Comments On The Doctrine Of Body And Soul - Dr. Greg Kenyon M.D.

February 22, 1999 by Greg Kenyon

Comments On The Doctrine Of Body And Soul .

Increasingly we are being encouraged to promote organ donations, one of the "wonders" of medical science. Most organs are only useful while they are still alive. The only major organ that can currently be used without the death of the donor is the kidney. All organs used for transplants are removed while the body still has its life blood flowing through it and is still functioning. To do this it is increasingly common to declare a person brain dead before the body has stopped functioning. The implication is that the soul has departed form the body, thus allowing the body to be killed by removing the organs. What should our response be to this?

To respond to the increasing number of organ transplants, it is important to understand the Biblical doctrine of body and soul, as it is central to many organ donations.

Does the soul ever leave the body while the body is still alive? Many of you likely believe, correctly, that body and soul remain connected through one's entire life, and that the soul does not leave the body until the body is truly dead. But are you ready to respond to those who believe the soul can leave the body while the body still has its life blood flowing through it? Acceptance of this teaching is spreading. It is promoted by the medical community and even by many churched people. It is a central theme of new age religions. The good that seems to result from organ transplantation overshadows the questionable means used to retrieve organs. We need a solid biblical knowledge of life and death, of body and soul, and of personhood so we can respond intelligently when confronted with these issues.

The doctrine of body and soul can not be properly defined in a few words or a brief study. It's study has occupied many books and debates among theologians like, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Charles Hodge, Louis Berkohf etc. There has also been input from secular philosophers like, Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, B.F. Skinner, John Dewy, etc, that have even been adopted by Christians.

The doctrine of body and soul is not laid out clearly, and indisputably in a single passage of Scripture. Many passages in the Bible speak of various aspects of the make up of man. There is a lot of variation in the language that the Bible uses in reference to body and soul. Soul may be denoted by Spirit, soul, mind, heart, inner man, etc. Body may at times be interchanged with the flesh. Also some words such as "spirit" and "flesh" are used differently in the Old and New Testament.(1)

The doctrine of body and soul must be understood through a systematic approach to all of Scripture. Charles Hodge in the introduction to "Systematic Theology" explains that Biblical theology

"is to ascertain and state the facts of Scripture." Whereas Systematic theology "is to take those facts, determine their relation to each other and to other cognate truths, as well as to vindicate them and show their harmony and consistency. This is not an easy task or one of slight importance."

Considering the importance the doctrine of body and soul, yet realizing that I can not hope to cover all aspects of this topic, I will attempt to comment on what Scripture teaches about it. Many have learned, correctly, that man consists of two parts, of body and soul, and may think it is enough to simply acknowledge this along with a few scriptures. Do we really need to know more?

Consider, what Paul says in 2 Corinthians, "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God Knoweth) such an one caught up to the third heaven." (2Cor 12:2-3) Is not Paul raising the possibility of a person's soul leaving the body before the body is dead? Although it may not be common, maybe we should not be too quick to dispel the possibility of the situation of a living body with no soul where it would be alright to remove organs.

Next, many of us will be aware that what sets man apart from animals is that man is rational and everlasting, while animals are irrational and finite. Is not the soul the rational and everlasting part of man? Is it not possible that once a person loses all sense of rational thought, that the soul is no longer present and body that is left is like that of an animal? To take an organ from such a body would not really be killing a person, would it?

These examples are somewhat convincing. Yet, those who hold to reformed doctrine should know these conclusions are not true.

Before moving on, we need to define our terms. The Bible uses a number of different terms for body and soul and some of these terms can mean different things in different contexts. I will use "body" to refer to the part of man that was formed from the dust of the ground and "soul" to refer to the breath of life. The "soul" can be dead or alive but the soul that is alive I wish to distinguish from the term "living soul" which we will use to refer to man as he was created. There is not necessarily anything special about the terms "body" and "soul" over other terms the Bible uses, but they are the ones we most often use and are those used by our fathers, who wrote the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession.

Man's makeup is introduced in the creation account. "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." (Gen 2:7) The living soul,, resulted from God bringing together two parts; a material body, formed of the dust of the ground, and the breath of life, breathed by God into it's nostrils. It does not say that God put a soul into man. Man was not two separate parts, body and soul, that coexisted together. It says, "man became a living soul." At this point, man was one single united being, a living soul.

Man did not remain in the state he was created for long. Man sinned and with the fall, perfection and unity were lost. The WSC says, "The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery"(2) In their condition of misery "All mankind by their fall lost communion with God."(3) Isaiah says, "man's iniquities have caused separation between man and God" (Isaiah 59:2, paraphrased) Brokenness and separation prevailed. Some call separation the greatest curse of sin. Man is separated from God. Man is separated from Paradise. Brokenness enters into relationships. Now "the whole of creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together." (Rom 8:22)

Brokenness is a direct consequence of sin. God said that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they would surely die. (Gen 2:17) It may appear death was not immediate, for the body continued to live, but man, the united living soul did die. The living soul was immediately separated into a body and soul.(4) This soul was a dead soul, that, unless made live again, can expect an existence of everlasting destruction (2 Thess 1:9), reproach (Jer 23:40), contempt (Dan 12:2), punishment (Matt 25:46) and fire (Matt 18:8). Also, the apparently living body became a mortal or dying body. (Psalm 90:10)(5) The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us this body ultimately has nothing more than animals saying, "All go unto one place; all are dust, and all turn to dust again." (Eccl 3:19-20)

Returning to dust is not a consequence of being formed from dust. God formed man from dust in the beginning, He did not leave him as dust. God set man apart from the dust. He breathed into the body, formed from dust, the breath of life and man became a living soul. God did not do this to the animals. They were not made living souls but were part of creation just as dust was part of creation.

Returning to the dust is a consequence of sin. After the fall God said to Adam, "for dust thou are and dust thou shalt return" (Gen 3:19) Man, who God had made a living soul, set apart from the dust, died and was separated into a mortal body with a dead soul. Now, man is no better then animals, and like the animals, man's body will return to the dust.

Actually, fallen man is worse off then animals, for his body is connected to a rational dead soul, that uses the body to express rebellion against God. Man's body will not simply return to the dust of the ground like the animals, but will, in the last day, be reunited to the dead soul to suffer forever in Hell. (Matt 10:28, Philippians 2:10-11, Matt 13:41-43, Dan 12:2)

Although sin separated the created living soul, into body and soul, the soul remains connected to the body. Just before the flood mankind is referred to as "all in whose nostrils was the breath of life." (Gen 7:22) Reference to man using the same terminology as the creation account, teaches that the two part make up of man, as body and soul, continued after the fall. Job, after giving an excellent description of the life, death, salvation and resurrection of man says of man, "his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn." (Job 14:17 & Job 14) Job speaks of man as body and soul.

There are several references to both body and soul in the poetic books. Psalm 16 says, "my heart is glad, my glory rejoiceth, my flesh also shall rest in hope." (Ps 16:9) Psalm 31 says, "mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly." (Ps 31:9) Psalm 63 says, "my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee." (Ps 63:1) Psalm 84 says, my soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." (Ps 84:2) Proverbs says, "a sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones." (Prov 14:30)

Isaiah also uses the terminology of the creation account saying, "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils". (Is 2:22) Daniel says that he was grieved in his spirit in the midst of his body. (Dan 7:15) Micah speaks of the fruit of his body, and the sin of his soul. (Micah 6:7) Isaiah recognizes that fallen man has both body and soul. Both Daniel and Micah, who are God's children, recognize that they have both body and soul. The two part doctrine of man includes all mankind both saved and unsaved. These and many more examples show that Scripture consistently describes man as both body and soul.

So, does the soul ever depart while the life blood flows through he body? Can organs like the heart, lungs, and liver be used for transplant without breaking the sixth commandment?

Ecclesiastes 12 tells us to "remember thy Creator" (Eccl 12:1) before you die (Eccl 12:6, paraphrase) for "then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." (Eccl 12:7) Solomon understood that when the soul departs the body the body returns to the dust, the body does not wait to return to the dust until those around are finished with it. Job says, "all the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils." (Job 27:2-4) Psalm 146, referring to man, says, "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." (Ps 146:4) On the cross, Jesus "bowed his head and gave up the ghost." (John 19:30) Each of these passages connect the moment of death of the body with the moment the soul leaves the body.

Now consider the apparent exception in 2 Corinthians where Paul says, "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth)." (2 Cor 12:2-12) Some may think this passage highlights the possibility of the soul leaving the body before the body has died. Proponents of organ donations would like this. Paul is likely referring to an experience where he seemed to be present in heaven. Paul wondered if he might have left his body but he did not pretend to know. In fact, he indicates that only God could know. There is nothing in this passage that allows us to determine if a living body can exist without a soul.

So far, we have seen that God made man a united, living soul. The fall brought separation and death, and man, the living soul, died resulting in a mortal or perishable body and a dead soul. The body and soul remain together until the death of the body. We have not mentioned the fact that through the salvation of Jesus Christ some dead souls are renewed to life. This message can not be complete with out mentioning this awesome work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Next, consider what happens to the body and soul after death. Some think that the bodies of non-Christians will not rise in the last day, and only their souls will spend eternity in hell. The Bible says that "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10) The two part nature of this prophesy in interesting. The knee refers to part of the body. The tongue can refer to language, which is more closely related to the soul. Therefore, every man, with both body and soul shall bow. Even unbelievers who have not bowed at the time of their death.

To fulfil this prophesy the body and soul of unbelievers will need to be brought back together again after death. Isaiah describes it this way, "thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." (Is 26:19) Matthew 10:28 speaks of the destruction of both body and soul in hell. Every unbeliever with mortal body and dead soul will be committed to everlasting punishment of hell fire forever.

Yet, Christians have reason to rejoice. The greatest aspect of the doctrine of body and soul is seen accomplished in Christians, whose souls have been renewed to life. 1 Corinthians 15 tells of the last enemy, death being destroyed. The earthly body of Christians will not just be brought back together with the soul. It will be resurrected and will be raised in incorruption, in glory, in power, a spiritual body. "And so it is written, the first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit."(1 Cor 15:45) Jesus Christ, the quickening spirit, has done all that is necessary to reconcile all things to himself. Those who are in Christ Jesus can look forward to having the separation, that results from sin, reconciled. Man will once again be a living soul.

I began by considering the connection between body and soul. Of concern was whether the soul ever leaves the body while the body is still alive. We have seen that God made man a living soul with no distinction between body and soul. The possibility of a separation between body and soul came as a consequence to man's fall into sin. Man, the living soul, died, becoming a connected body and soul. The connection is maintained until the body returns to the dust.

The separation that is a significant part of the curse of sin reaches it height with the first death when the soul and the body are separated. If it were not for the perfect work of Jesus Christ, God's creation would remain torn apart by sin forever. Man the living soul would be no more. Unbelievers would never receive their just punishment. Is this not what some who promote organ donation hope for? To get as much out of this life as they can get with no punishment for their sinful lives?

But now, Christ is risen form the dead. (1 Cor 15:20) God through the work of His Son is pleased to reconcile all things to Himself. In the Last Day, the wicked will be brought back together as mortal body and dead soul to bow at the name of Jesus, and be justly punished for their sins with everlasting hell. The righteous, who believed God and bowed at the name of Jesus in this life, will be resurrected with glorious bodies that with the soul, will once again be "united" living souls.

Therefore, there are only two times when organs can be used. First, we may give of ourselves for others and donate non vital organs like, kidneys, and bone marrow. Second when the body is temporarily returned to the dust of the earth we can use its parts just as we may use any of the dust of the earth. Practically, this is limited to cornea transplants.

In conclusion, I hope you can appreciate the concerns I have with declaring a person dead while the body is still alive. I hope you too look forward to the day when Christ will reconcile all things and put an end to the separation of body and soul, to the Day when his followers will once again be "living souls".


1) Another difference is that flesh in the Old Testament refers more to the body (Gen 2:21, 6:3,13, 9:4,17:14, Lev 13:2, Jug 8:7, 1Sam 17:44, etc) whereas in the New Testament it often refers to man's sinful nature (Rom 3:20, 6:19, 7:15,25, 8:4) which we think of as part of man's soul.

2) Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 17

3) Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 19

4) The Bible does not explicitly tell us that man now has a dead soul but the theme of all mankind having dead souls is seen throughout Scripture. All men are described as dead in sins (Rom 5:17, Ez 18:4,20), and all men need to be born again. In this life it is the soul that is born again, 1Peter 1:22-23 speaks of those who have purified their souls...having been born again. Eph 2 speaks of those who were dead in trespasses and sins but now are quickened or made alive.

5) Psalm 90:10 captures this saying, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off"