Friday, 1 April 2016

Living Souls

One of the intriguing phrases that recurs a few times in the opening chapter of the old Greek version of Genesis (you can read my translation of it here) is "living soul". We meet it four times in all:
Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός ᾿Εξαγαγέτω τὰ ὕδατα ἑρπετὰ ψυχῶν ζωσῶν (1.20)
(God said, “Let the waters bring forth creeping things among the living creatures.")
Καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὰ κήτη τὰ μεγάλα καὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ζῴων ἑρπετῶν (1.21)
(God made the great sea creatures and every living creature)
Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός ᾿Εξαγαγέτω ἡ γῆ ψυχὴν ζῶσαν κατὰ γένος (1.24)
(God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their varieties.")
Καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς θηρίοις τῆς γῆς καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς πετεινοῖς τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ παντὶ ἑρπετῷ τῷ ἕρποντι ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, ὃ ἔχει ἐν ἑαυτῷ ψυχὴν ζωῆς (1.31)
(To all the wild beasts of the earth, all the birds of heaven, and all the creeping things that creep over the earth, to every creature that has life within it ...)
It's an interesting phrase for two reasons. The first is that it pops up again in the second creation account (chapter 2 of Genesis) to describe the first human being, Adam, after God has breathed life into his nostrils:
καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν (2.7)
(and the human being became a living creature)
And that could imply that there wasn't a great deal of difference between the human and every other creature, although the whole of the rest of the context of Genesis 1 and 2 suggests otherwise.

Where it gets really interesting, though, is when you turn waaay forward to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. In the fifteenth chapter, where he's discussing the nature of the resurrection of Jesus and what that implies for human beings facing the realities of death, he says this (clearly with the phrasing of the old Greek Bible in mind):
οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται· ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν, ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν (1 Corinthians 15.45)
(Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit - NRSV)
In fact, much of the second half of 1 Corinthians 15 can be read as a kind of reflection on Genesis 1 and 2 in the light of the resurrection. The writer talks about the glory of human beings, animals, fish, birds, and heavenly beings, which are the basic categories of 'living things' described in the creation account (the heavenly bodies - stars, sun and moon - were believed in ancient times to be the living inhabitants of the heavens). His description of every body having its own type of 'glory' echoes the idea of every creature being made after its 'kind'. And that leads neatly to the contrast between Adam, who (like the other animals) becomes a "living soul", and Jesus who, after the resurrection, is experienced as a "life-giving spirit" (πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν).

Anyway, some fascinating food for thought!

Image: Charlesjsharp via Wikimedia Commons

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