A question and response episode about the Hebrew word "nephesh."
Here is our Nephesh/Soul Q+R! Thank you to everyone who sent in questions! We love doing these and hearing what others are thinking.
Questionss and Timestamps:
Resources / Books:
"Body, Soul and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism/ Dualism Debate" by John Cooper.
"Body, Soul and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible" by Joel Green.
"The Holy Longing" by Ronald Rolheiser.
"Against An Infinite Horizon" by Ronald Rolheiser.
The Bible Project Video on Nephesh/Soul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_igCcWAMAM
Defender Instrumental: Rosasharn Music
Show Produced by:
Dan Gummel and Jon Collins.
Podcast Date: January 22, 2018
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: Hey, this is Jon at The Bible Project. Today on the podcast we're having Q&R,
question response on nephesh. A few months ago we released a video and some
corresponding podcasts talking about the Hebrew word "nephesh."
In Hebrew, the word "nephesh" originally and most basically met your throats. But in
our English Bible, the word "nephesh" often gets translated as "life" or often as
"soul." How do we get the word soul from a word that originally meant throat?
That's a long conversation. It involves Greek Platonic philosophy. The King James
Bible impacted our culture and the difficulty of understanding biblical context and
nuance. And we have a lot of podcasts talking about that.
A couple of key takeaways though. According to Biblical authors, we don't have a
soul, we are a soul - a living, breathing nephesh. Secondly, the biblical hope is that
God will one day sustain our nephesh beyond death so that we can enter a renewed
creation in a physical embodied state.
As you can imagine, this topic is a bit of a mind bender for everyone, including me.
So today, Tim and I respond to your questions about nephesh, soul, and the afterlife.
Thanks for joining us. Here we go.
Okay, here we are. We are going to answer some questions about nephesh.
Tim: Or about the soul. We did a video about the meaning of the Hebrew word
"nephesh" which gets translated as soul in the Shema. Then we had many podcasts
discussions about the meanings or misunderstandings of the word "nephesh."
Jon: I knew going into that, this is a category bender that's hard to wrap your mind
Tim: You were a little bit worried that we were going to disturb people?
Jon: Yeah. I'm surprised people just rolled with it as much as they did though. "Yeah,
awesome. We are a soul." That's great, but it's still it's still hard for me actually. A lot
of these questions are great springboards for me to probably continue asking
Tim: Maybe just to, again, summarize, the main point is the biblical words Hebrew
"nephesh" and the Greek word "psuche" used in the New Testament, these words
have been historically since the early English translations translated with English
word "soul." But what that word means in English doesn't correspond neatly to what
either of those words means in their original languages.
What's happened is that we have adapted the Bible to mean what the word "soul"
means in our cultural tradition as supposed to the opposite.
Jon: Which a lot of that comes from Platonic thought, like a Greek.
Tim: Yeah. It's a European stream of thought that links back to the great Greek
Jon: That's a good place for me to start before we jump into these questions because all
these questions are about vocabulary. For me to just make sure I'm on the same
page with the vocabulary that we usually begin in our modern Western context
when we talk about soul, which is for Plato there was this more real immaterial part
of you that exists apart from your physical self.
Actually, he has that metaphor of the charioteer riding two horses. Like you're the
rider. Your charioteer is like your rational spiritual self that survives outside of this
corporeal existence. Then the horses, there's two. I don't know the difference. I know
one was this brute of a horse, like the bad passions, and one was like your good
But the whole point is that your rational spiritual self can drive and control this kind
of more beastly physical self - your emotions and passions, and those kinds of
things. Dualism is what comes out of that, which is also what continues on into
enlightenment is this thinking that we have these two parts of us.
There's immaterial part and there's physical part, and they're separate, and they can
live distinct from each other. That dualistic thought comes into how we read the
Tim: Again, I'm not an expert on ancient Greek philosophy.
Jon: I'm not either.
Tim: It'd be fun to interview someone who is. But from what I understand and from the
moderate amount of reading I've done, that it wasn't just an idea that there's the
material and immaterial. But there was an evaluation being made, namely, that the
material because it's temporary and fading and breaks down, it's not the ideal. So
whatever is true or ultimate, or eternal, these are the non-material things. And so it
created a value distinction too.
The Israelite Jewish way of recognizing that material and immaterial because again,
we saw that in view, that idea is in the Old Testament, namely when a human dies,
they don't go out of existence. That self can be sustained by God's own power.
But the story in which that material and immaterial distinction makes sense it does is
totally different in Jewish tradition. I think that's where especially modern Western
leaders need to adapt our idea of soul to what the biblical story is trying to say.
Jon: What's the quick summary of what that story is then?
Tim: Is that the material world is good - Page 1 of the Bible. The material world's good.
It's become compromised and death is a reality in our existence that keeps us from
attaining to the full ideal that God has for our world.
But that full idea that God has for our world is material, is physical, but it's a form of
existence that transcends the current limitations of the physical world as we know it.
That's the biblical story. And that's why the resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin for a
Christian, that is Jewish Christian worldview because the whole hope is because
Jesus was a physical person.
So whatever the Christian hope is for the world, it's that our nephesh, our being
becomes fully redeemed and transformed, not abandoned for a non-material
existence. That's the big adaptation, I think.
Jon: Let's jump into some questions then.
Jon: Sam Darby has a question.
Sam: Hello, hello, Tim and Jon. This is Sam speaking from Marietta, Georgia. Can you
explain why Paul wrote that each of us has a body, a soul, and a spirit? If, in fact, the
soul is the same thing as the body, what do we make about the Spirit then with all
Tim: Great question. Sam, you're referring to the passage in one of Paul's letters. The first
letter of the Thessalonians Chapter 5, literally, like the last few sentences that the
letter. "And he praised the blessing over them." And he says, "Now may the God of
peace himself make you entirely holy, or sanctify you entirely. And may your spirit
and soul and body be kept completely without blame at the coming of our Lord
People have noted for centuries, millennia, now actually, that Paul uses this three-part
description to describe the whole person. "May you be wholly kept." He uses
two words to talk we think about the immaterial, non-material and then one word to
talk about material. The question is, what if he uses three words, he must have three
categories in his mind. That's one way of thinking about it is that these are three
separate distinct categories of the human person.
What's fascinating is this one sentence, this is the only time in all Paul's letters where
he uses this three-part description. He uses each of these words individually all over
his letters. Spirit, "Pneuma," soul is that Greek word "psuche," and then body which
is "soma." He uses them all a lot individually.
He also uses most basically a two-part description. When he wants to talk about the
whole human person, he'll often use a two-word phrase. Sometimes its body and
spirit. In 2 Corinthians 7, he says, "My friends, let us purify ourselves from everything
that contaminates body and spirit." But other times he'll talk about just the body or
other times he'll talk about just the spirit.
Usually, the human spirit for Paul is connected with thoughts. Actually, we looked at
some of these passages in our podcasts on spirit. Paul talks about a person's
thoughts - that one passage from 1 Corinthians 2 where he says, "Who knows a
person's thought except the spirit within them."
I remember that you had a cool moment where you connected a whole bunch of
things in a way that was helpful for me too about the immateriality of our thoughts.
We experience our thoughts as nonmaterial things. So Paul connects our mind with
Jon: Which is weird, because isn't psuche actually more related to mind? Because psyche
comes from it?
Tim: In English.
Jon: But in Greek, it's not.
Tim: No. Well, for the New Testament authors they pretty much continue on the usage of
nephesh. When they use the word psuche—
Jon: They mean nephesh? It's a little hard.
Tim: It's super complicated.
Jon: Because you've got Greek writers thinking in Hebrew and then we're reading it in
Greek thinking in English.
Tim: It's ridiculous. But for most people, they don't experience it because they read the
Bible in a translation, namely English.
Jon: But all those layers are hidden there.
Tim: All those interpretive layers are underneath. They are behind our translations. They
Jon: So when Paul write psuche, he is really just using a Greek word to mean nephesh?
Tim: I'd say the primary concept that he's using is the biblical concept of nephesh.
Jon: Physical living, breathing?
Tim: The being.
Jon: Your beingness.
Tim: Which is represented by my body, but which doesn't get extinguished by death, but
can be preserved by God to be brought into human 2.0 in the new creation. That's
the story Paul has in his head.
Jon: And so spirit, pneuma is then following the Hebrew tradition of ruach?
Tim: Ruach, correct. Which in the Hebrew Bible primarily means animating life energy.
Jon: While psuche is more related to mind in English and Hebrew thought, and Paul's
Greek thinking Hebrew thought it was more related to "your being"? So spirit is
actually more related to your thoughts.
Tim: Your thoughts, correct.
Jon: We did have this conversation.
Tim: We did.
Jon: I remember that now. Because there are a handful of passages in the Hebrew Bible
where spirit can refer to not your whole life animating energy, but to the invisible
ideas you have that create a physical effect in the world. There's a handful of those
That's actually one of the passages that Paul quotes right here in 1 Corinthians 2
where he talks about a person's thoughts being known by their spirit. It's from Isaiah
40, "Who has known the mind of the Lord." But in Hebrew, it's "who has known the
Spirit of the Lord."
Jon: But it's translated to mind.
Tim: But it's translated by the Greek translators as mind. Spirit (ruach) gets translated as
mind correctly I think by—
Jon: What's the Greek word for mind?
Tim: Nous. That's what Paul is riffing off of this whole second chapter 1 Corinthians.
Here's the point is that Paul is aware that these words have different meanings - soul
and spirit. The question is, when he uses all three of them together—
Jon: Is he creating some complete ontology?
Tim: That's correct. I think here's many people...sort of this one verse in 1 Thessalonians 5
has been used to generate traditions whole theologies, whole ministries. Because
the assumption is, well, if Paul said it, then for people who have a view of the Bible
as divine revelation, this the divine revelation of the true nature of humanity that we
are physical, spiritual and soulish. Those three distinguish from each other.
The question is, well, first of all, does that honor the context? Does that honor the
rhetorical or communicative purpose of these greetings at the end of the word? In
other words, is Paul delivering a lecture here on the nature of humanity? No. I mean,
literally, it's a—
Jon: It's a greeting at the end of the letter.
Tim: Yeah. It's a prayer. And you could take it many ways. You could take it that there are
many different ways of talking about the complex human person. Paul will
sometimes say, body and spirit. Here he says, body, soul, and spirit.
What about Jesus? I mean, if you really want to range the whole Bible here, I made a
list of all these words. Think of the Shema. That's a way of thinking about—
Jon: Your heart, your nephesh, and your strength.
Tim: That's right. Heart, soul, and strength. In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus quotes the
Shema, he adds a fourth one.
Jon: Your mind.
Tim: Heart, soul, mind, and strength?
Jon: Can we throw all these up on a wall and create some sort of complete taxonomy of
the human person?
Tim: Yes. Or there's another possibility, namely that there was no point at which Jesus
and the apostles and Paul got into a room and said, "Okay, when we say pneuma,
we all mean this exact thing, and when we say..."
Jon: They weren't psychologists.
Tim: Correct. It doesn't seem like the vocabulary that they use is always precise across
different authors or are referring to the same thing. So you could say these are
overlapping terms. The most basic distinction you have is of material and immaterial
namely, something that is physical that's at home at this stage of the universe's
existence. Then there's the reality that transcends beyond death and lives on into the
new creation. To those things are applied other words like soul or spirit. The
Jon: But "soul" can also refer to just your physical you?
Tim: Yeah. Your existence, which is your bodily existence both now and in the new
Jon: And somehow in between?
Tim: Yes. If I have a nephesh now, if it's going to be a transformed nephesh in the new
creation, then somehow my nephesh endures through death. That's the classic
Jewish and Christian hope.
Jon: It's just helpful for me in that if you start with a Greek thought, it's that importantly
we're immaterial and we'll escape our bodies and we'll be kind of immaterial for all
eternity. But this is the other way around, which is no, we are material. If you start it
Tim: It's good. It's not to be escaped.
Jon: We will end that way. That's the hope of Scripture. But there is this time in between,
which is kind of—
Tim: It's an anomaly.
Jon: It's not the ideal. It's the anomaly. That's a good way to put it.
Tim: It's a human nephesh existing in a disembodied state because your body is rotting in
Jon: And that shouldn't be like, "Yeah, of course." Because I am a disembodied person
living in a body, you would go, "That's weird. How's that going to happen because
I'm a body?"
Jon: Another difference is I think Greek thought tries to be really precise. I think the point
was they were trying to be very clear, where it seems like in this Jewish thought the
point wasn't to make these really clear categories to argue about philosophically as
Tim: Correct. But also it's just that we're trying to adapt to a Hebrew cultures way of
seeing the world and thinking about humanity. Sam Darby, your question was, "Why
does Paul seem to distinguish between soul and body if they're the same?"
Just to be super clear, in Paul's usage and in Old Testament usage, they're not the
same. Your nephesh is constituted by your body. But if your nephesh can be
redeemed beyond the grave, then it's more than this version of my body.
Jon: It's your operating system.
Tim: Yes, the operating system, but that requires hardware. It has this current hardware
and the biblical hope is that it will receive new hardware. So it's your nephesh. That's
the you now that goes on. Whereas for Paul, the body, when he uses that word body
or flesh, he's usually referring to human 1.0, namely, the version that will end up in
the grave and that needs to be redeemed and rescued. So they are different.
Jon: Then why another word then for soul and spirit?
Tim: Well, essentially, there's one other New Testament passage in the mix here in
Hebrews chapter 4—
Jon: Why don't we throw another question and then mix them too because we have
someone asking about that. This is from Johnny Ricardo.
Johnny: Hi, Tim. Hi, Jon. This is Johnny B, from Chicago. My question is about Hebrews 4:12.
It seems to me this tells us that man is dual nature and bones and marrow in
physical and so on spirit, meaning nonphysical. How can we understand this with the
view of man as a single nature being, meaning man is a soul?"
Tim: In Hebrews 4:12, I'll just read that the passage. It's a conclusion to really epic
movement of thought in the letter to the Hebrews. But he says, "For the Word of
God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates, literally
divide or separate between soul and spirit - those are our words again, psuche and
pneuma - joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
Obviously, it's a metaphor. He's saying that the power of God's Word through
history, and specifically in Hebrews 4 is talking about the story of Israel rebelling in
the wilderness, and how it names the rebellion, and there are consequences for it. So
it's sharper, namely, that it cuts to the heart of the issue.
Then what he wants to imagine are things that are so closely bound together,
they're virtually impossible to separate. The point of the metaphor is, there are
things in this world that ought not to be separated, or that are very difficult to
He names two things. The immaterial nature of the human. What is that essential
you that lives that God can redeem into the new creation? What is that? One of the
Hebrew words for it is "nephesh." Another one can be the word "ruach." The point
here is actually how close they are and how difficult to separate. Not that they are
separate and very clear. It's funny.
Usually, this passage gets appealed to, to say, "Look, they're clearly two parts to the
nonmaterial part of the human." This point is the opposite - is they're so close
Jon: The only thing that can divide them is God's Word?
Tim: That's correct. In the same with joints and marrow, of course, you can break them
apart. But if you're breaking them apart, it means you're killing it. They are not
supposed to be separated. The same with your thoughts and attitudes. So how do I
tell the difference between an idea that I have or the motive for having that idea?
Once someone pointed that out to me. The point of all those things is their unity,
not their clear distinction. At least in context.
Jon: So Paul senses some sort of unity between these two ideas of soul and spirit?
Jon: Even though he also by having different words is identifying they also are distinct?
Tim: Yeah. They're distinct in that they're the biblical vocabulary that he got from his
Bible. They are distinct words in the Hebrew Bible. But he never offers any
clarification on what precisely he means.
The fact that he can use them interchangeably, one time he'll say, "Body soul spirit,"
another time, he'll say, "body and spirit," he doesn't need three parts. He just needs
two to make his point. It seems as if Paul really just has a core idea of current
physical body 1.0, and then what an what endures beyond into 2.0.
Jon: And in what indoors beyond, you could say, soul and spirit. But if you were to try to
separate those, I think I heard you say this little bit, soul is focused on your essential
being this, your like being a person, where spirit is from ruach which is more about
the energy, the life force and specifically a lot of times your mental energy?
Tim: Yeah, yeah. What is invisible to me and others that produces visible effects in the
world, that's ruach and pneuma. They are two ways of talking about the same thing.
Jon: That's the thing. It might be two different ways of talking about the same thing.
Tim: Just like the Shema can say "Your heart and your nephesh." So your attitudes and
will and choices and emotions and your whole being. But it's a way of talking about
the whole United person.
Jon: And strength in the Shema is just another way of saying everything about you too,
Tim: That's right. Every possibility that your heart and nephesh.
Jon: It's a lot more lot more symmetry to these words than distinctions.
Tim: Or unity.
Tim: I think that's right. Unity. In fact, let me just recommend two books that have been
really helpful for me. This is a very old question people have been writing and
thinking about all these terms and what they mean about the nature of humanity. At
least in the understanding of the biblical authors. But two recent works that both
summarize the whole history of discussion and a really clear study, one is by guy
named John Cooper called "Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology
and the Monism-Dualism Debate." Thrilling title.
Then Joel Green, a book called "Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of
Humanity in the Bible." Joel Green's awesome. He's one of the only biblical scholars
I've ever known of who went the full PhD. route in biblical studies and then said, "My
education is not over." Then he went on into the sciences and got a Master's.
Jon: You told me about this guy. A neuroscientist.
Tim: A neuroscientist. Then he's gone on to write and edit a number of books on this
whole set of issues. He's written a number of books, but this is my favorite one -
"Body, Soul, and Human Life." This have been very helpful for me if you're interested
in taking a deeper dive.
Jon: Nice. All right. This question is from Daniel Ferguson. "In Psalm 63, David says that
his soul "nephesh" thirst for God. This is poetic language. But what does this look
like in daily life? What does it practically mean to thirst after God with my soul?
Tim: From our earlier conversations on the word soul, you talked about how you could
use the word soul in your previous understanding of it a just the part that floats
away to heaven. But you still had a way to talk about it. What did that mean to you
when you read a psalm that said, "My soul thirsts for God"? What did that mean to
Jon: It meant the most significant part of me. The part of me that really matters.
Tim: Like your core being.
Jon: And I think it's because—
Tim: But that's kind of like nephesh.
Jon: It is like nephesh. It's so similar, but there's a little difference in that it's core because
it's separate from the physical. That's what makes it more essential.
Tim: I see.
Jon: So when I'm talking about my soul, it's not that like, I long for you because I like to
snuggle with you, if I'm talking to my wife, but I long for you because something
deep and important in me is connected to you. It's more than you have.
Tim: And that view of the most important part of you was, it's the nonphysical part of
you. That's the most important part. So I'll say my soul.
Jon: Similar to nephesh in that it was the essential part of me, but it's still had this Greek
thought, which is separation from the physical. And the more I can separate from the
physical, the more real and essential I become.
Tim: We talked about that usage of the English word "soul" in transportation language,
but I was also thinking about soul music or soul means a music that's in touch with
the core of humanity. It comes from a nonrational core that exudes the—
Jon: I think that's what people mean a lot of times is the core.
Tim: Yeah, the core.
Jon: That's close to nephesh.
Tim: Yeah, it's very similar to nephesh.
Jon: But it's a core including your the body, not...
Tim: Constituted by a body.
Jon: ...not trying to separate it from the body.
Tim: Correct. Yeah, I guess that would be the difference. But that difference is important
because what these biblical poets are saying is that their very being, which is
constituted by their body. Like, what are we? At least in this form of creation, we are
intimately connected with our bodies. It's ridiculous to talk about ourselves apart
from our body.
Jon: You say that, but it's been easy for me my whole life to think of myself as apart for
my body. It's been easy for me to think of myself as some rational driver somewhere
inside my head that can exist apart from my body.
Tim: I hear that. I hear that. I mean, I'm with you. It might be we're both also both fives
on the Enneagram. Meaning that we are very emotionally detached and tend to think
about our emotions instead of feeling them.
Tim: So you and I are the best candidates for it.
Jon: But for me, I think my nephesh is so important because it grounds me more and my
body. It's saying, "I do have this rational part of me that feels separate, but it's an
illusion that it is completely separate. It's still connected intimately to my emotions
and passions and feelings in my body.
Tim: Correct. That's right. Daniel, your question is, what does it mean for me to feel? I
think what the poets trying to get at actually isn't something that you need to try to
feel. Usually, these poets are describing some difficult situation they're in - a
moment of loneliness, of hardship, of deprivation, or persecution and what they're
longing for is the love and generosity and presence of their Creator.
One author, for me personally, that's pastorally guided me into this in may be way,
he either is Catholic or is a Catholic priest. His name is Ronald Rolheiser. It's called
"The Holy Longing." Then you got a second book called "An Infinite Horizon." But it's
in the spiritual formation tradition. But the whole book is about this - the holy
The whole point is he actually uses a lot of these biblical metaphors and songs about
longing for God. His point is to be human in this stage of the story that we're in is to
be a being beset with limitations and shortcomings. Whether it's hunger, or thirst, or
loneliness, the need for relationships is...He talks about how we're creatures that are
constantly longing to transcend the boundaries of our existence. Whether it's to
never be hungry, or to never be tired, or to never be bored, or never be lonely.
Jon: We're talking about emotions here - sadness, fear?
Tim: Well, where he goes with it, and what to me was helpful about the book was, he
said, "What it means to take each of those limitations and stop seeing them as
negatives. Whereas deprivation is to see them as pointers, to see them as signs that I
am looking for something that transcends the kind of life experience that's available
to me. That hunger right points me to a limitation that my life can only be
constituted by the gift of something outside myself or sexual tension or loneliness.
Those are longings to be connected to and other than myself.
It's a very pastoral guide of taking places of pain and loneliness or need in your life
and transforming them into signposts pointing you towards something that neither
you or any human can ever provide for you.
Jon: So would he say then when you are feeling the pain of loneliness, your nephesh is
Tim: That's right. That's your nephesh longing.
Jon: Then if you direct that to where is it pointing to, then your nephesh is longing after
Jon: So if you just kind of wallow in it, and your nephesh is just longing and being
miserable, but if you make that a spiritual moment of what is it that I'm wanting, and
God can you give that to me, now you're doing what David was doing thirsting after
Tim: That's right. They're using their moments of need, and limitation, and lack, to remind
themselves of the inability of my current form of existence to satisfy any of my
longings. It's a holy longing. That's the title of the book.
Jon: That's cool.
Tim: Those can become redemptive moments to point you to your Creator and other, but
who transcends my limitations, and who can meet me in my moment of need. That's
true for the biblical poets when they think of Yahweh, the God of Israel, who came to
meet them in their slavery in Egypt, who redeemed them out of exile in Babylon.
Then that continues on into the Christian story where the one who entered into our
limitations by becoming human and Jesus of Nazareth by the one who suffered and
participated in human suffering, who endured it and came out the other side into
new creation, and that that one loves us and is with us and is committed to
redeeming our nephesh, this is what Rolheiser says it provides a moment to turn
your limitations and lack into moments of really profound spiritual experiences.
Anyway, it's a great book. It's one of the best things that I've come across that helps
me know how to translate those moments of my nephesh logging into spiritual
Jon: It's great. Let's talk about the afterlife then.
Tim: We've got a number of questions about the state of the nephesh after physical
Jon: Kevin Duker from Indiana.
Kevin: Hey, Tim, and Jon. This is Kevin from Indiana. My question is about the biblical writers
perspective on say our state of being in this anticipated resurrection. Is it some sort
of physical state or more of a spiritual state?
Then how does that connect to different burial practices maybe of their time or of
our own time when you consider something like being cremated? I'd love to get
your thoughts on all this. Really enjoy the podcast and all your videos. Thanks so
Tim: For the biblical authors that mention, we're talking about the idea of resurrection, it's
most definitely a physical reality. That's the whole point. If it was a nonmaterial
reality, the whole storyline of the Bible is short-circuited.
The whole point is that it's God's good world, but redeemed with death and evil
transcended and left behind. In the best sense possible, left behind. How does that
connect with burial practices? Man, there's like experts on this. Whole experts. I
haven't done immense amounts of reading in this literature. Because we actually can
know quite a lot about ancient burial practices because of tombs are often things
that survived from the ancient world.
Jon: You know what's interesting is, the Egyptians when they lay mummified Pharaoh's,
they didn't think the brain was important. They took it out and threw it away.
Tim: They scoop it out.
Jon: They pulled it out their nose and they threw it away.
Tim: Grey matter.
Jon: They're like, "What's this?" "I don't know. Some unimportant part?"
Tim: That's Probably what the Hebrews thought too. They didn't have a word for it. It's
interesting. It's fascinating. So burial practices. Well, one thing is I've been studying
Genesis recently and there's that phrase to be gathered to your ancestors is a way to
talk about your burial because you're being lane in the family tomb. So the idea is
you go to be with them in the grave.
Again, it does seem like the Hebrews Israelites, for people who were aware of and
use the writings of Moses and the prophets to form their thinking, they had some
sense of a future beyond death. But whether that connects to different burial
practices, it's really hard to know from the tombs that they dig up.
It does seem like many burial practices people brought...like in Egypt, people
brought gifts of food and different things to symbolically sustain the dead in their
Also, there is tradition in Judaism, actually in Christianity too that the burial of the
body is important to not let the body be destroyed and not let it be cremated.
Because if you believe in open resurrection, it's some form of that body that's going
to get transformed and raised.
It's only been in recent years, I believe...I'd have to go read up on that too - if there's
been a broadening of use on cremation. I'm pretty sure that there has. Some of our
listeners probably know way more about this than I do.
My take on it, that's all it is. My take on it is if God's capable of recreating, not just
recreating but transforming human 1.0 into 2.0, it's kind of involve a full new
creation. So whether or not human 1.0—
Jon: We just think of this from what we know about...
Tim: Cremated, I don't think it matters.
Jon: ...Biology and Chemistry and stuff is that if someone died 2,000 years ago, and they
weren't mummified or something—
Tim: Fully reintegrated.
Jon: Fully. I probably drank some of them this morning with my cup of coffee.
Jon: All their carbon atoms have been turned into other things. It's game over. It's going
have to be a full recreation.
Tim: Which is how I think of Ezekiel famous vision of his valley of dry bones. That's what
he envisions for symbolic recreation. It does seem that there were connections with
different burial practices to people's hopes of the afterlife or resurrection.
Jon: There's a really interesting parallel to this conversation and futurist thinking. Which is
people who are expecting that we're on the verge of being able to upload our minds
into computers and then live in kind of a new body that we can create.
Tim: I wrote the word avatar. Can avatar cover that?
Jon: I think an avatar is something...it's a simulation.
Tim: I see.
Jon: But in the movie, I think they were actual physical bodies. Were they?
Jon: It could be that I suppose. I guess that would be the word, avatar, potentially. So
there's this hope in a certain type of resurrection and people are freezing their brains
and stuff hoping that in a few decades we'll get there. So their burial practices are
definitely really being taken seriously.
Tim: In light of their eschatology.
Jon: Yeah. But it's interesting it's a parallel thought in that whatever it is that makes me,
can transform this body. Another way to think about that is, we know medically or
scientifically, whatever, that our cells are constantly reproducing, dying, and being
replaced by new cells throughout our whole body. Some tissue is faster than other
tissues. But on average, everyone's body is completely new every seven years.
The body you had as like a 15-year-old, you don't have any of those cells anymore.
They're all brand new cells. But it's still you. You still have the same kind of conscious
experience that's connected to that 15-year-old kid.
Tim: And if you were to juxtapose a 15-year-old, you end up 87-year-old you. It's a really
different version of you.
Jon: It looks different. The cells are sagging.
Tim: We still say that's you.
Jon: But it's still you. And so what is that? This is this idea of your mind, your
consciousness, or maybe as Paul would talk about it, your soul and your spirit. It's a
Tim: Resurrection in particular? Is that what you mean?
Jon: Yeah. This is something I've thought a lot is this is getting really geeky.
Tim: Is [unintelligible 00:40:07] usually not in geek mode.
Jon: There's a sort of experiment of teleportation devices, right? How the teleportation
device would have to work is somehow your body would have to dematerialize and
then rematerialized somewhere else. In theory, this could potentially work.
But if I came up to you, and I said, "Walk through this door right here, and your
body will dematerialize, and then you're going to appear on some other planet or on
the other side of the world completely reconstructed cell by cell exactly who you
are," you'd be like, "Okay, wait a second. So you're telling me I'm going to walk
through the door, I'm going die? "I mean, it's going kill you, every cell in your body
is going to disappear." So is that person that's going to be recreated on the other
side? Is that me? Is that my consciousness? I mean, it's going come with all my
thoughts and all my experiences, but is it still me? That's a big gamble to make.
Tim: Yeah, I suppose it is.
Jon: And how could you ever know?
Tim: We could ask James Kirk.
Jon: There's actually a show on Netflix right now called "Travelers," which is about people
from the future, coming back and embodying 21st century people. But they have to
reboot this one girl who has a brain disorder. And to reboot her means she's going
to lose last like six months of her memories. She doesn't want to do it, because she
doesn't feel like she'll be her anymore because she won't have those memories.
Then it becomes this whole weird philosophical discussion of like, what is it that
makes you, you? So if you upload your consciousness into a computer and then it
gets downloaded somewhere else...Anyways, it's super geeky.
Tim: That's a great question.
Jon: But I think the hope of the resurrection is basically that. You will still be you in a new
Tim: Yes. New hardware. But that's using another metaphor.
Jon: These are ancient questions from the scriptures 2000 years ago and now they're
being asked again by futurists and neuroscientists in a different way.
Tim: It's fascinating.
Jon: Super fascinating.
Tim: Really fascinating. This is the whole thing. The mind body connection isn't just an
issue for religious people. It's a front and center talk and philosophy and science.
Jon: It's our basic question of reality.
Tim: That's right. Essentially, what the biblical authors want to affirm is the goodness of
our physical existence, but it's also that it's compromised and severely limited and
needs to be rescued...to use the Exodus metaphors redeemed and rescued and
brought into a new mode of existence.
There's a personal connection between the me that is me now and the me that lives
in that upgrade form of existence. But the biblical authors don't seem to have
developed a scientific or precise vocabulary for it. They have a narrative vocabulary
Jon: So when it comes to burial and stuff, which was I guess the question is it doesn't
seem like there's anything we could do minus freezing your brain.
Tim: I see. That could prevent you from—
Jon: That could try to keep the stability of your conscious awareness intact so that you
don't wake up and it's not you anymore. It's just a version of you that you're "I'm not
gone and now it's just another version of me."
Tim: Correct. There probably is more to say about burial practices in early Christianity and
Jon: How do you want to get buried?
Tim: How do I want to get buried? Oh, I don't know. I haven't really thought about it.
Sprinkle my ashes in the mountain stream. I don't know.
Jon: You're really making it difficult on God.
Tim: Resurrection is such a difficult thing to believe.
Jon: It is. It is really weird.
Tim: If that's really what's going to go down, and I hope and trust that that's what's going
to happen, then I just have a feeling nothing I do is going to get in God's way of
making that happen. That's such a remarkable category breaking type of event that
how can my choice to be cremated or not get in the center of that?
Jon: It is easier to believe that one day will just exist outside of our bodies. As remarkable
that is, it's almost easier to stomach than believing in new creation and the
Jon: That sounds more sci-fi or just kind of wonky religious talk.
Tim: I think that's probably true. You're saying there's more cultural overlap with—
Jon: You go walking around and you're just like, "Hey, you'll live one day in some
Tim: And many people are like, "Yeah."
Jon: You'll be like, "Yeah." You walk around and you're like, "Hey, you will be reformed
into a new body." All sudden, it's just kind of like, "Whoa, what kind of science fiction
you've been reading?"
Tim: "The Bible."
Jon: Natalia has question.
Natalia: Hello. This is Natalia from Greeley, Colorado. I have gotten so much out of your
podcast, and I really enjoy listening to it. There is one question I still have after
listening to the lessons on nephesh. I think over the years I've heard many people
say what they think about how our bodies will be in the new creation.
I haven't found a lot from the scriptures myself, but I wonder what do we know
about how our bodies will be in the new earth when Jesus comes back? And what
did the first century Christians think? I'd love to hear your thoughts and just learn
more about that. Thank you.
Tim: It's kind of continuing from our previous discussion, though. But this is about the
Jon: The new body.
Tim: I'm a bit of a broken record here, too, but it's worth repeating because I need to
remind myself of this. The apostles who wrote the documents we have on our New
Testament, when they talked about their hope for the future it's not because they
had a crystal ball and they could see it and then explain it to us.
What they're going off of, is their encounter and experience they had, namely, with
Jesus. After his execution by the Romans, they met him again alive and in a physical
mode that was both familiar, they could recognize him, but also was odd and
remarkable. Sometimes the other ways they couldn't recognize him, but it still was
still him, because he had the nail marks. It was physical. They ate with them, had
meals with them. That's what they experienced.
Then by the guidance of Jesus presence with them going on from there, they
realized what this meant for the fulfillment of the whole biblical story up to that
point and therefore, what that meant for the future hope of the universe. That's
where they're writing from.
We have questions. "What's the nature of the new creation and of our bodies?" And
Paul will just say, it'll be a transformation in the blink of an eye, and it'll be made like
Jesus. That's the only model that they have to go off of is what happened to Jesus
will happen to his people and the whole universe. That's how the apostles framed it.
Jon: All we can know is what we can reconstruct from a few stories about Jesus and his
Tim: Yeah. And the and the point of those stories isn't even to teach us about the nature
of Jesus' existence.
Jon: So you can probably go too far maybe a little bit.
Tim: Yeah. The nature of the stories is to invite you to consider this remarkable thing.
Jon: But he ate food?
Tim: But ate food. There are the remarks that the apostles and his disciples were in a
locked room because they were afraid about people knowing about what was going
on and Jesus could somehow just be in that room, and then not be in that room.
That's remarkable. And there you go.
Jon: That breaks the laws of the —
Tim: Yeah. But it's very clear from the experience that it was a physical him because they
hung out with him and touched him and it was the him that they walk around with
in Galilee over the last few years. You can say that there are different ways, there are
different themes you can emphasize.
Sometimes when the apostles want to emphasize how fundamentally transformed
and awesome the new creation is where it's the fulfillment of our longings for hope,
and beauty, and justice, and life, and goodness, then they'll emphasize that it will be
totally different than anything we experience right now. That's what Peter's going
after in 2 Peter of like, it'll be like this world passing away completely.
But then other times the apostles want to emphasize the connection and continuity.
The Apostle Paul will use Exodus metaphors. It'll be this world, but rescued or this
world, but liberated from slavery. There the emphasis is on the same Israelites
enslaved in Egypt where the Israelites freed out of Egypt.
Both of those can be valuable points to make depending on the audience and the
season of life that they're in. But those are both true at the same time.
So Jon, give me your fundamental takeaway from our conversation about nephesh
and from the video. What do you hope people are thinking about now that the
video and podcasts are out there?
Jon: I think the fundamental takeaway is what I want to do is I want to create some
complete ontology from the Bible about what it means to be human. But I think the
takeaway is to just allow for some mystery there, not trying to be so precise.
The real practical takeaway is that my physical state, my emotions, and my
discomforts and all these things that I have physically are really important. And
learning how to like live in New with them isn't just a practice, isn't something I can
put up with now, it's a discipline that I will need for all eternity if we are physical
creatures for eternity - if that is true and I hope it is and get excited about thinking
about. It makes me more just in my body, more embodied and more sensitive to
care about things I'm feeling.
That conversation we just had on longings was really, really powerful. That it isn't
something I need to try to figure out how to transcend now because ultimately
that's the point is to transcend it, it's to live in it and to be embodied in that.
It's also helpful for me as an explainer to try to think of it separate from one
category of thinking is the immaterial part of us is more important, but we're stuck
with these bodies, let's deal with it so we can abort ship at some point to flip that to
being physical as good. And we will be physical and we will continue to be physical
but there is this paradox of in order for this to pass away and to be made something
new, there's some weird in-between state that we just can't explain with our
categories of existing and transcending without a physical body. That actually is the
It's not an anomaly to be these rational, psycho social-emotional beings. It's like
that's normal. The anomaly is when that gets disjointed for a while, while we wait for
new creation. Which is completely different than I think what I had before, which is, I
can't wait till I can get out of these emotions and get out of these feelings and
Tim: Something about this question about the nature of humans from a biblical angle, for
me it's similar in that it's required me...it would be much more convenient to have a
another view. Like the biblical view fills me with tension and questions. Not because
it's incoherent, it's just different than my default way of thinking.
To me, this is one of these issues where actually humbling myself and hearing the
biblical authors as a conversation partner is going to say things that surprise me and
maybe have misunderstood them. And allowing them to say things that might still
surprise me it's just a posture.
For me, this issue among many, that's just the posture we have to have maybe we've
just misunderstood at all along and need to rethink it all over again. Once you go
through that experience many times with the Bible, that's refreshing, ultimately, but
it is kind of destabilizing. That's what makes I think biblical studies so exciting and
Jon: It's cool. This is the longest we've spent on a word study session.
Tim: That's a good point.
Jon: This all came from nephesh from Word Study. It's a big one.
Jon: Thanks for hanging in there guys.
Tim: Cool. See you guys next time.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bible Project podcast. If you haven't seen
our video on the soul, it's on our YouTube channel, youtube.com/thebibleproject
and on our website, thebibleproject.com.
The Bible Project is a nonprofit in Portland, Oregon. We create free resources that
showed the Bible's unified story that leads to Jesus. We believe the Bible has wisdom
for the modern world and we're committed to letting the Bible talk to us on its
terms. This project is crowdfunded, so thank you for being a part of this with us.