Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Life After Death? Part 1: The Nature of Man

When we come to Scripture to find out what it has to say about any given subject, we cannot simply assume as true that which, by virtue of its nature, requires a divine revelation in order for us to obtain any certain information on it. We must instead ask, "What has God revealed to us about such-and-such?" One such subject is the state of human beings after death. There are many today who seem to take for granted the idea of "life after death" - i.e., the view that people are conscious and "alive" after death, in a different (usually "disembodied") state of existence. The idea that human beings are "immortal souls" temporarily living in disposable bodies is almost universally believed among those who have some sort of religious or "spiritual" worldview. And this includes the vast majority of Christians.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, once said in a sermon, "I am now an immortal spirit, strangely commingled with a little portion of earth. In a short time I am to quit this tenement of clay, and remove into another state."

19th century southern Presbyterian Robert Dabney wrote: "It is the glory of the Gospel that it gives a victory over death...While the worms destroy the unconscious flesh, the conscious spirit has soared away to the light and rest of its Savior’s bosom."

C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Weight of Glory, "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors." 

And on the radio not too long ago, I heard Greg Laurie (a popular author, evangelist and mega-church pastor) say, "Death for the believer is not the end of life, but a continuation of it in another place" (https://twitter.com/greglaurie/status/393774409305325568).

Even among those who may be agnostic on the subject, many are quite open to the possibility that people "pass on" to a "better place" after they die. But apart from a divine revelation concerning this, is this really a reasonable approach to take? It seems to me that a much more reasonable approach would be to assume just the opposite until we have compelling evidence to believe otherwise. We know, for example, that syncope (a temporary loss of consciousness) is due to a shortage of oxygen to the brain because of a temporary reduction of blood flow. But what happens when there is a permanent reduction of blood flow to the brain and all brain activity ceases? Is there any observable indication that a person whose brain has stopped functioning completely is more conscious than a person who has simply experienced a temporary reduction of blood flow to their brain? Do not our own God-given senses suggest otherwise?  

God designed this present existence in such a way that it certainly appears to us as if consciousness terminates with death (meaning that only a restoration to life could restore one's consciousness). The idea that a dead man is more conscious than a man who is merely suffering a temporary shortage of oxygen to his brain is so contrary to appearances and observation that, if God wanted us to believe it, he would have to make it known to us by divine revelation. For unless it is revealed by God that, appearances notwithstanding, those who have died are just as conscious as they were when they were still alive, all we have is our own vain speculation - and vain speculation is, of course, as far removed from faith as the east is from the west.Without such a thing being made known to us through revelation, we could have no certain knowledge of it. Consequently, the idea that the dead are conscious should not be taken for granted as true before it can be shown to have been revealed by God. We must instead ask, "Has God revealed that those who die are just as conscious as they were before they died? Has God revealed that human beings suffer or enjoy in a 'disembodied state' of existence after death?" To answer questions such as these we must discover what scripture has to say about it. And the best place to begin is, I believe, at the beginning. 

The Nature of Man 

In Genesis 2:7, we read that "God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Notice that Adam is spoken of in this verse as existing in two different states at two different times. After having been formed from the "dust of the ground," the finished creation was called "man." The creature "man" had no existence until God formed him from the dust of the ground. But once formed by God, it was "man" that existed. If an angelic being had asked God, "What is this that you have formed from the dust of the ground?" God could have replied, "This is man." But the inanimate human form that God made from the dust of the ground was not initially a living, sentient being. For it was man who we are then told received the "breath of life" from God and consequently became a "living soul." Here we have the second state in which Adam existed after his creation - as an animate, "living soul." But consider the following: if Adam could exist as a man before receiving the breath of life from God, would he not remain a man even if the "breath of life" left him and returned to its divine source? 

Now, just as it was Adam who was created from the dust of the ground as a fully formed human being - and just as it was into Adam's nostrils that God breathed the "breath of life" (thereby making him a "living soul") - so it was Adam who listened to his wife and ate of the forbidden tree. It was also Adam who was cursed to eat of the ground in pain all the days of his life (Gen. 3:17). And in each instance in which Adam is referred to above, the entire human person is in view (not merely some "part" of Adam that is not essential to his personhood). But note that it is to this same man named "Adam" that God said, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19). 

Was God addressing a "who" or a "what" when he spoke these words? Obviously, he was addressing Adam, the entire human person. Notice the words "your" and "you" in the above verse. So where is Adam now? If God's words in Genesis 3:19 reveal anything about what happened to Adam after he died, they reveal that Adam returned to the ground. In other words, the man who became a conscious, sentient being when God animated him eventually returned to the earthly elements from which he was formed. The organ which gave Adam the ability to think and be self-aware (i.e., his brain) not only ceased to function but ceased to exist in an organized form. The man identified as "Adam" in the opening chapters of Genesis is dead, and has returned to the dust. Death is spoken of as a return here, but there was nowhere else to which the person Adam could return after he died except the ground from which he was made. Had Adam originated in heaven, then we might expect him to have returned to heaven after he died. But since Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, it was to the dust of the earth that he had to return after death. 

But what about the "breath of life" which came from God and which made Adam a "living soul?" Since this "breath" is said to have come from God himself (for we are told that God breathed it into Adam's nostrils), we should expect this to have returned to God when Adam died. But of course, this breath of life from God was not Adam. Adam is never identified with the breath of life from God that made him a living soul. Instead, Adam is identified with the "dust of the earth" from which he was formed. If the person, Adam, was actually the "breath of life" that God breathed into Adam, then it would've been more accurate for God to have said to Adam, "By the sweat of your body's face shall your body eat its bread, till you return to me, for out of me you were taken; for you are a breath of life, and to me you shall return." As strange as this wording may sound, this would be much more consistent with the common idea of what man is. But of course, that's not at all what God said. Adam was not constituted by the "breath of life" that God breathed into him; rather, he was constituted by the physical body that God formed from the dust. Thus, when Adam's physical body died and returned to the dust, Adam died and returned to the dust. But Adam did not return to God when he died, because Adam was not the "breath of life" that came from God. The "breath of life" was simply what made Adam a "living soul" (as opposed to an inanimate, dead soul). It's what enabled Adam's physical brain to function, and thus made it possible for Adam to be a conscious, self-aware being. 

In James' letter we read, "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26). Notice that James refers to the body apart from the spirit as being "dead." When a person dies, it is because his body has died, not his spirit (as we'll see later on, the "spirit" of which James is speaking here is the "breath of life" from God, and is not something that either lives or dies). From this we may conclude that a man is constituted by his body (which man's spirit leaves at death), and not by his spirit (which leaves his body). Why should we conclude this? Because in Scripture it is the person - the individual self - who is said to "die" or to be "dead." But a person could not be said to "die" or be "dead" if they were constituted by something that doesn't die and is never dead. Since it is the body that dies rather than the spirit, it is the body that constitutes a human person. 

Moreover, if man is constituted by something other than his physical body and is actually an immortal, non-physical substance of some sort - i.e., an "immortal soul" - then it would mean that Adam was an "immortal soul" when God declared to him, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." But of course, a non-physical immortal soul did not die and return to the dust of the earth. That's absurd. Adam was a physical, mortal being constituted by a physical, mortal body. Because Adam was constituted by his physical body, Adam died when his body died. And when Adam's body returned to the dust, Adam returned to the dust. 

Consider the following argument: 

1. Every man is a non-physical, immortal soul.
2. The man, Stephen, was killed for his faith in Jesus.
3. After he died, Stephen was buried by devout men (Acts 8:2).
4. Therefore, a non-physical, immortal soul died and was buried by devout men. 

The conclusion is obviously absurd and false, and the argument is therefore unsound. Since it cannot be denied that "Stephen" was a man, the only way to avoid the conclusion that an immortal soul died and was buried is to deny either premise 1 or 3. Either "Stephen" is not an "immortal soul," or "Stephen" did not die and was not buried. But since Scripture is clear that Stephen diddie and that he was buried, it follows that Stephen is not a non-physical, immortal soul. Rather, "Stephen" refers to a person who was constituted by physical matter. That is, "Stephen" refers to a fully physical being, not an immortal soul. When Stephen's body died, Stephen died. When Stephen's body was buried, Stephen was buried. And when Stephen's body inevitably returned to the dust, Stephen returned to the dust. Nowhere is it revealed or suggested by the inspired author that "Stephen" left his physical body and remained alive and conscious somewhere in another state of existence. No, what the devout men buried was Stephen. If you or I had been present when Stephen was being stoned to death, we would've observed Stephen lose consciousness without regaining it. We would've seen him lie motionless, and sometime afterwards we would've seen certain "devout men" carrying Stephen away to be buried (Acts 8:2). And there is no indication given that, appearances notwithstanding, Stephen was just as conscious right after he "fell asleep" as he was right before he "fell asleep." 

We're told that before Stephen died he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Did the Lord receive Stephenwhen he died, or Stephen's spirit? Luke tells us that it was Stephen who "fell asleep" as he was being stoned to death. If "Stephen" = Stephen's spirit, then it would mean Stephen's spirit fell asleep as it was being stoned to death. But was it a spirit that was stoned to death? Did a spirit"fall asleep?" Of course not; that's absurd. We're then told that some devout men "buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him." If "Stephen" went to heaven when he died, how did these devout men bury him? Did they bury a disembodied spirit? Again, of course not. The human person, "Stephen," was constituted by his body, and whatever happened to his body happened to him. When Stephen's body began to be struck by stones, Stephen began to be struck by stones. When Stephen's body died, Stephen died. When Stephen's body was buried, Stephen was buried. 

Because human beings are constituted by their physical bodies and can't exist apart from their physical bodies, Scripture always speaks of dead people as being wherever their dead body is (which would be inappropriate if we weren't, in fact, constituted by our bodies). For example, in Acts 2:29 we read, "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day." Similarly, Paul states in Acts 13:36, "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption." Here we see that the person, David, was identified by both Peter and Paul with the body that had died, had been buried, and had ultimately "saw corruption." Never is David identified with some disembodied "part" of David that was alive and conscious somewhere within or beyond the physical universe. Or consider Abraham's wife, Sarah. After she died at age 127, Abraham refers to her as "my dead" (Gen. 23:4). We later read that Abraham "buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre in the land of Canaan" (v. 19). Obviously, Abraham did not bury an "immortal soul!" But Abraham did bury his wife. Thus, Abraham's wife Sarah was constituted by her physical body, and she could thus be said to be wherever her physical body was. When Sarah's body died, Sarah died, and when Sarah's body was buried, Sarah was buried. 

The Soul 

Now let's return to Genesis 2:7: "God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Notice that we are not told that God placed a "living soul" into something that was not already man; Adam was a man before he received the "breath of life" and became a "living soul." It was the "breath of life" (something that was not "man" but was given to man) that God breathed into the nostrils of a fully formed human being that then caused this human being to become a "living soul." But what is the meaning of the word "soul" in Scripture? 

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible has this to say on the Hebrew word translated "soul" (nephesh): "The word 'soul' in English, though it has to some extent naturalized the Hebrew idiom, frequently carries with it overtones, ultimately coming from philosophical Greek (Platonism) and from Orphism and Gnosticism which are absent in 'nephesh.' In the OT it never means the immortal soul, but it is essentially the life principle, or the living being, or the self as the subject of appetite, and emotion, occasionally of volition" (Vol. 4, 1962, "Soul," emphasis added). 

Based on how the Hebrew and Greek words usually translated "soul" are consistently used throughout Scripture, I believe we can understand them in the following ways:

1The sentience of living beings - that is, their sensation (broadly speaking) or sensory awareness  (Gen 1:20, 30; 19:17; 35:18; Ex 4:19; 21:23; Lev 17:11-14; 1Sam 22:23; Job 12:10; Esther 7:7; Prov. 12:10; Jonah 4:3), OR the seat of the desires and sensations of sentient beings (Ex 15:9; Deut 23:24; 2 Kings 4:27; Ps 27:12; Prov. 6:30, 23:2; Eccl 6:7, 9; Jer. 22:27; Micah 7:3; Zech 11:8; Hab. 2:5). 

2) By extension, nephash and psuche can denote any sentient being, or any being with a capacity for sentient existence (Genesis 1:20-21, 24-25; 2:7; cf. Rev. 16:3).  

Genesis 35:18 is a good example of the first understanding of the word "soul" (nephesh) as found in Scripture: "And as [Rachel's] soul (nephesh) was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin." Notice that we are not told that "Rachel" was departing at this time. Rather, we are told that something (i.e., Rachel's nephesh) was departing from her. And after it departed, we then read (vv. 19-20), "So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb."

It is evident from these verses that "Rachel" was not thought to be that which was departing from her as she was dying. Rather, Rachel was understood to be wherever her body was as she was dying, not where her "soul" went after it departed. This fact tells us that Rachel was thought to be constituted by her body. When Rachel's body died, Rachel died, and when Rachel's body was buried, Rachel was buried. So what was the "soul" (nephesh) that was said to be departing from Rachel when "she called his name Ben-oni"? Answer: it was simply Rachel's sensation, or sentience, that was "departing" from her. 

Whenever "body" (soma) and "soul" (psuche) are distinguished in the NT (e.g., in Matt 6:25), "soul" likely stands for the sensation or sentience that is common to all biological beings (which must be sustained by food and water, and can be "lost" if one dies, or "saved" if one is kept alive). Sentience depends on life. Only a living being can be sentient and conscious. By "life" I mean the kind of life shared by all living things (including plants, animals and human beings). So how should we define this "life" that is shared by all living things/beings? First, let's determine what this life isn't. Whatever this life is, it is not a personal entity or thing. That is, it does not exist as a person, is not conscious, and does not have a first-person perspective. Nor is this life that is shared by all living things something that either lives or dies, or that can be considered as either alive or dead. A living thing is either mortal or immortal, but life is not a living thing and is neither mortal or immortal.

Life is not something that can exist outside of or apart from a living being (whether the being is mortal or immortal, personal or impersonal). Just as love cannot exist apart from a lover and thought cannot exist apart from a thinker, so life is inseparable from a living thing. So what is "life?" It is a capacity for functional activity. This would include activities such as self-organization, self-regulation of internal conditions, the transmitting of information, etc. For many living things, "functional activity" would include self-motion, and among the highest forms of life (such as God, angels and humans), "functional activity" would also include things like self-awareness (the capacity to notice the self), rational thought and volitional activity. 

According to the second Scriptural meaning of the words translated "soul," a physical, embodied creature is being referred to, and (as with the first meaning) has no reference at all to any aspect of human nature that is (or can be) conscious after death. Instead, it simply denotes the physical, embodied person themselves (see, for example, Acts 2:41-43; 3:23; 7:14; 27:37; Romans 2:9; 13:1; 1 Corinthians 15:45; James 5:20; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:14; Revelation 18:13). In Leviticus 5:1-4, a soul (nephash) can see, hear, touch and speak with lips. In Deut 14:26, it is said that souls can hunger and thirst. In Jeremiah 2:34, souls are said to have blood. In Leviticus 7:20-27, it is said that souls can eat and be killed. In Lev 17:11-14 the soul of a creature is said to be "in the blood," and is even equated with the blood. Frequently the Law of Moses commanded that any soul which disobeyed certain laws should be "cut off" or killed (e.g. Ex 31:14; Lev 17:10; 19:8; 20:6; Num. 15:27-31). Through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned the Israelites that "the soul that sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20; cf. James 5:20). We are further told that souls can be strangled or snared (Prov. 18:7; 22:25; Job 7:15), torn to pieces by lions (Psalm 7:2) or utterly destroyed by the sword (Josh 11:11; cf. Josh. 10:30-39; Eze. 22:27; Prov. 6:32; Lev. 23:30). 

All of these verses make perfect sense if we simply understand that "soul" is being used interchangeably with a mortal, human person (which, when alive, has a capacity for sentience). Because the Hebrew and Greek words translated "soul" commonly have the sense of a breathing, sentient creature when human persons are in view, it is frequently used interchangeably with the human "self." Hence, the term is often employed emphatically to refer to the persons themselves. For example, when David says, "I humbled my soul with fasting" (Ps. 35:13), it is simply an emphatic way of saying "I humbled myself with fasting." Similarly, for Job to say, "My soul is weary of life" (Job 10:1) is simply an emphatic way of saying "I am weary of life." And for Samson to say, "Let my soul die with the Philistines" (Judges 16:30) is simply to say, "Let me die with the Philistines." For the prophet Jeremiah to say, "They have dug a pit for my soul" (Jer. 18:20) is another way of saying, "they have dug a pit for me." It is said in Psalm 22:9 that no one can "keep alive his own soul" - i.e., keep himself alive. And in Psalm 89:48, it is rhetorically asked whether one could deliver one's soul from the power of the grave - i.e., keep oneself from the power of the grave. 

It is noteworthy that humans are not the only beings referred to as "souls." The first four times that the word nephash appears in the Bible it is applied to the lower forms of animal life that God created - i.e., flying, land-dwelling and aquatic creatures (Genesis 1:20-21,24-25; cf. Rev 16:3). And while the expression nephesh chaiyah ("living soul") occurs twelve times in the Old Testament, it is applied to human beings only once (Gen 2:7). This tells us that our being a "living soul" is not something that is unique to man. It is not what distinguishes us from the beasts. Non-human animals are "living souls" as well. But in contrast to the rest of the creatures God created on this planet, humans bear God's image. But in what does the divine image consist?  

It is our unique capacity to be like God and represent him. After we are told that man was created in God's image (Gen 1:27) we read, "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (v. 28; cf. Ps. 8:4-8). And later God declares to his heavenly court, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil" (3:22). So what enables us to be like and represent God in the sense of which Scripture speaks? Is it some non-physical "part" of us that is immortal, and which leaves our body at death to suffer or enjoy in a disembodied state? No, for Scripture says nothing about such a thing. Well what is it that enables mankind to have dominion over "all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas?" Is it not primarily our wonderfully designed human brain? While our brain has the same general structure as that of other mammals, it is over three times larger than the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size, and gives us the ability to do things that no other "living soul" created by God can do. Human beings are truly "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:14-16). But God used the same earthly elements to create us as he used to create every other "living soul," and we are only alive and sentient because of the same "spirit" or "breath of life" that animates every other "living soul." This will become more evident in the next section. 

The Spirit 

Genesis 1:30 and 2:19 tell us that all "living souls" have something in common: God's breath, or spirit (see Gen. 7:21-22), which is what makes us all "living souls." But what is the meaning of the word "spirit" as it appears in Scripture? In both the Old and New Testament, the words for "spirit" (ruach and pneuma, respectively) literally mean "a current of air." Even in the English language, the word "spirit" comes from the Latin word meaning "breath"; the English words "inspiration" and "respiration," for instance, have the same Latin root. From earliest times people could see the intimate connection between breath and life; when a person's body stops breathing, it also becomes inactive and dies. Breath, then, was appropriately seen as the outward manifestation of the animating power or life-force, and was viewed as God's own breath given to man (see Job 27:3). This observable connection between breath and life is the reason why the same word is used for both "spirit" and "breath" in the Hebrew and Greek languages. 

As is the case with several words in all languages, the Hebrew and Greek words translated as "spirit" (ruach andpneuma) can be used in more than one sense in Scripture. For example, the word ruach is, in many cases, used to denote wind, or a breeze (Gen 3:8; 8:1; Ex 10:13, 19; 15:10; Num 11:31; 2Sa 2:11; 1Ki 19:11; Job 1:19; 8:2; Ps 1:4; 55:8; 83:13; 107:25; Prov. 25:14; Eccl. 1:6; Isa 64:6; Jer. 10:13; 51:1; Ez. 1:4; 5:2; Dan 7:2; etc.). With regards to that which can be said to belong to human beings, however, "spirit" refers to either: 

1) The "breath of life" (lit. "lives") - which is an animating, life-sustaining power or force from God - given to both human beings and animals (Gen 2:7; 6:17; 7:15, 22; Num 16:22; 1Ki 10:5; Job 7:7; 12:10; 15:30; 19:17; Ps 104:29; 146:4; Eccl 3:19; 12:7; Jer. 10:14; 10:17; 37:5; 51:17; Matt 27:50; Luke 8:55; 23:46; Acts 7:59; James 2:26; etc.);

2) The mental disposition, state of mind or prevailing attitude/feeling of a person which motivates (and is made known through) their actions and behavior (Deut 34:9; Num 5:14, 30; 1 Sam 1:15; 1 Kings 21:5; Psalm 51:17; Prov. 16:9, 18, 19; 29:11; Eccl 1:14; 7:9; Isa 11:2; 19:14; 61:3; Mark 2:8; Luke 9:55; John 3:6; 4:23-24; 11:33; 13:21; Acts 17:16; 18:5; Rom 2:29; 11:8; 1 Cor. 2:11; 4:21; Gal 6:1; Eph 4:23; Phil 2:19; 2 Tim 1:7; 1 Pet 3:4; 1 John 4:6). 

Notice that in each case above, the word "spirit" simply denotes some kind of invisible, active power or force that has visible effects. For example, when Christ said, "The words I have spoken to you are spiritand life" (John 6:63) he meant that his words were an unseen, active force that produced visible effects in people's lives (i.e., effecting a positive change in a person's actions and behaviour) and imparted "life." But Christ's words are not "spirit" in the same sense that an angelic being (both good and evil) can be called a "spirit" (Judges 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14; Mark 1:23, 26; 3:11; 5:13; Luke 4:33; Acts 8:7; Heb 1:14). Nor are angelic beings "spirit" in the same sense that the breath that is in all living beings is "spirit" (Gen 6:16; Psalm 104:29 ; Eccl 3:19; Luke 8:55; 23:46; James 2:26). Nor is the breath of life in all living things "spirit" in the same sense that a person's state of mind or mental disposition is their "spirit" (Deut 34:9; Num 5:14; 1 Sam 1:15; 1 Kings 21:5; Psalm 51:17; Eccl 7:9; Acts 17:16; Rom 11:8; Eph 4:23). The words translated "spirit," while conveying a similar idea (that of an unseen power or force with visible effects), does not refer to the same exact thing every time it appears in Scripture, but must be understood by the context in which the words appear. 

Whenever body, soul and spirit are distinguished in the Greek scriptures (e.g., in 1 Thess. 5:23), "soul" likely denotes the sentience, or capacity for sentience, possessed by all living beings, while "spirit" refers to the mental disposition of a person. It may also be added that, in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the words translated "heart" are (when used in a figurative sense) equivalent to this second definition of "spirit" (i.e., the mind or mental disposition of a person, from which good or evil intentions spring – see Matt. 15:18-19). 

The "breath of life" given by God is that which is present in all "living souls" (both human or animal), and which "departs" from them at the time of death (i.e., when one stops breathing) and returns to God (Gen 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; 7:21-22; Job 34:14). Moreover, it is evident that the Hebrew words translated "breath" and "spirit" are often used interchangeably. For example, in Gen 6:16 (ESV) the word translated "breath" in the expression "breath of life" is not neshâmâh(as it is in Gen 2:7) but rûach. This is the same word Solomon used when he declared that both man and beast have the "same breath (rûach)" (Eccl 3:19) and that, at death, "the spirit (rûach) returns to God who gave it." Or consider Job 27:3, where Job declares, "...As long as my breath (neshâmâh) is in me, and the spirit (rûach) of God is in my nostrils..." When Job speaks of "the breath that is in me" and "the spirit of God in my nostrils" he's not referring to two different things. Rather, the same idea is being repeated for emphasis; the "breath" that was in Job and the "spirit of God" that was in his "nostrils" both refer to his life-force or life-sustaining power, of which God was understood to be the source.

In these verses Job is employing what is referred to as "Hebrew parallelism," which is a figure of speech by which the same or similar idea or meaning is expressed using two different words or expressions (see, for example Job 4:17; 8:11, 15; 27:4; Ps 119:105; Prov. 3:1). If this “spirit of God” that Job declared was in his nostrils (cf. Isaiah 2:22; Eccl 12:3) was actually Job himself (i.e., the “real” Job), then Job would have been saying that he was in his own nostrils! But the "spirit of God" that was in Job's nostrils is simply a reference to the "breath of life" that God is figuratively said to have breathed into Adam's nostrils, and which he gives to all "living souls" to keep them alive. Similarly, in Job 34:14 we read: "If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit (rûach) and his breath (neshâmâh), all flesh would perish together, and man would return to the dust." Or consider Isaiah 42:5: "Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, who gives breath (neshâmâh) to the people on it, and spirit (rûach) to those who walk on it..."

In Psalm 104:29 (ESV) we read, "When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath (rûach), they die and return to their dust." Here the same word translated "spirit" elsewhere is translated "breath" (which, again, means that the translators understood that these two Hebrew words can have the same meaning). The same can be said for Psalm 146:4 as well: "When his breath (rûach) departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish." It is evident that the Psalmists had in mind the same "breath of life" that God breathed into Adam and gives to all "living souls," whether human or animal.

In light of the above we may reasonably conclude that the "spirit" that is represented as returning to God at death is the same "breath of life" that was breathed into Adam and which is given to all "living souls." It is this life-sustaining power or force from God that is common to all living souls, and which is manifested through breathing. In Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 we read:

I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath (ruach), and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 

Notice that the spirit or breath of which author is speaking here is something that is present in both human beings and animals alike. We are further told in Job that if God were to "gather to himself his spirit," all flesh would "perish," and we would "return to the dust" from which we were made (Job 34:14). As far as our constitution as creatures made by God, man is not above the beasts. We are both made of the same earthly elements, and we have the same type of "breath," or spirit, given by God which makes us "living souls." When our spirit or breath returns to God (i.e., when we stop breathing), we return to the dust, which is the "one place" to which both man and beast go. Prior to banishing him from the garden, God told Adam, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for youare dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen 3:19).  

Further support for the views for which we have been arguing so far may be found in Ezekiel 31:1-14. In this prophetic vision concerning the house of Israel, the Jewish nation is figuratively represented as a slain army being raised back to life by God through the agency of his prophet, Ezekiel:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord God, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord."

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

In verses 5, 6, 9 and 10, the word translated above as "breath" is ruach. As we've noted previously, this is the Hebrew word most commonly translated "spirit." That which is being so vividly portrayed in the above prophetic vision is essentially the reverse of what takes place at death. At death, man's "spirit" or "breath of life" departs from him and returns to God, and he begins to return to the dust of the earth. This process of bodily decomposition continues until the only physical remains of a person are bones (as depicted in the above prophecy). Recall also that the "spirit" or "breath" that departs from man at death is not the man himself but that power which sustained his life and made him a "living soul." It is this "spirit" or "breath" from God that keeps us alive. When this is withdrawn from us and returns to its source (God), our life necessarily "departs" from us as well, leaving us in a lifeless state. Notice that in Ezekiel's vision, the members of this slain army are first re-constituted by God. But as Ezekiel notes, there was still "no breath in them." After they have been re-constituted with fully formed bodies, Ezekiel must then prophecy to the breath and command it to come "from the four winds" to animate the lifeless army. This "breath" from God was the only thing lacking to make the members of this army of "living souls" once again. There is no suggestion that the members of this resurrected army were constituted by, or consisted of, anything more than their newly-formed bodies. The "spirit" or "breath" that was breathed into them was simply that which gave them life, and without which they would've remained lifeless. This spirit or breath was not them, but was rather something that God gave them so that they could live again. 

In the book of the Revelation, the apostle John is given a vision of two witnesses who, after prophesying to the people of Israel for 1,260 days, are killed by "the beast" (Rev 11:1-8). We are told that their dead bodies would lie in the street of the "great city" (Jerusalem), and that the people would celebrate their deaths for three and a half days (vv. 9-10). But then we read (v. 11), "But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them." Notice first that the two witnesses are spoken of as being present where their dead bodies are. Notice also that this "breath of life from God" is singular; the two witnesses didn't each receive a separate“immortal soul” from God, but rather a single breath of life that entered both of them. This is undoubtedly the same "breath" or spirit that was breathed into Adam's nostrils and which made him a "living soul" (Gen 2) the same "breath" or spirit that Solomon says is shared by all living things (Eccl 3) and the same "breath" or spirit referred to in Ezekiel's vision that came from the "four winds" and re-animated the dead army. Once given by God this "breath" or "spirit" belongs to those to whom it is given (and may thus be referred to by them as "my breath" or "my spirit"). But it is important to remember that this same breath or spirit is common to all "living souls." It is not a person that exists somewhere in a conscious state after one dies.

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