I’ve been thinking about getting into this topic for some time. The issue can be cast in two ways.
1. In terms of biblical theology, is a human being composed of two parts (flesh/body + immaterial soul) or three parts (flesh.body + soul + spirit)?
2. In terms of recent neuro-scientific advances, is the soul something the brain “does”, or are “soul” and brain separate things? This of course is the old — and now more new than ever — question of whether we possess an immaterial soul vs. scientific materialism, the notion that there is no soul — everything that is real is material, only that which is material is real.
This subject (mark my words here) will become one of this century’s great challenges to the church – not because there is no biblical answer, but because the church has few people giving it any serious thought (and those who are aren’t exactly bestselling authors in Christian bookstores).
This subject has importance to me because of a conference I’ve helped organize for 2010. I’m one of the officers of the Pacific Northwest region of the Evangelical Theological Society. It was my job to come up with the topic for the 2010 regional meeting. The “mind-body” problem (“soul-body”) was my choice. I’ve lined up three speakers who specialize in this area. I want to be prepared for it as a listener, though. I’ve never taken the time to look through ALL the biblical data on the subject, so it’s time to do so. I’m not content with reading a journal article on it or what lexicons have. I need to do the grunt work, like I’ve done with other topics. There’s no substitute for it.
Obviously, the first order of business to articulating a biblical worldview of what makes up a human being is to come to grips with what Scripture says (better, what it affirms). Toward that end, I’m giving you all some homework.
Part of the reason that this issue hasn’t been thought through very well is because it ain’t easy. I’ve attached three documents to get us started — to get us into the text. You’ll see what I mean about this being work. Here they are:
1. All the occurrences of the word “nephesh” in the Hebrew Bible. It’s 50 pages. (Scroll down on first page).
2. All the occurrences of the word ruach in the absolute state (11 pages)
3. All the occurrences of the word ruach in the construct state, where the nomen rectum of the construct relationship is *not* a deity word (12 pages)
Let me explain the Hebrew grammar jargon in these last two items. The word ruach (“spirit”) is very common, so I don’t want to wade through a hundreds of examples needlessly. These two searches (using the Logos syntax databases) allow me to weed out occurrences of “spirit” that we don’t need – things like “spirit of God” don’t matter for the discussion, since we’re after “spirit” as it applies to humans (the makeup of a human being).
I’d like to invite you to go through all these with me. Here’s what I’m wondering — and looking for either confirmation or rejection and a different take on the data:
1. Does the OT teach that humans are body + soul (material and immaterial) or is it more nuanced?
2. Are nephesh and ruach, with respect to humans, synonyms or different things altogether?
Note that nephesh is a notoriously difficult word. It is used of conscious life, emotions, animal life, and even a corpse.
As F. Danker, the great lexicographer said, “the tasks of scholars are not for sissies.” Let’s get started!