The Immortal Soul

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, virtually universal in paganism, is not taught in either the Old or the New Testaments. Notice the admission of the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible in this regard:

"In the KJV of the OT [the clue is partly obliterated in modern translations] 'soul' represents almost exclusively the Hebrew nephesh. The word 'soul' in English. frequently carries with it overtones, ultimately coming from philosophical Greek (Platonism) and from Orphism and Gnosticism, which are absent in nephesh. In the OT it never means the immortal soul, but is essentially the life principle, or the living being. psuche in the NT corresponds to nephesh in the OT" (vol. 4, p. 428).

How did the concept of an immortal soul enter into Christianity? As early as 200BC, some Jewish sects were beginning to absorb this idea, due to Greek influence, and were attempting to meld it with the biblical teaching of the resurrection. This is illustrated by such intertestamental apocryphal writings as the Book of Jubilees and Fourth Maccabees, as well as by both Philo and Josephus. The Gnostics, with their emphasis on pagan dualism, stressed the immortality of the soul in contrast to the resurrection of the body. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: "There is a distinction between a Platonic belief in the immortality of the soul alone and biblical teaching regarding the resurrection of the dead" (vol. 2, p. 810).

Late second and early third century writers such as Tertullian and Origen played a major part in shaping future Catholic doctrine regarding heaven, hell and the immortality of the soul. The ISB Encyclopedia goes on to reveal: "Early Christians were often influenced by Greek as well as Jewish thought. For example, many were influenced by Pythagoras' teachings about the soul's division into several parts and its transmigration: Platonic and Neoplatonic [especially Plotinus'] understandings lay behind Origen's view of the soul.. Tertullian followed Stoic thought" (vol. 4, p. 588). The Encyclopedia of Religion brings out that many later influential Catholic theologians "all interpreted the biblical concepts of the soul along Platonic lines and in the general tradition of Origen and his school."

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