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Hey Tom,

I've always been rather offended by this analogy and others like it. I also hate to play a typical atheist card, but I do agree that these sort of things are mostly wish-fulfillment or illusory comfort. This is not to say that the only response could (or should) be "He's dead Jim," or "Get over it," but that there are ways of dealing with grief which I think are more honest and helpful. Even as I say this, I realize that my grandparents on my mother's side are likely not long for this life, and if one of them died and the other asked me if I thought they were in a better place, I would probably say yes and offer them whatever comfort I could - I'm only human after all, and I'll be damned if my sympathies don't get in the way of my rabid militant atheist agenda (I could almost say that with a straight face, I think). I will agree that religion gives some measure of comfort to people on this front, but I do often feel that it's the same sort of comfort people often get from drinking diet sodas - a sort of bandaid that doesn't actually solve the root problem and can lead to even worse outcomes.

On a related note, my mother convinced me to read this one of the last times I was home: http://www.amazon.com/Shack-William-P-Young/dp/0964729237/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263226198&sr=8-7 . I thought it was a relatively horribly written book and somewhat revolting in its message, which I feel that you may partially agree with. Give it a read-through if you want, and if you do, definitely let me know your opinion.


Jason Chamberlain

Your argument is based on a common exegetical fallacy. To assume that a word has such a limited semantic meaning is extremely short-sighted.

Incidentally, what do you do with Paul's statement in Philippians that "to live is Christ and to die is gain?" Paul obviously felt like there was hope for something after he died, no?

Jason Chamberlain

Also, if you are going to get into this business of translating consistently, shouldn't you translate the εγω ειμι of John 8:58 to "I am?" That would make the reference to Exodus 3:14 much more clear.

Incidentally, I do think that "picking flowers" or "heaven needed another angel" is a terrible way to give someone condolensces. Personally, I take comfort in Job's story as well as passages such as 1 Peter (pretty much the whole book), James 1:2-4, and Romans 8.

tom sheepandgoats

"To assume that a word has such a limited semantic meaning is extremely short-sighted."

On the other hand, if the meaning of an original language word is unclear, is there any better way of helping the student than to translate it consistently? Or even transliterate it, which is what the NWT does for sheol, hades, and gehenna. Otherwise, the student has not a prayer of discerning the actual meaning of these words and is completely at the mercy of self-proclaimed experts. That might be OK if those experts, in translating, footnoted to indicate what was the original language word, but they rarely (if ever) do that. [as noted in the post, older translations do, but modern ones....the ones that have arisen concurrent with the evangelical movement...don't) Many approach their translating work with pre-concieved doctrinal notions, and they do not translate their works in ways that might contradict those notions. I don't claim that it's dishonest, necessarily, but it is working with self-imposed blinders.

Of course, those persons will (and do) accuse NWT translators of the same: inserting doctrinal bias. The difference is that we leave a clear "paper trail" so that such claims can be investigated. They don't.

More on your other points in this and your second comment later, as time allows.

Would you agree that "picking flowers" is slanderous toward God, as analysis of 2 Sam 12:1-7 might suggest?

tom sheepandgoats


I'm not quite up to buying the book, for fear I may not like it. But I see the local libraries have many copies. I'll put it on the 'read' list.

Just Peachie

Jeffery has a soul (an immaterial animating essence). Jeffery sings with great soul (fervor).

Insisting a word always has only one meaning despite the context in which it is a weak argument.

tom sheepandgoats

In every case, 'life' or some slight variation of, works just as well as a definition of 'nephesh.' It fits both 'Jeffery' examples. And again, in the case of the Bible, Jeffery is not said to have a soul, but to have become a soul. [a living being]

I'm not saying that the concept of immortal soul doesn't exist elsewhere, or that some sources may go into great detail describing it. I'm just saying the Bible is not one of those sources. Big as the Bible is, and as pervasive as the immortal soul belief is, you'd almost expect the book to devote pages upon pages to describing life after death. It doesn't. Instead, when it does comment on death, it says things like:

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV

This is not to say that the Bible does not indicate a hope for the dead. But that hope lies in a resurrection, not an immortal soul. Until such time as a resurrection occurs, the Bible teaches a dead person is just that: dead.

Just Peachie

A person who dies does not becomes a soul or an angel or anything else. There is no transformation. A person is already a spirit residing in the temple of the body. Though the temple is destroyed, the spirit residing within the temple is not. Death is something that happens to a body. The spirit is immortal and cannot be dead. Resurrection is also something that happens to a body (temple).

tom sheepandgoats

Thanks, JP. I understand the concept you're speaking of. I'm just saying the Bible doesn't teach it. Many other sources do.

Regarding 'nephesh,' there are verses which specifically say the 'nephesh' can die. Ezekiel 18:4, for example:

"Look! All the souls—to me they belong. As the soul of the father so likewise the soul of the son—to me they belong. The soul that is sinning—it itself will die."

Each instance of 'soul' in this verse is a translation of 'nephesh.'

Just Peachie

I was operating machinery -the type with razor sharp blades. My spouse was supposed to be in the house watching our toddler. The toddler had escaped. I was about to turn a corner and run the child over - instant horrible death. But off to one side I saw my father standing, glowing with the most beautiful radiance. My father, an extraordinarily good man, had been dead many years. In my surprise at seeing him there I let go of the machinery controls, causing the blades to shut off immediately. That's when I realized my toddler was there, mere inches from those deadly blades. When I looked back to my father he was gone.

I am not the only one who has seen my father since he died. Only the body dies. The spirit is immortal.

tom sheepandgoats

A friend of mine was working atop a flat roof years ago. He was about to take a step backwards when he felt an intense prickling in the sole of his foot. He didn't take that step, but instead turned around to discover he'd strayed to the edge of the roof. The step backwards would have plunged him four stories down.

I can't explain it. But there's clearly more at work than the overtly 'what-you-see-is-what-there-is' physical. You're explanation would account for it, but I'm not sure its the only explanation. Still, if I had had the experience you did, I might well conclude what you have. Thanks for sharing it.

Jason Chamberlain


I'm going to go into this in more detail on my blog, but I'm finding that there is a lot of linkage of "eternal" with life in Matthew.

You wrote: "On the other hand, if the meaning of an original language word is unclear, is there any better way of helping the student than to translate it consistently?"

Unless you're prepared to learn the original languages for yourself you are always going to be at the mercy of interpreters. Most words have a range of semantic meaning. It is context that dictates the meaning we should get from a word. Words have little to no meaning in isolation. This is particularly true in Biblical Hebrew where many words have a variety of meanings.

My point is that your argument indicates an over-simplified view of how one must approach the original languages. There is rarely a one-for-one perfect exchange in English. Plus, some words can have almost contradictory meanings. For example, the Greek connective word "de" can mean "and" in some contexts or "but" in others.

tom sheepandgoats

"Unless you're prepared to learn the original languages for yourself you are always going to be at the mercy of interpreters."

Very well. Here are comments from those versed in the original languages:

“Although the Hebrew word nefesh is frequently translated as ‘soul,’ it would be inaccurate to read into it a Greek meaning. Nefesh . . . is never conceived of as operating separately from the body. ”—The Encyclopedia Americana (1977), Vol. 25, p. 236

“There is no dichotomy of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]. The Israelite saw things concretely, in their totality, and thus he considered men as persons and not as composites. The term nepeš [ne′phesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person. New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. XIII, pp. 449, 450.

“The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.”—The Jewish Encyclopedia (1910), Vol. VI, p. 564.

“The concept of ‘soul,’ meaning a purely spiritual, immaterial reality, separate from the ‘body,’ . . . does not exist in the Bible.”—La Parole de Dieu (Paris, 1960), Georges Auzou, professor of Sacred Scripture, Rouen Seminary, France, p. 128.

Some modern interpreters, striving to read 'immortal soul' into the Bible, try to retroactively assign that meaning to nephesh. But it's clearly a matter of the tail wagging the dog. While I agree that words such as nephesh can have several definitions and shades of meaning, I do not agree that 'immortal soul' is one of them. And if the very word translated soul does mean 'immortal soul.' how can the Bible be said to teach that idea?

Jason Chamberlain

Obviously the Jews had a different idea of what happens when someone dies, given all the references to "send my gray head down to Sheol."

The resources you gave me for proof of your point do not overwhelm me. Of course Jews are not going to agree. I have no idea about the Rouen Seminary. And the one close to being Christian still acknowledges that they translate the word as "soul" in the traditional meaning.

There is no way for either one of us to be convinced because we are not going to trust the sources cited. I can tell you what evangelicals say about it, but will that matter to you?


The scriptures clearly state that man came to be a living soul, not the possessor of some seperate entity residing within that survives death. In my lowly opinion, to profess that the scriptures speak of immortality of the soul completely contradicts the hope and message that God's Word gives in regards to the resurrection hope. Jesus and the Apostles even resurrected those during their ministry, which was a foregleam of promises to come. Just sayin.... Also, 'SheepandGoats' uses legitimate secular citations which clearly show that the soul concept, as relates to scripture, is not indicative of this 'soul' existing separately. The New Catholic Encyclopedia even agrees to this notion...

tom sheepandgoats

And...if the church picture of immortal soul is accurate, were not those resurrected ones either in heaven or hell before they were raised up? If the former, they must have been peeved. If the latter, they must have looked around for a pail of water in which to sit.

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