Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Six Words

When I first started reading the Bible for myself, I was told that I would need a Bible Dictionary, an English Dictionary, and a Bible Commentary to help me read. I thought that was silly and I was just going to read it for myself and understand it for what it plainly says. Well, I was wrong. I have been surprised how many times I have felt the need to go consult all of the above sources. There are definitely some words in the Bible that need to be defined in order to accurately understand what is being said. My top six words that need to be understood are Faith, Death, Salvation, Angel, Hell, and Soul.

Faith: “Faith” and “believe” pretty much mean the same thing. So when you see one word you can pretty much replace it with the other. We are told that we must “believe in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18. “We are justified by faith in Christ.” Gal 2:16. But what do these two words mean? I think a “saving faith” is best defined as “trust.” The essence of Christianity is that we can not save ourselves, but that we need a Savior. So we must admit that we can’t save ourselves, but TRUST that Jesus will save us. There is also a “faith that does not save.” It is merely an acknowledgement of the truth.

Death: This means “separation,” not extinction. Physical death is the separation of the body from the spirit. (James 2:26) Spiritual death is the separation of a person from God. (Eph 2:1) The second death is eternal separation from God. (Rev 20:14) Death to sin is separation of a person from the ruling power of sin in their life. (Rom 6:6-7, 14)

Salvation: I used to think that salvation meant, “I get to go to heaven when I die.” Well, that is part of the salvation meaning. Salvation actually has three facets: a past salvation from the penalties of sin, a present salvation from the power of sin, and a future salvation from the presence of sin. The $10 words that apply to these three are: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. Since Justification happened when we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and Glorification will happen when we meet Jesus Christ face to face, then our focus should be continually on the Process of Sanctification.

Angel: This word is used in three different ways. Sometimes angel refers to God (Acts 7:38), sometimes to men (Rev 2:1) and sometimes to spiritual beings (Luke 1:26.) So when you see this word, you should not think immediately of “spiritual being also created by God,” but read the supporting material around the word to get its appropriate meaning.

Hell: There are four words that get translated as hell in English. 1. Sheol: This is a Hebrew word used throughout the Old Testament. It moves between the ideas of the grave, the underworld and the state of death. 2. Hades: This is a Greek word used in the New Testament that denotes the same ideas as Sheol. 3. Gehenna: This is a valley outside of Jerusalem where children were sacrificed by fire in connection with pagan rites. It was used in Jesus’ day as a place where they burned trash. This word was used by Jesus and James to invoke the idea of the Lake of Fire. 4. Tartarus: This word is used only once. Peter used it in 2 Peter 2:4 to denote the place where God has sent some of the angels that rebelled. It is best thought of as an abyss of some sort.

Soul: In order to determine the difference between soul and spirit, it is helpful to look at the concept of the composition of man. There are two main theories: the two-part man and the three-part man.

The two-part man

This theory says that man is made up of a body and a spirit and together the two make a soul. This is actually a very convincing statement when you consider the literal meanings of the words translated into English as soul and spirit. The Greek and Hebrew words for soul both mean “has life.” Any living thing then is a soul, because it is alive. Man therefore does not have a soul, man is a soul. When the spirit leaves the body, death occurs and the soul no longer exists. The spirit goes to God and the body goes to dust. When the resurrection happens then the spirit comes from God and is reunited with the resurrected body and the soul exists again. The word “death” means separation. Add to this the literal meaning of spirit, which is “breath” or “wind” and the concept sounds perfect. The “breath” leaves the body and death occurs.

I have two problems. First, the concepts of “has life” and “breath” do not account for the conscious person or the persons “personality.” What is it that “goes to God?” So the spirit must be more than just “breath.” Here it becomes obvious that we are using human words with literal meanings to define things that are unseen and/or unknown. So using the literal meaning to answer the question is In My Humble Opinion (IMHO) useless. Second, the bible says that man is made in the image of God. God is three-in-one so IMHO man must be three-in-one as well.

The three-part man

This theory says that man is made up of a body, a soul, and a spirit. The Pentecostals have determined that the literal definitions of these words are not sufficient. They have continued to use these words as they are biblical and traditional, but they have changed their definitions. The new definitions attempt to define that unseen and/or unknown part of man. They define the soul as “the mind, will and emotions.” They define the spirit as “the inner most part of a person; that part through which God speaks to us.”

As you could well assume, I do like this theory better because it solves both of the problems of the two-part man. However, I think there is room for improvement on this theory. Take the idea of “the inner most part of a person.” Doesn’t that sound like a person’s personality? What is a person’s personality, if not his wants and not wants; his likes and his dislikes? So, I think it would be better to define the soul as “the mind” and the spirit as “the will and emotions?”

Biological man

Let’s leave the spiritual composition of man for a moment and see what the biology teacher has for us. We are aware that we have a body, a mind, and a sub-conscious mind. The sub-conscious mind is aware of everything in the body and does many things for us without our conscious involvement. I don’t think anybody disagrees with this image of man.

So if we line these two up we see that body=body, soul=mind, and spirit=sub-conscious mind.


I use that word “hum?” intentionally because it is the exact response my pastor had when I presented this idea to him. I suspect he hasn’t given it a second thought since.

If nothing else, it is an interesting idea. Play with it, mull it around and then throw it away. Just be sure to Glorify Jesus Christ as you go.

What the Authors meant by Soul and Spirit

So when you read the bible, can you just replace the word soul with mind and spirit with subconscious mind and then understand what the author is trying to say? NO! The authors of the bible (most of the time) use the words soul and spirit interchangeably. They are almost always talking about “that inner most part of you, the part through which God speaks to us.” But when you see phrases like “heart, mind, soul, and strength” or “body, soul, and spirit,” then understand those phrases to mean “all of you who are.” Now you will understand what the authors are trying to say.


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