Monday, July 16, 2018

Five Spiritual Senses?

When I first heard the term "Five Spiritual Senses", I was skeptical. I thought it was pushing the physical-to-spiritual analogy too far. But it came from someone I respect, so I began to look into it - of course in the Bible, and of course, on the Internet. It turns out there are lots of web sites talking about five spiritual senses. Most promise to help the reader get in touch with their spiritual side through their spiritual senses, but don't actually tell what those five spiritual senses are. A small handful of sites do map from the physical to the spiritual, but they don't agree with each other.

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Complicating the analogy to five spiritual senses is that science has shown we have more than five physical senses. Counting five senses is credited to Aristotle - BBC(How Many Senses) [1]. However, modern science has described many more, somewhere between 22 and 33 - World Economic Forum [2]. Some of the extra senses seem to me like variations on the sense of touch, for examples, the sense of pain, or hot and cold, or itch, or pressure, but scientists can show each sense involves different groups of sensory cell types that send signals to different regions of the brain - Today I Found Out [3]. Meaning that some of the extra senses can't be explained by the basic five. This is not an exhaustive list of the extra senses, but consider these, gleaned  from Today I Found Out [3].

Equilibrioception:   The sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense body movement in terms of acceleration and directional changes.  This sense also allows for perceiving gravity.

Chronoception – This one is debated as no singular mechanism has been found that allows people to perceive time.

Chemoreceptors:  These trigger an area of the medulla in the brain that is involved in detecting blood borne hormones and drugs.  It also is involved in the vomiting reflex.

Thirst:  This system more or less allows your body to monitor its hydration level and so your body knows when it should tell you to drink.

Hunger:  This system allows your body to detect when you need to eat something.

Some animals have senses that humans don't, like the ability to sense an electric or magnetic field, or see polarized light - World Economic Forum [2]. Recent experiments have shown that spiders can not only detect electric fields, but also ride them for hundreds of miles in a process known as ballooning - The Atlantic [4].

One way to simplify the number of senses is to count the different types of input. Then we arrive at three senses, mechanical (touch, hearing, etc), chemical (smell, taste, chemoreceptor, etc), and light (sight, magnetoreceptor, etc.) -  BBC(How Many Senses) [1], but I don't think anyone will accept that definition of sense.

So rather than looking at the Bible through the eyes of Aristotle (five senses), what does the Bible itself say about senses. Well, I expected to dig in to a list of words translated as sense and gain a sense of what it means (see what I did there?). It turns out there is exactly one occurrence of the word sense, but it is a good one, drawing the analogy between physical and spiritual. The word translated as sense is aisthetikos where we get the English word aesthetic, which changed meaning in the 19th century, but originally aesthetic and the Greek aisthetikos meant "of or for perception by the senses" - Etymonline [5].
Heb 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses [aisthetikos] trained to discern good and evil.
This can't be talking about physical senses, no one lists a sense that discerns good from evil. Since we have senses that can discern good from evil, they must be spiritual in nature. Since there is no agreement on exactly how many senses we have, we can't answer the question of whether there is a one to one mapping between physical and spiritual senses, but we are made in God's image, and we are meant to understand God by the universe around us, so we can learn something by exploring the physical senses.
Romans 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Psalm 19 1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
4 Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world. 

And we are meant to see that the physical reflects the spiritual. Notice here in Matthew that Jesus was not talking about physical blindness or physical deafness. People who came to Him could physically see and hear Him, but they did not spiritually see or hear or understand.
 Matthew 13:13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
Why did they not understand? Because spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Why are they blind?
2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 

Let's start with Aristotle's five senses, and what the Bible says about them, then we can look at some of the extra senses. Some of this is based on The Spiritual Senses [6] by John Edmiston, though I vary from his interpretation a little.


"The spiritual sense of sight enables the Christian to be perceptive of spiritual realities and truth and to discern good from evil" - JE.

Ephesians 1:17-20 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, (18) the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, and what is the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, (19) and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us, the ones believing according to the working of His mighty strength.

"The spiritual sense of sight is not independent of the Scriptures. Rather our spiritual sense of sight works together with our bible study in order to enable us to behold wonderful truths out of God's Law" - JE.


This verse from Romans links hearing with faith.
Rom 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
"It is not just knowledge of God's Word that saves us, it must be combined with faith. The hearing of faith is not just intellectual assent to theological propositions" - JE.
Hebrews 4:2 But the Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
However, 2 Cor 5:7 says "for we walk by faith, not by sight", so there is overlap between spiritual hearing and sight.

Faith is more than just belief in a set of doctrines, and it is more than knowing God exists. Faith is trust in God, submission to God, that is, faith leads to actual works of righteousness. Knowledge and belief together are not enough.
James 2:18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

Please visit Faith Comes By Hearing [7], who have made audio recordings of the Bible (or parts of it) in over 1100 languages using local speakers. Their mission is "to provide people everywhere with free access to God’s Word through Audio Bibles in every translated language".


In English, we have the expression "Does it pass the smell test?" The expression started because we use smell as a first indicator of spoiled food (apparently this does not work for cheese, or for Surstr√∂mming, see Youtube(Stinky Fish Challenge) [8], highly recommended), but it turned into a way of expressing a first response to any new situation, for example, sizing up a person selling a used car. Here's one definition of smell test - "An informal method for determining whether something is authentic, credible, or ethical, by using one's common sense or sense of propriety" - Wiktionary(smell_test) [9]. Likewise, the Bible tells us to try the spirits, we might say "do they pass the smell test?" Do we want to consume the spiritual food they are offering?

For this meaning of smell, more than one source maps the sense of smell to discernment or judgment.

For the most part, the Bible refers to smells as good and pleasing. Over and over again, especially in the book of Leviticus, we read the phrase "a sweet savour unto the Lord" (KJV spelling), referring to sacrifices in the Tabernacle. And of Jesus Christ's sacrifice we read:
Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.
And it keeps coming back to knowledge, as in this verse from 2 Corinthians.
2 Co 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.
Nearly all references to smell, savour, aroma, fragrance, odor, stink, or stench are talking about the smell itself, not the sense of smell. Few verses actually refer to the sense of smell, this one from Isaiah is not obvious, but relevant.
Is 11:3 KJV And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

Brazen altar where sacrifices were made
As best I can tell, the literal translation for "make him of quick understanding" is "make him to smell". Many translations have "His delight is in the fear of the Lord". I think what it is really saying is that He (referring to Jesus Christ) will judge by smell, odd as that sounds. Not by sight, not by hearing. We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1), and at the end of our lives, we should be a "sweet savour to the Lord", just like the sacrifices in the Tabernacle, just like Jesus Himself. Will we pass the Biblical smell test?


Ps 34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good

I puzzled over this verse for years. Now I see that it could be a reference to Passover where we take of the bread and wine which symbolizes the body and blood of Jesus, AND it could be an invitation to take in the Word of God like food, chew on it, and digest it. The Bible describes itself in different places as milk, solid food, or honey.

1 Peter 2:2 long for the pure milk of the word
1 Co 3:2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.
Ps 119:103 How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

It seems people want to get their inspiration from anywhere but the Bible. They look to private revelations, or false prophets, or mediums, etc. - anything but the Bible. But the fact is there is only one way.
Acts 4:12 there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved
We must get up close and personal with the Word of God, and nothing is closer than taste. We need to feed on the Bible*.


The entire body experiences the sense of touch mostly through the skin, which is the largest organ of the body. But Biblically, the sense of touch seems focused on the hands. Speaking of idols, Ps 115:7 says "They have hands, but they cannot feel". Edmiston argues that touch transmits God's power. "The spiritual sense of touch transmits spiritual power and through the laying on of hands we can receive healing, the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts." To me, this implies a two way street, where we can pass on God's power through our hands. At its simplest, touching with our hands may simply mean to embrace. And if it isn't obvious by now, I mean embrace the Word of God.

Extra Sensory Perceptions

Beyond Aristotle's five, what can we learn about spiritual perception from the extra senses described by science?

Balance - This can mean more than one thing. We are supposed to eat a balanced diet. Spiritually, do we do that? Some focus too much on prophecy, or NT without OT, or OT without NT, etc. Do we live by EVERY Word of God? Perhaps balance means we are not to rely on one sense alone. Grant Luton of Beth Tikkun [10] teaches that all Biblical truth comes in the form of a menorah (a lamp with a center stalk and an equal number of branches on either side), the left and right sides balance each other. In other words, consider both sides of an argument. Christ is both lamb and lion, both king and servant. When balanced, the menorah gives light to the holy place.

Hot/Cold - hot is often associated with zeal.
Rev 3:15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

Hunger/Thirst - desiring righteousness.
Matt 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Itch - never a good thing.
2 Tim 2:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

Eph 5:15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 

Are things like knowledge, faith, discernment really spiritual senses analogous to our physical senses? The Bible makes these mappings here and there, so we can't ignore them. I have trouble thinking of faith as a sense, a means of perceiving, but that is what it says. All of the spiritual senses rely on knowledge and understanding of the Bible. It takes work, that is time and effort chewing on the Word, to train our senses to know good and evil. Eat from the Tree of Life, the Word of God.

* Here's an example of chewing on the Word I did for this article. I had multiple sources that said that the sense of smell was likened to discernment, but I didn't have a Bible source for it, so I went looking for how the word smell was used. That is, it seemed logical to me, but it's better to have a quote. I made the statement:
Nearly all references to smell, savour, aroma, fragrance, odor, stink, or stench are talking about the smell itself, not the sense of smell.
How do I know that? I looked up every word in that list in multiple translations using Bible Gateway [11]. From there, I looked for a word translated as smell where it means "to smell", not "a smell", and I saw it was used that way in Ps 115:6. Using [12], I looked at the word itself, which is ruach, which normally means breath or blow, but in one verb tense (riach) means smell. So I dove deeper, using a QBible feature to go straight to the Strong's concordance/lexicon for the word "smell" - [13], which showed the main meaning is smell, but it also lists all the places the Hebrew word is used. It showed that in ONE case, Isaiah 11:3, it is translated as "quick understanding", so I went there using Bible Hub [14], which gives the option of seeing a verse in 26 translations simultaneously. I didn't get it at first. How do you get from smell to "quick understanding"? By looking at Is 11:3 itself, which talks about judging, but not by sight or hearing.  The Jubilee Bible 2000 translation reads "and shall make him of quick olfaction in the fear of the LORD" - I didn't find that helpful. The process wasn't as linear as I described it here - it took hours, a few rabbit holes, and some head scratching. And still, I'm not 100% confident of my interpretation, but it fits.