What does the word soul mean in the Bible?

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By BibleAsk Team


Soul

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).

Summary

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

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