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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part VI: A Fresh Look at the Meaning of the Word "Soul".

Chapter 2

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.
     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 chlorine gas.
     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

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entirely due to this invisible activity within material substance causing something which is visible. We turn the light out by stopping the electrical activity.
     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 symbol,

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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:

     To every 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

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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

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considerable evidence 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 something

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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 thus far.
     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

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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.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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