In part one, I pointed out how Jehovah’s Witnesses use specious arguments to spread their annihilation beliefs. Here I will proceed to examine their errors regarding the human soul and spirit.
The Human Soul
“When writing about the soul, the Bible writers used the Hebrew word ne’phesh or the Greek word psy-khe’” (Bible Teach, 208).
This is true. A reference work says: “Usually the nephesh is regarded as departing at death (e.g Gen. 35:18), but the word is never used to mean the spirit of the dead. Since Hebrew psychology lacked precise terminology, there is some overlapping in the uses of nephesh …and ruach…one of the main differences between the OT and NT usage is the application of both psuche and pneuma to human existence beyond death” (The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962, “Soul”, 1208).
JWs teach that when the Bible speaks of souls, it’s referring to people, animals, or the life that a person or animal enjoys. This is a selective definition. In the New Testament, the primary Greek word used for the soul is psuche, and it’s defined as:
a. The breath of life; the vital force which animates the body;
c. That in which there is life; a living being; a living soul;
2. The soul;
a. The seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions, (our soul, heart etc.)
b. The (human) soul in so far as it… can attain the highest end and secure eternal blessedness, the soul regarded as a moral being, designed for everlasting life;
c. The soul as an essence which is different from the body and is not dissolved by death” (Thayer’s Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 677).
In Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, six definitions are provided for “soul”: Actual life of the body, the invisible part of man, seat of personality, seat of the sentient element through which man perceives and reflects, the seat of will and purpose and that of appetite.
The Watchtower Society trades on the ignorance of JWs by giving a word that has a variety of different meanings only 3 definitions. For example, the definition of the soul as people or the actual life of the body when applied to passages like Gen. 1:20, 46:18, Jos. 11:11 1Pet. 3:20 fits in and is reasonable. But to apply that definition to the following passages is absurd:
Genesis 35:18 “And her soul [nephesh] was departing (for she was dying)…”
1Kings 17:22 “And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.”
Job 14:22 “But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.”
Psalm 106:15 “And he gave them their request and sent leanness into their soul.”
The context of a passage determines which of the meanings of the soul is being referred to. It’s just like the English word “stone.” It can refer to an object, an action or a name. It can also be used metaphorically. You can’t dogmatically restrict its usage to mean an object. So when JWs say “The soul is not something inside a person; the soul is the person himself,” know that they didn’t derive that from the Bible, but from the Watchtower Society.
“…nowhere in the entire Bible are the terms ‘immortal’ or ‘everlasting’ linked with the word ‘soul.’ Instead, the Scriptures state that a soul is mortal, meaning that it dies. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20)” (Bible Teach p 210).
At this point, they have hopped from one error to another. Earlier, they (mis)defined death as “non-existence,” so here they are applying that wrong definition onto the soul. This argument fails for the simple fact that it was the immortal breath from God that made Adam “a living soul.” Only the body was made from dust and it is the only part of man that dies at physical death and goes back to the dust, when the inner man (soul and spirit) leaves the body (Gen. 2:7, James 2:26).
A Bible scholar pointed out that, “When God created man He created Him in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27). The question is: What is the image of God in man? The image of God in man cannot be physical because God is a spirit (John 4:24) and does not have a body. The image, then, must be non-material…” (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 2008, 318).
The inner man has immortality because it came from God who is eternal and immortal. The fact that God “only has immortality dwelling in light” (1Tim. 6:16) does not negate the fact that the inner man is immortal or that Believers dwell in the light. That God “is the only wise” One doesn’t imply that He doesn’t give wisdom to men who ask Him.
When the Bible speaks of the soul dying (Ezk. 18:4) being lost (Mt. 16:26) or destroyed (Acts 3:23) it’s referring to its separation from God, not non-existence. The physical body is mortal while the inner man (soul and spirit) is immortal (Eccl. 3:19-21). The Bible says “your hearts [soul] shall live for ever” (Ps. 22:26). The soul is called the “hidden man of the heart…which is not corruptible” i.e it does not decay (1 Peter 3:4).
Moses died and was buried by God (Deut. 34), yet centuries after his death, he spoke with Jesus (Mt. 17:3). If he became non-existent after death, did God re-create him that moment and made him non-existent again after then? No. Jesus said God “is not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38). He is not the God of the non-existent.
2 Corinthians 4:16 says “but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” The outward man is the physical body which is seen while the inward man is the unseen inner man. Apostle Paul desired “to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” He didn’t say “absent from the body and becoming non-existent” (2Cor. 5:8)
Jesus says “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” but that the destruction of the soul is eternal separation in hell, not “non-existence” (Mt. 10:28). In Revelations 6:9-11, “the souls of them that were slain for the word of God cried out… And white robes were given to them” and told to rest for a time until their brethren “that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
There is no justification for minimizing, de-emphasizing or ignoring these verses unless one is committed to Watchtower leadership.
The human spirit
The human spirit is the seat of knowledge, conscience, intuition and worship and has the soul (which is the seat of emotions, will etc). Notice how JWs defined it:
“Spirit’ thus refers to an invisible force (the spark of life) that inanimates all living creatures…like electricity, the spirit has no feeling and cannot think. It is an impersonal force” (Bible Teach, 201-11)
This is where the Watchtower missed its mark. The Bible shows that the human spirit is in the body and is not made of the material of the body (Job 32:8, Zech. 12:1, 1Cor. 2:11). Furthermore, the human spirit rejoices (Luke 1:47), receives witness (Romans 8:16), perceives (Mark 2:8), groans (John 11:33), can be stirred (Acts 17:16) and possess knowledge (1Cor. 2:11).
It’s outright rebellion to say that human spirits lack feelings or thinking. Try and substitute the word “spirit” in these verses with “electricity” or “life-force” and see how absurd they sound.
The Watchtower tactics
Apart from the semantic juggling of words, the Watchtower Society also utilizes other tactics to maintain this false teaching.
1. Misquoting sources
In Reasoning from the Scriptures (pp. 169-170), a quote is offered from Encyclopedia Britannica (vol XXV, 236) to disprove the soul’s immortality. The part appearing in bold were intentionally omitted:
“In the NT, the Greek word psyche is often translated as “soul” but again should not be readily understood to have the meaning the word had for the Greek philosophers. It usually means “life” or “vitality,” or at times “the self.” While most Christians believe in a life after death, the Bible does not provide a clear description of how a person survives after death. Christian theologians have had to resort to the discourse of philosophers for an adequate means of describing survival of the individual after death, and philosophers have traditionally utilised the concept of the soul as the vehicle of immortality.”
2. Poisoning the well
They attempt to link the Christian doctrine on the afterlife with paganism (by misquoting their sources or utilizing the biased works of other annihilationists). They also project a negative image of pastors or Christian Bible teachers as ‘servants of Satan.’ This is a pre-emptive tactic employed to seal the minds of JWs to whatever their opponents say.
“The Bible’s teaching about the condition of the dead leaves many of Christendom’s clergymen in an awkward position. They very book on which they claim to base their teachings, the Bible conflicts with their doctrines. Yet, consciously or unconsciously, they feel impelled to reach into the Bible to seize on something to prove their point, thereby blinding themselves and others to the truth” (Is this Life All There Is? 1974, 98, 99).
Here is another quote: “The ‘burning anger of Jehovah’ is against all who have misled their fellowmen by lying about God and his purposes. And he does not hold guiltless those who support such men by attending their religious services or being members of their organizations. The time left before the execution of divine judgement is short…you need to act quickly…to break all ties with the world empire of false religion.” (p. 187)
The scare-mongering and the appeal to isolation in these quotes are obvious. The amusing thing is that, on one hand, JWs are told to quickly cut all ties with all churches, yet the JW who wrote this claims to know what church clergymen might say or do “consciously or unconsciously.” How did he know them? Such screeching rhetoric are meant to prevent JWs from reading any reputable Christian work exposing the lies of the Watchtower Society.
3. Comma shifting
Luke 23:43 “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Here, Jesus was promising the pernitent thief that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. This is another proof of the immortality of the inner man and an eternal destination. This would torpedo the JW doctrine, so they shifted the comma to after the word “today” in their New World Translation (NWT) bible to read as:
“Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise”
To defend, this spurious translation, they argue that: “Westcott and Hort text put a comma in the Greek text before the word today… in the original Greek, no comma is found” (Kingdom Interlinear Translation, 1969, 408).
The fact is that the punctuation in English is determined by the context of the passage. The NWT has no scholarly support for this mis-punctuation. This is why all Bible versions (with the exception of the NWT) renders the comma after “you” and not “today.”
Greek scholars are in agreement. Dr Randolph Yaeger in his work, The Renaissance New Testament translates Luke 23:43 as: “Therefore He said to him, truly I am telling you, Today you shall be with me in paradise.” Greek scholar, Kenneth Wuest renders it: “And He said to him, Assuredly I to you am saying, Today you will be with me in paradise” (The New Testament- An Expanded Translation, Grand Rapids, MI, 1961, 203).
As stated elsewhere, these are the tactics employed when a religious organization is bereft of truth. Dr. Ron Rhodes explains why the JWs had to tamper with this Bible text:
“It is helpful to observe how the phrase, ‘Truly, I say unto you’ is used elsewhere in Scripture. The phrase – which translates the Greek word amen soi lego – occurs 74 times in the Gospels and is always used as an introductory expression … In 73 out of 74 times the phrase occurs in the Gospels, the New World Translation places a break- such as a comma- immediately after the phrase, ‘Truly I tell you’. Luke 23:43 is the only occurrence of the phrase in which the New World Translation does not place a break after it. Why? … this would go against Watchtower theology” (Reasoning from The Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Harvest House, 1993, 328).