CONFUSION OFTEN SURROUNDS THE DISSIMILARITIES between soul and spirit, and yet the Bible gives us a clear distinction. If the theologian has his way, Christ’s conscious ghost immediately left His body at the cross. Whether He ascended or descended to heaven in the interval between His bodily death and resurrection—or moved, independent of the body, to the left or the right of the cross—is therefore the subject of much debate. This is due to the fact that the Bible makes no assertion whatsoever that He even had consciousness to contend with. Confusion assuredly arises whenever Greek and Alexandrian wisdom holds hand with straightforward doctrine. The Platonist diligently seeks the slightest suggestion of the immortal soul and yet, if the Gospel and Epistle writers did not think the extracurricular whereabouts of his soul important, it is simply because such a concept was not even within the grasp of their reasoning. For the first-century Christian, the Savior had only one destination.
Jesus was laid in a tomb.
The Hebrew word ruach is translated “spirit,” “breath,” “spirit,” “ghost,” or “wind.” This is consistent with the idea that the spirit [ruach] is a wind or a breath from God. The Greek word [pneuma] is equivalent to the Hebrew word [ruach], and can be traced over four-hundred times in the Old Testament. Already by the second verse of Genesis we read that “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit [Ruach] of God [Elohim] moved upon the face of the waters.”
Man’s spirit and soul are both described in Genesis 2:7, and cleverly wedded together, when Yahweh “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [ruach] of life; and man became a living soul [nephesh].” Just consider this prodigious fact. The very breath we breathe, lungs to nostrils, originated from the divine—the one God of Israel. Should that not cause us to stumble over our own breath and gasp in exaltation? It is for this reason alone that we owe Him our fullest allegiance. For the Hebrew, this was an explicit truth, which Moses later rephrased when he affirmed that Yahweh was “the God of the spirits of all flesh (Numbers 27:16).” And yet the anthologies of human history, as we well know, are an ominous read—filled with dark speeches. The men and women who were intended to represent themselves as God’s imagers on earth did not consider their very breath to be a moral obligation. It would take floodwaters “to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath [ruach] of life, from under heaven” so that “everything that is in the earth shall die (Genesis 6:17).” Afterwards, God remembered Noah and his family, “and God made a wind [ruach] to pass over the earth, and the waters aswaged (Genesis 8:1).”
The children of Abraham, at least, those who subscribed to the true saving faith, likewise understood the exhilarating fact that the very breath in their nostrils was an inheritance from Adam, ultimately from God, and was therefore on loan. We need only look back once more upon Job, who declared:
“You have granted me life and lovingkindness;
And Your care has preserved my spirit.”
Job’s spirit was preserved by God. He would further add:
“All the while my breath is in me,
and the spirit [ruah] of God is in my nostrils…”
The book of Job aims to educate the reader of Scripture in elementary knowledge. Job’s godly friend Elihu would likewise add:
“The Spirit [ruah] of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4).”
Though it is true that the Creator has faithfully preserved our spirit, if God should set His heart upon the matter, Elihu made known, He could gather to Himself His spirit and breath, and all flesh would perish. Man, he said, his very being, would return to dust.
14 If He should determine to do so,
If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath,
15 All flesh would perish together,
And man would return to dust.”
So when the Gospel according to Matthew records that Jesus, while hung upon the cross, “yielded up the ghost,” he is keeping in line with Hebrew tradition while making an astonishing claim—which I shall turn to in a moment. To allege however that His spirit returned to God is proof—or rather, the only argument one needs—that we consciously ascend to heaven after we die is also to divorce ourselves from the consciousness of Scripture which preceded the cross.
David understood our separation of spirit from flesh in completely separate terms. The Psalmist wrote:
3 Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 His spirit [ruach] departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
The worldview of Israel’s greatest king would have us believe that the spirit is not the man. His identity remains with his body, even after his spirit has departed. There is consequently no salvation in mortal man to be had. He returns to the earth, and rather than transferring his consciousness—with a flickering candle among the chilling wisp of the haunted being—into the spirit realm, his very thoughts perish. Why do our Scriptural lecturers persist in telling us the Hebrew writers never aspired to rise above poetic jargon? We can learn much from the shepherd boy. If we allow God’s Word to speak for itself, we will indeed encounter good doctrine.
David’s worldview is rephrased in Psalm 115 with even greater resounding clarity.
16 The heavens are the heavens of the LORD,
But the earth He has given to the sons of men.
17 The dead do not praise the LORD,
Nor do any who go down into silence;
18 But as for us, we will bless the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
Praise the LORD!
In these three brief poetic verses we learn much of Hebrew thinking—and more earsplitting propositions. It is here, quite astonishingly, where we read that “the heaven—even the heavens—are Yahweh’s.” Rather, it is the earth which He has given to the sons of men. Heaven above is not a prize to be won, nor ours to claim, in this present life or death, because: “the dead do not praise the LORD.”
Rather than buckling to accusations of vernacular metaphors, I take his intentional phrasing to mean, in a straightforward attitude, that “the dead do not praise the LORD.”
His son Solomon would carry on these very Scriptural traditions. He rather famously carved into papyrus the following ink:
“And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit [ruah] returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).”
Admittedly, from these few words alone, one might easily conclude that Solomon was swayed by a dualistic education in Greek philosophy. Perhaps this is the reason he is so often quoted by the Platonist (and the Occultist), as though Solomon confessed the hidden knowledge of the Mystery religion hundreds of years before the loose lips of Plato. And yet, had dualism been his intent, when we stop to consider the whole of his Ecclesiastic view, and the theological forefathers which informed his doctrine, he would have employed his own words against himself. Though it is true that the spirit returns to God, Solomon’s intent has long been noted by the scholar. Every spirit returns to God—both righteous and wicked. If, by returning the spirit to God, we are inciting breathtaking flavors of heaven above, then everyone it seems is intended for it. Rather, the breath of life, first exacted into Adam, is on loan to everyone. And besides, Solomon has already instructed us to an inexplicable parallel. Concerning the wind he writes:
“As you do not know the path of the wind [ruah], or how the bones grow in the womb of a woman who is pregnant, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5).”
Furthermore, like David and Job and the whole of Hebrew thinking, the dualism of man is never recognized. When our breath returns to God, who lovingly gifted it for our praise and admiration of Him, our consciousness is not carried with the gale. Solomon further writes:
“For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).”
Reading such confessionals, it would be difficult to calibrate how Scriptural lectures on the afterlife could be made any clearer. This is not ambiguous thinking. The dead know nothing. If the very accomplishments of their life have forsaken them, it is because memory itself is forgotten. With these words, Solomon has taken a dagger to the shroud of Platonism. He literally chokes any hope of posthumous consciousness at the throat. Even the emotions which relate to our sense of self, how we see ourselves and how we think others perceive us, or how we perceive others, are extinguished. These are the biological and metaphysical truths what Solomon intends to relay to his reader when describing our return to the dust of the ground, and it should be noted that Genesis 2:7 mirrors Ecclesiastes 12:7 with astonishing clarity. The former speaks of the creation of man—the first Adam; while the latter describes the de-creation of man. Adam had no consciousness to speak of before his creation. The same can be said of his de-creation.
Adam died. He died—he died—he died. And since we have yet to witness a resurrected Adam once again walking the earth in our lifetime, we can safely assume that our aboriginal forefather is still dead.
There is of course the second Adam to consider. He also died. Suffice to say—when the breath [pneuma] left Jesus’ lungs, the second Adam experienced the de-creation of man.
All four Gospels astonishing concur.
He “yielded up the ghost (Matthew 27:50).”
“And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost (Mark 15:37).”
“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said: Father, into thy hand I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost (Luke 23:46).”
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said: It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost (John 19:30).”
The most obvious conclusion to make, Jesus gave up the ghost. To say He “breathed His last” would place a very different emphasis on the fact that, though Jesus surrendered Himself to the cross, the security of His life was always in His hands.
On the night He was betrayed, Peter drew his sword upon the servant of the high priest and slivered off the ear. Jesus rebuked him. He said: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?”
Even now as I attempt to picture Jesus on the cross; tormented, broken, bleeding, mocked, spat upon; to even try and grasp the Savior wrestling with the anguish of my sins thrust upon Him by the Father—I shudder to imagine another scenario altogether. That Jesus might simply change His mind and expire of His intended mission, and command His father to dispatch more than 72,000 angels to His immediate aide—that they might pull Him from the cross, restore Him to good health and, right then and there, thrust all of humanity into the fires of Gehenna—is a scenario which Jesus Himself declassified to Peter.
But rather, crying with another loud voice, He gave up the ghost by His own free will—and died. “No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself,” He said.
The earth itself, apparently, could not contain itself. If Satan and other divine beings who ruled over the earth had grasped for victory by putting the angel of Yahweh into the tomb, they must have been extremely nervous when, almost just as immediately, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom,” as Matthew records. This in itself is proof that the mission of Jesus Christ was an instantaneous success. But there mere fact that the earth did quake, and the rocks were split, “and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many,” must have caused the powers of darkness to tremble with fever.
The gig was up.
Their immortal soul doctrine was a lie, and death itself had begun to reverse itself.