Excursus: Moses on the souls of animals

SDC11002Long before Plato ever said anything about the human soul, the Old Testament writers presented a consistent biblical anthropology. Augustine was biased toward platonic philosophy, even going so far as to claim that Plato brought him to God.[1] But there is no reason for us today to be biased toward Plato’s (or anyone else’s) philosophy. We should first seek to understand what God himself has revealed about humanity before inquiring of any human speculation.

The Hebrew word Moses used that our English bibles sometimes translate soul is nephesh, a word that suggests something that breathes. In fact, the Ugaritic and Akadian cognates also mean “throat.”[2] Moses’ use was consistent with an understanding that a soul is a living breathing being.

Consistent with this understanding, Moses had no problem using the term nephesh to refer to animals. In the creation account, Moses records “And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”[3] The ESV uses the phrase “living creatures” to translate the Hebrew nephesh chayah (souls of life). It is obvious from the context that Moses refers to fish and sea mammals, and birds, not people. This first use of nephesh highlights a contrast with Plato’s teaching that only human beings have souls.

Moses continues to use the term to refer to animals in the next few verses. He says “So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.”[4] Likewise, in verse 24, “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds- livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.”[5] And later he says, “And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.”[6] The phrase “breath of life” translates nephesh chayah again. So all four references to the soul in Genesis 1 refer to animals, not people.

Later in the account of Adam’s dominion in the garden of Eden, Moses again speaks of animals with souls when he describes Adam’s responsibility to name them: “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”.[7]

When Moses recorded God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, he included the provision which allows for eating animals. The covenant stipulated that “you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”[8] The word the ESV translates as life is the same term, nephesh. He probably meant that the blood of the animal is essential to its life – that is – if you take away its blood it will stop breathing. The rule forbade eating an animal while it was still alive – while it still had its soul. The account continues to use the term nephesh in reference to animals.[9]

It is poor theology to simply suggest that the same term means living being when referring to animals, but implies an immortal being when referring to people. It does not do justice to the fact that the term is used of both animals and people, nor to the fact that their meaning is consistent as long as the interpreter is not already biased with a presupposition that humans were created immortal.

What we learn from Moses is that humans were created — like the animals — as living, breathing beings, and that when they lose their breath, they die, and return to the dust from which they came.[10] Without the promise of resurrection, that would be the end of human existence.

Greek philosophy came along and subverted that simple theology by taking God and the resurrection out of the picture. Instead Plato and others exalted the nature of humanity. That magnified anthropology bolstered the concept of the dignity of man, at the expense of Moses’ teaching on human dependence upon God.

The gospel message does not require that humans be deified. It tells us that believers have the hope of eternal life – not because we were born different from the animals – but because Jesus has made a way for us to be resurrected to immortality. It is the cross of Jesus Christ – not our created human nature – that gives us hope of life beyond the grave. It is the second coming of Jesus Christ – not our own death – that is the biblical blessed hope.

[1] B. F. Cocker, Christianity and Greek Philosophy (New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1870), 10.

[2] See The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1935a Nephesh.

[3] Genesis 1:20.

[4] Genesis 1:21.

[5] Genesis 1:24.

[6] Genesis 1:30.

[7] Genesis 2:19.

[8] Genesis 9:4.

[9] Genesis 9:10, 12, 15, 16.

[10] Genesis 3:19.

Surprising Lessons about Love

lovehooks I woke up this morning exegeting the love chapter, and I was anxious to get to the text to find out if I was getting it right.

My thought was that many of the things that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 actually go against the grain of conventional wisdom about love. Our songs and poems celebrate something different than what he described.

less about passion, more about maturity

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (11).

The love we have celebrated this month is driven by youthful passion. The love Paul urges upon the believers in Corinth has put away the passions of youth and is able to make deliberate decisions about how it performs.

Our world is upside down when it thinks about love. It talks about “adult movies” and films for “mature audiences” when in fact the those things feed on the most childish passion driven things in our nature. Paul tells us that true love is not passion driven.

The context of 1 Corinthians 13 is spiritual gifts – notably how the Corinthians were abusing those gifts by forcing them down each others’ throats. He was trying to get the Corinthians to act more loving with regard to their ministry. He wanted them to be more mature, less passion driven.

less about doing, more about being

Another surprising lesson we find here is that love describes a person’s heart not his hands. It is demonstrated by works, but cannot be reduced to works. In fact, you can do all those works that the world recognizes as spiritual, and yet still not have love, and all those works will be useless.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1-3).

Love is a reflection of who we have become because God’s Holy Spirit has changed our character.  It cannot be quantified by how much time or money you choose to spend on the beloved. There is nothing wrong with spending time or money, or even giving of ourselves sacrificially for the ones we love. But those are acts of love. They demonstrate love, but they do not define it.

less about possession, more about surrender

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (4-6).

Our culture continues to play with the concept of love as a dominating force. It is something that you fall into and out of. It is the result of an enemy’s weapon (cupid’s arrow) and now someone owns you. You are forced to want them against your better judgment. The passion rules now, and if it ever lessens, you will break free and be yourself again.

The truth about love is that we choose to love. We willfully surrender the selfish part of our nature, and we do so not under compulsion, but out of joy.  We realize that our true happiness is never going to come from owning things or people. It will only come from choosing to surrender self and becoming the answer to someone else’s needs and desires.

One of the most ridiculous things people have ever said about love is that it means never having to say you are sorry. What a crock of bull feathers! Love means constantly apologizing, changing, adjusting because you do not want to hurt or keep hurting your beloved. It is a lifetime of saying “I’m sorry, I did not want to hurt you.” It willfully surrenders the self with its envy, boasting, rudeness, and its getting its own way.

LORD, help us to demonstrate true love to a world lost in selfishness and immaturity.

two cars… two Englishes




Both U.S.A. and New Zealand speak the same language – ostensibly. But it is a case of the two nations being separated by a common language. You can see this well by comparing how the two cultures talk about their cars.

Penny and I have a car in the States … a nice PT Cruiser. I love that car, and my sister Gina says that it’s me. It’s a kind of retro thing.

We also had a car in NZ. It was a Hyundai Sonata. It was a gift horse – so we didn’t look it in the mouth.

They pronounce the “y” in Hyundai there, but not in the States. In the U.S.A. it would be called a “HUNDAY”.”

One of differences between the two cars is that the Hyundai is built for driving on the left side of the road. For some reason, Kiwis like doing that. The steering wheel is on the right side, and the wipers and the directional signal devices are reversed. All of this makes for some rather surreal experiences once one decides to give driving a try.  It took months before Penny and I remembered which side of the car to get in on.

The Cruiser has a windshield, but the Sonata has a windscreen.

The Cruiser has a back hatch, but the Sonata has a boot – which in the States would be called a trunk.

The Cruiser has a hood, but the Sonata has a bonnet.

The Cruiser has tires, so does the Sonata, but they can also be spelled TYRES.

You can adjust a nut on the Cruiser with a wrench, but to do the same thing on the Sonata you would use a spanner.

The Sonata is older, but in ok condition. If it were in disrepair, Kiwis would call it a bomb, Americans would call it a clunker. The Sonata has had its share of dings (which we Americans call fender benders). We had one the other day, and had to go to the Panel Beaters instead of the auto body shop. We had to replace the driver’s side door, because it had a bad prang (dent).

Cars have to be periodically inspected in NZ. If they pass, they get a WOF (Warrant of Fitness), which allows you to keep driving them.

In New Zealand, I could drive the Sonata to a dairy, and park in the car park. In the States, I drive my Cruiser to a convenience store, and park in the parking lot.

Most of the road signs are the same, except for the speeds being in kph. 100 kph seems high to me.  Their “Yield” signs there say “Give Way” instead. Speed bumps are called judder bars.

Now that  we have returned to the States – back to our PT Cruiser – we have fond memories of our times on the road in New Zealand with the Sonata. We will probably use words like “interesting” and “remarkable” to describe the experience.  It has been both.

Expanding Your Circle

Expanding Your Circle 1

2 Corinthians 10:9-16 ESV

9 I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. 12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. We were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence.

Expanding Your Circle 2

Nobody ever does anything of significance without collecting a few critics. History has been very good to the apostle Paul, but in his day there were a lot of people who did not care for his ministry – both within and outside the church. His 2nd letter to the Corinthians bears that out. Here are just a few of the things some people in Corinth were saying about him: “1) He had a lot of bad luck. Obviously God was not blessing him for a reason. 2) He can’t be trusted. He promises to visit, then backs out at the last minute. 3) He’s too harsh. When someone got out of line, Paul ordered him excommunicated. No grace. 4) He’s not really an apostle. He is so much different from the real apostles from the Jerusalem churches. He is actually a wannabe tentmaker.”

In 2 Corinthians Paul addressed these criticisms. He was concerned to set the record straight, as we all should be.

Expanding Your Circle 3

Often criticism comes from a lack of understanding. That is the case with the Corinthians who criticized Paul’s ministry. They did not understand the driving force behind the decisions that Paul made. Three times in today’s text Paul talks about a person’s “area of influence” (13,15,16). What drove Paul more than any other principle — and affected the choices he made – was the desire to expand his area of influence to the widest scope possible. Notice in verse 16 he says that he wants to preach the gospel in lands beyond the Corinthians.

Expanding Your Circle 4


Paul began his life as Saul of Tarsus. Most of the choices he made for himself narrowed his area of influence instead of expanding it. He wound up rejecting Jesus as the Messiah because Jesus did not fit within his worldview. He persecuted Christians because they were outsiders, and outsiders were not to be tolerated. When Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road, he not only converted to Christ, the direction of his circle changed. From that time on, Paul was dedicated to reaching his world with the gospel.

What about you? In what direction is your circle moving? Is it getting narrower of broader? My guess is that if you could be a missionary right here in McAlpin without crossing any oceans, you would want to do it.

Expanding Your Circle 5

I think that if we look at the life of the apostle Paul, we can get some ways of doing just that. First, I want to suggest that you keep learning. Foreign territory is scary, whether it is another culture in another nation, or just another part of town. The more you know about the territory outside your present circle, the better you will be able to expand into it. Paul probably knew five languages. He had Roman citizenship, which enabled him to travel extensively. He had learned to adapt to different ways. He did not compare himself to those who were criticizing him. That’s what they did (12). He learned how to do ministry differently.

Expanding Your Circle 6

During our 13 years in the Philippines as missionaries, Penny and I encountered lots of challenges. But we were able to endure those challenges partly because we had spent a few years training specifically for cross-cultural ministry at seminary. Education is not the answer to every problem, but a good education can at least let you know what kinds of problems you are going to encounter. During those same 13 years we saw many missionaries come and go, and some of them had no preparation whatsoever. It was like they just felt the call and got on a plane. I don’t recommend that. Anything worth doing is worth learning how to do. So, if you want to reach your town, or city for Christ, let me suggest that you first learn what needs you can meet that will draw the people in your town or city to yourself.

Expanding Your Circle 7

When we moved to New Zealand, we had to learn that culture as well. We could have just assumed that everyone would understand us because most people speak English there. But we would have been wrong. Just like in the Philippines, the English spoken there has differences that we have to pick up on to communicate. For example compare the car we drive here with that we drove in New Zealand. My P.T. Cruiser does not have a boot, a windscreen, a bonnet. It doesn’t have any dings or prangs, but if it did, we would not go to the panelbeaters to repair it. Mt PT Cruiser does not know what a WOF is, but the Hyundai had to have one every six months. And when I take the Cruiser to the Jiffy Store I park in the parking lot; but I took the Sonata to the dairy and parked in the car park. So you see I had to learn how to talk about the Sonata as well as how to drive it on the left side of the road.

Expanding Your Circle 8

My second suggestion that matches Paul’s strategy is Keep Changing. Be flexible. Paul was the first to try reaching the Corinthians (14). Paul had a strategy during his ministry among Gentiles that the first thing he would do was go to the Synagogues. There he would make some converts among the Jews, but eventually he would get kicked out. Then he would concentrate on winning the Gentile God-fearers to Christ. He would do that until he had established a church, or until he got ran out of town. His strategy worked because he was flexible enough to change direction when that is what it would take to reach his objectives. There are a lot of things that people have done to reach others for Christ, but times change. We have to be willing to try new ways.

Expanding Your Circle 9

Our church in New Zealand has a movie night once a month in the church lounge. We provide the Christian movie and refreshments, and send flyers out to the neighborhood. Sometimes it is only our people who show up, but it has been useful as a way of introducing people to the church in a non-threatening way. This is just one of many ways a church can help its members expand their circles. And that is what it is all about. It is not about attracting people to the church. Think outside that box. It is about the area of influence that God gives each one of us. You see, all of our pastors have outstanding gifts, but they will not be able to reach the people that you can reach because those people are in your circle.

Expanding Your Circle 10

My third suggestion that matches Paul’s strategy is Keep Investing. Notice what Paul says in verse 14: “our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged.” Paul did not plan to single-handedly reach the Gentile world for Christ. He led key people to faith in Christ and expected them to plant churches in their geographical area. His investment was in people, and those people produced churches. Sometimes those churches needed help, so Paul send other members of his missions team to help develop those churches (like Titus in Crete, and Timothy in Ephesus).

Expanding Your Circle 11

My point is this: all that time, effort, prayer and money invested was worth it because of the goal behind it all. In the same way, I believe we will see more church growth when we invest ourselves in our communities. The reason that the apostle Paul’s area of influence was so great was that he invested his time, money and prayers and energy in his missionary journeys. He did not just sit in Damascus and wait for somebody somewhere else to do something for somebody else. If we want to expand our circles, we are going to have to make room for other people, and some of those other people are going to be different than us.


Expanding Your Circle 12

I go back the question I asked earlier. In what direction is your circle moving? Is it getting narrower of broader? Is there room in your area of influence for new people? That is a very important question for a Christian. Jesus commanded up to make disciples of all nations, which includes McAlpin, Lake City, Obrien, and Dowling Park. I want to challenge you to be like the apostle Paul and strive to reach beyond your present limits.


LORD, give us the insight to see beyond our present boundaries. Give us the courage to make new friends, to join new groups, to begin new habits … whatever it takes to expand our circles of influence so that we can reach more people with the gospel.