The Soul

30 12 2009

Bill Tammeus, on his blog “Faith Matters,” has raised the question about the soul and how it is defined.  Raising the issue of the soul was a prelude to some reflections by Bill upon “underdeveloped” souls.  His post got me thinking about the biblical portrayal of the soul.  The definition of a soul is a complicated task depending on context, era, and cultural/ethnic group, i.e., Greek, Roman, Jewish or other.  But, here are some basics for understanding the soul from a biblical perspective.

Weighing Souls 1875

Soul is the English translation of the Greek word psyche. Other English words, however, are also used for psyche besides soul, such as life, heart, and mind.  One of the most frequent translations, depending on context, is “life.” Psyche at one level is something that all living creatures have, including animals (Rev. 16:3).  It is physical life.  For example, the psyche, the physical life, is what the enemies of Jesus were seeking to destroy in Matt. 2:20.

Yet psyche is also more than physical life.  Take for example the passage in Mark 8:35 (parallels in Matt. 10:39; Luke 17:33; and John 12:25), “The one who would save his/her psyche will lose it.  He/she who loses his/her psyche will save it.”  It seems clear that one can lose physical life, but something, “true life,” still survives and transcends the cells, corpuscles, and cartilage.  That true life is the essence of who we are, our “soul.”

However, one must never equate psyche with an immortal soul as if it is some wispy-misty thing stuck within our bodies like smoke in a bottle after shooting off a bottle rocket.  Note that in John 12:25 one is called upon to hate one’s psyche.  Can one hate one’s “immortal soul?”  It doesn’t make sense.  As the writer Eduard Schweizer says, “Psyche is the life which given to man (sp) by God and which through man’s (sp) attitude towards God receives its character as either mortal or eternal.”  As humanity, we shape (or misshape) our souls in relationship to God and existence.

The soul, psyche, is ultimately given by God and lived out before God.  Since the psyche is God given, it can be God taken.  In Matt. 10:28 we see God as the one who can destroy both the body and psyche, i.e., the whole person. [Again, here is a perfect example that the soul is not immortal.  It can be destroyed].  Humanity, however, can only kill the body not the psyche.  

Perhaps one way to think about the soul and all that the word means is that the soul encompasses all that we are (mind, spirit, and body).  In the biblical perspective, no division exists between body, spirit and mind. This divisional concept is a Greek concept and typically encountered in many Christian contexts.  Perhaps another way to think of the soul is that a person does not have a soul; a person is a soul.

In Acts 27:37, a scene placing Paul and companions in the midst of a sea storm and coming shipwreck, the writer notes, “And all of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six souls (psyche).”  The ship is bigger today, 6 billion souls.  With a new decade looming on the horizon, I pray for peace in 2010 for all the souls on board this ship of the world.

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What Ereaders Cannot Capture

21 12 2009

I believe in utilizing the latest technology (a Nook ereader is on its way, and I will be blogging about its usage for pedagogy); however, how can an ereader capture the feeling evoked by the personalized inscription below.

This inscription is from W. Hersey Davis to H. E. Dana in a book, Greek Papyri of the First Century (1933), written for A. T. Robertson on the occasion of his seventieth birthday.  Here is an inked chain of Baptist tradition, and it is all contained in one slim volume.  As I hold this book in my hands, I don’t see how a Kindle, Sony or Nook can ever preserve digitally whatever it is that this book provokes in my bibliophile spirit.

Here is a great picture of A. T. Robertson.  Everyone’s office should be so tidy.





Christmas and Grading

20 12 2009

While most people at this time of year are gaily splashing cups of eggnog, traipsing tinsel around a tree, and dreaming of sugar plums, I am about my annual ritual of grading final research papers.  My Christmas ritual always finds me with green pen in hand (for hardcopy papers), or, as is more likely, typing feedback comments onto electronic copies of papers.

Grading got me thinking about the quality of papers one often reads today.  With the advent of computers and word processing, I originally believed a new era, a paradisiacal age, had come.  There would be a pullulation of perfect papers  produced perpetually (a sentence for lovers of alliteration).  Alas, not so.

And, why so?

I think Max Atkinson has his finger on a reason.  This quote is from his blog:

The trouble is that professional-looking fonts make a first draft look just as finished and professional as the final draft used to look after you’d been through quite a lot of stages – at each of which there would be further scope for correction, editing and stylistic improvement.

The process by which I wrote papers BC (Before Computers) followed more or less something like the system below.

  1. Write out the paper in long hand (Do people even know what long hand means today?)
  2. Type out a rough draft
  3. Mark, edit, rewrite in the margins (Carry over to the back if necessary)
  4. Retype (Often coming up with new ideas and phrasing)
  5. Step three again, but with fewer marks and corrections
  6. Final draft (I know; I was responsible for the death of many trees in the BC era).

At each stage, one could see the paper taking shape and looking better (both physically and content-wise).

The editing process on screen does not have the same effect as the above process.  People today seem content with a first draft that looks complete and professional on screen.  Yet editing continues to be a key for good writing.

My Grandfather’s Underwood No. 5 Typewriter





900-Foot Jesus

17 12 2009

The death of Oral Roberts brought to mind an experience I had back in 1981 as a seminary student in Louisville, KY.  One of my friends was a chaplain at the local VA hospital, and he often worked on the floor which housed mental patients.  One patient asked him this probing question:  “Why is it that Oral Roberts sees a 900-foot Jesus and people send him tons of money, and when  I see a 900-foot Jesus I get locked in here?”  Good question.

[Read the 1980 Tulsa World article, “Oral Robert Tells of Talking to 900-foot Jesus.” This account has all the elements of an modern-day apocalyptic vision.]





Hanukkah–Seleucids–Antiochus IV

12 12 2009

This week is the celebration of Hanukkah.  Students are often surprised when I point them to the Gospel of John and Jesus’ coming into the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah.  In John’s Gospel (10:22),  it is called the “feast of Rededication in Jerusalem.”  [Aside:  It is interesting that most translation call this event the feast of Dedication while DBAG suggests “Rededication.” Goodspeed’s translation is one of the few to use Rededication]. Of course, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas.  Hanukkah is the celebration of the rededication of the Temple after the successful uprising of the Judeans under the leadership of the Maccabees against the Seleucids.  (See 1 Macc 4:36-39, 2 Macc 16:1-8 and Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 12, 316 and following).  The Maccabean Revolt, and the eventual independence of Judea, took place at a very opportune time since it came around the time of Antiochus IV’s death.  The Selecuid empire passed to a boy-king Antiochus V (164-162 CE), the son of Antiochus the IV; he was only nine years of age when he began to rule.

During the Maccabean Revolt, no coins were minted by the Judeans, but coins still played a role in the propaganda experienced by the Judeans.  Antiochus IV (175-164 BCE) coinage is a perfect example of what would have been of grave concern to pious Judeans.  Several of his coins could illustrate this point, but perhaps the one below illustrates well its odious nature.  The coin itself is a fairly large and heavy bronze and is a typical example.

On the obverse of the coin is the head of Zeus/Serapis.  On the reverse is a standing eagle.  The Greek inscription reads BAΣIΛEΩΣ / ANTIOXOY / ΘEOY / EΠIΦANOY and would translate something like of “King Antiochus – Manifest of god.”

On some of Antiochus’ coins, he is portrayed as wearing a diadem, a symbol of his kingly status.  The small bronze coin below is also serrated like an old pop bottle top.

The sensibilities of the Judeans would have been stirred by both the images and the claim of divine status.

Following their liberation from the Seleucids, the Judeans did imitate other independent kingdoms by also minting their own coinage.  However, the ruling Judean elites selected non-offensive symbols for the coins.

For an excellent website with numerous examples of coins from the Seleucid period, you can click on the following link:  Seleucids.