June 3, 2020 Bible Questions & Answers

  1. What’s the difference between the spirit and the soul?
  2. In Exodus Pharaoh hardens his heart during the first five plagues.  God hardens his heart during the second five plagues.  Is this an example of God taking away free will?
  3. If the devil had the ability to choose sin, do angels still have the ability to choose sin?
  4. Many people talk about having experienced death and returning to life.  How can this be coincided with the Bible?
  5. Jesus talks about losing your life for his sake and finding eternal life (Luke 9:23-24).  Is this referring solely to spiritual death?

What’s the difference between the spirit and the soul?

“Soul” comes from the Hebrew word nephesh in the Old Testament and the Greek term psuchee in the New Testament.  Depending on the context, it has to do with one’s life, one’s physical existence, the entire person (a living being), or what one feels (the heart), and the immortal nature of man.

“Spirit” comes from the Greek term pneuma in the New Testament and the Hebrew word ruwach in the Old Testament.  Depending on the context, it’s used to describe one’s breath, wind as in air or gases, emotions such as courage, anger, or patience (he had a patient/courageous spirit), or one’s life/physical existence.

Jesus was said to have given his life (psuchee, soul) for a ransom (Matt. 20:28), but he said he gave his spirit (pneuma) to God (Lk. 23:46).  Because of usages like this, most generally tend to use the terms “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably in a figurative sense to refer to the immortal nature of man which leaves the body at death.  Yet, depending on the specific passage one reads in the Bible, a deeper study of the meanings of the words might be necessary to determine if that specific case requires that interchangeable usage.

In Exodus Pharaoh hardens his heart during the first five plagues. God hardens his heart during the second five plagues.  Is this an example of God taking away free will?

It’s true that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  He did so during the plague of the boils (Ex. 9:12), after the plague of the locusts (Ex. 10:20), after the plague of darkness (Ex. 10:27), and before the final plague of the killing of the firstborn (Ex. 11:10).  In fact, God told Moses ahead of time that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; cf. 7:3) and told him specifically why:  “so that he will not let the people go.”  Later, God told Moses twice that he would again harden both the hearts of Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Ex. 14:4, 17), giving another specific reason as to why:  “…and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.”

HOW did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?  It must first be pointed out that the Bible specifies that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34).  Pharaoh by his own admission sinned by refusing to let Israel go (Ex. 9:27).  Calvinists teach that God was completely responsible for Pharaoh resisting his command to give Israel their freedom, meaning that God would be responsible for Pharaoh’s sin, a blasphemous notion (James 1:13; 1 Cor. 10:13).

Remember that Pharaoh was the head of Egypt.  The name “Pharaoh” means “Great House.”  He was worshiped as the incarnation of the Egyptian sun god Amun-Ra.  His enormous power and prestige depended upon his control over his subjects, including the Israelite slaves who built his cities.  It would be against his political and economic interests to let the Israelites go.

This is important to remember when trying to understand how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  Being all-knowing, God knew the condition of Pharaoh’s heart already (Ex. 4:21; 7:3).  He foresaw what Pharaoh would freely do.  Because of his pride and selfishness, Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34) by letting his own interests dry up his conscience and morality, rendering them callous and unyielding (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-2).  God’s part in hardening Pharaoh’s heart lay in the fact that he gave the demand to let Israel go, a command which Pharaoh rebelled against.

Calvinists disagree, citing Romans 9:17-21 as proof that the Lord forced Pharaoh to sin against him.  They believe Paul said that God predestined Pharaoh would resist giving Israel their freedom, that God made Pharaoh do what he did so that God’s power could be shown through the plagues.  In his commentary on Romans, John Calvin said that Pharaoh’s “character was given to him by God.”  Calvinists believe Pharaoh was passive, like the clay in the hands of the potter.  They believe God alone actively and directly made Pharaoh and his moral condition, and that God does the same to each and every one of us today.

However, if that is the case and Romans 9:17-21 is a prime example of how God directly controls all of us, why would God inspire Paul to give mankind so many specific obligations concerning salvation in the next chapter of Romans (10:13-15)?  If God molds some of us to be created as nothing but good (so that he gives them mercy), and others of us to be created as nothing but bad (so that he hardens them), then there is no need for preaching.  No good would be accomplished by anything any preacher would say.

The concept of God the potter molding man the clay into what he wants does not necessarily prevent man from having free will.  After telling Judah that he had power over them like the potter has power over the clay, God specifically affirmed that Judah had free will to sin against him in spite of his warnings and pleas for them to repent (Jer. 18:1-12).

That’s what happened with Pharaoh.  God through Moses told Pharaoh of his will for him, but Pharaoh chose to follow his own plans according to the stubbornness of his heart (cf. Prov. 16:9a).  God did not turn him into a puppet.  Rather, God simply told Pharaoh to do something he was already set against doing anyway.  In that way, Pharaoh also hardened his own heart and made the choice himself to sin.

If the devil had the ability to choose sin, do angels still have the ability to choose sin?

There is much we don’t know about the devil’s origins.  We know he was created by God because the Bible says that God created all things, whether they be visible or invisible like the devil (Col. 1:16).  He might have been an angel created during the week described in Genesis 1; if so he would have been among the “sons of God” or the angels mentioned in Job 38:7.  If he was created during creation week, then originally he was “very good” like everything else God created (Gen. 1:31).

Some call Satan “Lucifer” due to the King James Version’s rendering of Isaiah 14:12:  “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!…”  Yet the context of Isaiah 14:12 shows that Isaiah is actually talking about the king of Babylon and is making a prophecy about him.  In like manner, some view Ezekiel 28:16-17 as the origin of Satan.  Yet contextually Ezekiel is actually talking about the king of Tyre.  Thus, any application of Isaiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 28:16-17 to the origin of Satan would be figurative at best.

All we know for certain is that Satan was condemned because of pride (1 Tim. 3:6).  We also know that God gave free will to human beings whom he created (Josh. 24:15), and God tempts no one to do evil (James 1:13).  Thus, the only logical conclusion we can make based on the little information we have is that Satan also had free will to choose obey or disobey God.  He chose to sin due to pride and was cast down.  Obviously he still continues to choose to stand against God.

We also know from Peter that angels at some point in the past had “sinned” and were cast by God “into hell” (literally, prison in the Greek) and were “committed…to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment (2 Pet. 2:4).  Jude likewise speaks of angels “who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling” and thus are “kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).  Both Peter and Jude speak of these events as happening in the past tense, with no indication that similar circumstances still occur.  Thus, there is no way of knowing whether angels still sin.  It seems that God gives those whom he creates the ability to choose whether to sin.  We know for certain through observation and inference that humanity and Satan have always had the ability to choose.  We know that in the past angels must have had the ability to choose.  So it stands to reason that they would still have the ability to choose whether to obey God.  Yet as far as I am aware, there is no biblical data to suggest for certain that they do have that ability presently or, having it, choose presently to disobey God.

Many people talk about having experienced death and returning to life. How can this be coincided with the Bible?

The Bible teaches that physical death occurs when the spirit leaves the body (James 2:26), and that death happens only once to human beings (Heb. 9:27).  That by all indications is the natural law God set in place at the beginning.

Miracles by definition are anything that God does through man which goes against the natural laws he set in place at the beginning.  The Bible teaches that the purpose of miracles was to confirm the word of God which was being preached and had not yet been completed (Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4) and that the age of miracles ceased with the completion of God’s Word (1 Cor. 13:8-10; cf. Rom. 12:2; James 1:25).  During the age of miracles there were a few instances in which a person died and was brought back to life, but statistically such cases were rare.  Since the age of miracles has ceased because God’s Word has been confirmed and completed, actual resurrections of people who have actually died no longer take place.

Medical science shows that physical death occurs when the heart stops beating and all brain activity has ceased.  Thus, those who speak of having experienced death only to return to life are those who in actuality had not experienced physical death.  In some cases the person might have come very close to death and thus in their mind experienced death, but in actuality did not meet all the physical requirements of death.  In other cases the person claiming to have died and come back has made up the entire story purposefully for whatever reason, or has suffered a mental or emotional delusion.

Since the Bible says that death only occurs once and defines death as the spirit leaving the body, then someone who has medically experienced death due to their heart ceasing to beat and all brain activity ceasing to function will not come back to life until the last day (1 Thess. 4:13-18; John 5:28-29).

Jesus talks about losing your life for his sake and finding eternal life (Luke 9:23-24). Is this referring solely to spiritual death?

Contextually, Jesus had just finished informing his disciples about his upcoming physical death (Luke 9:21-22).  The following verses (vs. 25-27) make implicit references to death by persecution in that Jesus speaks of “gaining the whole world” (including keeping one’s physical life?) and yet forfeiting himself (or his soul – Matt. 16:26) due to “being ashamed of me and my words” and thus keeping quiet and avoiding fatal persecution.  Verse 27’s prophecy of some of Jesus’ disciples still being physically alive when the kingdom of God comes clearly speaks of physical death.

For these reasons, it’s reasonable to conclude that Jesus’ statement “whoever would save his life will lose it” is a reference to saving one’s physical life by not confessing their Christianity to avoid persecution will eventually result in their condemnation to hell and the loss of their soul.  His statement, “…whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” would refer to being physically killed because one refuses to renounce or keep quiet about their Christianity, and thus saving their eternal soul by avoiding the spiritual death of hell (cf. Rev. 21:8).