CAN A SPIRIT EXIST WITHOUT A BODY?
T. PIERCE BROWN
In discussing this, or any other Bible subject, we are not concerned with upholding any particular theological opinion or concept, but are only interested in finding and understanding all TRUTH the Bible reveals about the subject.
First, let us examine briefly some of the passages that are understood by some to teach there is no conscious existence of a spirit when a person dies. We can lump all the passages in one group, for they are all talking about the same thing. When Eccl. 9:5-6 says that the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward, and all of the passages that speak of the dead sleeping with their fathers, they are merely showing that the “knowledge,” “reward” and “sleep” have reference to this present world, as Solomon puts it: “Neither have they a portion for ever in anything THAT IS DONE UNDER THE SUN.” If a person takes the position that they know not anything at all, in ANY sense, if he is consistent he must also contend that they have no reward any more in ANY sense! Of course this denies all Bible teaching.
So also with Psalm 115:17 which says, “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.” All these and similar passages simply refer to the fact that while you are alive is the time to work and praise God and do good, for when you are dead you can no longer do it, in our frame of reference.
They do not deal at all with the question, “Is there a part of man that exists in a conscious state when the man is what we speak of as dead?” James tells us that a body without the spirit is dead, but does not tell us anything of the condition of the spirit without the body. Other scriptures touch that matter both by implication and directly. Let us examine with an open mind such scriptures and make sure that whatever conclusion to which we come does not contradict and deny any other Bible teaching.
The fact that Enoch was translated that he should not see death (Genesis5:24, Hebrews 11:5) implies that he existed in some conscious form apart from his corruptible body. The word “translated” is from the Greek “metatithemi,” which means, “to transfer to another place.”
The same thing is true of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1,11) who went up into heaven without dying. Without trying to put into it some preconceived theory, one would conclude that he had some conscious existence without his corruptible body, as flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. This conclusion is strengthened when one reads of his activity in Luke 9:30-36.
Whatever happened in 1 Samuel 28:15 shows that there was a conscious entity called Samuel that existed after Samuel died and was buried. It certainly was not his body.
The simple Bible explanation for all these things is stated very plainly in Luke 20:38, “For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto him.” So, not only do we not do violence to any scripture, or throw away any part, but we simply accept ALL the Bible has to say about it, finding that those who are dead (asleep) as far as we are concerned, are still alive (conscious) as far as God is concerned. Remember that when the expression, “He is the God of the living” was used, Abraham was dead as far as human relationships were concerned. But he was living unto God. That is Jesus’ own explanation of it, and I could personally wish for no other, nor find any better!
In Luke 9:29-36, where Moses and Elijah appeared to Christ and talked with him, it is sometimes asserted that this was only a vision, and therefore unreal. In the first place, the word “vision” (horama) means, according to Thayer, p. 451, “that which is seen, a sight, a spectacle,” and does not necessarily imply anything unreal. In the second place, if this had been only a dream, it is still a revelation from God, and He revealed either a truth or a lie. If he revealed a truth, it was that Moses and Elijah were alive unto God, although Moses had been dead for 1500 years from man’s frame of reference.
In the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), it could be shown to 10,000 persons who had no pre-conceived ideas about the state of a man’s spirit, and at least 9,999 of them would come to the same conclusion: Namely, that here are represented two beings who have a conscious existence, although their bodies are dead, and at least one is buried. Parable or not, one must read into it some extraneous, pre-conceived notion and arbitrary interpretation to deny that apparent teaching.
Jesus shows in Matthew 10:28 that a man may kill the body, but that some part of man still lives. What is it? Jesus indicates in Matthew 12:43 that at least some sort of spirit may go out of a man and return, being in a conscious state out of a body. If some other spirit may so exist and act apart from a body, who has the right to say that the spirit that belongs in the body may not, apart from a specific statement of God? The same question may be asked of the story in Mark 5:1-13.
In Mark 6:49, when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they thought it was a spirit (pneuma), so it was their understanding that a spirit could operate outside a body. At no time did Jesus try to correct their thinking. In fact, he adds to this conclusion by saying, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). Here are Apostles who had been with Jesus for three years, having been taught TRUTH by him, concluding that his spirit could exist in a conscious visible state apart from his body. He did not deny, nor correct that conclusion, but merely affirmed that in this situation it was not so. In affirming that in THIS situation here was both a body and a spirit, he defined a spirit as something that might appear without flesh and bones — without a body.
Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 about as plainly as language can be, of being absent from the body, and present with the Lord. he had just spoken of a person (v. 3) being naked — that is, not having an earthly body of corruption that we now have, nor yet the future spiritual glorified body that we shall then have. If a man does not have a conscious entity that is naked — without either the present or future body — then vss. 1-8 have no sense in them — they are meaningless.
In conclusion, I look in vain for any teaching in the New Testament which even suggests, much less plainly affirms, that there is not a conscious existence of a spirit apart from a body. Every scripture that touches the matter either implies or states that there is!