Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Apostle John's Use of "Soul" in Revelation

I want to post some thoughts regarding the word "soul" as it is employed in the book of Revelation. I think that most uses of this signifier are rather obvious and somewhat non-controversial. The only set of verses that might constitute a possible sticking point is Rev. 6:9-11. We will come back to that account, but let us now list John's other uses of ψυχή in the book of Revelation:

"And a third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures [τὰ ἔχοντα ψυχάς] in the sea died [ἀπέθανε], and a third of the ships were destroyed." (Rev. 8:9 RSV)

Please note that John here describes figurative sea creatures with the words τὰ ἔχοντα ψυχάς. By employing the word "soul" in this way, the apostle demonstrates that he was familiar with Judaism's attribution of the term "soul" to humans and animals as shown by such texts as Gen 1:21-24; Num 31:28. Notice that John also tells us the "souls" which he saw in vision "died," indicating they were not immortal.

"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives [τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτῶν] so much as to shrink from death." (12:11 NIV)

John records the words of the heavenly chorus commending the loyal and fastidious spiritual brothers of Christ, who conquered Satan the Devil through the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus and "the word of their testimony." Such ones do not even love their own "souls" in the face of death. That is, they are willing to lose their lives in order to glorify God and Christ so that they may discover the authentic life given freely by Almighty God. John clearly employs ψυχή here to denote "life" or human vitality. It is also important to note that the soul can die-- according to John.

"The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died." (16:3)

This passage again shows how the apostle utilizes the term ψυχή. He professes that "every living thing in the sea" (πᾶσα ψυχὴ ζωῆς) died.

"And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all." (18:13-14)

Observe how "soul" is employed in this text when it refers to men (ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων).

"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them, and the souls of those who have been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus, and because of the word of God, and who did not bow before the beast, nor his image, and did not receive the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand, and they did live and reign with Christ the thousand years . . ." (20:4)

This passage clearly suggests to me that souls can die and be brought back to life.

As I mentioned above, I will deal with Rev 6:9 in a separate post. But for now, I chose to examine John's usage of ψυχή and to show how it should govern our understanding of Rev 6:9. What is more--there are certain discourse or cultural features of Revelation that suggest Rev 6:9-11 is not teaching the immortality of the soul.

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