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Symmetry of John 3 and the Mortal Soul

Got mad insomnia, yo. So after lapping up podcasts like warm milk as is my custom, I turned to the Bible in the hopes it would serve as a better sleep aid. It led me to John 3, and I tried to focus on memorizing the verses that seemed the most abstract to me, verses 8, 11, and 12.

Verse 8 says, “The wind[e] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” It suggests being born of the spirit is something recognizable, but it isn’t something that you can fully grasp. Then in verses 11 and 12, Jesus says, “We speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things.” I began to wonder if Jesus was just messing with Nicodemus because at first his wind metaphor suggests that what he’s saying isn’t an easy concept to grasp. Additionally, it seems that in both Aramaic and Greek, they used the same word for wind as they did for spirit.  Then he behaves as if Nicodemus should already grasp what he’s saying. Ultimately, what made it easier for me to memorize these verses helped me to understand these verses better.

Jesus’ logic is tight. Verses 11 was common sense. Speak of what you know and bear witness to what you see. Verse 12 had its own balance. I teach earthly things, you don’t believe. How can you believe when I teach heavenly things? Verse 8 was more abstract, but, if it was in Aramaic or Greek, the symmetry would have been clear sooner. The general concept of what he’s trying to teach is apparent to us, but only in the way that increasing the minimum wage being good for the economy is clear to us (this isn’t really the case). I’m not implying it’s false. I’m implying that we accept it as true and apparent only because we’ve heard it so many times in so many different ways, but this is Jesus trying to break things down as simply as possible in order to impart a deeper truth.

This whole conversation is about how to gain admittance into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus begins with the answer by saying, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (see my comment about the Greek below).” Then he starts with his repetition and explanation of how flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit gives birth to spirit. Nicodemus seems to have a reaction to this because in verse 7, he basically tells him to calm down, and in verse 8, he explains about the wind. I think he chose the wind as an example to help enlighten Nic. He was presenting Nicodemus with another example of something else that gave birth to something like it. It might be similar to trying to explain radiation to a child by comparing it to the heat that comes from your own body.

Nicodemus is still having trouble with it which I can’t blame it for. This quote from Cracked.com’s article “5 Mind Blowing Ways Your Memory Plays Tricks on You” explains both Nicodemus’ response and the method Jesus employs to try and get through to him.

” …research shows that once we’ve seized on an incorrect piece of information, exposure to the facts either doesn’t change what we think, or makes us even more likely to hold onto the false information. You can guess why this is: our self-image triumphs over all. It’s more important that we continue to think of ourselves as infallible than admit we’re wrong.”

So when Nicodemus responds almost incredulously, Jesus actually appeals to Nic’s self image by saying, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Then Jesus’ line about earthly things and heavenly things makes more sense because of the two earthly examples he used to help Nicodemus understand. Jesus continues his explanation by saying that the Son of Man had to descend from heaven in order to impart to us the ability to ascend with him and have eternal life because being born of flesh we lack the ability to do either on our own.

Looking at how Jesus used the serpent in the wilderness reference, I feel like John 3:16-22 was someone’s attempt at explaining Jesus use of such a potentially scary metaphor. Looking at the story he’s referring to could lead one to logically form the opinion shared in John 16-22 on their own. In Numbers 21, it says that God actually sent the fiery serpents among the people. This implies that they came from God and weren’t just some repurposed reptiles. This scenario is a good metaphor for humanity’s antagonistic relationship with the things of God. Eventually, God allows Moses to create a serpent with the express purpose of saving people from their snake bites. Jesus used this snake as an image of how he would save people from their own antagonistic relationships with God. Jesus goes further than the snake by saving people from their own mortality.

John 3:1-15 provides evidence that the idea of an immortal soul is not Biblical. Like gives birth to like. Jesus states this several times in several different ways, and he clearly states that, without him, flesh can only give birth to flesh. According to this passage whatever any of us have that we had before being reborn is flesh. So if we have a soul that is part of us from birth, it’s still a part of our flesh, and nowhere does the Bible state that any part of the flesh can last forever. The only way we gain any type of access to eternal life is by being born again of the Spirit. The idea of an immortal soul is a ubiquitous part of Western culture that dates back to the ancient Greeks, but it’s not Biblical.

The only pseudo-Biblical idea that suggests that we have an immortal soul is the idea that we burn forever in hell. Looking at the verse that supports that view point, the case can easily be made that the fire is what lasts, not what’s being thrown in the fire. The Bible is highlighting the potency of the fire and not the immortality of any part of a human being.

What follows is the scenario. A fire somehow exists in a place where fire is all there is. Something gets thrown into that fire and locked in with it. It gets burnt up, but it’s still trapped inside with the fire. That thing remains in the fire not because the thing is immortal or everlasting but because it literally has nowhere to go.

I’m going to do my own variation on what Jesus did Nicodemus. If you call yourself a Bible believing person, look at how many times the Bible clearly refers to humans as finite and temporal. Then find any place where it clearly states that any part of a human being, aside from God, is immortal. From there, the truth of what the Bible has to say about the mortality of humans should be clear to you.

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