Q&A: Biblical Arguments Against The Soul?

Q&A: Biblical Arguments Against The Soul?

Greetings Mr. Evan,

Thank you for your work on your blog, which I visit a lot of times. I want to ask you something about the soul. I figured you are the best person to ask this since we agree on quite a lot of things, such as annihilationism. This is a concern I’ve had for months. When I newly accepted this view, I noticed that most annihilationists I know are materialists. They believe in body and mind (which they say is connected or one with the body) instead of a soul. So I decided to do some research on this. I eventually found a comprehensive blog series about the materialist view where they explained several Bible passages and claimed that the dualist interpretations of these are wrong. At this point, I had become extremely bothered and stopped reading. 

This happened a few months ago so I can’t remember the website anymore. I tried to push the things I’ve read at the back of my mind and intended to forget about it since I’m a committed dualist (dualism helped me in my identity/existential crisis). There are still some days though when I think back and wonder if it’s true. I also recall another article that said annihilationism makes much more sense of what the human being is, and of course the author had the materialist view in mind. Mr. Evan, I remembered that you are an annihilationist AND a dualist, so I think you’re the right person to ask. You also did quite a lot of study on Genesis so this might be right up your alley. When I began reading the articles, I intended for it to be a study so I saved some parts.

“Genesis 2:7, elaborating on the bird’s-eye view of man’s creation recorded in chapter 1, says “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (ESV). The Hebrew phrase translated “living creature” is nepeš ḥayyâ and was rendered “living soul” by the KJV, which may suggest to modern readers that what began to live was Adam’s immaterial soul. But the word nepeš here means something more like “person”—or “being” or “creature,” since animals are called nepeš ḥayyâ in Genesis 2:19. Explains Mathews, “In our passage man does not possess a nepeš but rather is a nepeš (individual person); ‘breath,’ not ‘soul,’ comes closest to the idea of a transcendent life force in man. Therefore the breath of God energized the dormant body, which became a ‘living person.'”

The above paragraph is actually what bothered me the most from what I have read of the blog series. They explained that in many parts of the OT, nephesh was used to describe creatures and even dead bodies. So they claim that nephesh can’t possibly mean ‘soul’. Are they correct?
I also have a question about Matthew 10:28, I read another article about this as well which gives a physical meaning to the word “soul.”

This verse is universally misunderstood because the meaning of the word translated “soul” has been lost. Christ’s statement is demystified once the term is properly defined. The Greek word pseuche and the Hebrew word nephesh are both translated as “soul.” Both of these words mean a living, breathing creature, in reference to man or animal. The word “soul” never refers to something immortal within a man or an animal. In fact, you will not find the term “immortal soul” anywhere in the Bible. On the contrary, God’s Word clearly teaches that a soul can perish. The Prophet Ezekiel was inspired to write (twice), “The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20). The word “soul” simply means life, pertaining to that of any man or animal.
The word “life” in Leviticus 17:11 is translated from the same Hebrew word for “soul.” An equally correct way to read this verse is the following: “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood.” Christ gave His life (the Greek word psuche) as a ransom for mankind (Mark 10:45) by pouring out His soul (his life’s blood) as payment for our sins (Isa. 53:12). As previously stated, “soul” refers to the physical life of an animal or person. No man can destroy both the physical body and the soul (life). However, God can.

 In my understanding, the article says that the soul actually means the continuity of life. A man can put an end to the body temporarily but can’t put an end to the continuity of life (“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”) because God can resurrect a person. But God can put an end to this continuity of life forever (“Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”). While I do agree with what they say that the soul can indeed perish, I’m reluctant to agree with their definition of ‘soul.’ 

I’m really worried. Are they correct, Mr. Evan? Honestly speaking, I find their explanations quite compelling. Especially the second quotation. I would like to ask for your wisdom on the matter. Thank you.

Mary

PS. I know my email is very long so if you want to make a post for this, it would be fine if you delete some parts (like the quotations) to make it shorter. Thank you again! God bless!


Don’t worry about the length, Mary. I’ve received much much longer questions that I’ve had to give equally long answers to. I’m glad you’re getting a lot out of the blog posts I’ve written and I pray that you continue to be edified by them. 

Before I get into addressing the claims of the article, I want to make a PSA for you and others. You should never try to suppress your doubts or discomfort about arguments you hear. As any psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you, suppressed feelings never stay suppressed forever. They always find their way back to the surface and then you’ll have to deal with them. 

On The Meaning Of Nephesh

I think this author is right in this particular part. Nephesh doesn’t necessarily mean the soul in the sense dualists mean it. It does, as the author pointed out, just refer to something like is alive. More specifically, it refers to something that is both alive and sentient. Occasionally, it can refer to something that used to be alive and sentient, but not anymore. As you pointed out, there are places in The Old Testament that the term is used of dead bodies. 

But this does not at all mean that humans don’t have souls.  Just because a Hebrew term doesn’t mean an immaterial soul doesn’t mean we don’t have them. As I’ll explain later, there are many places in The Bible that simply cannot make a lick of sense unless you read them with a dualist understanding. Moreover, there are philosophical arguments for the truth of scripture that, like many arguments for God’s existence, don’t require that single Bible verse be quoted to support the premises. 

But anyway, in this particular place, the author is right. Nephesh does not mean immaterial soul. That’s why, when I defend dualism biblically, I never go to Genesis 1 or 2. The evidence for dualism is in The Bible, just not in those chapters. 

I think the best evidence against nephesh meaning soul comes from the fact that it is used to refer to dead bodies. But I want to point out that the fact that it refers to non-human animals is not. This is only evidence against nephesh meaning soul if one comes to the text that animals are purely physical entities. But there is no biblical warrant for thinking that animals don’t possess souls. This is a theological presupposition that, according to J.P Moreland, Christians didn’t have until Darwin ironically talked them out of it. 

Matthew 10:28

Yes, The Bible teaches that a soul can perish, but that doesn’t mean humans are identical with their bodies, and that a “soul” is just a person’s life. On my understanding of final judgment, Ezekiel 18:4, and 18:20 make sense. God will destroy a person completely; both the physical body and the non-physical soul. So it is indeed the soul that sins that perishes. This is good evidence for total annihilation, but not at all for materialism.

The author’s point on Matthew 10:28 is extremely weak. His interpretation is ad-hoc and begs the question in favor of a physicalist understanding of the person. 

The Greek word ‘pseuche” is most often translated as “life”, and this is what it typically means in The New Testament. But Matthew 10:28 just won’t work with this understanding of psuche. Jesus says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body [soma] but cannot kill the soul [psuche]. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Jesus clearly thinks a pseuche is something distinct from mere physical existence. If we are our bodies, and we are not a body/soul composite, then Matthew 10:28 becomes nonsensical. It renders Jesus saying “Do not fear those who can destroy your body, but cannot destroy your body. Fear those who can throw both your body and your body in  Hell.” If a soma and a pseuche are the same thing, then Jesus is talking about the same thing twice. 

And if men can destroy the soma, but not the psuche, then by the logical law of identity this means the body and soul cannot be referring to the same thing. They are two different parts of the human person. Man can destroy the former, and having destroyed the former, the person can continue to live on as a disembodied spirit (which makes sense given that pysuche often means “life”). But God can not only destroy our bodies, but He can destroy the soul that is ejected from the body at death. 

In context, Jesus is talking to His disciples about the persecution they’ll face for being His followers. And Jesus basically tells the disciples “Look, don’t deny me because you fear what your persecutors can do to you. They can destroy your body, but they can’t kill your soul. God, however, can destroy both body and soul. And he will if you deny me in the face of your persecutors, so don’t deny me.” 

You wrote //“In my understanding, the article says that the soul actually means the continuity of life. A man can put an end to the body temporarily but can’t put an end to the continuity of life (‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’) because God can resurrect a person. But God can put an end to this continuity of life forever (‘Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’).”// —

That was my understanding from reading the article as well. But that doesn’t make any sense. If a Christian’s persecutor destroys his physical body, he won’t have a continuation of life. At least not for a good while. Unless, of course, they continue to live on in a disembodied state prior to the resurrection. If a Christian lives on disembodied, then it makes sense to say that the true “pseuche” “life” isn’t destroyed because a terrorist chops off your head. But if materialism is true, then a human just is their body. And if a human person is identical with their physical parts, then if those physical parts are destroyed, then the person is destroyed. The Life/Pseuche is destroyed. The body and soul go out of existence together if both are reducible to each other. And sure, for Christians, God will eventually reverse this, but that won’t be for quite a while (thousands of years in the case of the apostles). 

And yet, in Matthew 10:28, Jesus says that even if a Christian hater stones me to death, chops off my head, or pumps me full of lead, my “life”, my pseuche won’t be destroyed, despite the fact that my body will be. 

We need to be open to the possibility that pseuche in this verse, takes on a special meaning that it normally does. We need to be careful to avoid committing The Fallacy Of Illegitimate Totality Transfer. Just because Jesus’ psueche was destroyed at the cross (Mark 10:45) and that was a reference to his physical death, that doesn’t mean that’s what it means in Matthew 10:28. Context defines what words mean. You can’t just do a count of how many times a word is used in a certain way and conclude “Ok. This is what it always means whenever it is used.” 

But even if we do apply the definition of “life” across the board, even in Matthew 10:28, we still have a problem. If materialism is true, then all conscious existence ends the moment your heart stops beating. How could Jesus possibly mean that our persecutors can’t stop our “continued life” unless we somehow survive our physical demise? Besides this author’s interpretation of Matthew 10:28 appearing contrived to support his materialist preconceptions, the ad hoc explanation itself makes no sense.

Moreover, here’s a little side note. Eternal Life is eternal life. It’s not going to be interrupted. If our life ceases to exist but then comes back, then we really only have eternal life after the resurrection, which doesn’t sit well with passages like John 5:24 and 1 John 3:14 which indicates believers already have eternal life. We can make sense of this if people are only dead in a physical sense but are still conscious as disembodied spirits who will one day be embodied again.

Other Biblical Evidence For Dualism 

I said in the first sub-header that Nephesh doesn’t mean soul, but that there’s plenty of places in The Bible that can’t make any sense unless you read them with a dualist understanding. Matthew 10:28 is one of those, as I’ve explained above, but there’s no shortage of passages like that. 

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 says For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling,so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (emphasis added)

Here, Paul compares our pre-resurrection body with our resurrection body. The former is subject to aging, disease, and eventually death. It’s fragile, just like a tent. But God will give us a body that is not subject to aging, disease, and death. He will give us an immortal and indestructible body some day. This is why Paul compares our pre-resurrection body with a tent and a building. A building is much sturdier than a tent. You can’t destroy a building nearly as easily than you can a tent.

But the language Paul uses about being “naked” and about being “in” the tent makes no sense on a materialist view. Paul says we don’t want to be found naked, but instead we wish to be further clothed; clothed with our heavenly dwelling. This strongly suggests that Paul believed and taught that humans could exist without a physical body. Existing without a physical body is what it means to be “naked”. You don’t have your earthly clothing nor your heavenly clothing. Paul says that he’d rather put his heavenly clothing over his earthly clothing (like putting a t-shirt over a long sleeved shirt) rather than go without any clothing. But why would Paul be concerned about this transition if this state of “nakedness” was impossible. On a materialist view, the person is identical with the clothing! He’s identical with his earthly clothing and heavenly clothing. To go back to his tent and building analogies, on a materialist view, a person is their tent and a person is their building. You can’t separate the two. The person/soul and the tent/body are reducible to one another. So what does it mean for The Bible to say that it’s even possible for us to be without a tent? 

It also makes no sense to talk about living “in” your body, unless you are not your body, but something inhabiting your body. You know, like a spiritual entity. 

Even more powerfully is what Paul says immediately after this. in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul says “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 

Wait a minute, “Away from the body”? If a person is their body, how can someone be away from their body? That would be to say that a person could be away from themselves! Remember, on materialism, people and their bodies are reducible to each other! You can’t exist without your body is materialism is true! You can exist “away from the body” if and only if dualism is true. Because if dualism is true, then a person can exist as a disembodied soul. 

And verse 9, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” how in the world does this make any sense on a materialist understanding of the human person? If materialism is true, being “at home in the body” is the only state in which you could serve The Lord. 

2 Corinthians 5 is just unintelligable if we come to it with a materialist view. 

Luke 23:42-43 is another passage that can’t make sense on materialism. The context of these two verses is Jesus hanging on the cross. One thief ridicules Jesus, and the other thief rebukes the other for doing so. The latter thief then tells Jesus to remember him when he enters his kingdom. Jesus then turns to him and says “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

If materialism/physicalism were true, Jesus would be lying to this repentant thief. How so? Because neither Jesus nor the thief went to paradise that very day. On a Christian Physicalist view, people are dead in the grave unconscious until the resurrection. The thief wasn’t raised from the dead that day and neither was Jesus. They didn’t enter paradise in their physical bodies. But if dualism is true, and if there is an intermediate state, then Jesus could have been telling the thief the truth. They would both enter paradise as immaterial disembodied spirits that very day, despite the fact that their bodies would be dead.

Luke 16:19–31 is yet another one. This is The Parable Of The Rich Man and Lazarus. This one isn’t as strong because there is debate among annihilationists about whether or not this is a true account of something that actually happened in the hereafter or is just a fictional story Jesus made up to illustrate a theological point. 

I myself am personally convinced that this is true account of something that happened in the afterlife. While I was researching annihilationism, I never found their treatments of this passage very compelling. I feel like some of them feel the need to explain this away because it depicts a conscious unsaved person suffering in what looks like the Traditionalist view of Hell. However, as I explain in my upcoming book Yahweh’s Inferno: Why Scripture’s Teaching On Hell Does Not Impugn The Goodness Of God,   there are blatant clues in the text that suggest that this is a pre-resurrection setting. For one thing, the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers so that they don’t end up where he is. Abraham says “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they listen to someone who rises from the dead.” So this is not an account of someone in Heaven and Hell post-resurrection. And all annihilationists (dualists and materialists alike) believe that the annihilation of the damned occurs post-resurrection, at the final judgment. 

My view is that both the saved and unsaved survive the deaths of their bodies in a disembodied state in which they await the bodily resurrection. The saved go to a place called “Paradise” (Luke 23:43) while the damned go to a place called “Hades” (Luke 16) also known as “Tartarus” (see 2 Peter 2:4). Hades/Tartarus is kind of a cosmic holding cell where the damned await their execution by Hell fire. It’s like when death row inmates spend a night in their prison cell prior to going to the gallows or the chair. 

They’re certainly suffering in Hades, but it’s not a part of God’s punishment anymore than the horror of a death row prisoner is part of his punishment. It’s just the natural result of knowing your days are numbered, that the Judge has found you guilty and has sentenced you to execution. 

I’m inclined to think the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus as actual because two people in the story are named. This is something that sets this story apart from all of Jesus’ other parables. In all of Jesus’ other parables, you have people like “the good samaritan” and an unnamed tenant and his unnamed son. None of Jesus’ parables ever names the people in the story….except this one. This is not conclusive proof, of course, but it is highly indicative. 

I could also talk about The Old Testament’s account of the prophet Samuel appearing to Saul as a ghost when the witch of Endor summoned him. This is in 1 Samuel 28. And I could make a whole case for the demons of The New Testament being the spirits of dead Nephilim giants, but that would be an around-the-block approach as I would first have to establish that the Nephilim even are angel-human hybrids to begin with. I do this in my paper “Genesis 6: The Nephilim – Descendants Of Cain, Neanderthals, Ancient Kings, or Angel-Human Hybrids?” 

The point here is that if that really was The Prophet Samuel who appeared to Saul (and we have no reason to doubt that it was), and if demons are the dead offspring of angel/human giant hybrids, then these are additional pieces of biblical evidence that people are not reducible to their bodies. 

Philosophical Arguments For The Existence Of The Soul 

Even wholey apart from the biblical arguments for the existence of the soul, there are philosophical arguments for the soul as well. These don’t rely on any scripture to support their premises (and ergo, their conclusion). 

They are 

1: Well evidenced Near Death Experiences. 
2: The Identity Argument For The Soul.
3: The FreeThinking Argument Against Naturalism. 

Regarding 1, not all NDEs are created equally. I’m talking about well documented evidenced near death experiences. I’m talking about cases in which a person was dead for a good solid 10-20 minutes, no heartbeat, no brain activity, yet they accurately described what was going on in the room and even outside of the building at the time they had no vital signs. And these facts are validated by doctors and other witnesses. These people are completely, totally dead according to the medical equipment, and yet they can recount, say, a conversation from two stories below their hospital room, for example. Gary Habermas listed a whole bunch of these at at talk at the 2018 ETS Conference I attended in Colorado.  I have the recording on Audio. You might be able to find it on YouTube somewhere also. I don’t know.

Gary Habermas has actually got a lot of NDE material out there. For example, he co-authored a book with J.P Moreland titled “Beyond Death”. He also talks about these in “The Blackwell Companion To Substance Dualism”. I also recommend “The Handbook Of Near Death Experiences: Thirty Years Of Investigation” edited by Janice Holden, Bruce Greyson, and Debbie James. 

The second argument is one that J.P Moreland defends in his writings on dualism, and it’s what I defend in my blog post “The Identity Argument For The Soul”. In a nutshell, the argument goes that if the brain and the mind are one in the same, then they should have every single property in common. According to the logical law of identity if A and B share 100% of the same properties, and there isn’t a single thing to distinguish A from B, then A and B are the same thing. If there’s even ONE thing that distinguishes them, then they are two separate things. And in Moreland’s books and in my blogpost, we point out that there are several properties that the mind has that the brain doesn’t, and vice versa. Ergo, mind is not reducible to brain. 

The third one was formulated by Dr. Tim Stratton of FreeThinking Ministries. The argument goes as follows: 

1: If naturalism is true, then the soul does not exist. 

2: If the soul does not exist, then libertarian free will does not exist.

3: If libertarian free will does not exist, rationality and knowledge are impossible.

4: Rationality and knowledge are possible.

5: Therefore, libertarian free will exists.

6: Therefore, the soul exists.

7: Therefore, naturalism is not true. 

Tim Stratton talks about this argument and the reasons for why we should think that the 4 premises are true in his blog post “The FreeThinking Argument In A Nutshell”. I also interviewed him about this argument on The Cerebral Faith Podcast. It was “Episode 23: The FreeThinking Argument – Interview With Tim Stratton”. I highly recommend that you go and listen to that episode. Just click the link I provided. 

Physicalists have a very tough time getting around these 3 arguments. My point in bringing these up is that even if we had no biblical support for dualism, we would still have philosophical support. We would still have grounds for affirming that humans are body/soul composites. 

Conclusion and Final Thoughts 

Dualism isn’t in danger of being refuted. The terms “Nephesh” and “Psuche” aside, there is abundant support for dualism both from scripture and philosophy. Hopefully this eased your concerns. 

I also think that Christian physicalism is problematic for other reasons. I talk about these in my blog post “3 Problems With Christian Physicalism”. One of those problems being the biblical evidence I laid out in this article, but two others are (1) This reduces the resurrection body to essentially a clone of me, and (2) There is no free will, and ergo God cannot hold people morally accountable for their sins. They were determined by their brain chemistry and DNA if materialism is true! They couldn’t help it! How could God justly punish someone for something they had no control over? But since The Bible is clear that God will punish sins and that He does so justly, it follows via modus tollens reasoning that Christian Physicalism is false.

Physicalism a.k.a Materialism is far too problematic in so many ways that I don’t ever see myself embracing it. The atheist physicalist merely has to deal with evidenced near death experiences, The Identity Argument For The Soul, and The FreeThinking Argument Against Naturalism. The Christian Physicalist not only has to deal with these, but he has to deal with what The Bible says as well. There’s too much evidence to be explained away. 

I’m an annihilationist because of what The Bible says will happen to the wicked; they’ll be destroyed in both body and soul (Matthew 10:28), this destruction is eternal (2 Thessalonians 1:9), and that this is a death after death, “The second death” (Revelation 20:14). This is why the biblical authors say that the fire that utterly consumed the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah serve as an example of what will happen to the ungodly (see 2 Peter 2:4-6 and Jude 7). The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah aren’t being eternally tormented, they were burned to death! They were consumed! If eternal torment awaited the ungodly, then Sodom and Gomorrah would be pretty bad examples of what’s going to happen to them. But on the other hand, I believe in a conscious intermediate state for the damned on the basis of passages like Luke 16:19-31 and 2 Peter 2:4, and references to the damned “weeping and gnashing their teeth” which indicate a period of conscious pain and/or anger.

I hope that everything I’ve said here alleviates your concerns. There’s no need to be concerned that you’re a meat robot. The evidence is overwhelmingly stacked against that idea. 

If you have any questions about Christian theology or apologetics, send Mr. Minton an E-mail at CerebralFaith@Gmail.com. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or Non-Christian, whether your question is about doubts you’re having or about something you read in The Bible that confused you. Send your question in, whatever it may be, and Mr. Minton will respond in a blog post just like this one.

Liked it? Take a second to support Evan Minton on Patreon!

Leave a Reply