In our last post, “Do I Have A Soul?”, the issue of whether or not humans possess an immortal soul was addressed.
As we continue to search out the facts concerning this subject, we should realize that the first great deception was told by the serpent (the satan) to Eve when he advised her that if she ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “you will not die (Gen. 3:1-5).”
Immortal Soul Is Pagan
Important to the discussion is that the idea of everlasting life along with the concept of an immortal soul is prevalent throughout pagan religions, from Hinduism to the Greek philosophers.
Nevertheless, scholars have known for some time now that this pagan doctrine was never part of early Yahwehism. Rather, many Jews and Christians have been drawn to its precepts by forces outside of Scriptures.
For the Greeks, besides being a reference to the person himself, psuche is used to describe various phantoms, demons, and spirit beings possessing the human body.
Although the original Christian translators used the Greek word narrowly, over time the full Greek meaning of psuche was superimposed upon the original Hebrew thought.
To understand this effect, we must realize that the Greeks thought highly of being demon possessed.
Not only were great kings and heroes considered possessed by spirit beings, but even their poets, musicians, and other artists were not considered competent unless they were under the power of a demon.
Democritus, for example, “denies that any one can be a great poet, unless he is mad (Cicero, Divin., 1:80).”
Plato characterizes “poetic inspiration” as the “state of being possessed by the Muses” when one “is not in his right mind.” One’s poetry would never attain perfection if he was in his right senses and his poetry would surely be “eclipsed by the poetry of inspired madmen (Plato, Phaedrus, 245A; Laws 719C).”
In another place, Plato writes that “it is not by art, but by being inspired and POSSESSED, that all good epic poets produce their beautiful poems (Plato, Ion, 533E–534D).”
The pagan notion of an immortal soul or nephesh (forced to fit the idea of a disembodied soul) is not a scriptural doctrine.
As The Jewish Encyclopedia candidly admits:
The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture. (The Jewish Encyclopedia, 6, p. 564)
As this section of The Jewish Encyclopedia further points out, the nephesh (translated as “soul”) was never ascribed immortality by Scriptures. The concept of immortality was, in fact, part of pagan “ancestor worship” and “necromancy,” which were practiced by the Israelites when they rebelled against Yahweh.
This text continues:
The belief in a continuous life of the soul, which underlies primitive ANCESTOR WORSHIP and the rites of necromancy, practised also in ancient Israel (I Sam. xxviii. 13 et seq.; Isa. viii. 19; see NECROMANCY), was discouraged and suppressed by prophet and lawgiver as antagonistic to the belief in YHWH, the God of life, the Ruler of heaven and earth, whose reign was not extended over Sheol until post-exilic times (Ps. xvi. 10, xlix. 16, cxxxix. 8). As a matter of fact, eternal life was ascribed exclusively to God and to celestial beings who “eat of the tree of life and live forever” (Gen. iii. 22, Hebr.), whereas man by being driven out of the Garden of Eden was deprived of the opportunity of eating the food of immortality. (The Jewish Encyclopedia, 6, p. 564)
The notion of an immortal soul that can disembody itself after one dies corrupted Jewish and later modern-day Christian doctrine. This belief came not from Scriptures, but directly from pagan Greek philosophy.
For example, The Jewish Encyclopedia, freely admits that this pagan doctrine entered into Jewish thought via the Greeks in the years prior to Yahushua the messiah’s earthly ministry:
The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principle exponent, who was led to it through Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended, as the Semitic name “Minos” (comp. “Minotaurus”), and the Egyptian “Rhadamanthys” (“Ra of Ament,” “Ruler of Hades”; Naville, “La Litanie du Soleil,” 1875, p. 13) with others, sufficiently prove. (The Jewish Encyclopedia, 6, pp. 564–566)
James Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics similarly writes:
The Greeks thought of the soul as naturally immortal. This idea was BORROWED by the Alexandrian-Jewish writers. (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 11, p. 843)
Beginning in the second century C.E., a few Christian groups began accepting the pagan doctrine of an immortal soul, acquiring it in part from the Greeks, especially Plato, but within the backdrop that a number of Jewish religious leaders had already adopted its premise.
Pharisees Adopt Immortal Soul View
Compounding the problem, many of the Pharisaic Jews coming into the ranks of Christianity already held to this view, spreading it to other Christians.
To demonstrate, the doctrines of the Pharisees (who as a group opposed Yahushua the messiah) supported the idea of an immortal nephesh, holding that good people ascended to heaven upon death while bad people descended into ᾅδης (hades; Hebrew: שְׁאֹל, sheol) to be punished for eternity.
Good people who have gone to heaven would later return to earth at the end of the age to be reconstituted into a new body.
In discussing the Pharisaic view, Josephus (a Pharisee himself) states:
Every psuche (nephesh), they maintain, is imperishable (i.e., immortal), but that of the good alone passes into another body, while that of the wicked suffers eternal punishment. (Josephus, Wars, 2:8:14)
Again, while speaking of the crime of suicide, Josephus gives the Pharisaic view:
. . . they who depart this life in accordance with the law of nature and repay the loan which they received from the deity, when he who lent is pleased to reclaim it, win eternal renown; that their houses and families are secure; that their psuchai (nepheshim) remaining spotless and obedient, are allotted the most sacred place in the heavens, whence, in the revolution of the world-ages, they return to find in chaste bodies a new habitation. Yet as for those who have laid hands upon themselves, the darker regions of hades receive their psuchas (nepheshim). (Josephus, Wars, 3:8:5)
According to the Pharisees, therefore, after the death of a wicked man his nephesh goes to sheol, which they interpreted as being the region of hades spoken of by the Greeks (being the Greek notion of an underworld for the dead).
A good man, on the other hand, would first sojourn in a holy place in heaven until the “revolution of ages,” at which time they would return to life in “chaste bodies” and “a new habitation.”
Why the souls living in heaven with the deity would want to return to fleshly bodies is never explained.
This same view of going off to heaven and then returning is continued today by those modern-day Christians who believe in the “Rapture,” the idea that either pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation they will be carried off to heaven. Other modern-day Christian groups merely believe that when they die their souls go to heaven. Under this construct, there is no need for a resurrection.
The wicked, meanwhile, all descend to Hell, an underworld of fiery torment where evil souls suffer eternally. Yet, they fail to answer an important scriptural question, “If one has already gone off to heaven or Hell, what need is there of a coming judgment? Have they not already been judged?”
The contradiction created by this view with the scriptural expectation of a coming Judgment Day is never properly addressed.
Immortal Soul View Infects Early Assemblies
The introduction of the pagan notion of an immortal soul that goes to heaven upon death had already begun to infiltrate the early assemblies following the messiah as soon as the second century C.E.
For example, Justin Martyr, an early Christian of the Roman assembly, writing c.160 C.E., denounces those in the assemblies who had now come to believe that the psuche (nephesh) of a righteous man would go to heaven upon death. This doctrine, he points out, goes totally against the need for a resurrection.
For even if you yourselves have ever met with some so-called Christians, who yet do not acknowledge this, but even dare to blaspheme the deity of Abraham, and the deity of Isaak, and the deity of Jacob, who say too that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that their psuche (nephesh) ascends to heaven at the very moment of their death—do not suppose that they are Christians, any more than if one examined the matter rightly he would acknowledge as Jews those who are Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistae, and Meristae, and Galileans, and Hellenians, and Pharisees and Baptists—pray, do not be vexed with me as I say all I think—but (would) say that although called Jews and children of Abraham, and acknowledging the deity with their lips, as the deity himself has cried aloud, yet their inner self is far from him. But I, and all other entirely orthodox Christians, know that there will be a RESURRECTION OF THE FLESH, and also a thousand years in a Jerusalem built up and adorned and enlarged, as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah, and all the rest, acknowledge. (Justin Martyr, Trypho, 80:4-5)
In defense of the scriptural doctrine on the nephesh, the Christian writer Tatian, writing about 166 C.E., gives this argument against the pagan Greeks:
The psuche (nephesh) is not in itself immortal, Greeks, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die. If indeed, it knows not the truth, it dies, and IS DISSOLVED WITH THE BODY, but it rises up again at the last, at the end of the world-age, with the body, RECEIVING DEATH by punishment in eternity. But, again, if it acquires the knowledge of the deity, it does not die. (Tatian, 1:13)
What Tatian was trying to convey is the fact that, although all humans die, after the resurrection it is then possible for the nephesh to be quickened into a form that allows it to have eternal life, but only if it attains to the truth about Yahweh. If it does not, then it will perish for eternity.
The Christian writer Theophilus of Antioch (writing around 190 C.E.) likewise disputes the immortal psuche (nephesh) concept of Plato. He points out the inconsistency in Plato’s notions, writing:
And did not Plato, who said so many things about the sole rule of the deity and about the human psuche (nephesh), saying that the psuche is immortal, later contradicts himself and say that the psuche passes into other men and, in some cases, into irrational animals? How is it possible that his teaching will not seem evil and unlawful for those who possess reason, when he holds that one formerly a human being will become a wolf or dog or ass or some other irrational animal? (Theophilus, 3:7)
By the mid-fourth century C.E., the original concepts held by the early Christians were set aside and the notion of an immortal soul was established as official Church doctrine by the Roman government, the Roman brand of Christianity now being the religion of the Roman empire. All earlier statements made by early Christian writers were branded as being in error.
The Christian writer Augustine, writing in about 420 C.E., a man heavily influenced by Plato and other Greek writers, demonstrates their complete turnabout on this issue when he writes that “the human soul is correctly said to be immortal.”
He continues by explaining:
For when the soul is termed immortal, the meaning is that it does not cease to have life and feeling in some degree no matter how slight. (Augustine, City, 13:2)
From this time forward, the concept of an immortal soul, which stands contrary to all the statements from Scriptures and is also against the direct statements of all early Christian writers, remains in almost all of the modern-day Christian churches to this day.
Be sure to continue with our next related topic, Do You Really Want To Go To Heaven?