Psuche in the New Testament

     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