have seen, these do not have an existence in their own
right, yet they certainly appear to do so, and are commonly spoken
of as if they did.
If one should ask what happens
to the salt when the elements which compose it are separated,
or what happens to the light when the electrical activity ceases
in the conductor, all we can say is that they disappear. According
to my analogy, the soul results from the occupation of the body
by the spirit, a physical entity occupied by a non-physical one,
both of which have a real existence. When these are separated,
when the spirit leaves the body, the soul "disappears."
This may seem to be heresy. We
shall undoubtedly be suspected of denying the reality of the
soul and its eternal value. Actually I think Scripture shows
rather that what is of eternal significance is the spirit, not
the soul. And all we are doing at the moment is trying to show
by an analogy, which seems justified by Scripture, that the soul
is not the essential part of man that has eternal worth and with
which God is primarily concerned -- in spite of passages such
as Matthew 16:26. Although the soul is made to stand by metonymy
for the whole person, the self, if we examine the more exact
statements of Scripture, we find that it is the spirit and not
the soul which is born again, and which strives for perfection
(Romans 7:22), being held back by the body we now have (Romans
7:23). For as Jesus said, in the Christian it is the body which
is weak -- the redeemed spirit is willing enough.
Let me give one more simple analogy
which perhaps even more effectively illustrates the inter-relationship
between body, soul, and spirit. I have on my key chain two small
sample discs of coloured plastic, one of which is yellow and
the other blue. For reasons which need not be entered into, not
all such coloured plastic pieces will give a green color when
overlapped, but these do. No small delight is found by children
in playing with these little coloured pieces. As a matter of
fact, I never cease myself to wonder at the beautiful green which
results from overlapping them and holding them up to the light.
Since they are both exactly the same size, when they are carefully
overlapped, one sees nothing but a clear green. As they are slithered
apart, the green of the overlap remains, of course, but the yellow
and the blue which are engendering it become visible. If we allow
the yellow to stand for the body, a not altogether inappropriate
and the blue to stand
for the spirit, an equally suitable symbol since it comes from
above, then the green which results from the overlap of the two
is, by analogy, the soul. So long as the coincidence is complete,
it seems quite proper to speak of the combination as being green.
And accordingly, so long as the spirit inhabits the body, it
seems quite proper to refer to the whole man as a soul. Nevertheless,
the soul is not a primary element but a resultant. Wherever a
spirit indwells a body, there is a soul, and it so happens that
sufficient is said in Scripture about the nature of the soul
that it can be, I think, delineated with more or less exactitude,
and its description confirms the contention that it results physiologically
from the presence of the spirit within the body.
Now let us turn to the Old Testament
and examine some of the passages which serve to identify the soul for
what it is. As we have already pointed out, the word soul (nephesh,
is applied to animals before it is applied to man, and upon numerous occasions
thereafter. Genesis 1:20 refers to creatures which move in the water and
in the air, the phrase "creatures" being nephesh in the
Hebrew. In Genesis 1:21 the usage is repeated with the same connotations.
In Genesis 1:24 it is translated "creature" again and here refers
to cattle, creeping things (which may well mean reptiles), and wild beasts.
In Genesis the passage reads:
beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every
thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life [lit.
a living soul], I have given every green herb for meat.
In Genesis 2:19
God brings to Adam the beasts of the field and the fowl of the
air, that he might give them appropriate names. And these creatures
are referred to as living "souls," the Authorized Version
renders it "living creature."
In the Scofield
Bible at Genesis 1:24 there is a footnote which reads,
In itself Nephesh, or
Soul, implies self-conscious life, as distinguished from plants,
which have unconscious life. In the sense of self-conscious life
the animals have "soul."
In the light
of present knowledge I do not think animals would be credited
with any form of self-consciousness, but they undoubtedly have
consciousness in the accepted sense. This is not a criticism
of the Scofield Bible, but it makes a convenient starting point
of discussion. In the first place, the word nephesh is
applied only to creatures which move; this is true throughout
the Old Testament as
will be seen, for example,
by reference to Ezekiel 47:9. It is evident further, that any
creature which can move can take avoiding action to escape injury
or aggressive action to achieve a purpose -- for example, capturing
food. Both kinds of action are possible only if the creature
is equipped with sense organs. The sense organs of some creatures
must be exceedingly limited: in many the sense of touch alone,
in a few the power to sense heat, and in others the sense of
hearing only. In some creatures all the senses are active, but
one particular sense is uniquely so. Occasionally vision is developed
to an extraordinary degree, as in pigeons, for example. On the
other hand, hearing may be most highly developed, as in animals
which are preyed upon. In all these cases, the possession of
the senses of smell, taste, touch, vision, and hearing are useful
to the animal only if it can move. This is fundamental, because
correspondingly the possession of a soul is specifically attributed
only to creatures which have the power of locomotion.
Man, of course, shares these senses.
This is a simplified account since we are omitting such things
as the sense of balance, the kinesthetic sense, and some others.
But for our purposes here this is a sufficient statement. There
are those who believe that the power of plants to respond to
the position of the sun, and a number of other kindred phenomena
among plants in general, is analogous to the power of movement
in free-living creatures, though of course at a very different
level. Again, for our purposes, this need not be considered further.
Suffice it to say that these aspects of the problem are recognized.
The essential point at this juncture is that everything that
moves freely is equipped with organs of sense and a central nervous
system. It is my contention that the soul is coincident with
the central nervous system.
Let me elaborate on this. It seems clear
enough that there is a side of man's nature which we recognize and define
in such terms as kindness, gentleness, pity, honesty, and so forth, all
of which are essentially rooted in the spirit of the man, and not in his
body. On the other hand, lust and gluttony are somehow rooted in the body;
they are sensual qualities, in some way tied to the senses -- in this
case, vision and taste. The New Testament speaks of the sensual man and
uses for this a word derived from the Greek "psuke"
meaning soul. In fact the very word sensual in English confirms the association
of the soul with the senses. The lusts of the flesh which Paul enumerates
in writing to the Galatians spring from the possession of these senses,
although they sometimes find expression in ways which appear to be spiritual.
This is true of hatred, for example, but there is
that in man hatred may be at times in some strange way soulish
rather than spiritual, almost on the nature of a physical poison
which can have a profoundly disastrous effect upon the whole
physiological system. The same appears to be true of anger, and
probably of fear.
In the Old Testament the soul may
be satisfied with meat and drink (Proverbs 6:30; 27:7; Isaiah
55:2, and 58:10). The soul may hunger (Proverbs 10:3), thirst
(Proverbs 25:5), fast (Psalm 69:10), abstain from certain kinds
of food (Numbers 30:3), and may be polluted by food (Ezekiel
4:14). To open the soul wide sometimes means to enlarge the appetite
(Isaiah 5:14, and Habakkuk 2:5).
Since the whole central nervous
system is involved, the soul is peculiarly tied in its existence
to the body. Yet quite properly it may stand for mind; and by
a simple extension it comes to be held responsible for such things
as pride and willfulness (Proverbs 28:25) and, of course, because
it is by these same senses that we are conscious of one another,
it easily comes to stand for consciousness itself, and hence
for real existence. For this is how we are aware of the existence
of both ourselves and others. When consciousness is permanently
lost, it is equivalent to dying (Genesis 35:18), being the departure
of the soul. When dead men are restored to life and therefore
to consciousness, this involves the re-emergence of the soul
once more (cf. 1 Kings 17:21,22).
Returning to the animals for a
moment, it is clear that they, too, share something of man's
compound nature. Some animals have a gentle disposition, i.e.,
a docile spirit. Others of the same species may be vicious and
unfriendly by nature. The experiments of psychologists with animals
have shown that they share many of man's reactions to stresses
imposed upon the spirit, and can be made neurotic or sociable,
by conditioning. We see this in domestic animals, and especially
in those which have become pets. Recent experiments have shown
the profound effect which fondling and loving care can have in
contrast to harsh or even indifferent treatment. This has been
demonstrated with rats. Disposition in animals (cats, for example)
can also be modified by the food they are given, thus indicating
that in them also there is strong interaction between body and
spirit. There is no doubt that the temper of animals varies widely
and that this has little to do with the senses they possess,
except in so far as these become means of communication. A horse
that could not feel the caress of a loving rider would lack an
important means of communication through which the rider expresses
his feeling. A dog that nuzzles the hand of his master communicates
which could not be communicated
to a blind master whose hand had lost all sense of feeling.
Though it is possible that man
may communicate spiritual feelings of a less desirable nature
to an animal, such for example as distrust or even hatred, in
most cases he will communicate his hostility by doing the animal
physical injury. Only because the animal has the senses he does,
can he feel pain. Consequently cruelty to animals according to
this thesis would take the form of injuring the body via the
soul. Proverbs 12:10 points out, "A righteous man regardeth
the soul [so the Hebrew] of his beast: but the tender mercies
of the wicked are cruel." The use of the word "soul"
here in the original is quite consistent with what has been said
Physiologically speaking, the functioning
of the nervous system -- i.e., the soul -- depends upon the blood.
Leviticus 17:11 says categorically, "The life [Heb. soul]
of the flesh is in the blood." And Genesis 9:4 reaffirms
this in the words, "But flesh with the life [Heb. soul]
thereof, which is in the blood thereof. . . ." Exactly
what the relationship is between the soul and blood is not clear
from these passages, but it may be worth noting that Scripture
speaks in both cases of "the soul of the flesh,"
and not the soul in the flesh. On the other hand, it does say
the soul in the blood. It might be very dangerous to attempt
to found physiological doctrine on passages of Scripture, but
no one who has taken the Word of God seriously will have failed
to note how careful it is in statements of this kind to be quite
exact and self-consistent. Certainly, "feeling," i.e.,
sense, disappears fairly quickly in any part of the body which
ceases to receive its proper supply of fresh blood. In such an
area, we experience numbness and in fact, given sufficient time,
necrosis or local death will occur, thus presenting in miniature
a parallel to the departure of the soul in that member. Death
to the whole body may come slowly in this manner, as though the
spirit were being gradually withdrawn.
Death is coincident with the expiration
of the last breath, an event which is associated in Scripture
with the return of the spirit to God who gave it. When the spirit
departs from the body we are left only in the presence of a corpse,
and it is rightly so designated because the central nervous system
is no longer in operation. To all intents and purposes it has
ceased. According to my thesis this cessation is to be equated
with the disappearance of the soul as such. The spirit returns
to God in whose keeping it is indestructible while the body is
allowed to return to the dust. When the body is raised incorruptible,
it will become the home of a spirit that is made immortal and
the coincidence results in the re-appearance of a soul
made perfect. This is
the whole new man which God has in view. It is only in this sense
that we may speak of the saving of the soul; because it results
from the coming together of a re-born spirit in a redeemed body.
As the reader may be aware, redemption in the New Testament is
always redemption of the body, and regeneration is always
regeneration of the spirit. In the resurrection the whole new
man which emerges will in some way be recognizable. We may scarcely
recognize ourselves, but I am quite sure we will recognize one
another. What I mean is that although the spirit will have been
transformed, it will still be our spirit in some way, and though
the body will have been changed it will somehow still be our
body. When this mortal (spirit) shall have put on immortality
and this corruptible (body) shall have put on incorruptibility
(1 Corinthians 15:54), then soul shall recognize soul.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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