450: THE SOUL – A GREEK INVENTION, NOT A CHRISTIAN ONE?

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed in which you may monitor my research into Christianity and its origins. I take what the church says at face value, and the gospels, too! It’s been a rocky ride; and as everyone contradicts everyone else it gets kinda confusing at times. Why not tag along and enjoy the show! Even better, write a comment.
In solidarity,
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc. ”

I’ll divide this Post up into 4 parts:
(i) Traditional Christian view of the soul;
(ii) What did Jesus say about the soul?
(iii) Greeks…? What Greeks?
(iv) Conclusion.

(i) “At death, the souls of believers (i.e. the believers themselves as ongoing persons) are made perfect in holiness and enter into the worshiping life of heaven (Heb.12:22-24).”
This is arch literalist Jim Packer. Sadly his book ‘Concise Theology’ has no index, and none of its 94 sections is about the soul, so this is all I was able to find.
I guess the traditional view is something like this: All men and women have souls, a divine spark within. If we’re ‘good’ during our 3 score years and ten, or whatever, our soul goes to heaven when we die. If we’re not ‘good’ during our allotted time on earth, our souls go to the other place, where we’ll burn for all eternity.
(Thought: if we’re in a bodiless state, we need to know whether our souls can feel pain. No one has actually said they have any nerve endings or pain receptors!
Second thought: As no-one has ever returned from the ‘other side’ to report on conditions there, how do we know it’s not all a lot of iron age baloney put in place by a cult of high priests set on manipulating the population into being docile obedient serfs?)

(ii) What did Jesus say about the soul?
I used Crudens‘ concordance for this. He explains helpfully that “This word is used in the bible in much the same variety of senses  as it is used today.” It is frequently a synonym for mind, life, spirit or persons. Translations are from the ‘Scholars’ Version.’
Matthew has 5 mentions: 10:28; 12:18; 16:26; 22:37; 26:38.
(1) 10:28 “Don’t fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; instead, you ought to fear the one who can destroy both the  soul and the body in Gehenna.” This is colour coded black by the Jesus Seminar, i.e. ‘Jesus did not say this. It represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.’
(2) 12:18 This is a quote from Isaiah, in which my translation substitutes the word spirit for soul.
(3) 16:26 “After all, what good will it do if you acquire the whole world but forfeit your life? or what will you give in exchange for your life?” Jesus Seminar colour coding: grey ‘Jesus did not say this; but the ideas in it are close to his own.’
(4) 22:37 “You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” Sounds like the Shema prayer to me: Deuteronomy, wasn’t it? Jesus Seminar rating: grey, ‘Jesus did not say this, but the ideas in it are close to his own.’
(5) 26:38 “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful” in King James Version becomes something quite soul-less in the Scholars’ Version! “”I’m so sad I could die! You stay here with me and be alert!” (Colour coded black – Jesus did not say this.)

Mark also mentions the soul 5 times: 8:36; 8:37; 12:30; 12:33; 14:34.
(1&2) 8:36 and 8:37 same as Matthew (3) above.
(3&4)  12:30 and 12:33 same as Matthew (4) above.
(5) 14:34 same as Matthew (5) above.

Luke has 6 refs: 1:46; 2:35; 10:27; 12:19; 12:20; 21:19.
(1) 1:46 Mary, in the Magnificat “My soul magnifies the Lord!” or, extols to be true to the Scholars’ Version.
(2) 2:35 A quote from Simeon.
(3) 10:27 same as Matthew (4) above.
(4&5) 12:19 & 12:20 “I’ll say to my soul: Soul, eat!” (KJV) becomes “Then I’ll say to myself ‘You have plenty put away for years to come . Take it easy, eat, drink, enjoy yourself’.” But God said to him ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you. All this stuff you’ve collected – whose will it be now?'” (S.V.) J.S. colour coding for this parable extract: Pink, ‘Jesus probably said something like this’.
But, it’s got nothing to do with the soul.
(6) 21:19 “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Read original passage for context. Code: black. Jesus did not say this.

John 12:27 only.
“Now my life is in turmoil, but should I say ‘Father, rescue me from this moment’? No, it was to face this moment that I came.” (Code: black)

So, according to the 4 canonical gospels, J.C. said nothing of significance about the soul whatsoever!

(iii) Greeks…? What Greeks?

Both BCE and CE, educated Jews were influenced by Hellenistic ideas, and educated Greeks were familiar with Jewish beliefs. Paul was very hellenised. Whole books have been written about that. Bear in mind that by educated we’re talking about the couple of percent who were literate and who had leisure time to think and discuss. Jesus, for example was almost certainly illiterate.  Besides speaking no more than ‘pigeon’ Greek, enough to communicate with his customers when he was a labourer, he probably couldn’t even speak Hebrew. Even his Nazareth Aramaic was just one of a number of dialects of that tongue.( No-one spoke Latin, even though the Romans ruled the roost.)

Plato was enormously influential. He still is. Why else did I have to study classical Greek back in my state-run boys’ Grammar School in post war England? (5 years of Latin too!) In the first few centuries, CE, both Jews and Christians believed in immortality. Of the body. Plato argued, on the contrary, that in addition to a mortal body, human beings were also endowed with  an immortal ‘soul’ or ‘mind’ (nous).

Philo, the famous Jewish sage of Alexandria, interpreted Genesis 1:27, where God creates man in his own image,  as meaning not that God had created man in his own image as a flesh and blood being, but in some Platonic sense, the word ‘image’ was used to mean nous, the mind or soul. Thus Philo read Plato into the biblical narrative. The immortal soul came first, created in the image of God, and the mortal body came second, from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7) “It is God’s divine breath that renders the soul or mind, immortal and thus makes us into the Platonic human beings we are , part mortal and part immortal.” (Patterson, p.121)

“This Greek idea permeated early thought. One day everyone in Christendom would come to believe in Plato’s immortal soul and look forward to the heavenly journey home.” (Patterson, p.154)
Our souls come from God  and return to God; the kingdom of heaven is a heavenly kingdom where souls go to rest. Not just Philo, but St Augustine, Clement of Alexandria and Origen also took up Plato’s idea of the immortal soul.

(4) Conclusion. Does it matter whether we have souls or not? If so, why? Does it matter if Plato thought of it first and Jesus said nothing about it? If Jesus had certain first century Jewish assumptions about the soul, what were they? What evidence do we have that the soul exists? Could it all be wishful thinking, or, worse, a patriarchal plot to keep women and children in line . To have the threat of hell fire hanging over you must motivate you to do what you are told.

Unless you’re an anarchist and reject the wisdom of authority figures as a matter of course.

Sources:
Packer, J.I. “Concise theology” IVP (1993)
Cruden, A. “Cruden’s complete concordance” Lutterworth (1930, 1736)
Funk, R., Hoover, R. & the Jesus Seminar “the 5 gospels” HarperCollins (Scholars’ version)(1993)
Patterson, S. “The lost way” HarperOne (2014)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
LOL #24: The soul’s weight in grammes!
“That of God in everyone” George Fox, 1656

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