Not Able to Kill the Soul

Matthew 10:28
28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Few passages of scriptures are more frequently wrested than this. It is supposed by many to be quite sufficient proof of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. But see the context : "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." So then Christ declares the soul to be destructible and not inherently immortal.

But here comes the first "wresting" of the passage by an objector. He says "destroy" does not mean to annihilate or bring to an end, but to afflict or torment. This, however, is very wrong. It means here to put to death without remedy, that is, without the possibility of any future life supervening. The meaning of the word is illustrated in all New Testament usage. Thus, of the infant Jesus, it was said, "Herod will seek the young child to destroy him" (Matt. 2:13). The Jews "persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus" (Matt. 27:20). In the wilderness, the disobedient Israelites "were destroyed of serpents" (1 Cor. 10:9). And many other passages might be cited to show that, as applied to man, "destroy" means to put to death. And now as to

"Soul".— It is popularly supposed that this word of itself conveys the ideas of immortality and immateriality. Nothing could be further from the truth. From one end of the Bible to the other the scriptures are full of proof to the contrary.

"In the 754 places where the Hebrew word nephesh (soul) occurs in the Old Testament Scriptures, it is said in 326 places to be subject to death ... The soul is said in 203 places to be in danger of death, and in 123 places to be delivered from death, implying its liability to death."

"In the 106 places where the Greek word psuche (soul) occurs in the New Testament Scriptures, it is said in 45 places to be subject to death ... The soul is said in 29 places to be in danger of death, and in 16 places to be delivered from death, implying its liability to death." — Waller's Concordance on the Soul.

Nephesh is translated "life" 119 times in the Old Testament; and the corresponding Greek word, psuche, is translated "life" many times in the New Testament. And it means "life" in this place. The term "soul" is not restricted to man, but is frequently applied to the lower animals, as in Gen. 1:21,24. As applied to man, it means person, life, mind, etc. "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). He became a living creature, but not an ever-living or immortal creature; God did not breathe into or place an "immortal soul" in man, but "the breath of life"; and all living creatures have this: "They all have one breath ... all are of the dust, and turn to dust again " (Eccl. 3:19,20). Therefore, when it becomes a question of withstanding "the haughtiness of men," "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isa. 2:11,22).

As to Adam, the first man, when he sinned, the Lord God prevented him from becoming immortal, saying, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." And "He drove out the man, and placed at the east of the garden of Eden, cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." This was lest he should "take of the tree of life, and eat and live for ever" (Gen. 3:19-24). Evidently, therefore; man has not an immortal soul. Moreover, this word nephesh (soul) is applied to dead bodies (Num. 9:6,10; Lev. 21:11; Hag. 2:13). And Paul, in 1 Cor. 15 : 44-45, says, "There is a natural body; and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." Here, according to the apostle, "a natural body" is "a living soul," which is according to scripture usage in hundreds of places.

"The Resurrection and the Life".— Christ's doctrine of eternal life is that it is to be bestowed upon the obedient of mankind by bodily change after resurrection and judgment; and he himself, in his resurrection from the dead to eternal life, illustrates his doctrine in the clearest and highest possible manner. In the chapter under consideration (Matt. 10) we read that he sent out his disciples to preach the gospel and do miracles of healing. But he warned them against men (verse 17), and comforted them with the reminder that their enemies could do no more than "kill the body." They could not "kill the soul" in the sense of finally blotting out the life. They could not prevent God bestowing eternal life by resurrection. This was Christ's meaning, and his own experience presently exemplified it. The Jews "killed his body," but could not "kill the soul," or life. God raised him from the dead the third day, and he thus became a quickening (life-giving) spirit. In view of this we can understand Christ's exhortation in the context of the passage under consideration, "He that findeth his life (psuche) shall lose it ; and he that loseth his life (psuche) for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 10:39). Here we have the same word (psuche) as is rendered "soul" in verse 28. If it means "immortal soul" there, it must mean the same here. But obviously, you could not speak of one losing his "immortal soul" for Christ's sake. But many a man has lost his life for Christ's sake, and will find it at Christ's hands in the day of judgment. And many a man has saved his life by rejecting Christ, only to lose eternal life in that day.

After the days of the apostles, some of whom lost their lives for Christ's sake, the faithful "Overcame ... by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives "unto death" (Rev. 12:11). They suffered persecution and death willingly, for they believed the word of Christ, and that of the apostles whom he had sent. "Your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). "This is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11). "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory " (Col. 3:4). David said, "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave" (Psa. 49:15). And of Christ it was said, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption" (Psa. 16:10). All this is illustration in doctrine and example of what Christ meant in Matt. 10:28.

Destroying Soul and Body in Hell.— "Fear him which is able to destroy both soul (life) and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28); or, as it is expressed in Luke 12:5, "Fear him which after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell." It is God who alone has this power. "I kill and I make alive" (Deut. 32:39). "In his hand is the soul (marg., life) of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10). "There is no power but of God" (Rom. 13:1). "The Lord killeth and maketh alive, he bringeth down to the grave (sheol), and bringeth up " (1 Sam. 2:6). The word for "hell" here is Gehenna (see the R.V. margin). This is properly the valley of Hinnom, and never means "hell" in the Old Testament. It is mentioned there thirteen times, five times as a locality: Joshua 15:8; 18:16; Neh. 11:30; three times as defiled by the crimes of Ahaz and Manasseh, and laid desolate on that account by Josiah: 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings 23:10; five times in connection with God's wrath and hatred of the cruel rites practised there with fire and human sacrifices, abominations which He three times solemnly declares He commanded not, neither came it into His mind or heart: Jer. 7:31,32; 19:1-15; 32:35

In New Testament times the valley was the common cesspool of Jerusalem, and fires were kept continually burning there. The dead bodies of criminals were cast into Gehenna as a "last indignity." Hence Christ's allusions in Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; Luke 12:5, etc. There is such a thing as "the second death" (Rev. 2:11; 20:14; 21:8). That is death a second time, after "resurrection to condemnation" for wilful sin against, God. This is truly "a fearful thing" (Heb. 10:31); much more fearful than being killed by men for Christ's sake. Judas was one of those who heard Christ's words, as recorded in Matt. 10:28 (see verse 4). He hanged himself after he had betrayed his Master; but that will not prevent God's destroying him, "both soul and body in hell," in the day of judgment.

Reproduced from: The Christadelphian Shield: Papers Explanatory of Wrested Scriptures