“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matthew 10:28 (TEV)
The purpose of this article is to investigate the meaning of the “soul”, and thus will give us a better understanding of Matthew 10:28.
Many believe that the soul is a separate entity and can live independently apart from the body, while the body cannot live without the soul. And they use Matthew 10:28 to back up that claim.
How Does The Bible Defines “Soul” In The Beginning?
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7
“Then the dust of mortals goes back to the ground as it was before, and the breath of life goes back to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7 GW
The Bible is clear that the “living soul” is a composite being: from dust of the ground plus God’s breath. Soul then is the wholeness of a human being: body plus breath of life. And if this living soul dies then the body goes back to the dust and the breath goes back to God.
Matthew 10:28 seems to suggest that the “soma”-body and “psuche”-soul can be separated and that soul seems immortal, which the evangelicals believe.
If that understanding is true then it will contradict to two foundational teachings of the Bible. First, only God has the eternal life (only God is immortal 1 Timothy 6:13-16). Second, the word “soul” is the composite result of the combination of the body and the breath of life, not an independent entity apart from the body, as what we learned from the two verses above.
Psuche in the New Testament occurs 105 times, and translated as follows:
- life and lives – 40 times,
- soul 58 – times,
- mind – 3 times,
- you – 1 time,
- heart – 1 time;
- us – 1 time,
- and heartily – 1 time
It is closely related to “nepesh” in the Old Testament which occurs 755 times, and the thought is not much of an ontological part utterly distinct from the body, as of the inner man destined for salvation or damnation (1 Peter 1:9; 2:11,25; 4:19).
According to the Hebrew Bible Dictionary “the soul in the Old Testament never meant the immortal, but essentially the life principle, or self as a subject of appetite and emotion. Occasionally of volition, the soul “psuche” means the breath of life.
The Adventist Church believes that there is nothing in the word psuche itself that remotely implies a conscious entity that is able to survive the death of the body and hence immortal. In no instance of its use in the Bible does psuche refers to a conscious entity able to exist apart from the body.
With this, it is clear that the body is part of the soul and I agree with it. But then what is the meaning of Matthew 10:28?
As far as the context is concern, we can say that Jesus is the one who mentioned this passage of Matthew 10:28 in regards to the persecution that His disciples will be facing. Jesus is saying that instead of having to fear those who persecute and try to kill them, be fearful to the One who can kill them for the second time where the whole being of man will be tormented in hell (Revelation 21:8).
The verse is not suggesting that the soul of the righteous who was killed will not die. They will die. But Jesus said:
“I am the resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25).
The Adventist Church says that “only God is able to kill the soul” as an act of revenge by God to those who persecuted His saints. Even now, I believe, there are persecutions going on especially in these last days. And God will be the One to judge those who are persecuting His children. (Mathew 5:10-12, Rev. 21:8)
Matthew 10:28 actually contradicts to the belief of the immortality of the soul. TDNT commented in this verse saying,
“in persecution they cannot kill the psuche–the true life of man– as it is lived before God and in the fellowship with God is not affected by this; the soma is killed here. God alone controls the whole man, psuche, as well as the soma. It is life in its true sense. “
I can say that the commentary does not agree in the concept of the immortal soul independently existing after the death of a person.
Further, we also need to consider the understanding of Jesus in this topic which we can see in the entire New Testament. But we will quote only some verse for this article. Did Jesus have the idea of a soul being separated from the body that would independently exist after the person dies?
John 11:25 says:
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall live.”
We can actually see that even Jesus acknowledged the fact that when a person dies that person is really dead. Not half dead, nor partially dead where a soul is roaming around, or going to some place, or visiting the family, etc., but rather the person is really dead. But Jesus will make the person live again if the person is a believer.
This word of Jesus in Matthew 10:28 is simply a word of encouragement for the believers: to not be afraid of someone who can kill them since Jesus can raise them back again to eternal life. To the unbelievers this verse is a warning: that Jesus can take away their life forever.
TDNT agreed by saying that “God can kill both aeon and in that which is to come”. This is the theme written in the book of Revelation–that the wicked, after 1,000 years, will be put in hell which is called the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:5,14,15). And those who chose Jesus, even they died from persecution or natural death, they will be resurrected and live again to be with Jesus forever ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
Man is mortal and only God has the immortality. Jesus is encouraging us not to be afraid of those who can put us to death. They can only kill the body, which is not the totality of a man’s being. They cannot touch or do anything with the breath of life–only God can. Thus, our death is only temporary in the sight of God. God can put back the breath of life into our renewed body in the resurrection day. Only God can take away both the body and the breath of life which will result in the total extinction of that being, the soul, through hell.
For the believer who died, God will remember them in the grave and will raise them again in that resurrection day during His second coming. Acts 2:27 says: “Because you will not abandon me in the world of the dead, you will not allow your faithful servant to rot in the grave”.
Ellen White says, “Those who are true to God need not fear the power of men nor the enmity of Satan. In Christ their eternal life is secure. Be faithful in Him and passed those persecutions and fear Him who is able to give life after we die… “He that believeth in me (Jesus), though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25 AKJV)
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Bullinger, Ethelbert W.: A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament together with an Index of Greek words. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan, 1975.
Carson, DA. Douglas J. Moo: An “Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids Michigan: Z ordevan, 2005.
Domocmat L.J.: Introduction to the New Testament Syllables. 2012-2013
Ellen White, The Desire of Ages 356
Powell, Mark Allan: An Introducing the New Testament a Historical, Literary and Theological Survey. Rapids Michigan: a Division of Publishing Group Grand, 2009.
Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary
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Vine, W.E.: An Expository of New Testament Words with their meanings for English Reader. Nashville, Tennesssee: Royal Publisher.