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The Pope has recently spoken about indulgences. How do you understand this? (Part 3)

In the first two parts of this series, we began to discuss the concept taught by the Roman Catholic Church that the “immortal souls” of departed ones may be in hell or purgatory, and that “indulgences” or prayers for the dead can allegedly remove, partially (“plenary”) or completely (“in full”), punishment for sin, so that their souls can be freed from purgatory or even hell to go to heaven. In order to answer the question regarding indulgences, we reviewed, among other questions, related issues such as the fact that we do not have an immortal soul; and that we neither go to heaven (where we, as immortal saints in heaven, could allegedly receive prayers from the living and intervene on their behalf), nor do we go to hell or purgatory when we die.

Some, however, confuse the concept of the “immortal soul”—which does NOT exist—with Scriptures talking about the spirit in man—which does exist–claiming that, regardless as to whether one refers to the soul or the spirit in man, it would be helpful to pray to God in respect to that “spirit” in man which allegedly does not “cease to exist” when the person dies.

In this instalment, we will therefore explain what the spirit in man is, and that it can in no way be used as an “excuse” or a “justification” for the concept of “indulgences.”

As we have seen, at death, man who IS the soul, dies. But what about his spirit?

We discuss the biblical concept of the “spirit in man” extensively in our free booklet, “The Theory of Evolution–a Fairy Tale for Adults”.   Let us quote the following excerpts from pages 19-23:

“Mr. Armstrong (the former Pastor General of the now defunct Worldwide Church of God and author of many articles, booklets and books, including “The Incredible Human Potential”) explains that, according to the Bible, each human being has a non-physical component in his brain, called ‘the spirit in man.’ On page 81 of his [above-mentioned] book, he points out, ‘[T]his spirit is not the man—only something in the man… This spirit cannot see, hear, or think. The man sees, hears and thinks through his physical brain and the five senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling. The spirit in man imparts the power of physical intellect to the physical brain, thus forming human mind.

“‘This spirit acts, among other things, as a computer, adding to the brain the psychic and intellectual power. Knowledge received in the brain through the eye, ear and the senses is immediately “programmed” into the spirit computer. This “computer” gives the brain instant recall of whatever portion of millions of bits of knowledge may be needed in the reasoning process. That is to say that memory is recorded in the human spirit, whether or not it is also recorded in the “gray matter” of the brain. This human spirit also adds to man a spiritual and moral faculty not possessed by animals.’

“Most people know nothing about the existence of the spirit in man—even many religious people—lay persons and theologians alike. When they read passages in the Bible describing the spirit in man, they assume the Bible is talking about the soul. But the soul is not a non-physical component of the human being. The soul, according to the Bible, is totally physical. The Bible does not teach the concept of an immortal soul. Rather, we read in Ezekiel 18:4, ‘The soul who sins shall die.’ The word ‘soul’ in the Bible refers to the living body of both man and animals. In Revelation 16:3, we read that every living soul—both men and beasts—died in the sea. The soul does NOT distinguish man from animals. Rather, the spirit in man is THE distinguishing factor between man and animals. It explains man’s superiority over the animals and totally disproves the concept of evolution. In Romans 8:16, and in 1 Corinthians 2:11, more fully discussed below, it is expressly stated that there is a spirit in each man, which spirit is different from God’s Holy Spirit.

“In the book of Isaiah we are told that each human being has a spirit within him. ‘Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk on it’ (Isaiah 42:5).

“We also learn that God sometimes influences man’s spirit for His purpose. We could say that God inspires or motivates a person by ‘stirring up’ the spirit in that person. Note 1 Chronicles 5:25-26, ‘And they [Israel] were unfaithful to the God of their fathers, and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria…He carried the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh into captivity.’

“Another example is found in 2 Chronicles 21:16-17, ‘Moreover the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabians…And they came into Judah and invaded it, and carried away all the possessions that were found in the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives.’

“Later, when God saw to it that His word and promise would be fulfilled to rebuild the destroyed city of Jerusalem and the temple, He inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue a decree, permitting the Jews who were captured in Babylon, to return to Jerusalem. Both 2 Chronicles 36:22 and Ezra 1:1 record what exactly happened. ‘Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.”’ Even King Cyrus realized that God had influenced his spirit to make this proclamation.

“But the work of rebuilding the destroyed temple progressed very slowly. There was a lack of leadership to motivate the people to accomplish the task at hand. Let’s read how God intervened, in Haggai 1:4, “So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel…, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua…and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.”

“The Bible strongly indicates that God gives the human spirit at the time of conception, and then takes it back at the time of death. We read in Zechariah 12:1, ‘Thus says the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.’ Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, ‘Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.’ When the spirit in man leaves a person, that person is dead. James 2:26 says, ‘For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.’

“Jesus Christ Himself, at the time of His death, cried out to the Father to receive His spirit. What exactly did He say? Let’s read in Luke 23:46, ‘And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last.’ When He died, His human spirit returned to God, as we read in Ecclesiastes. Hebrews 12:22-23 also confirms that the spirit of man returns to God in heaven when the person dies. ‘But you have come to… the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem [when we pray, we appear before God in heaven], to an innumerable company of angels,… to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect…’

“In the book of Job, Elihu, under God’s inspiration, tells us, ‘If He [God] should set His heart on it, if He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath [since God gives both breath and spirit, they both belong to Him and are His. But the spirit being talked about here is the spirit in man, not the Holy Spirit, which is altogether different], all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust’ (Job 34:14 and 15).

“When God decided to destroy man in the flood, He made this statement in Genesis 6:3, ‘And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive [or abide] with [or in] Man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”’  What God is saying here is that He would destroy man through a flood within 120 years from then. This spirit abiding in man cannot be a reference to God’s Holy Spirit, as man was to be wiped out because of his own evil doings. We know, on the other hand, that God gives His Holy Spirit only to those who obey Him, as we read in Acts 5:32. So, the spirit referred to in Genesis 6:3 is a reference to the spirit of man, which is temporary. Isaiah 57:16 tells us, ‘For I will not contend forever, Nor will I always be angry; for the spirit [of man] would fail before Me, and the souls which I have made.’

“Understand though, that when a man dies and his spirit returns to God, that spirit does not continue to live consciously, apart from the body. Rather, God ‘stores’ it, so to speak, in heaven, until He unites it at the time of the resurrection of man with a new spiritual or physical body. The concept that man’s soul is immortal is as wrong as the concept that man’s spirit continues to live consciously after death. Rather, the body—or soul—dies, and the spirit of man returns to God to await a resurrection.

“Note Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, ‘But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope… For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing… Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished… And verse 10, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.’ In other words, there is no conscious activity after a person dies. The spirit does not continue in the realm of consciousness.

“Jesus Christ also made it clear that dead people do not continue to live on. Rather, the dead will have to be brought back to life through a resurrection from the dead. In Matthew 22:31-32, He asked the Sadducees, since they did not believe in the resurrection, ‘But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’ If the dead persons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had somehow continued to live consciously after their death, including a conscious existence of their spirit that had returned to God, then Christ’s words to the Sadducees would have been without sense…

“WHY does God give each human being a spirit? The spirit in man records all the human characteristics of the person, as well as his or her outward appearance. At the time of the resurrection, the spirit of the dead person is combined with a new body of the dead person. This means, all the experiences and memories and ideas of the former life are back in the resurrected individual, and the resurrected person will also look the same way he or she did in their former life…

“When a person dies, his body returns to dust. But the spirit of man in him has recorded the appearance of the person, the personality, the personal attributes, and God gives the spirit of that person back into the newly created physical body.”

There is much more explained about the spirit in man in our quoted booklet on Evolution. But insofar as this Q&A is concerned, it will suffice and we can summarize that the spirit in man has no consciousness apart from the “soul” or the person; and that it will go back to God in heaven when man dies—not to hell or purgatory. Therefore, the concept of the spirit in man cannot be used to justify indulgences and prayers to God for the departed ones suffering in hell or being “purified” in purgatory.

It might also be helpful to briefly address the question as to when the spirit in man begins to exist, and whether it can be destroyed or extinguished.

In our Q&A, titled, “What will happen to the spirit in man of those who die the second death?”, we discussed first the question whether the Bible tells us WHEN God creates the human spirit. We stated:

“Isaiah 42:5 says that God, after having created the heavens and the earth, gives breath to the people on it, and ‘spirit to those who walk on it.’ But there is no breath in a particular person prior to his existence, and by extension, there would not be any spirit either. That is, neither the breath nor the spirit of man exist prior to the ‘creation’ of that particular person. We also read in Zechariah 12:1 that God FORMS the spirit of man within him. Again, this seems to imply that God actually creates in man the human spirit when man comes into existence [at the time of conception].”

We then proceeded to discuss, in the above-mentioned Q&A, the fate of those who did commit the unpardonable or unforgivable sin and who therefore will die the second and final death in the Third Resurrection:

“A strong hint at the final fate of the spirit in man of those who are going to be destroyed in the Third Resurrection can be found in Isaiah 57:16. The New King James Bible translates: ‘For I will not contend forever, Nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would fail before Me, and the souls which I have made.’…

“Isaiah 57:16 implies, then, that the spirit in man could fail. But what is meant with the word, ‘fail’? Could it mean, ‘cease to exist’?…

“The Hebrew word is ‘ataph’ and has a variety of meanings. According to Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, it conveys the thought of ‘to be feeble’ or ‘to be covered.’ The Authorized Version translates this word at times also as, ‘to be overwhelmed,’ or ‘to hide self.’

“Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible states that the word actually means, ‘to shroud, i.e. to clothe… hence (from the idea of darkness) to languish–cover (over), fail, faint, feebler, hide self, be overwhelmed, swoon…’

“It is obvious that very few of these meanings would make any sense in the context of the statement in Isaiah 57:16. After all, it is both the soul AND the spirit that could ‘fail’ or ‘faint.’ We know that the (incorrigible, corruptible) soul, when God contends forever, will die the eternal death and will be extinguished. But what about the spirit?

“German translations point out that the word ‘ataph’ can also mean ‘cease to exist, get destroyed, become annihilated.’ For example, the German Luther Bible; the Elberfelder Bible; the Menge Bible; the Schlachter Bible and the Pattloch Bible all use the expression, ‘verschmachten,’ which is a word describing the death of a person in the desert, who is dying of thirst.

“Some English-speaking translations agree. The Amplified Bible renders Isaiah 57:16 as follows (brackets in the original): ‘… for [where it not so] the spirit [of man] would faint and be consumed before Me, and [My purpose in] creating the souls of men would be frustrated.’

“Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible comments regarding Isaiah 57:16: ‘The simple meaning seems to be, that if God should continue in anger against people they would be consumed. The human soul could not endure a long-continued controversy with God. Its powers would fail; its strength decay; it must sink to destruction.’

“If the concept of ‘dying’ is conveyed in this passage in Isaiah 57:16, then it would indicate that not only the soul, but also the spirit in man CAN be extinguished and cease to exist; and if so, that would have to be the obvious ‘fate’ of the human spirit of those in the Third Resurrection.”

In the next instalment, we will continue to discuss the concept of purgatory.

(To be continued)

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link