Tuesday, August 22, 2006



The Meaning of “Soul”

My dear -,

So good to hear from you. We need to talk more often.

“Soul” in both OT Hebrew and NT Greek is (I believe) equivalent to “life.” More and more NT scholars are recognizing that the idea of the soul as a separate, constituent segment of man is a Greek, not a Biblical, invention. In Gen. 1-2 we learn that God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul; God did not give him a soul — he became a soul. A dirt-formed human body into which God breathes life (spirit) = soul. Paul seems to tie immortality to the resurrection body, not to an immortal soul (1 Cor. 15). When we die, the breath (pneuma-spirit) returns to God, and it will reanimate the body at the resurrection.



Several problems with this argument:

1.Sandlin is half-right. You can’t extract dualism from the bare meaning or isolated occurrence of the word “soul” in Scripture.

That would be semantically anachronistic, by conflating dogmatic usage with Biblical usage.

But Sandlin is half-wrong, for he makes the same mistake in reverse by supposing that you can extract dualism from the bare meaning or isolated occurrence of the word.

2. We do have a doctrine of the intermediate state in Scripture, and that dovetails with dualism.

The locus classicus is 2 Cor 5:1-10. Murray J. Harris, in the NIGTC volume, winnows the exegetical options.

Other prooftexts include Ps 73:24-25; Lk 16:19-31; 23:43; Acts 7:59; Phil 1:23, Rev 6:9-11; 7:9-10, & 14:13.

Indeed, the Book of Revelation is founded on the hope that while the world may do its worst to believers, martyrdom is a portal to heaven.

3. We also have a category of visionary revelation, which is described in terms of an out-of-body experience.

4. Not to mention the OT prohibitions against necromancy, which presuppose the survival of consciousness (e.g. 1 Sam 28).

5. Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus at the Transfiguration (Mt 17).

6. Annihilationism was the doctrine of the Sadducees (Mt 22:23; Acts 23:8).

7. The business about Platonic dualism is a musty canard. Belief in a discarnate afterlife was a commonplace in the ANE. That antedates, and is more culturally diffuse, than Platonic dualism. Platonic dualism was bound up with reincarnation.

I’m not going to rehearse all of the supporting arguments in detail. This is well-trodden ground. Standard treatments include:

J. Cooper. Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting (Regent 1995).

E. Fudge & R. Peterson. Two Views of Hell (IVP 2000).

G. Habermas & J. P. Moreland. Beyond Death (Crossway Books 1998).

A. Hoekema. The Bible & the Future (Eerdmans 1994).

P. Johnston. Shades of Sheol (IVP 2002).

R. Longenecker, ed. Life in the Face of Death (Eerdmans 1998).

C. Morgan & R. Peterson, eds. Hell Under Fire (Zondervan 2004).

Continuing with Sandlin:


The classic statement of this stuff is actually Oscar Cullmann’s Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?

Sam Bacchiocchi’s [book] Immortality or Resurrection? is even more definitive.


This is a very revealing recommendation. All I can say is that if Sandlin really sees eye-to-eye with Bacchiocchi, then his Presbytery should put him on trial for heresy and duly defrocked.

I’ll say nothing more, but let the book speak for itself. Here are some excerpts:


Clark H. Pinnock

Let me welcome another splendid book from Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi. In the tradition of Oscar Cullmann, Dr. Bacchiocchi has demonstrated in a much fuller way the contrast between the primitive Christian hope for the resurrection of the dead and the Hellenistic expectation of the survival of the immortal soul. In this fine new book, he offers a thorough biblical study of human nature as an indivisible unity and draws out implications for our destiny and many other matters.

Anthropological dualism has done such a serious harm in weakening our blessed hope of Christ’s appearing and in distorting our understanding of the world to come…Worst of all, it has given rise to the sadistic teaching that God makes the wicked suffer unending conscious torment in hell, which has been such a burden to the Christian conscience and such unnecessary offense to many seekers.

A large number of scholars agree with the author as regards human nature but no one has so courageously drawn out many of the necessary implications. This book is much needed in order to combat the persistent but mistaken opinion among Christians that the soul is an immortal substance, a belief which is both unbiblical and harmful. I congratulate Dr. Bacchiocchi and thank him for this decisive volume.


Why write a book on the Biblical view of human nature and destiny?

The massive scholarly assault on the traditional dualistic view of human nature eventually will filter through the rank and file of Christian denominations. When this happens, it will cause intellectual and personal crisis to Christians accustomed to believing that at death their souls break loose from their bodies and continue to exist either in the beatitude of paradise or in the torment of hell. Many Christians will be sorely disappointed to discover that their beliefs in the after life are a delusion.

There is no question that Biblical scholarship is bound to cause a great deal of existential anxiety to millions of Christians who believe in going to heaven at death with their disembodied souls. Any challenge to traditionally held beliefs can be devastating.

Dualism defines death as the separation of the soul from the body; the state of the dead as the conscious existence of disembodied souls either in the bliss of paradise or in the torment of hell; the resurrection as the reattachment of a glorified material body to a spiritual soul; the Christian Hope as the ascension of the soul to the bliss of paradise; the final punishment as the eternal torment of body and soul in hellfire; and paradise as a spiritual, heavenly retreat where glorified, spiritual saints spend eternity in everlasting
contemplation and meditation.

By contrast, Christians who accept the Biblical wholistic view of human nature, consisting of an indivisible unity of body, soul, and spirit, also envision a wholistic type of human life and destiny. They define wholistically death as the cessation of life for the whole person; the state of the dead as the rest of the whole person in the grave until the resurrection; the Christian Hope as the expectation of Christ’s return to resurrect the whole person; the final punishment as the annihilation of the whole person in hellfire; paradise as this whole planet earth restored to its original perfection, and inhabited by real people who will engage in real activities.

Author of Foreword.

Among the many authors I have read in preparing for this book, Prof. Clark H. Pinnock stands out as the one who made the
greatest contribution to the development of my thoughts. Pinnock is a highly respected evangelical scholar, author of numerous books, and a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is to be commended not only for challenging with compelling Biblical reasoning the traditional dualistic view of human nature and of unending conscious torment in hell, but also for being willing to face courageously the harassment from those evangelicals who disagree with his position. There are evangelical scholars who share Pinnock’s views, but they prefer to keep their convictions private to avoid unpleasant negative reactions. Pinnock has shown that he is not afraid to take “the heat” for challenging what he considers unbiblical teachings.

What Christians believe about the make-up of their human nature largely determines what they believe about their ultimate destiny. Those who believe their nature is dualistic, that is, consisting of a material, mortal body and a spiritual, immortal soul, generally envision a destiny where their immortal souls will survive the death of their body and will spend eternity either in the bliss of paradise or in the torment of hell.

Special attention is given to the study of hell in chapter 6, in view of the widespread rejection of the traditional view of hell as conscious torment.

Human beings do not possess a mortal body and an immortal soul; they have a wholistic mortal body and soul which can become immortal. Immortality or eternal life is God’s gift to those who accept His provision of salvation. Those who reject God’s plan for their salvation ultimately will experience eternal destruction, not eternal torment in an ever-burning hellfire. The reason is simple. Immortality is given as a recompense to the saved, not as a
retribution to the unsaved.

Philosophers and scientists also have contributed to the massive assault against the traditional dualistic view of human nature. Philosophers have attacked traditional arguments that the soul is an immortal substance that survives the death of the body. They have proposed alternative theories according to which the soul is an aspect of the human body and not a separate component.

Scientists, too, have challenged the belief in the independent existence of the soul by showing that human consciousness is dependent on and influenced by the brain. At death, the brain ceases to function and all forms of consciousness stop. To scientists the cessation of all mental functions at death suggests it is highly unlikely that the mental functions ascribed to the
soul can be carried out after death.

These concerted attacks on dualism by Biblical scholars, church historians, philosophers, and scientists have led liberal and even some conservative Christians to reject the traditional dualistic view of human nature.

There is no question that modern Biblical scholarship is causing great “existential anxiety” to millions of sincere Christians who believe in their disembodied souls going to heaven at death. Any challenge to traditionally cherished beliefs can be devastating.

Tactics of Harassment.

In some cases, the reaction has taken the form of harassment. Respected Canadian theologian Clark Pinnock mentions some of the “tactics of harassment” used to discredit those evangelical scholars who have abandoned the traditional dualistic view of human nature and its related doctrine of eternal torment in a fiery hell. One of the tactics has been to associate such scholars with liberals or sectarians like the Adventists.

Despite the tactics of harassment, the Biblical wholistic view of human nature which negates the natural immortality of the soul and, consequently, the eternal torment of the unsaved in hell, is gaining ground among evangelicals. Its public endorsement by John R. W. Stott, a highly respected British theologian and popular preacher, is certainly encouraging the trend.

“In a delicious piece of irony,” writes Pinnock, “this is creating a measure of accreditation by association, countering the same tactics used against it. It has become all but impossible to claim that only heretics and near-heretics [like Seventh-day Adventists] hold the position, though I am sure some will dismiss Stott’s orthodoxy precisely on this ground.”

Stott’s plea for a “frank dialogue among evangelicals on the basis of Scripture” may be very difficult if not impossible, to realize.

To be an “Evangelical” means to uphold certain fundamental traditional doctrines without questioning. Anyone who dares to question the Biblical validity of a traditional doctrine can become suspect as a “heretic.” In a major conference held in 1989 to discuss what it means to be an evangelical, serious questions were raised as to whether such persons like John Stott or Philip Hughes should be considered evangelical, since they had adopted the view of conditional immortality and the annihilation of the unsaved. The vote to exclude such theologians failed only narrowly.

Why evangelicals are so adamant in refusing to reconsider the Biblical teachings on human nature and destiny? After all, they have taken the liberty of changing other old traditional teachings. Perhaps one reason for their insistence on holding to the dualistic view is that it impacts on so many other doctrines. We noted at the beginning of this chapter that what Christians believe about the make-up of human nature largely determines what they believe about human destiny. To abandon dualism, also entails abandoning a whole cluster of doctrines resulting from it. This may be called “the domino effect.” If one doctrine falls, several others fall as well. To clarify this point, we briefly consider some of the doctrinal and practical implications of classical dualism. This should alert the reader to its complex ramifications.

Implications of Dualism

Doctrinal Implications.

The classical dualistic view of human nature has enormous doctrinal and practical implications. Doctrinally, a host of beliefs derive from or are largely dependent upon classical dualism.

The Reformers eliminated the doctrine of purgatory as unbiblical, but they retained the doctrine of the immediate transit after death of individual souls to a state of perfect blessedness (heaven) or to a state of continuous punishment (hell). Again, if the belief in the survival and functioning of the soul apart from the body is proven to be unbiblical, then popular beliefs about purgatory, indulgences, and transit of the souls to heaven or to hell must be rejected also as ecclesiastical fabrications.

The work that the Reformers began by eliminating purgatory now
would have to be completed by redefining paradise and hell according to Scripture and not ecclesiastical traditions. It is unlikely that such a monumental task can be undertaken by any Protestant church today. Any attempt to modify or reject traditional doctrines is often interpreted as a betrayal of the faith and can cause division and fragmentation. This is a very high price that most churches are not willing to pay.


  1. Robert Morey's work, Death and the Afterlife, treats this subject very well. I recommend it.

  2. In which Ted once more indicates that he has the attention span of a Goldfish.

    Interesting account. Certainly anyone holding to the doctrine of soul-sleep is guilty of heresy. The 39 Articles of the Church of England, for example, specifically condemn this view.

    However, and I say this softly, we must be careful when referring to the appearance of Moses and Ellijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. Ellijah was taken up bodily into heaven, and Moses' body was probably assumed into heaven after his death (see Jude).

  3. Ted,

    If you're so bored, why do you read this site? Lonely or something? Perhaps it's time to move out of Mom's house...

  4. Ted, if you want to be less bored, try to rob a bank or corner shop. You will then be far from bored for a week or so while the police hunt you down.

    After which there's the excitement of the trial.

  5. WCF 4.2: After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls

    Seems there are confessional problems, too, in denying the existence of an immortal soul.

    Also, from the Athanasian Creed:

    "For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ"

  6. Just FYI, that Cooper reference is published by Eerdmans, not Regent.