And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 ESV
Body – In this verse, the translator of Yeshua’s comment uses the Greek word soma. We might expect soma to be the substitute for basar (Hebrew: flesh), but the LXX has no fixed relationship between soma and basar, probably because Hebrew has no special word for “body.” Sometimes basar is translated by sarx. Sometimes the Greek soma translates the Hebrew gewiyya or geshem. Schweizer notes, “The term soma offers a concept that is not yet developed in Hebrew and hence the translators use it with some hesitation. In the LXX it never refers to an inorganic body, nor to reality as distinct from words, nor to a macro- or microcosmic organism, nor to a city or people. Unlike sarx, it does not have the intrinsic character of creatureliness or sin or earthliness. It can denote the person as object . . .and it also suggests the human totality with the sense of corporeality. . . soma does not occur in relation to sacrifice or to activity but in relation to God, to others, or to various forces. The person does not stand aloof from the soma. Soul and body together describe corruptible humanity over against wisdom or reason, but anthropological dualism arises only when soul or reason is set in juxtaposition to the body, e.g., when the body is abandoned to death but the true I survives.”
Things get even more complicated when we consult the Hebrew text of the Delitzsch gospel of Matthew. In this verse, the Hebrew word is gufah, a word that appears only twice in the Tanakh and clearly means dead body. The Shem Tov Hebrew text uses the word gewiyya which also usually means dead body. The only cases where gewiyya means a living body are cases where defeat and humiliation are also present. This raises an important question. If Yeshua used either of these terms, how does it make any sense to connect them to “kill” or “destroy”? Can someone kill a dead body? Once more we are faced with what appears to be in internal contradiction – or at the least an absurdity. The only resolution seems to push us in the direction of some idiomatic expression, not a literal declaration about “body and soul.” (As we shall see, the Hebrew texts also use nephesh for the Greek word psyche – soul – but nephesh doesn’t mean “soul” in the sense that Greek uses the term, or, for that matter, in the way we use the term.)
We know that the dualism of body and soul is introduced via Greek philosophy. While it is present in rabbinic thought after 400 BC, it is not present in the Tanakh. On this basis, we conclude that it is not the underlying thought of Yeshua’s warning. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Paul does not endorse the Greek dualism either. In Paul’s writings, soma is a technical term for “person.” Paul endorses the older meaning of the Tanakh that human existence is embodied existence. The body is not simply an outer shell that surrounds the eternal “soul.” The soma is the person. “soma can be understood as man as the object of an action and man as the subject of an action. He has a relationship with himself.” This should remind us of the origin of Man, a creature who is defined by relationship, not by biological or spiritual elements. In fact, Genesis chapter 2 suggests that the formation of the woman taken from the man creates an essential relationship that was once involuntary and internal but is now voluntary and external.
Before we look at the idea of “soul” (Greek psyche), we can offer a temporary idiomatic translation of this verse. “Do not fear those who are able to cause terrible forms of death but cannot kill the nephesh [soul?]. Rather, fear him who can be cut off from life by wasting it away [in Gehenna?].” Will this idiomatic translation suffice? That depends on what Yeshua meant with the word He used that is translated as psyche (soul).
Topical Index: body, soma, soul, psyche, kill, apokteino, destroy, apollumi, Matthew 10:28