Part One

by A.E. Knoch

WHY? WHAT? WHERE? WHITHER? Such are the questions which arise when we consider the human soul and its place in God's purpose. Strange to say, the usual answers are shrouded in obscurity. Who can tell us why man has a soul? Who knows what it is? And who can tell us where it is and whither it goes at death? Incredible as it may seem, the popular translation of the Bible is most misleading, and will only confuse us if we seek light from it on this theme. The traditions of men had such a strong hold on the translators that they deliberately altered or ignored the word soul in the key passages. As a result it is commonly held that animals have no souls, instead of being like man in this respect. And none seem able to locate the soul, though it is in their very blood. Tradition teaches that, at death, the soul of the unbeliever goes to hell. The Bible shows that the spirit returns to God Who gave it (Ecc.12:7). Yet orthodoxy cannot define the difference! If the soul-spirit goes to both places at the same time, the terms heaven and hell must also mean the same!

The reader of the Authorized Version is hoodwinked as to the close relationship of the animals to man, by its discordant rendering of the word soul in its account of creation (Gen.1:20,21,24,30). Three times it is translated creature, although it is entirely distinct from the word rendered create which is found in the first verse. Once it is omitted. Although soul is used these four times of animals in the Hebrew, it is not rendered soul until it is used of man. The translators were evidently orthodox, and did not believe that animals are souls. Indeed, to this day popular theology teaches that the great distinction between the animals and man lies in this, that man has an "immortal soul" and the animal has none. This flatly contradicts the very first page of God's revelation. These discordant renderings have poisoned the well of truth as to the relation of man to the lower creatures. I do not see how any conscientious saint who knows the facts can countenance this version, or quote such mistranslations.

These perversions are so serious that we will set them forth at length, along with a concordant rendering. In Genesis 1:20 the Authorized Version reads: "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life." It should read: "Teeming is the water with the teeming, living soul." Here creature is put for soul. This is partially true, for all souls are created by God. But there is nothing in the Hebrew text or its Greek translation to indicate this thought. It is injected and the true idea is concealed.

The second occurrence reads somewhat like the first (Gen.1:21) "And God created every living creature that moveth. "This should be: every living soul that crawls. These occurrences show that, in contrast to plants, which also have life, souls may move about.

The third time soul is again rendered creature (Gen.1:24): "Let the earth bring forth the living creature..."

The fourth occurrence reads (1:30): "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life..." This is utterly false. The last clause should read: which has in it a living soul. Plants have life. The animals on the land and air have more than that. They have sensation, and they alone can crawl and creep and fly. Only they are souls. Living plants are not included.

Perhaps we should warn our readers that the margins of our Bible have added to the confusion by indicating that soul has been used for life (rather than creature) in some of these passages. This obscures the important fact that animals are not merely called souls, but living souls, in all four occurrences, the same phrase as is used of man.

When man is formed (Gen.2:7) - the fifth occurrence of the word nephesh - The Authorized Version does not call him a creature, though he certainly was, nor does it omit the word soul. For the first time they translate correctly, and call him a living soul. Alas, in such a case the correct rendering itself is misleading, because it is not concordant. Instead of informing us that man became the same as the animals previously created, it tells us that he is something different. They were merely creatures, while Adam became a soul! This example alone should convince all that discordant renderings are dangerous. They spoil even those translations which are correct in themselves!

Why was man given a soul? Why can he sense the world about him and feel pain and pleasure? This function is essential to the part he plays in more ways than one. Only by an actual experience of good and evil can he be prepared for his destined duties. During the eons the experience of evil is necessary to bring man down to a realization of his absolute dependence on God for happiness, and the need of utter subjection for his welfare. Until mankind reaches this place at the consummation, the race is not fitted to fulfil its functions. Only the saints, as a kind of firstfruits, have taken their place, for, even now, the sovereignties and authorities among the celestials learn of the multifarious wisdom of God through the ecclesia (Eph.3:10). Only Christ Himself, the great Firstfruit, has entered into the glory.

But man was not made merely to enjoy himself. Indeed, he learns by sad experience that selfishness is an insuperable barrier to true happiness. Israel has sought its own welfare hitherto, when its real satisfaction lies in the blessing of the other nations. In seeking wealth and power and glory for itself it has forfeited pleasure for its own soul. So with mankind as a whole. Its destiny is to bring blessing to the rest of creation, and apart from this it will fail to find the felicity which it craves. We have been given a soul, not merely to be able to experience the bliss of our own blessings, but to bring such bliss to the balance of God's creatures. That, indeed, is the greatest good that God has given us. It is blessed to give rather than to get.

Man's particular province on earth is the animal creation. To equip him for his place above them he is not only made in the image and likeness of God, but very closely resembles the creatures over whom he rules. Both have bodies from the soil and breathe the air of the atmosphere, and these are assimilated by means of the blood. As a result, they have consciousness and sensation, or a soul. Man and the animals have this in common, that they both are living souls. Man can mediate between God and the animals, for he has points of contact with both.

How dreadful it would be for the animals if men had no souls like they themselves! Even as it is, we have far too little feeling for these creatures who are subject to us. The mere fact that we have societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals shows how callous we are, even when we ourselves share in the suffering that they endure. Man's inhumanity to man is, perhaps, just as bad. A great specialist used to say that all doctors should be thrown out of the window before being allowed to practice, so they would know how it feels, and be more sympathetic with their patients. There is no question, however, that animals owe much to the fact that their human masters have souls like theirs, and are taught by their own experience how terrible suffering can be.

What the soul is, we have set forth fully elsewhere, but a fresh study from another standpoint may be helpful. Soul is physical sensation, not spiritual life, for which it is usually mistaken. A soulish man likes the pleasures produced by eating and drinking and all other agreeable and delightful sensations, rather than the intangible experiences of the spirit. These do not appeal to him. But the mere fact of hating a soul does not imply the lack of spirituality. Man has both, a spirit and a soul, that is, he has life and sensation. Yet the body is strongly inclined to follow its feelings. It is soulish at present. But the tyranny of the soul is a temporary condition, due to man's mortality. Had Adam been created immortal, so that he could not die, the life-giving spirit would have so dominated his actions that he would not have sinned. Thus will it be with all mankind, when they are vivified.


Is the soul material or immaterial? Is man a soul, or has he a soul? All such questions show that the basic facts concerning the soul have never been grasped. The soul cannot be classified in this way. We might as well ask, Is the body a solid or water? Is a man anybody or has he a body? (The body, by the way, was not made of dust, but of soil, the very same as that which grows our food. Not much will grow without moisture). The soul also is the product of a combination. Much of the language used of it is figurative. The body and the spirit are distinct entities that may exist apart from each other. Not so the soul. It is only the effect of their union. It has no existence apart from their combination. It is often spoken of as if it were a tangible thing, but that is due to the necessities of language. Literally, at death, the soul ceases to exist, because body and spirit separate. The same thought is presented in a different way when the soul is said to go to the imperceptible, the unseen. Death ends all perception, all sensation. This is expressed figuratively when the soul is sent to hell, or hades.

Has man a soul, or is he a soul? A great deal of useless argument has failed to settle this problem, because everything is taken literally, and figures of speech are not understood. That man has a soul is evident from the oft repeated "my soul." That man is not literally a soul, without a body or spirit, is also evident, for these are the two elements producing a soul, and the latter is only the phenomenon resulting from their union. Besides, Scripture says not only that man became a living soul (Gen.2:7), but also insists that man is soil (AV, dust). He could not possibly be both at the same time. It is the figure of near association. That part of man is put for the whole which is uppermost in the context. In view of life, man is a soul. In view of death, man is soil. Since the human body now is soulish and soilish (1 Cor.15:44-49), man is hardly called a spirit, for that is subordinate. But when we receive our spiritual bodies, there is no reason why we should not be called spirits, in a figure, for spirit will be supreme. But there would be the danger of this word being taken literally, as though we had no bodies or souls. To save ourselves the labor of investigating the vast field of theology, we will consider the very latest and best that we can find in contemporary theology as to the soul. The following quotation is taken from Bibliotheca Sacra, volume 101, page 18:

"The mystery of life is baffling and never more so than when an analysis of the immaterial part of man is undertaken. The whole reality of being is largely due to that in a living person which actuates the body, which sustains a conscious relation to all things, and without which the body is not only dead, but immediately subject to decay; but as long as that reality remains in the body, life continues, the body is preserved, and its structure renewed. It is that which thinks, which FEELS, which reasons, which wills. It is that enigmatic actuality which comprehends, yet itself cannot be comprehended."

This quotation mixes SOUL and spirit together. In order to help in distinguishing them, we have put what refers to SOUL in small capitals, and what has to do with spirit in italics. The word "mystery" is significant. The real "mysteries" of Scripture are merely secrets. Here, however, theology acknowledges that the "immaterial" part of man is an obscure, incomprehensible problem. To begin with, the division of man into "Material" and "immaterial" parts, though it seems so fundamentally sound and logical, puts the whole matter on an unscriptural and misleading basis. It implies that man is composed of two utterly separate entities, which cannot unite to form a combination. It would be far more logical, since mankind is a unit, to speak of three divisions: the material, the immaterial, and their resultant, which would partake of both, yet may be quite different from either. This would be the soul.

But why introduce unsound terminology into the subject? "Mysteries" cannot be solved by such means. This one will vanish if we confine ourselves to sound words, used by God Himself, Who knows all about it. The soul must not be classified with the spirit, even if it seems to be immaterial, any more than we should classify an electric light in the same category as electric power. Soul, like light, is an effect which require's both a material and an immaterial cause, and cannot well be ranged under either category. As a filament plus current makes light, so the soil of the body, given life by the spirit, produces sensation or soul.

In the paragraph we have quoted, it will be seen that the life that actuates the body, so that it is dead and decays without it, is the spirit. But the human spirit is not CONSCIOUS, and does not literally FEEL anything. That is due to the action of the spirit on the soil. It is the soul. The mystery is practically solved if we keep the spirit distinct from the effects it produces upon the body, that is, SENSATION. In a later paragraph we are assured that "the distinction between soul and spirit is as incomprehensible as life itself, and the efforts of men to frame definitions must always be unsatisfactory." The real reason why this seems so is the injection of false premises and futile reasoning, and a departure from sound words.

It may help us to see why another important matter cannot be solved by theology, when it fails to distinguish the soul from the spirit, and clings to the division into "material" and "immaterial." Up to this point it would seem clear that man is composed of only these two parts, but now it seems that there are three!

"A question arises at this point which has engaged and divided theologians in all generations, namely, is man a dichotomous being - two parts, material and immaterial with the supposition that soul and spirit are the same - , or is he trichotomous body, soul, and spirit? It would be readily conceded by all that, under any consideration, there is not the same breadth of distinction observable between soul and spirit; yet these terms are used synonymously. Thus the controversy is between those who are impressed with the distinctions and those who are impressed with the similarities. It would be well to recognize that, when so required, the Bible assigns to those two terms a distinctive meaning and that when no specific distinction is in view the Bible uses them as interchangeable. In other words, the Bible supports both dichotomy and trichotomy."

What a puzzling book it must be that is so inconsistent! But we may rest assured that there is no clash of this kind in the Scriptures. It needs only a single reading of the account of man's creation to see that man is made of two elements, and, then, became a third thing. The two and three do not clash. Soil and spirit are two. They alone, without any addition, compose man. The soul is not an addition, a third element. It is the result of the union of soil and spirit. Man is not made of two parts because soul and spirit are the same, but because the soul was not needed to make man, being the effect of the union of the body with the spirit. It is therefore misleading to speak of the soul as "immaterial," for there can be no soul without the "material." And it is just as wrong to speak of it as "material," for the spirit is essential to its existence.

Soul and spirit are never used synonymously in the Scriptures. They are in theology and in popular usage. In fact, soul has almost usurped the place of spirit in religious circles. Why should there be the same breadth of distinction between soul and body, and soul and spirit, as there is between spirit and body, when soul is the effect of the spirit on the body? But that there is a great gulf between soul and spirit ought to be evident from the Scriptures, when the Bible translates soulish by sensual, which may be the opposite of spiritual. Soul and spirit are never interchangeable. The fact that our translators have rendered soul by life so often, has led to this deplorable confusion, and now supports it. It is practically impossible for anyone using such a discordant version to come to any clear understanding of his own constitution! He has a soul, yet doesn't know what it is!


Where is the soul? Here we have a good illustration of the vast amount of confusion a single discordant mistranslation can make. Theology is permeated with the mistaken notion that the life is in the blood! It suffers from lack of clearness that it is the soul which is in the blood. As a consequence, it has practically lost the truth as to the soul. It labors and heaves with efforts to show that the soul is different from the spirit, all the while giving it the function of spirit, which is to impart life.

The blood itself is a combination, like the soul. It is composed of particles assimilated from food derived from the soil, and of gases derived from the breath taken from the air.

A human being, as at present constituted, will die if the blood is drained from his veins. But he will also die from other causes, when he has plenty of blood. If the blood is temporarily withdrawn from a part of the body, that part is not dead, the spirit does not leave, but it is unconscious, because the soul leaves with the blood. There is no sensation in a limb from which the blood has been drained. Nature agrees with revelation that the soul is in the blood, and is dependent on the presence of the blood, not in the whole body, but in small sections of it.

Physiology, like theology, is all at sea as to the soul, although the evidence is plentiful on every side that sensation is in the blood. We were taught, and I think it is still the teaching of "science," so-called, that all sensation is in the nerves. There is doubtless a modicum of truth in this, for they probably connect members of the body with the brain, but much of this is quite unconscious. Many experiences show that, even when the nerves are whole, there is no sensation where there is no blood. Nature confirms revelation in this matter. Both agree that the removal of blood from a member of the body destroys sensation, not life, even if this would eventually follow.

A newspaper correspondent was seriously wounded while at the front line of the war, in Italy. Later, when recounting his experience, he reported that the most remarkable part of all was the fact that he did not suffer much, although his wounds were very bad and bloody. He inquired of others and found it so in all cases where much blood was lost. The doctor in charge of the hospital assured him that the most horribly mangled often suffered the least. He did not seem to understand why this is so, but came near guessing the truth that those who lost the most blood suffered the least.

The opposite is true of internal injuries. Not long since a friend fell down stairs and shattered a shoulder and a hip. There was no loss of blood, but every indication of the most excruciating pain. The suffering was so intense that the realization of it almost made me ill and helpless. It confirmed my finding in the Scriptures, and I almost wished that some blood had been lost, or that it could be drained from those limbs which had been injured, or displaced by some other fluid temporarily. I was told many years ago, that an extractor of teeth injected water in the gums, and pulled teeth without pain.

The same truth comes out in an entirely different way in the experience of aviators. When "pulling out" of a swift dive, the blood, not being attached to the flesh, continues to go down when the body is forced to stop its descent. It leaves the upper part of the body, and, as a consequence, the flier becomes unconscious. There is a dangerous "black-out," so long as the heart is not able to pump the blood back to the head. From this we see that, not merely sensation, but consciousness, which consists in the exercise of the perceptive faculties, sight, hearing, smell, and taste, are absent when there is no blood in the eyes and ears and mouth and nose. So to speak they "go to sleep," along with the mental functions when blood leaves the brain.

God's law mercifully recognizes this fact. It demanded that, in killing an animal, the blood must be drained as quickly as possible (Lev.17:13). This is a great relief to those who imagine that the sea of blood which was shed on Jewish altars represented untold suffering and anguish. The exact contrary is the fact. These animals, had they lived until death by natural causes had overtaken them, would undoubtedly have had their share of suffering, as all animals do, especially in disease or old age. All this was spared them when they were killed in such a way as to drain the blood quickly from their veins. Where the blood flowed freely there was no pain. The same is true of the so-called "kosher" way of killing, used by the Jews today. It ought to be practiced by all, as the most humane of all methods of slaughtering animals.

Our Lord's resurrection body is the crowning demonstration that life is not in the blood. Were blood essential, it certainly would have been restored to Him in resurrection. But all the evidence seems to insist that His blood was shed, not only by the wounds of crucifixion, but by the spear thrust into His side (John 19:34). This was in contrast to the fate of the others who were crucified with Him, whose bones were broken. Like the sin offerings of old, no bone of Him was crushed. This corresponds with His own words to His disciples when they thought that He was a spirit. He did not claim that He was flesh and blood, but flesh and bones. It seems certain that His resurrection body had no blood, yet it was vital with life far beyond what He had before, for He became immortal. Surely if the life were in the blood, the loss of all the blood would not lead to life everlasting!

Once we are aware why we have a soul, and what it is, and where it resides, there is little difficulty in determining whither it goes at death. If it is the effect of a combination, and this combination is dissolved, then the effect disappears, just as the light vanishes when we cut off the current from the filament in an electric bulb. Let us not be misled by the figurative language of the Scriptures, and transform what the Greek calls the imperceptible into a "hell." No matter what term we use to misrepresent it, either a "hell," with its fire, and devils and despair, or even a heaven, with its houris and happiness, it makes no difference if it is imperceptible!

Its Hebrew name has practically the same significance, for it is only a form of the stem which means ASK. It is the place of which nothing can be known. Both saints and sinners go there, but why should we paint it in lurid colors, either good or bad, when it cannot be perceived or known?

The soul is the sensation consequent on the combination of spirit with an organic body. At present it is found in the blood. When our bodies are changed into celestial frames it will no longer be in the blood, of which more anon. In death the soul vanishes into the unseen.

[Part Two]

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