What does the word soul mean in the Bible?

Author: BibleAsk Team


Soul is in Hebrew “nephesh” and it appears 755 times in the Old Testament, and 144 times in the book of Psalms where it is translated “soul.” This translation is not completely accurate, for “soul” carries a meaning in English that do not correctly belong to nephesh, which is derived from the root naphash, a verb that appears only three times in the Old Testament (Exodus 23:12; 31:17; 2 Samuel 16:14), each instance it means “to revive oneself” or “to refresh oneself.” Thus, the verb has the meaning of breathing.

A definition for “nephesh” is first taken from the Bible story of creation. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7 KJV). The Bible states that when God breathed into the body, man “became a soul of life.” The “soul” didn’t exist before, but came into being when God breathed into the body. Body (dust) + breath (spirit) = life (soul).

At death the opposite formula takes place: “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The body turns to dust again, and the spirit or breath goes back to God, who gave it. It returns as a breath. The soul ceases to exist. Body (dust) – breath (spirit) = death (no soul). Thus, according to God’s Word, souls do die (Ezekiel 18:20 KJV).

After death a person: returns to dust (Psalms 104:29), knows nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5), possesses no mental powers (Psalms 146:4), has nothing to do with anything on earth (Ecclesiastes 9:6), does not live (2 Kings 20:1), waits in the grave (Job 17:13), and continues not (Job 14:1, 2) until they are raised at the Resurrection Day (Revelation 22:12; 1 Corinthians 15:51–53).

The spirit that returns to God at death is the breath of life. Nowhere in all of God’s book does the “spirit” have any life, wisdom, or feeling after a person dies (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10). It is the “breath of life” and nothing more. The Scriptures use the word spirit and breath interchangeably. “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). “As long as my breath is in me, and the breath of God in my nostrils” (Job 27:3 NKJV).

In 119 instances the KJV translates nephesh by “life.” Most of the references to nephesh may be translated as a “person,” “individual,” “life,” or by personal pronoun. Example: “The souls that they had gotten in Haran” (Genesis 12:5) means “the persons that they had gotten in Haran.” “My soul shall live because of thee” (Genesis 12:13) means, “I shall live because of thee.” “That soul shall be cut off” (Leviticus 19:8) means, “he shall be cut off.” Even animals have souls (Revelation 16:3 KJV).


A soul is a living being. This word is always a combination of two things: body plus breath. Therefore, one cannot exist unless body and breath are combined. The Scriptures teach that humans are souls—not just as something they have, which is why they can die (Ezekiel 18:20; Revelation 16:3). Man is mortal (Job 4:17). Only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15, 16). Thus, the teaching of immortal soul is not taught in the Scriptures.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

1 thought on “What does the word soul mean in the Bible?”

  1. In my understanding soul’s attribute is consciousness. When the body received the spirit of life from God, man became a living soul. That is, life with consciousness from which emanates feelings and emotion such as love, hate, anger, passion, and any attributes that can come out of being conscious. In contrast: Plants and the like with life but have no consciousness cannot be called living soul. Animals and other breathing life are living souls. Man and animals are soul. Human soul has a great significant than the animal.
    There is yet another attribute in the BREATH or SPIRIT of life that God breathes in man’s nostrils that animals and other breathing creatures don’t have. God created all living creatures and received the spirit of life from God by His mere word (Genesis 1:24-25). Whereas, God formed the body called man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the spirit of life. And in that same breath, God formed the spirit that makes man spiritually conscious that can relate to God. People who don’t know the real God, such those who were born in the jungle inherently looking for a spirit god to worship—that animals don’t. Some worship the sun, the mountain, the stone, or anything they can worships with the thought there is a spirit behind those objects (See Acts 17:22-29). The Scriptures below are the biblical proofs that God formed the spirit in man through the same breath He breathes the spirit of life.
    “The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who FORMS THE HUMAN SPIRIT within a person,” (Zechariah 12:1).
    “But it is the SPIRIT IN MAN, the breath of the almighty, that gives him the Understanding,” Job 32:8.
    “The lamp of the Lord searches the SPIRIT OF A MAN; it searches out his inmost being,” Proverbs 20:27.
    The soul is only active with a body from which emanates feelings and emotion and other attributes of the soul. The soul which is embedded in the spirit that returned to God is naked (See 2 Corinthians 5:3). It is a disembodied spirit. When the spirit is clothed with the new heavenly body (verse 4, clothed with our heavenly dwelling) it will be conscious as the same person who dies with all the attributes of the soul, such as the memories and the characters of the person that were developed while in the body in his entire life on earth. This is what the Bible said, “That each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad”. This will occur at the resurrection at the second coming of our Lord. This resurrection is portrayed in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in the judgment seat of Christ, that is, the receiving of the rewards for the saves and condemnation for the unsaved (See 2 Corinthians 5:10).
    The Dead Know Nothing
    “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate, and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6) NIV.
    The body has no importance at this point, for its purpose has been served, that is, while in the body man is being processed in the likeness of God, through trials, sufferings, and overcoming. At death: The sick, imperfect, corrupt body, then, will be decommissioned and returned to its source of origin and permanently be there as it was.
    “The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it,” Ecclesiastes 12:7 (NKJV). This is a statement of fact and has nothing to do with the sin committed by the first man. Adam was created with a physical body—not spirit and a glorified body. Physical is temporal, spiritual is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18 ASV).
    This Is The New Body (For the saved)
    “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:1-4) NIV
    42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

    I was a former seaman, then a driver, a gardener, and now an old man staying at home studying the Bible. Thank you for the information I got from you.


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