Sunday, November 28, 2010

Psyche / Soul (Response to accusations made by Robert H. Countess)

PSYCHE - psyche is the NT Greek word sometimes translated "soul" in English Bibles. It is used as the equivalent of the OT Hebrew nephesh. Countess, along with many members of Christendom, has accepted the ancient Greek pagan philosophy meaning of this word, insisting that it refers to some invisible, conscious, immortal, ghost-like entity within a body which is released at death and then either goes to heaven to live in bliss or to "hell" to be excruciatingly tormented for all eternity! This "immortal soul" doctrine began to be accepted into Christendom around the time that the equally unscriptural (but equally important to influential pagans of the time) Trinity doctrine was being introduced.

"Among the ancient Hebrews soul was the equivalent of the principle of life as embodied in living creatures, and this meaning is continued throughout the Bible..... It was Augustine [circa 400 A.D.] especially who, in part on religious grounds and in part as the disciple of later Greek philosophy, taught the simple, immaterial, and spiritual nature of the human soul - a view which has remained that of ... Christian theologians down to the present time." - p. 7894, Vol. 21, The Universal Standard Encyclopedia, 1956.

"The Hebrew term for `soul' (nefesh), that which breathes, was used by Moses ..., signifying an `animated being' and applicable equally to nonhuman beings.... New Testament usage of psyche (`soul') was comparable to nefesh." - p. 152, Vol. 15, The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropaedia.

Even the ancient pagan Greeks themselves used the word psyche, which literally means "breath," with many meanings. For example in ancient Greek it could mean: life, things dear as life, heart, appetite, and understanding. - p. 903, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell and Scott, Oxford University Press, 1994 printing.

And the most-respected of Christendom's authorities themselves admit these many meanings for psyche in the NT scriptures:

"1. breath (Lat. anima), i.e. a. the breath of life; the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing: Acts xx. 10; of animals, Rev. viii. 9 ....b. life ... Mt. vi.25; Lk. xii. 22... Jn x.11,15,17; xiii.37 sq.; xv.13; 1 Jn. iii.16; [etc.] .... c. that in which there is life; a living being: psyche zosa, a living soul, 1 Cor. xv.45 ["Adam became a living soul" - NASB] .... [etc.]" - p. 677 (#5590), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, J. H. Thayer, Baker Book House, 1984 printing.

"SOUL. 1. The usual Hebrew word [nephesh] ... occurs 755 times in the OT. As is clear from Gn 2:7, the primary meaning is `possessing life'. Thus it is frequently used of animals (Gn. 1:20, 24, 30; 9:12, 15-16; Ezk. 47:9). Sometimes it is identified with the blood, as something which is essential to physical existence (Gn. 9:4; Lv. 17:10-14; Dt. 12:22-24). .... the seat of physical appetite ... source of emotion .... 2. Gk. psyche, the corresponding term to nephesh in the NT..." - p. 1135, New Bible Dictionary, 2nd ed., Tyndale House Publishers, 1982.

In discussing the OT Hebrew word for "soul" (nephesh), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology says:

"So too living creatures can be described as souls: everything that lives, all living things .... A clear indication of how unfamiliar the OT is with the concept of a soul separate from the body, or a soul which becomes separated from the body at death, is the fact that it can speak of a dead person as the soul of that person, and mean by this phrase the dead person in his corporeality [the actual dead body!] (Num. 6:6)." - p. 680, Vol. 3.

This same highly-respected work of Christendom also says of the NT term for 'soul':

"psyche embraces the whole natural being and life of man for which he concerns himself and of which he takes constant care. Thus Matt. 6:25 speaks of being anxious for the psyche, i.e. for its food. Life (psyche) and body (soma) are God's handiwork: therefore they are of more importance than the food and clothing about which man is so concerned. At Lk. 12:19 the rich man addresses his soul, i.e. he speaks to himself. However, he does not bargain with the fact that his psyche, i.e. his life, can be taken from him at any moment. .... psyche [also] means the inner life of man, equivalent to the ego, person, or personality... In 2 Cor. 1:23 Paul pledges his `soul' in a kind of curse upon himself, as a form of solemn asseveration. The reference here is not only to the life, but to the whole man, with all that he believes, hopes and strives for. .... Although the Hellenistic term psyche appears more frequently in the later epistles of the NT than in other parts ..., it must not be imagined that this implies the concept of the soul as the real and valuable part of man, the eternal and permanent element [as in the pagan-originated "immortal soul" doctrine]. That would be a misunderstanding.... This is just what the NT does not teach" - pp. 683, 686, Vol. 3, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Zondervan Publishing House, 1986.

Even "immortal soul" and "eternal torment" proponent W. E. Vine admits that the meanings for psyche include life, the seat of personality, the seat of will and purpose, the seat of appetite, persons, animate creatures, human or other, and is even applied to animals and dead bodies. - p. 1067, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983 printing.

And yes, that most literal of modern trinitarian Bibles, the NASB, actually translates psyche as heart, heartily, life (more often than any other meaning), mind, person, soul, etc.
(For more quotes from other sources, see pp. 377, 379 in Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989 printing.)

The word psyche is used so often (and with so many different meanings) in the New Testament that it is not difficult for someone to find a few scriptures that could be interpreted in the way that "eternal soul" devotees would like. However, even Countess finds only two "which clearly contradict the view enunciated by NWT that man is soul." These are Matt. 10:28 and Rev. 6:9-10. - p. 82. (Actually, the NWT translators acknowledge the fact that "soul" or psyche has several different meanings which include the person (or animal) himself, and life itself. And all those who are baptized as JWs have been taught this fact also.)

Countess would have us believe that there can be no other interpretation of Matt. 10:28 other than proof for an "immortal soul" that survives the death of the body:

"Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul [psyche]; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul [psyche] and body in Gehenna."

But consider: What does it mean to say a man can kill your body but not your psyche ["person" or "life"]?

Any man can kill you. Afterward he may even completely burn up your body or allow it to decompose to nothingness. That particular body will never return even in the resurrection. The person himself, however, may, if God wills it, be resurrected in a new, better, fleshly body or even in a perfect spirit body. No one but God alone, however, can cause that person or life to be restored.

Therefore, the human murderer can cause you to lose your life temporarily and your body to disappear forever, but he cannot destroy your life forever. He can permanently "kill your body, but is unable to kill your `person' or `life'." God, however, is to be feared much more than the human murderer, because He can permanently destroy both your body and your `person' or `life' (psyche) in that special "grave" which is reserved for those who will not be resurrected ("Gehenna" - - see HELL study).

As proof of this interpretation, we can see that an immortal "soul" could not be destroyed. However, this scripture says God can destroy it in "Hell" (Gehenna). Furthermore, we know that the traditional (but unscriptural) concept of "Hell" does not allow for the body to enter into it. But God will also destroy the body in Gehenna ("Hell" in most translations) according to this same scripture!

Obviously the body in this scripture is in the grave where it will be completely annihilated and from which the person himself (or his life) will never be resurrected. His life permanently ends in this grave - not in a "fiery hell"!

The only other scripture Countess can find to "disprove" the JW's is found at Rev. 6:9-10:

"And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls [psyche - plural form] of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, `How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'" - NASB.

Of course if you, like Countess (apparently), insist that this must be taken absolutely literally, then you may have a case. (Remember, however, that psyche can mean `lives,' `persons,' even dead bodies.) If this vision is recording a literally accurate event, then we see "souls" of dead people speaking to God. Reasonable Bible students, however, realize that the Bible (and the Book of Revelation in particular) often uses symbolism and figurative usage.

Why, at Gen. 4:10-11, for example, God says to Cain, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand." Obviously we should not take this literally. Abel's blood did not have a literal voice and did not literally cry out. (And the ground doesn't consciously open its mouth - - and, of course, doesn't even have a literal mouth.) This is figurative language indicating that God knows that Cain killed his brother and that Abel was terribly wronged by having his life taken from him and must be avenged! There must be justice! "Blood" here is not figurative of some mysterious ghost-like person speaking from the ground. It figuratively represents Abel's life which has been taken away by Cain.

Now notice how Jehovah's Witnesses have analyzed Rev. 6:9, 10:

After quoting Rev. 6:9, the study book, REVELATION - Its Grand Climax at Hand! tells us:

"What is that? A sacrificial altar up in heaven? Yes! It is the first time that John mentions an altar. Already, though, he has described Jehovah on His throne, the surrounding cherubs, the glassy sea, the lamps and the 24 elders carrying incense - all of these resembling features of the earthly tabernacle, Jehovah's sanctuary in Israel. (Exodus 25:17, 18; 40:24-27, 30-32; 1 Chron-icles 23:4) Should it, then, surprise us to find a symbolic altar of sacrifice also in heaven? - Exodus 40:29.

"Underneath this altar are `the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness work that they used to have.' What does this mean? These could not be disembodied souls - like those believed in by the pagan Greeks. (Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 18:4) Rather, John knows that the soul, or life, is symbolized by the blood, and when the priests at the ancient Jewish tabernacle slaughtered a sacrificial animal, they sprinkled the blood `round about upon the altar' or poured it `at the base of the altar of burnt offering.' (Leviticus 3:2, 8, 13; 4:7; 17:6, 11, 12) Hence, the animal's soul [or life which was poured out at the base of the altar] was closely identified with the altar of sacrifice. But why would the souls, or blood, of these particular servants of God be seen underneath a symbolic altar in heaven? Because their deaths are viewed as sacrificial.

"Indeed, all those who are begotten as spirit sons of God die a sacrificial death in behalf of Jehovah's sovereignty. (Philippians 3:8-11; compare 2:17) This is true in a very real sense of those whom John saw under the altar. They are anointed ones who in their day were martyred for their zealous ministry in upholding Jehovah's Word and sovereignty....

"The scenario continues to unfold: `And they cried with a loud voice, saying: "Until when, Sovereign Lord holy and true, are you refraining from judging and avenging our blood upon those who dwell on the earth?"' (Revelation 6:10) How can their souls, or blood, cry out for vengeance, since the Bible shows that the dead are unconscious? (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Well, did not righteous Abel's blood cry out after Cain murdered him? Jehovah then said to Cain: ... `Your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground.' (Genesis 4:10, 11; Hebrews 12:24) It was not that Abel's blood was literally uttering words. Rather, Abel had died as an innocent victim, and justice called out for his murderer to be punished. Similarly, those Christian martyrs are innocent, and in justice they must be avenged. (Luke 18:7, 8) The cry for vengeance is loud because many thousands have thus died. - Compare Jeremiah 15:15, 16." - pp. 100-101, Revelation - Its Grand Climax At Hand! 1988.

But it isn't just Jehovah's Witnesses who interpret Rev. 6:9, 10 this way. The popular New Testament scholar and author, William Barclay writes concerning this scripture:

"The souls of those who had been slain were there beneath the altar. That picture is taken directly from the sacrificial ritual of the Temple. For a Jew the most sacred part of any sacrifice was the blood; the blood was regarded as being the life and the life belonged to God (Leviticus 17:11-14). Because of that, there were special regulations for the offering of blood.

"`The rest of the blood of the bull the priest shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering' (Leviticus 4:7). That is to say, the blood is offered at the foot of the altar.

"This gives us the meaning of our passage here [Rev. 6:9, 10]. The souls of the martyrs are beneath the altar. That is to say, their life-blood has been poured out as an offering to God. .... But every life laid down for right and truth and God is ultimately ... an offering to God." - pp. 10-11, The Revelation of John, Revised Ed., Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, The Westminster Press, 1976.

Even noted Baptist scholar A. T. Robertson agrees here:

"[Rev. 6:]9. Under the altar (hupokato tou thusiasteriou). "Under" (hupokato), for the blood of the sacrifices was poured at the bottom of the altar (Lev 4:7). The altar of sacrifice (Ex. 39:39; 40:29), not of incense. The imagery, as in Hebrews, is from the tabernacle. .... This altar in heaven is symbolic, of course, the antitype for the tabernacle altar (Heb. 8:5). The Lamb was slain (5:6, 9, 12) and these martyrs have followed the example of their Lord. The souls (tas psuchas). The lives, for the life is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), were given for Christ (Phil. 2:17; II Tim. 4:6)." - p. 343, Vol. 6, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Broadman Press, Copyright 1960, Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The JW's interpretation of these two scriptures is certainly more correct than Countess' God-defaming interpretation that God has created all men with a conscious, immortal "soul" that will, for most of them, be conscious and aware of an excruciating torture for all eternity!

One last scripture to examine for its use of psyche:

This is the literal word-for-word translation of the NT Greek of the latter part of Luke 6:9 -

"If it is lawful to the sabbath to do good or to do bad, soul [psyche] to save or to destroy?"

Here is a translation as found in one modern literal Bible:

"Is it lawful to do good on the sabbaths, or to do ill? to save a soul [psyche] or to destroy it?" - Luke 6:9, KJIIV.

Here is the NWT rendering of the same scripture:

"Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do injury, to save or to destroy a soul [psyche]?"

Jesus is reasoning on the scriptures here. He has been accused by the Pharisees (who were looking for a reason to have him "legally" killed) of breaking the law of God because his disciples were doing "work" (plucking grain and eating it) on the sabbath. In reply Jesus asks if, according to the Law of God, it is not lawful to do certain good things on the sabbath. The answer, of course is yes. Some of these things include certain good works and the saving of a soul (life). He contrasts the doing of these legal things on the sabbath with the terrible things the Pharisees themselves are plotting to do on this sabbath: to do injury (to Jesus) and to destroy a soul [psyche] by having Jesus killed!

Now if the Pharisees are able to destroy a soul, then a "soul" (psyche) is not immortal (even when it is Jesus' soul)! To avoid this obvious (and proper) understanding nearly all "literal" Bibles of "traditional" Christendom translate psyche here as "life":

"to save LIFE [psyche] or to destroy it?" - KJV.

"LIFE [psyche] to save or to kill? - Young's Literal Translation.

"to save LIFE [psyche] or to destroy it?" - RSV.

"to save LIFE [psyche] or to destroy it?" - NRSV.

"to save a LIFE [psyche], or to destroy it?" - ASV.

"to save a LIFE [psyche], or to destroy it?" - NASB.

We certainly don't hear Countess complaining about the inconsistent translation (or paraphrasing) of the word psyche in these most literal of modern translations, do we?

Nevertheless, what we have been discussing is an interpretation of certain scriptures. Countess is supposedly criticizing the translations of scripture as found in the New World Translation! But where is any criticism of the NWT's translation of psyche in Countess' diatribe concerning the use of this word? In fact, there is no significant difference between the NWT and most other translations of the verses in question.

And the NWT is far more consistent than any other translation in rendering all instances of psyche as "soul" (and two times as "whole-souled - Eph. 6:6; Col. 3:23)! For example, in every instance where the much-praised literal Bible the NASB renders psyche as "everyone," "heart," "heartily," "mind(s)," and "person(s)," the NWT renders it "soul(s)" (and two times as "whole-souled). And in each of the 43 instances where the "super-literal" NASB translates psyche as "life/lives" the NWT translates it "soul(s)"!

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