Pastor's Corner:

Dear Pastor

Can you trace the origin of the concept of "an immortal soul" and how it entered the Christian Church?

Dear Reader:

There is much information on how this concept entered the Christian church. Here is a little of my research on this concept. First of all we can safely say that in the Jewish Scriptures, our Bible, the Old Testament, the original concept of death was that it was the physical cessation of this life, and that nothing lived on after it. After death there was a resurrection to come followed by the final judgment. Here is what Harperís Bible Dictionary says:

  • DEATH, the end of physical and/or spiritual life. Ancient Israelís official response to mortality was, first, to accept it as Godís original design and, second, to forbid worship that was concerned with the dead (lev. 19:28; 20:1-11). Neighboring cultures believed that the dead lived on in the underworld in a communicative state (deut. 18:9-14), but Israelís theologians taught that they were, for practical purposes, nonexistent (Eccles. 9:5-6). Nonetheless, foreign ideas and practices continued (1 Sam. 28; Isa. 8:19), (Achtemeier, P. J. 1985. Harper's Bible dictionary. Includes index. (1st ed.). Harper & Row: San Francisco).
  • Similarly, the general New Testament idea was the same. The writers of the New Testament being mainly Jewish, carried over the same Old Testament ideas of death and soul. Here for example is what Kittel says:

  • 2. True Life according to the General NT View. Death is not just a natural phenomenon. It is not self-evident but a punishment for sin. True life, the life of God, is indestructible. Thus the life that is subject to death is only provisional (1 Cor. 15:19). It is life in the flesh (Gal. 2:20). Those who are bound to it are "dead" (Mt. 8:22-23; Eph. 5:14; Rev. 3:1). The true life is future (1 Tim. 4:8). This is Zowe in the absolute (Mk. 9:43), or Zeon (Rom. 1:17). Being indestructible, it is eternal (Mk. 10:17; Rom. 2:7; Gal. 6:8, etc.), and is linked with salvation. It is inherited, received, or entered (Mk. 10:17; 10:30; 9:43-44). If we may be worthy of it (Mt. 7:13-14), we have no control over it; as natural life is given by creation, true life is given by resurrection. There is no immortality of the soul. God sovereignly ordains to eternal life (Acts 13:48, and cf. the book or books of life in Rev. 13:8; 17:8), ( Kittel, G. 1995, c1985. Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Translation of: Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament. (Page 294). W.B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Mich.).
  • As is pointed out, the original Hebrew (or biblical) concept of death is that it is the cessation of life, and that nothing lives on after death; but it was also noted that the surrounding nations did believe in the transmigration of the soul, that death was not permanent, but a stage in the release of the "soul" from the earthly body. This concept gradually crept into Jewish thinking. From there it was eventually adopted by the Christian church. As the church grew into the world, other pagan ideas of death and "soul" became entrenched in its teachings. So we find that as a result of these false teachings leaking into the Early Christian church after the death of the apostles, many Christian churches today maintain concepts like, an immortal soul, hell suffering, and eternal punishment. As a result of these false concepts being taught by many churches, it is easy to understand how individuals can easily misunderstand the biblical texts that Ďseemí to support these ideas.

    For example, we have the parable of "The Rich Man and Lazarus" in Luke 16; there are also expressions like, "Worm dieth not" and "fire not quenched" in Mark 9:44ff. And there are others. Unless one fully understands the biblical concept on "death" one can easily be led astray in oneís interpretation of these biblical passages.

    So then, my dear reader, the Bibleís teaching on "soul" is simply that it is the individual himself, as God originally stated in the creation of man: (Gen 2:7 KJV) And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And when the individual rejects Godís offer of salvation, the Bible says of that soul: (Ezek 18:4 KJV) Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

    Yes, my friend, Satan seeks to mar and tarnish the lovely character of our heavenly Father; let us not be misled by his sophistries; let us study to show ourselves knowledgeable and able to correctly teach the word of God to our fellow men. God bless.


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