The Apostles’ Thoughts About the Soul
“What will happen when a man dies?” “Does a man really have a soul?” “Where does a man go after he dies?” These have been the concerns and unsolved questions of numerous people for a very long time.
Countless people have thought about the true meaning of their existence and studied it but nobody has been able to find the answer. They have created various kinds of theories, ideas and philosophies only with their eagerness to know, without realizing who created them. However, the knowledge about the soul, taught by Christ, allows mankind to know who they are, and it teaches the value of their existence and the purpose of their life exactly.
1. The appearance of the soul in the creation of man
. . . the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Ge 2:7
Here, a “living being” means a being that has life. The dust of the ground is not the essence of life. The man was not a “living being” when he was made from the dust of the ground. Only when God’s breath of life entered the man did he become a living being. Therefore, the essence of life is not the body, but the breath of life from God, namely, the soul [spirit]. The human body originated from the dust of the ground, but the soul [spirit] inside the body was created by God; it came from God. Solomon said, “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit [breath of life] returns to God who gave it” (Ecc 12:7).
2. Jesus’ teaching about the soul
In the New Testament times, the concept of the soul became clearer.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Mt 10:28
These words of Jesus show exactly how God created human beings, as described in Genesis chapter 2. It’s because Jesus distinguished the death of the body from the death of the soul. In Mt 10:28, the “soul” is a translation of the Greek word “pneuma.”
“God is spirit [pneuma] . . .” Jn 4:24
. . . the Lord [Jesus] is the Spirit [pneuma] . . . 2 Co 3:17
. . . all angels ministering spirits [pneuma] . . . Heb 1:14
God is the spirit, who does not belong to the flesh. Jesus, too, is the spirit, who does not belong to the flesh. Angels, too, are the spirits, who do not belong to the flesh. That’s why the death of a human being is divided into the death of the body and the death of the spirit [soul]. A human being or the devil can kill our body, but it is only God who can destroy the spirit.
The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the church in Corinth as follows:
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit [pneuma] within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit [pneuma] of God. 1 Co 2:11
What we should learn from the teaching of Jesus is that the essence of our life does not lie in the flesh but in the soul [spirit].
3. Apostle Paul’s thoughts about the soul
The reason we want to know the thoughts of the apostles is that their thoughts were established through the lessons and teachings from Jesus.
The apostles thought of the human body as a tent for the soul. This thought was deeply engraved in their hearts.
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed [if the body dies], we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Co 5:1
Our soul lives in the tent [the body] temporarily; however, when we go to the kingdom of heaven, we will live in the eternal house built by God.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord . . .We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 2 Co 5:6–9
The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the saints of the Church in Corinth that the Lord [Jesus] dwells in the spiritual world and we live in the physical world, and that when we are in the body, we are away from the Lord. Paul added that the saints including himself wanted to be away from the body quickly and live with the Lord. Here, what dwells in the body, and what leaves the body?
The one that wanted to be away from the body was Paul himself, namely, his soul. This means that the body Paul lived in was not the essence of life, but that the spirit in the body was Paul himself. In other words, the Apostle Paul lived not for the temporary tent [the body], but for the eternal house which would be given to him by God when his soul left the tent; and he prepared for that moment. He said in his letter to the Church in Philippi as follows:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain . . . I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Php 1:21–24
The words in 1 Corinthians 5, “We would prefer to be away from the body,” and the words in Philippians 1, “I depart,” mean the same thing. To depart means to depart from the body, which can be understood through the following words, “I remain in the body.”
Then, what dwells in the body or departs from the body? It is Paul himself, that is, his soul. He said it was more necessary for the saints that he remained in the body than departing from the body. This means that when Paul departed from his body, he would go to Christ, which was good for him; but for the saints, it was more beneficial when Paul remained in the body with them to teach them the truth of God and lead them to the right path.
When Paul explained the revelations that he had received from God, he wrote as follows:
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows. 2 Co 12:1–3
When Paul saw the revelations, he repeatedly said, “Whether it was in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows.” This shows that when Paul received the revelations, he did not know whether his soul was apart from the body and went to paradise or he was in the body. Through these words, we can understand that Paul had an idea that the soul exists separately from the body. If he had thought that the spirit does not exist, he could not have used the expression, “whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows.”
4. Apostle Peter’s thoughts about the soul
Peter always remembered the words that Jesus spoke to him before He ascended.
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God . . . Jn 21:18-19
Before Peter finished his gospel ministry, he remembered these words Jesus spoke about him, and out of concern for the saints who would be left behind after his death, he wrote as follows:
So I will always remind you of these things . . . I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. 2 Pe 1:12–15
Peter described his death as “putting aside the tent of his body,” referring to it as his departure. Here, it is his soul that departs from the tent of his body, isn’t it? When Peter’s soul dwells in the body, the body is his tent; but when his soul leaves, the body [tent] is destroyed and returns to the ground.
The reason we want to know the thoughts of the apostles is to find out what kind of teaching they received from Jesus. Through the apostles’ thoughts that we studied so far, we can understand that they were taught by Jesus that the human soul exists.
5. The life that is truly for ourselves
As we live our lives, we often think about who we are.
Our body is not the essence of who we truly are, but our soul confined inside of our body. The fact that we—more strictly speaking, our soul—live in the tent called the “body” means that our life on this earth is not everything. When we go camping, we stay in the tent for a few days temporarily. In the same way, our life in the body is nothing but living in the tent for a moment.
If we live for our body, we are the ones who live for the tent, the house. Shouldn’t we live for ourselves instead of for the house itself?
While we live our life of faith, we sometimes follow this earthly life. As long as we are in the body, we cannot deny our physical life. However, how empty and foolish will it be if we live only for the tent that exists for a while and then vanishes?
Though we are living in the tent because of our sins, we have received redemption, the forgiveness of sins, through the Passover established by Christ, and the eternal house prepared by God is waiting for us. It is very clear what we should focus on while living on the earth.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Co 4:18