Christ's use of the common language of
the Jews, Aramaic, germinated a richer understanding of life a N and challenged
the old Hebrew perspective for N. Since N was in an insecure position
and faced the possibility of harm and even utter destruction, the ancient
Israelites focused upon saving N, delivering N from danger, restoring
N to safety, and sustaining N through provisions, especially food. It
is recorded in Greek that Christ said into this OT context, "He who
tries to save his P will lose P, but he who is willing to lose his P for
my sake will save it." (Mk. 8:35, Mat. 16:25, 10:39, Lk. 9:24, 17:33,
and Jn. 12:25) Whether said in Aramaic or recorded in Greek, its impact
upon the Jews would have been dramatic because it posed a threat which
carried the intensity of N. Many Jews became befuddled and thought they
had plenty of reason to dismiss, reject, or rationalize his claim. He
had the audacity to proclaim that N could be saved only through doing
the apparent opposite. How exasperating to be told the fulfillment of
the promise came only through giving up the very thing for which they
were hoping! And how 'teeth gnashing' to be told that this saving of P
could occur only if the losing of P was done for "his sake".
Nonetheless Christ demonstrated his teaching
by acting toward men and women in a manner that culminated in his own
crucifixion. Christ came "to give his P as a ransom for many"
(Mat. 20:28) and came as the good shepherd who "laid down his P for
the sheep". (John 10:11) This was a new commandment for the Jews
and yet it was the old one given since the beginning. (see I John 2:7-8)
With respect to the Hebrew view of N, it was a new commandment because losing P, giving up P, and laying
down P were all new ways of viewing N, yet old because N was still saved
through an obedient leb. Christ therefore expanded the semantic field
for N of his day and consequently influenced the style in which the Gospel
writers employed the Greek word 'P'.
Besides initiating a life style of sacrificing
P, Christ radically altered the old view of N when he instituted Communion
at the Last Supper. The drinking of his blood represented through the
drinking of wine (which was considered the blood of the grape, see Deut.
32:14) could only dumbfound the Jews raised in their Hebrew tradition
that drinking blood was akin to murder because sacred N was being consumed.
Yet, Christ said, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and
drink his blood you have no life in you." (Jn. 6:53) The Jews were
revolted and murmured because of this claim. (see vs. 60-61) "After
this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with
him." (v. 66) Later the disciples consumed his P and therefore
participated in his murder, but in drinking his blood they were also
nourished by that life which defeated the grave.
There is no evidence in the canonical books of the
Bible which indicates that this notion of saving P through losing it
was familiar to the Jews. Since the OT was written within a culture
emphasizing the preservation of N, the canonical books of the OT contain
only two instances of people risking N for the sake of another. Both
Jud. 9:17 and I Chron. 11:19 record an act of wartime bravery. The Jews
did not have in their Hebrew tradition an explicit statement of the
concept of "laying down their P for the brethren". (I John
3:16, Jn. 5:13) It is fascinating to discover that the NT church began
to grasp this new perspective for N that Christ gave to P. Barnabas
and Silas became men who "had risked their P" for the sake
of Christ. (Acts 15:26) Epaphroditus also "risked his P for the
work of Christ". (Phil. 2:30) The Apostle Paul himself wrote, "I
do not account my P of any value nor as precious to myself..."
(Acts 20:24) He was willing to lose P just as Christ had commanded.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother
and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own
P, he cannot be my disciple." (Lk. 14:26)
Christ added a sense of resurrection to the Hebred
view of N. Throughout OT times people were afraid of those that sought
N in order to destroy. Christ, however, taught: "... do not fear
those who kill the body but cannot kill P; rather fear him who can destroy
both P and body in gehenna." (Mat. 10:28) The Hebrews believed
man could kill N; but Christ instead taught that man could not kill
P. Even though the Jews might try to tamper with P, ultimately they
could not. When teaching his disciples to expect persecution, Christ
said, "You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and
kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will
be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will
perish. By your endurance you will gain your P." (Lk. 21:19) The
Jews were challenged to see that P could be saved if P would be sacrificed.
Christ's disciples learned that God still would keep P safe despite even death. "But we are not of those who shrink
and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their P."
(Heb. 10:39) The P that was sacrificed would receive a full existence
and not the shadowy existence of the rephaim.
Both James and Peter grasped this new way of
viewing N. James wrote, "...receive with meekness the implanted word,
which is able to save your P." (James 1:21) He also claimed that
bringing back "a sinner from the error of his way will save his P
from death". (James 5:20) Peter agreed with the idea that enduring
persecution gains P (Lk. 2:19) and that those with faith keep P (Heb.
10:39) when he wrote, "As the outcome of your faith, you obtain the
salvation of your P." ( I Peter 1:9)
The more common interpretation found today of
P in the above passages is actually a combination of a misunderstanding
of N in the OT and popular views of soul stemming from the Greek tradition.
A contradictory conglomeration of the Hebrew tradition for N and the usual
view of soul underlies the way the word 'P' is often understood today.
The 'opening up' of N into the NT use of P has lent itself to the tradition
of 'saving souls'. The concept of soul as immaterial entity is easily
read into the saving of P found in the NT. The P kept safe despite death
becomes understood to be that supposed entity which survives death. One
must view P in the context of its Hebrew tradition and not a Greek tradition
of soul articulated by Plato. The deliverance, keeping, and saving of
P must be understood to be a development of the deliverance, keeping and
saving of N.
There is evidence that Paul was aware of the
possibility of this very distortion during his time. He knew the presence
of a Platonic tradition would be particularly confusing to the Gentile
converts. E. Schweizer, in his article in Kittel's Theological
Dictionary, pointed out that Paul never used P for a life which
survives death. Schweizer maintained that Paul, when struggling for greater
theological clarity, used pneuma (usually translated 'spirit' like
the Hebrew word 'ruah') in reference to life after death and not P. Paul
certainly acknowledged a continuity between earthly life and resurrection,
but since he saw it as a gift of God and not man's doing, pneuma
was used instead. (see p. 650) The passage on resurrection in I Cor. 15
shows how Paul kept P within the Hebrew tradition. The first man, Adam,
was "living P" (the N hayyah of Gen. 2:7); the last man
a "life-giving pneuma”. (v. 45) Psuchikon was
the earthly seed sown perishable, corruptible, dishonourable and weak.
Pneumatikon was raised imperishable, incorruptible, glorified
and powerful. (v. 42-44) In Paul's view, flesh and blood could not inherit
the Kingdom of God. (v. 50) The OT relation between blood and N lead to
the conclusion that P could not inherit the Kingdom of God either. Unlike
his friends James and Peter, the Apostle Paul did not use expressions
such as 'saving P'. He expanded the Hebrew tradition for N only through
the new notions of spending, risking, and sacrificing P. That Paul refrained
from the expression 'saving P' does not mean that he believed that P was
not saved through its sacrifice. Rather, P could be saved through becoming
pneuma. The P referred to by the first disciples of Christ was not a rational
soul that could comprehend the 'world of Ideas' nor a soul that was a
microcosm of the divine. If Christians today are to be consistent with
their original heritage, then they must use an expression such as 'immortality
of the soul' in a manner different from the ancient Greeks. Paul realized
the importance of this fact for his audience and therefore gave P no immortality.
The preservation of the Biblical P was not considered to be an automatic
process nor something ultimately within the power and control of P. It
was understood to be a gift from the Giver received under the condition
that P itself was sacrificed.
Now that evidence demonstrates how P was rooted
in N and yet expanded its theme with NT meaning, one can look at verses
that are especially susceptible to mis-interpretation.
During a meeting where Paul was speaking at length,
a Eutychus sank into a deep sleep, fell from the third story, and was
subsequently found dead. In Hebrew terms this meant he was no longer breathing.
Acts 20:10 reads, "But Paul went down and bent over him and embracing
him said, 'Do not be alarmed for his P is in him."' The event is
parallel to the times Elijah and later Elisha laid upon a child whose
N then came to him again. (I Kings 17:17; 11 Kings 4:32-36) One traditionally
pictures a N entity that returns after first leaving the body. But if
it was not some immaterial entity that left and returned to each child
and Eutychus, then what did happen? Clarity comes when one realizes the
Hebrew tradition viewed death as the event of creation in reverse. Out
of dust man became N hayyah. Man breathed his last ruah when he
died; he returned to dust and, therefore, was no longer N. In these passages
the children and Eutychus revived as they began to breathe again. Ruah-breath
returned and thus they were still N hayyah. The return of N or
P was understood to be an event that could follow a 'departure of N' such
as the one described in Gen. 35:18.
The division of P and pneuma in Hebrews 4:12
is also subject to various interpretations today. "For the word of
God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing
to the division of P and pneuma, of joints and marrow, and discerning
the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Schweizer said that no
theological trichotomy could have been in view since bones and marrow
do not part. Thus P and pneuma were not distinguished, but rather
the word penetrated both together. (see p. 651) However, though no trichotomy
was in view here and the word did penetrate each, in this instance the
NT writer did believe that P and pneuma were distinguishable just
as clearly as a bone (joint?) and its life-giving marrow were known to
be distinct. The division noted in Heb. 4:12 is no different than Paul's
distinction in I Cor. 15. To divide P and pneuma was to divide
the corruptible and the incorruptible. The word could discern the thoughts
and intentions of the heart and thereby separate the obedient from the
disobedient. Those whose hearts were disobedient