Psyche, According to the Holy Scriptures
Psy·khe′ appears by itself 102 times in the Westcott and Hort text of the Christian Greek Scriptures. We may assume that when we have so many references to the same word or subject we would have enough opportunity to make it possible to get a clear concept of the sense that these terms conveyed to the minds of the inspired Bible writers. When you compare one verse in one book with another verse from another book in the sample of Bible Books, as a reader you should be able to get some idea what they really meant by those words. It should give a clear concept of the sense their writings should convey to the readers mind. An examination shows that, while the sense of these terms is broad, with different shades of meaning, among the Bible writers there was no inconsistency, confusion, or disharmony as to man’s nature, as existed among the Grecian philosophers of the so-called Classical Period.
The New Testament uses the word psyche to refer to life. Though Jesus says psyche is more than food or drink or clothing, it is clear from his words that psyche depends on these things (Matthew 6:25; Luke 12:22-23). Without food and drink the psyche would perish because the body would perish. Psyche is also subject to other frailties. The psyche of Epaphroditus was near to death due to illness (Philemon 2:30). Jesus, healing a man’s hand, asks whether it is better on the Sabbath to save psyche or to kill psyche (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9). Psyche is something that can be harmed or even killed, and requires healing. Those “souls” with Paul on his voyage to Rome were in danger of shipwreck (Acts 27:10, 22, 37) and eight “souls” were saved from the Flood in the Ark (1 Peter 3:20). As child, Jesus’ psyche was threatened by Herod (Matthew 2:20), and Elijah’s psyche was threatened by Jezebel (Romans 11:3). In all these cases it is clear that psyche means life, not some immaterial substance.
The fate of the psyche is equally clear in the NT. Far from being innately immortal, the psyche can be destroyed by capital punishment (Acts 3:23), for example. After death the psyche, rather than floating off to some other realm, resides in the grave – just as the psyche of Jesus did (Acts 2:27, 31). There is no verse in the NT that ascribes immortality to the psyche.
The Soul of the Rose, oil in canvas by John William Waterhouse (British, 1849-1917), shows the mortal Psyche admiring the Eros’s magical garden, the Greek god of life. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If psyche referred to your personhood or personality, to who you really were, then many expressions in the NT simply wouldn’t make sense. When Peter is willing to die for Jesus he says “I will lay down my psyche for you” (John 13:37); if Peter is his psyche and if that psyche survives death then what would Peter be laying down? Similarly, when Jesus gave his psyche (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 10:11, 15, 17; John 15:13; 1 John 3:16) what was it that he gave? If Jesus’ soul survived death then obviously the one thing he didn’t give was his soul. Paul says “I do not account my psyche of any value nor as precious to myself” (Acts 20:24); which is a bizarre and contradictory thing to say if he is his psyche. In all these cases, psyche would be better translated “life”. When Jesus talks about the danger that you might lose your psyche (Matt 10:39; Matt 16:25-6; Mark 8:35-7; Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33; John 12:25), he cannot be referring to an innately immortal, immaterial, substance that is you. Again, in these cases psyche is better translated “life”.
One potentially odd verse is Matthew 10:28:
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the psyche. Rather fear him who can destroy both psyche and body in Gehenna.
This verse is clearly incompatible with the immortality of the soul, since here Jesus says that the soul can be destroyed. However this verse might be read as saying that the body and psyche die separately, that mere men cannot kill the psyche, and that the psyche will be finally destroyed in Gehenna. The parallel in Luke 12:4-5 does not mention the psyche, saying:
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
This sounds like there is some part of you that survives the death of the body that might be cast into hell. However once it is understand that Gehenna is a metaphor for complete annihilation after the final judgement then any appearance of the immortality of the soul disappears. According to Luke’s account Jesus is effectively saying “don’t fear death, fear a negative judgement in the Last Days”. Matthew’s account presumably has the same meaning. Psyche in Matt 10:28 cannot mean “life” (in a mundane sense), as Jesus implies that human adversaries cannot kill the psyche, but nor can psyche here mean immortal soul, as Jesus implies that God can and will destroy the psyche of the wicked. The phrase “cannot kill the psyche” in Matthew 10:28 cannot be taken in an absolute sense, because it is clear from Matthew 2:20 that, in Matthew’s own terminology, the psyche can be killed. The best way to make sense of Matthew 10:28 is to remember that Jesus believed in resurrection. Jesus believed that he would give up his psyche (Matthew 20:28) but that he would get it back. In the same way, the believer should not fear those who might take their lives because God is able to give them back their lives.
The Supreme Being, the True God that made the world and all things therein, being Lord of heaven and earth. He is the only Immortal Being (1 Tim 1:17). All the other beings have a beginning and an end to their existence or ‘being’. Their psyche came from nothingness or dust and shall again become nothingness or dust, not able to think or do anything. This will be so for plants, animals and mammals like human beings exactly the same; none of them shall be able to take anything with them in death or could do anything in death. We are all, believers and non-believers, doomed to pass away, just perishing and not going to continue to live in another form, but all coming to nought.
 Studying the Bible demands such a comparison of verses to get a right insight of what the text really may mean.
Mortal Soul and Mortal Psyche #3 Historical background
Mortality of man and mortality of the spirit
- Creation of the earth and man #9 Formation of man #1 Cure of souls
- Is there an Immortal soul
- Bible sayings on the situation and place for the dead
- Jesus three days in hell
- Grave, tomb, sepulchre – graf, begraafplaats, rustplaats, sepulcrum
- This month’s survey question: Heaven and Hell
- What date was the Flood?
- Is God behind all suffering here on earth
- God’s wrath and sanctification
- Darkness, light, burning fire, Truth and people in it
- Autumn traditions for 2014 – 2 Summersend and mansend
- I Can’t Believe That (1) … God would send anyone to hell
- Jesus … will come in the same way as you saw him go
- To be prepared and very well oiled
- God’s Plan, Purpose and teachings
- The Journey of Self-Realization, is to Realize the Truth, Each Day.
- Von Belastbarkeitsgrenzen und der Sache mit dem Lernen
- A Return to Self
- Out of the Way (Mark 8:35)
- Emotional body’s set flexibility?
- Taking Care Of Your Psyche > Taking Care Of Your Psyche
- Mentality: Psyche, Slumps and the Perils of Hope