5

A.

And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul [psychēn], but fear rather Him who is able both soul [psychēn] and body to destroy in gehenna
[Matthew 10:28 YLT]

vs.

B.

19 And Herod having died, lo, a messenger of the Lord in a dream doth appear to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, `Having risen, take the child and his mother, and be going to the land of Israel, for they have died -- those seeking the life [psychēn] of the child.'
[Matthew 2:19-20 YLT]

C.

22 and now I exhort you to be of good cheer, for there shall be no loss of life [psychēs] among you -- but of the ship;
[Acts 27:22 YLT]

D.

37 Peter saith to him, `Sir, wherefore am I not able to follow thee now? my life [psychēn] for thee I will lay down;' 38 Jesus answered him, `Thy life [psychēn] for me thou wilt lay down! verily, verily, I say to thee, a cock will not crow till thou mayest deny me thrice.'
[John 13:37-38 YLT]

E.

13 greater love than this hath no one, that any one his life [psychēn] may lay down for his friends;
[John 15:13 YLT]

F.

39 `He who found his life [psychēn] shall lose it, and he who lost his life [psychēn] for my sake shall find it.
[Matthew 10:39 YLT]

G.

25 for whoever may will to save his life [psychēn], shall lose it, and whoever may lose his life [psychēn] for my sake shall find it, 26 for what is a man profited if he may gain the whole world, but of his life [psychēn] suffer loss? or what shall a man give as an exchange for his life [psychēn]?
[Matthew 16:25-26 YLT]


Question

Can we lose our psychēn on this side of eternity? Can men kill/take away our psychēn or not?


Note: this question has been inspired by this article and this answer.


Related questions

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  • 2
    ψυχή, psuche Strong 5590 is a very broad concept in Greek and has the general meaning 'breath''wind'life'. 'Soul' is an English word, dating back to King Alfred in 479, see OED. The broad concept of ψυχή requires sensitive translation in regard to the context in which it is used.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 17 at 8:53
  • 1
    I've been studying the concept of psychēn myself recently, especially as it relates to the subject of the fate of the wicked. Putting these verses together seems significant and may have implications for such a study. While I'm still studying the issue out, Matthew 10:28, when put next to the other verses you listed, seems to suggest there's a sense of psychēn which man cannot kill, while there is another sense of psychēn that man can take. Is that what you're getting at, perhaps?
    – The Editor
    Feb 19 at 14:30
  • 1
    @TheEditor - right, exactly, that's a possible solution. Feb 19 at 15:01
  • The question assume that a word has only one sense. It should be closed as opinion based or something.
    – Michael16
    Feb 21 at 5:22

3 Answers 3

3
+50

Thayer offers 6 definitions for the Greek word ψυχή (“psuche”)(see here). Let's examine each in light of this question and these passages.


1. The breath of life; the vital force which animates the body

This usage is analogous to the πνεῦμα ("pneuma"), the term used to describe the spirit that is added to the body in Genesis 2:7 and parts ways with the body in Ecclesiastes 12:7.

Men cannot kill the psuche in this sense, or the contrast in example A from the OP would not work. That the psuche is contrasted with the body in example A makes this a plausible definition of psuche in that passage.

Example passages B, C, D, and E speak of the end of mortal life and therefore do not use psuche definition 1. Provided examples F & G contrast sacrifice in this life with blessings in the next, they do not employ definition 1 either.

--

2. Life

This is the most straightforward understanding of B, C, D, and E--they refer to giving up/losing one's mortal life. Men can take away this psuche. Provided examples F & G contrast sacrifice in this life with blessings in the next, psuche as mortal life is something men can take away, but eternal life is not something they can take away.

That this is not a viable definition for example A is demonstrated by the contradiction outlined in section 6 of my post here.

--

3. That in which there is life; a living being

This appears to be the sense of the word employed by the Hebrew counterpart, nephesh, in Genesis 2:7--the soul is the combination of body + spirit.

Example A contrasts psuche with body and is therefore not using definition 3 (which includes the body). There is sufficient overlap in definitions 2 & 3 that this definition could be considered for examples B-G, but definition 2 captures the meaning of the passage more simply.

Men can take away this psuche in that they can kill, causing the dissolution of body & spirit.

--

4. The seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions

This definition does not appear applicable to any of the example passages. This kind of "inner person" or "inner self" is captured by modern metaphors of "mind" or "heart", and (with the possible exception of brain injury) is inaccessible to weapons that kill the body. I suggest that men cannot take this psuche away.

--

5. A moral being designed for everlasting life

Other men cannot take away this psuche; as moral beings individuals may forfeit their own potential. For a more in-depth argument that this "self" is descriptive of the eternal nature of man, without beginning or end, see my thoughts here. Men's actions cannot reach beyond the grave and therefore cannot take away something that endures beyond their reach.

It is possible to read this definition into examples A, F, & G, though it would be a complex and less-than-intuitive reading. Examples B-E focus on the loss of mortal life and do not employ this definition.

--

6. An essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death

This is quite similar to definition 1, but less precise in its parameters. As such, it quite comfortably fits with example A (this is in fact the definition of psuche Thayer suggests is used in Matthew 10:28).

Examples B-E directly contradict this definition and clearly do not have it in mind. Examples F & G, more metaphorical in nature, are not described as well by this definition as they are by definition 2.

By definition, men cannot take away this psuche by inflicting physical death.

--

Conclusion

The word psuche is used to describe a variety of ideas, and the various definitions are not fully discrete, there is some overlap among them.

The word has sufficient semantic scope that there are contexts in which the psuche can be taken away by men, and there are contexts where it cannot. When psuche is used to describe that part of man that consciously continues beyond death, it is specifically describing the entity that cannot be taken away by men.


*note that ψυχή ("psuche") is the uninflected or root form of the accusative ψυχήν ("psychen")


Addendum--thoughts on "creative" interpretations of ἀποκτείνω

I suggested above that passage A does not fit with definition 2 of psuche; one might object by proposing variant interpretations of the verb ἀποκτείνω "to kill", and whether it envisions temporary or permanent death.

Note that the verb is used twice in this verse, once to describe what men can do to the body, and once to describe what men cannot do to the psuche. Any interpretation that seeks to make one ἀποκτείνω event temporary and the other permanent does so in contradiction to the message of the verse. We can claim they both describe something temporary, or they both describe something permanent, but creating a hybrid where the verb changes meaning within this single chreia would entirely miss the point Jesus is making about what men can & cannot do.

Let's consider both options:

a. ἀποκτείνω describes bringing about a temporary death. In this case, men can temporarily kill the body but cannot--even temporarily--kill the psuche. This means the psuche does not become dormant/dead/nonexistent, but lives on after physical death, which rules out psuche definition 2.

b. ἀποκτείνω describes bringing about a permanent death. In this case, men cannot permanently kill the psuche (reasonable), but...they can permanently kill the body. This is a problem.

Jesus was resurrected, not reincarnated. This made the blessing of resurrection available to all the family of Adam (1 Cor. 15:22). At the resurrection we do not receive some other entity's body, we receive our own body in its appropriately glorified state. That Jesus did not receive a new body created entirely from scratch, but took up the body that had been crucified, is manifested plainly by the single detail of the Easter story--found in all 4 Gospel accounts--with no omission or variation whatsoever: the tomb was empty.

The resurrection brings life to a body that was dead (see also Ezekiel 37:1-10); therefore, the physical death that can be inflicted by men is not permanent.


Option B from the addendum is ruled out by the Gospel accounts of the resurrection; option A remains. Men can temporarily kill the body; they cannot--even temporarily--kill the psuche.

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  • 1
    Good answer (+1). I foresee a possible objection from Rajesh though. He would probably argue that you can stick to definition 2 ("life") in all the examples, including example A, and simply avoid the contradiction by changing the definition of "kill" (ἀποκτεῖναι) in A to mean "permanently kill". Thus, although men can certainly take away your life (as indicated in B-G), they cannot do so "permanently", only God can (denoted by the word "destroy" (ἀπολέσαι) -- Rajesh would argue). This is an interpretative maneuver that reads Christian Mortalism & Annihilationism into the passage. Any thoughts? Feb 21 at 11:16
  • 1
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator good point I should address that. I added an addendum to discuss. Is added an addendum a redundant phrase? Maybe.... Feb 22 at 4:16
  • Give me a break; my brain hurts. Here's to doing it again, + 1. Feb 22 at 9:33
  • @OldeEnglish thanks for the kind words, sorry for the headache =) Feb 22 at 18:20
1

Let us be very clear

  • the whole person is a "soul"/psyche according to Gen 2:7.
  • If someone kills/murders a righteous person, that person will be raised at the last day (Dan 12:2, John 5:24-28) to go and live forever. Thus, the person will still live forever.
  • If someone kill/murders a wicked person, while that person is raised at the last day, they are raised to eternal destruction - to be forever destroyed. This is destroying both body and soul in hell. Ps 37:20, 92:7, Isa 41:11, 12, Eze 18:20, Mal 4:1-3, Matt 10:28, Phil 3:19, 2 Thess 1:9, Heb 10:39, James 4:12, 2 Peter 2:6, 3:7.

Thus, in the first case of the righteous person, while they are dead and sleeping in the grave, to God all are alive, Luke 20:38.

Notice that Matthew is rather careful in his choice of verbs to describe the difference in the two actions:

  • humans can only kill (ἀποκτείνω) the body. Indeed, all dead people will be resurrected (Dan 12:2, John 5:24-29, etc)
  • God completely destroys (ἀπόλλυμι) the body and soul in Gehenna - there is no chance of return

CONCLUSION

While it is possible for a person to have their earthly life (psyche - see texts quoted by OP) taken away, it is impossible for their eternal life to be taken away.

However, when God destroys the wicked in hell, then they are totally destroyed and will never again resurrected - only God can do that.

0

Evidently there are a number of different ways to perceive what ψυχή [psychḗ] is, or what can be communicated with the usage of it. But, so it is with most things that relate to or are associated with that which is indisputably spiritual in one way or another. Looking at it from strictly a physical perspective might communicate one meaning, while considering it from a spiritual perspective (comparing spiritual things with spiritual - 1Cor.1:2) can communicate a very different (and at times, nearly opposite) meaning. Further complicating the issue of correcting perceiving what is really meant or intended to be communicated in what is sometimes written, is the truth that if it is only "spiritually discerned," then there will be some that it will probably never make much of any sense to. 1Cor.2:14.

Now, as for addressing whether or not ψυχή [psuche] is (at the very least, connected to... or in some way, partly) spiritual, it seems to me that Hebrews 3:12 ought to remove any doubts.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul [psychḗ] and spirit [pneûma], and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

That said, one should consider that the usage of certain words in scripture are intended at times to be taken and understood from a more "natural" point of view, at other times from a spiritual perspective, and sometimes carry both a real physical (or natural) meaning as well as a similar, but much greater, spiritual meaning (as evidenced in the usage of parables.)

Now, it appears to me that there are two questions being asked here. The first being, Can we lose our psychēn on this side of eternity?

Any way that I look at this, no matter what anyone might think or perceive psychēn to be, the most obvious and sensible answer to this is simply... yes. The primary reason being that we can "lose" it, as there is no consciousness in the grave. If there is no conscious after death, then we will have absolutely no rememberance and no thoughts (of any kind.) Thus, from the perspective of the dead (which is an oxymoron, as it is impossible for the dead to have a perspective on anything), their psychēn is no more. Hence, they've lost it (whilst on this side of eternity.)

Psalms 6:5a

For in death there is no remembrance of thee:

Pslams 146:4

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Ecclesiastes 9:5

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

The second question you asked is more complicated. Can men kill/take away our psychēn or not?

If considered strictly from a physical sense (or more "natural") usage of the word, the answer is an obvious yes. However, from the context of its usage in Matthew 10:28, there is clearly something deeper involved... that being the spiritual aspect of it. In other words, how God might (or does) look at it.

Isaiah 55

[8] For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. [9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Not suprisingly, what man may see or think of as being "lost," God might not. So, even though from man's perspective psychēn (whatever it is) can be (and is) lost, evidently God's perspective on it (whatever it is) is different. Death is even spoken of as being a "rest" for the prophet Daniel, as well as "sleep" for king David.

Daniel 13:5

But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.

Acts 13:36

For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption:

The apostle Paul also relates death to sleep. (1Cor.11:30; 15:51.) Furthermore, aside from the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16 ...which should be perceived as being a parable, intended to goad the Pharisees and teach that if one doesn't "hear" Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded otherwise, even though one rose from the dead... from a natural (or physical senses) perspective, there is no indication of there being any sort of consciousness or awareness of anything in (i.e., after) death. This death (and loss of psychēn) that man is appointed to is not something that man can ever arise or "awaken" themselves from. However, this is not God's perspective, as there is a judgement that follows.

Hebrews 9:27

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Regardless of what psychēn might mean or represent, and even though it is (or even, might be) completely and in every way totally dissolved, "lost" (or anything else that word can communicate)... it evidently can and does remain in God's memory.

Job 14:13

O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!

However, it can also be said that evidently God is able to choose NOT to remember something, if He so desires. (Isa.43:25) Now, if the judgement of God were to result in "the second death" and His choosing not to remember... then this loss of [psychḗ] (whatever it is or means) would be for all eternity. Therefore, it appears to me that "him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt.10:28) is most likely a reference to God and His choosing to never remember a soul (as a part of the great white throne judgment.)

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