Resurrection—of a Dead Body or of a Dead Soul, Which?
“There is going to be a resurrection.”—Acts 24:15.
1-4. (a) What idea may strike Watchtower readers as new or unusual, and this in view of what experience of Paul before an Athenian court? (b) What is our hope regarding such readers, and why?
THE future life of dead mankind depends upon the resurrection of the dead. The idea may strike the reader as something new or unusual. That is the way it struck intellectual judges of the highest court of Greece in ancient days. This was the court of Areopagus or of Mars Hill, and they had before them a man accused of religious heresy. He was Paul, a Christian apostle. He talked to them about a God to whom they offered sacrifices but who was nonetheless a God unknown to them. He was unknown to them as regards his powers and purposes, for these judges were acquainted with only pagan Grecian philosophy. So it took them quite by surprise when Paul showed what kind of judge this God was by saying:
2 “God has overlooked the times of such ignorance, yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent. Because he has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.”—See Acts 17:30, 31 in The Holy Bible.
3 As to how those worldly-wise judges of Athens, Greece, reacted, the record in Acts 17:32-34 tells us: “Well, when they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some began to mock, while others said: ‘We will hear you about this even another time.’ Thus Paul went out from their midst, but some men joined themselves to him and became believers, among whom also were Dionysius, a judge of the court of the Areopagus, and a woman named Damaris, and others besides them.”
4 Like reactions by readers of this discussion of this resurrection miracle of God would not be surprising, but our hope is that the reaction of some readers will be like those of Judge Dionysius, Damaris and the others who became believers. For, if persons prove unworthy of a resurrection, what hope is left for them after death?
5. Were there resurrections of the dead before our Common Era, and what evidence is there to support the answer given?
5 In ancient times, before God resurrected that one by whom he purposes to judge the inhabited earth, there were resurrections of the dead. We read of this in the fifty-eighth book of the Holy Bible, namely, in Hebrews 11:35, which tells us of persons who had faith in the Almighty God and his power to resurrect the dead: “Women received their dead by a resurrection: and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (AS) One of these women was a Phoenician widow of the town of Zarephath, whose son God’s prophet Elijah brought back to life. The other was a woman of the Israelite town of Shunem, whose young son God’s prophet Elisha raised to life. Later on, after how long a time we do not know, the sons of these two women died again, and now they are awaiting the resurrection of the dead with others of mankind, in a new world where God will provide them the opportunity to live forever on a paradise earth under God’s kingdom.—1 Ki. 17:8-24; 2 Ki. 4:8-37; Luke 4:25, 26.
6, 7. (a) Why did Paul know what he was talking about to those judges of the Areopagus? (b) How did he also emphasize this important truth to others?
6 With regard to the resurrection that the apostle Paul mentioned to the judges of the Areopagus in Athens, it was nineteen hundred years ago that God raised this special one as a guarantee that there will be a day in which God will judge the inhabited earth in righteousness. Paul knew what he was talking about, for he himself had encountered this resurrected one, who identified himself to Paul as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.—Acts 9:1-19.
7 As a result of this encounter Paul turned from being a persecutor of the followers of Jesus Christ to being one of those followers himself. As an innocent man Jesus Christ died at the hands of his religious enemies. For that reason Almighty God raised him from the dead and so furnished the guarantee that there would be a future day of judgment for the benefit of which the dead would be resurrected. The apostle Paul emphasized this important truth, not only to the judges of the Areopagus, but also in a letter in which he wrote: “Now Christ has been raised up from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep [in death]. For since death is through a man, resurrection of the dead is also through a man. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.”—1 Cor. 15:20-22.
8. Why is resurrection a possibility, but what question may some Watchtower reader raise as to the need of it?
8 Impossible as resurrection may seem to us dying humans, it is perfectly possible for Almighty God. He would not declare to men what he could not do. An angel of God said to Mary the mother of Jesus: “With God no declaration will be an impossibility.” And Jesus himself said: “The things impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 1:37; 18:27) However, due to our inability to understand things at first, the Bible teaching of a resurrection of the dead may raise certain problems. For instance, some reader may say: ‘How can there be a resurrection of the dead? The human soul is immortal; it does not die, and so there are no dead. Why, then, is a resurrection necessary? What is to be resurrected?’
9. To this question what may a believer in a well-known religious creed reply?
9 Another reader may think he has the answer to this and reply: ‘As you say, the soul is immortal, and it does not need any resurrection, for it keeps on living after the death of the human body. So it is the body that is resurrected, and this body the resurrected people take either to heaven for everlasting happiness with God or to a burning hell for everlasting punishment in the flames of fire mingled with brimstone. In our church we repeat The Apostles’ Creed, and, among other things, it says: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, . . . the forgiveness of sin; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.” That proves it.’
10. But why does that not prove it, and with what pertinent question do we see ourselves faced, with an answer only from where?
10 However, we must say, No, it does not prove it; because that Creed was not composed by the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. It was composed, at the latest, three centuries afterward.a From what the inspired apostles and disciples wrote in the last twenty-seven books of the Bible, no one can prove the teaching that there will be a resurrection of the very same body in which the dead died. All will have to admit that the question as raised by some people is a reasonable one, that, if the human soul cannot die but lives on in an invisible realm, how are there any dead to be raised and why is there need of a resurrection? For this reason we see ourselves faced with this question: Is the resurrection that of a dead body or that of a dead soul? Which is it? For our complete satisfaction, we must let the inspired Holy Bible answer the question.
THIS THING CALLED “SOUL”
11. Whose views of “soul” therefore come under examination?
11 The inspired Bible writers, Hebrews or Jews, and Jesus also, had an understanding of what “soul” meant. The pagan non-Jews had their own understanding of what they called “soul.” Did the two understandings of “soul” agree? Religious clergymen of Christendom, in general, argue that the two agreed, for the clergy adopt the pagan teaching of the human soul and apply it to the Bible written by Hebrews and Christian Hebrews. But do the two views agree?
12, 13. (a) What did the editor-in-chief of a new translation of the Torah released just this year have to say about “soul”? (b) In agreement with that, what does the Lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs have to say about néfesh?
12 In January of this year 1963 the Jewish Publication Society of America brought out a new translation of the first five books of the Bible, known in the Hebrew as Torah or in Greek as Pentateuch, in other words, the first five books as written by God’s prophet Moses.b Before this new translation from the original Hebrew was released, a reporter for the New York Times had an interview with the translation’s editor-in-chief, Dr. Harry M. Orlinsky the professor of Bible in the Hebrew Union College, New York city. After this interview, here, in part, is what the Times reporter had to say in the newspaper’s issue of October 12, 1962:
The word “soul” has been virtually eliminated from the translation, Dr. Orlinsky said, because “the Hebrew word in question here is ‘Nefesh.’”
“Other translators have interpreted it to mean ‘soul,’ which,” he said, “is completely inaccurate. The Bible does not say we have a soul. ‘Nefesh’ is the person himself, his need for food, the very blood in his veins, his being.”
13 However, we shall not let the word of this Hebrew editor-in-chief be the final authority on the matter. Let us turn also to the producers of Hebrew-English dictionaries. Consult in the public library A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, based on the Lexicon of William Gesenius and edited by three clergymen, Drs. Brown, Driver and Briggs, in its corrected edition of 1952. On page 659, under the Hebrew word Néfesh, this Lexicon is honest enough to make this admission, in column two: “2. The néfesh becomes a living being; by God’s breathing neshamáth hhayím into the nostrils of its basár; of man Genesis 2:7; by implication of animals also Genesis 2:19; so Psalm 104:29, 30, compare Ps 66:9; man is néfesh hhayáh, a living, breathing being Genesis 2:7; elsewhere néfesh hhayáh always of animals Genesis 1:20, 24, 30; 9:12, 15, 16; Ezekiel 47:9; . . . 3. The néfesh . . . is specifically: a. a living being whose life resides in the blood . . . (hence sacrificial use of blood, and its prohibition in other uses; . . . ) . . . c. Néfesh is used for life itself 171 times, of animals Proverbs 12:10, and of man Genesis 49:3c . . . ”c
14. What does the Lexicon by Koehler and Baumgartner have to say on néfesh, and with what reference to the “Greek notion of soul”?
14 In order to have more than one witness on the matter, let us turn also to the Lexicon for the Old Testament Books, by L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, in its edition of 1953, which gives definitions in both German and English. On page 627 of its Volume 2, this Lexicon says, under Néfesh: “the breathing substance, making man and animal living beings Genesis 1:20, the soul (strictly different from the Greek notion of soul) the seat of which is the blood Genesis 9:4f; Leviticus 17:11; Deuteronomy 12:23 (249 times): 3. néfesh hhayáh living being; Genesis 1:20, 24 (= animals) Ge 2:19 . . . Ge 2:7; 9:10, 16. . . . 4. soul = living being, individual, person . . . who kills a person Numbers 31:19, . . . destroy lives, persons Ezekiel 22:27; . . . 7. Néfesh breath = life (282 times) . . . ” And on page 628, column 1: “Néfesh a dead one (has developed from a person) Leviticus 21:1; Numbers 6:11; 9:10; Leviticus 22:4; Haggai 2:13; Numbers 5:2; 9:6f; Nu 19:11, 13 . . . ”
15. Which meaning of “soul” did Jesus and his apostles accept, and how did Paul show this in 1 Corinthians 15:45?
15 It would be wrong for us to brush aside the above authoritative definitions just because we wanted to hold onto the teaching of a preferred religious sect of Christendom. The above was the meaning of néfesh or soul that Jesus Christ and his chosen apostles accepted. We today should also accept that meaning if we desire to prove ourselves his disciples and to know the truth that makes us free. (John 8:31, 32) For example, in discussing the resurrection, the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:45, quotes a verse from the second chapter of the Bible that shows what a human soul is, namely, Genesis 2:7. In the popular Authorized Version Bible this verse says: “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.” That first man was called Adam, and he was a “soul.”
16. What fact did Paul not try to explain away, in contrast with the 1943 Spanish Torres Amat Version in 1 Corinthians 15:45?
16 Please note that, when, in discussing the resurrection, the apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:7, he does not try to explain away the fact that the first man Adam was a soul. Paul does not say that God breathed into man’s nostrils a soul. He does not change the wording in order to suit the Greek idea of a soul or psykhé. Such a change of wording is made by the 1943 Spanish Torres Amat Version, with a Prologue Letter by Cardinal Copello of Argentina, for it translates 1 Corinthians 15:45: “The first man Adam was formed with a living soul, the last Adam, Jesus Christ, has been filled with an enlivening spirit.”d
17. How, therefore, does Paul show agreement with the Hebrew doctor on the matter of néfesh?
17 The apostle Paul wrote in common Greek; and although he used the Greek word psykhé instead of the Hebrew word néfesh, he wrote: “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” (1 Cor. 15:45, AV) The apostle Paul thus agreed with today’s Doctor Orlinsky that “the Bible does not say we have a soul. ‘Nefesh’ [the soul] is the person himself.” Paul likewise argues that a human soul is not a spirit but that it is different from a spirit.—Heb. 4:12.
DOES THE HUMAN SOUL DIE?
18. Do animal souls die, and what questions arise with regard to the human soul?
18 The inspired writers of the Holy Bible call the lower animals, the birds, the beasts, the fishes, the insects, “living souls,” and these creatures die. In their case, then, the “soul” or néfesh or psykhé dies. Ah, but man is a creature higher than those animals and is a creation separate and distinct from those animals. So the human soul does not die, does it? For an inspired decisive answer shall we take the word of the pre-Christian Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Plato, or shall we take the word of God’s prophet Moses and the other inspired writers of the Holy Bible? Because we desire God’s authoritative answer, we go to his inspired Bible.
19. How does the above Lexicon show the correctness of the expression “dead soul”?
19 The above-quoted Hebrew-English Lexicon referred us to a number of Bible verses where a dead néfesh or soul is spoken of. Look up these verses in your copy of the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, and you will find this: In Leviticus 21:1; 22:4 néfesh (the Hebrew word for “soul”) is translated “the dead,” also in Numbers 5:2; 6:11. But in Numbers 6:6 it is translated “body” in the expression “dead body”; or, as Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament says, on page 829b, “literally, dead soul.” In Numbers 9:10 néfesh occurs translated by the expression “dead body,” also in Numbers 9:6, 7; 19:11, 13 and Haggai 2:13.
20 Besides this, the Lexicon cites us to Numbers 31:19 as a case of killing a néfesh or soul, and Ezekiel 22:27 as a case of destroying a néfesh or soul. These verses prove in themselves that God’s written Word teaches that the human soul is mortal and dies. But no Bible verse is plainer on this truth than Ezekiel 18:4 (AV), in which the Lord God says: “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.” Eze 18 Verse 20 repeats: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” See also Ezekiel 13:19, AV.
21, 22. But did the status of the human soul change with the “Christian New Testament,” and what did Jesus, Paul and Philip show on this?
21 Possibly some of our readers may say: ‘But in the Christian New Testament things are changed and it is shown to be a Christian truth that the human soul does not die but is immortal.’
22 But not so! Did not the Christian apostle Paul say that “the first man Adam was made a living soul”? Hence when Adam died at the age of 930 years and returned to the dust because he was dust to begin with, the human soul died. (Gen. 3:19; 5:5) When Jesus told his twelve apostles not to be afraid of men, what did he say? “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28, AV) In his last night in the garden of Gethsemane, what did he say to his apostles? “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34, AV) Philip the evangelist applied contextually to Jesus the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12 (AV), which says: “He hath poured out his soul unto death.”—Acts 8:30-35.
23. How are James and Revelation in agreement with the above?
23 The disciple James closes his letter by saying: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death.” (Jas. 5:19, 20, AV) And in the very last book of the Bible we read, in Revelation 16:3 (AV): “The second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.”
24. Does one part of the Bible contradict the other part on the matter of soul death, and what Bible words does it not apply to “soul”?
24 We remember the traveling Bible lecturer of some years ago who challenged his audiences by saying that he would give them a five-dollar bill for every Bible text that they would show him that said that the human soul was immortal. Needless to say, he was never obliged to give anyone even one five-dollar bill; for the Bible does not contradict itself on the fact that the human soul dies because of sin. In all its hundreds of pages the Bible uses the words “immortality, immortal, incorruption, not corruptible, uncorruptible, incorruptible” only sixteen times in the Authorized (King James) Version Bible, and never once does God’s Word apply these words to the human soul.e
25. Our pointing out these facts from God’s Word ought to make everybody feel which way, and why?
25 Why should certain religious people get angry and refuse to read any further just because we point out these facts on the soul from God’s Word of truth? It ought to make everybody happy! Why? Because at death the human soul dies and there is thus no immortal conscious soul to go to a pagan kind of hell or purgatory to be tortured and tormented with fire and brimstone forever or even for a limited period of time. This fact, coupled with the associated fact that there will be a resurrection of the dead, should make all who love God and humanity very glad. It helps us to see clearly why there has to be a resurrection if the human dead are to live again with us in a new world in endless happiness.
a See M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, Volume 2, page 560a, under “Creed.”
b In Genesis 2:7 this new Torah translation does not use the word “soul” but reads: “The LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth, and He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”
Instead of saying “dead soul” or “soul,” Numbers 6:6, 11; 19:13 uses the words “dead person” and “corpse” and “body” and “person,” and reads: LORD, he shall not go in where there is a dead person. The priest shall . . . make expiation on his behalf for the guilt that he incurred through the corpse. . . . Whoever touches a corpse, the body of a person who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the LORD’S Tabernacle; that person shall be cut off from Israel.” (Italics ours.)
c In the above quotation the Hebrew words neshamáth hhayím mean “the breath of life.” Basár means “flesh,” and néfesh hhayáh means “a living soul,” whether applied to animal or to man.
d The Spanish text reads: “El primer hombre Adán fué formado con alma viviente, el postrer Adán, Jesucristo, ha sido llenado de un esípritu vivificante.”