What does the word soul in the Bible mean?

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Soul is in Hebrew “nephesh” and it appears 755 times in the OT, 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.

The meaning

“Nephesh” is derived from the root naphash, a verb that appears only three times in the OT (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). Body (Dust) – Breath (Spirit) = Death (No Soul). 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.

Thus, a new soul comes into being every time a person is born. Every person is unique and different than other beings. The new person can never merge into another person. It will always be itself and no body else. This individuality is stressed in the word “nephesh.”

The same Nephesh is given also to animals. The Bible records, “let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life” (Genesis1:20). This means, “let the waters swarm swarms of souls of life [individuals of life].” Thus, “living creatures” literally means “souls of life,” or “individuals of life” (Genesis 2:19). Hence, animals and human are called “souls.”

The term nephesh is used to represent the individual rather than a part of the individual. For this reason, it is more correct to say a person or even animal is a soul rather than just to have one.

Nephesh is synonymous with “life”

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.”

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 “nephesh” is not taught in the Scriptures.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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