What is the human soul?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

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Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
The Bible is not perfectly clear as to the nature of the human soul. But from studying the way the word soul is used in Scripture, we can come to some conclusions. Simply stated, the human soul is ...

July 01 2013 19 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Aurel Gheorghe
There are a lot of teachings and opinions regarding what a soul is, what it does and where it goes at death. Putting all aside, let’s see now what the Bible have to say about this important subject.

A soul is a living being. The Bible describes a soul as a combination of two things: body and breath. A soul cannot exist unless body and breath are combined. God's Word teaches that we are souls (Genesis 2:7).

God made us from dust in the beginning and when we die the body turns to dust again, while the spirit goes back to God, who gave it. The spirit of every person who dies, whether righteous or wicked, returns to God at death (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

The body without the spirit (God’s breath of life) is dead (James 2:26; Job 27:3).

The spirit that returns to God at death is the breath of life. Nowhere in the Bible does the "spirit" have any life, wisdom, or feeling after a person dies. It is the "breath of life" and nothing more.

The concept of an undying, immortal soul goes against the Bible, which teaches that souls are subject to death (Ezekiel 18:20; Revelation 16:3). 

According to God's Word, souls do die! We are souls, and souls die. Man is mortal (Job 4:17). Only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15, 16; John 5:28, 29; Acts 2:29, 34; 7:13). People do not go either to heaven or hell at death. They go to their graves to await the resurrection day.

The dead know absolutely nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10; Psalms 115:17).

The dead cannot communicate with the living nor they know what the living are doing (Job 14:12, 21; Ecclesiastes 9:6; Psalms 146:4).

Jesus called the unconscious state of the dead "sleep"(John 11:11-14). In death, humans are totally unconscious with no activity or knowledge of any kind. The dead will sleep until the great day of the Lord at the end of the world (Job 14:12; 2 Peter 3:10).

June 17 2016 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini James R
The straightforward answer is found in a simple equation from Genesis 2:7. Inanimate solid material + God's animating breath = living soul (Hebrew word 'nephesh'). Here is the basis of life on Earth. God supplies the means for a creature to live by giving it the capability to breathe, the oxygen in which is carried round the body by the bloodstream. Nephesh is translated as soul many times in the OT, and applies to animals as well as man - all are God's creatures. 

So a soul is just a creature that is alive, and it is destined to die. There is nothing in the biblical notion of nephesh that suggests something separates from a body despite verses that appear to say so. The appearance of separable entities is read into the verse because of our conditioning in Greek-based thinking. Plato provided the most well-known description of the human form calling the material body base and ignoble, and the immaterial soul a higher form seeking its rightful heaven-like existence after death. This pagan philosophy took a forceful hold of secular and early Christian thinking, and persists today. So much so that it shaped creeds and translations from about the 4th century onwards. For instance, the KJV version of Luke 23:46 says Jesus 'gave up the ghost', whereas the Greek word is simply 'breathed his last' or 'expired'. The Platonic concept of something leaving his body influenced the translation. 

The Greek word for nephesh is psuche which carries the same idea into the NT ie the holistic nature of man viewed from a Hebrew perspective. In Matthew 10:25 psuche is translated life, in Matt 10:26 it is translated soul. This doesn't mean a separate thing, but soul is just another way of referring to the whole living person - body, emotions, thoughts. 

That said, man's unique position as the head of creation, being made in God's image and able to relate to him, is our spiritual aspect. But, again, this does not infer an eternal, immaterial entity inside a physical body. The entire notion is rather ridiculous that a spirit can be somehow contained in a material casing. 1 Corinthians 15:45 says Jesus became a life-giving spirit, and according to John 20:26 the physical walls did not prevent Jesus entering the room. So thinking in terms of separate entities is misleading and gives on-going substance to the devil's first lie - 'you shall not die' in Genesis 3:4, for man is mortal, his days are numbered and eternal life is God's to give after death, then judgement (Hebrews 9:27).

So, it is right to think of all creatures, including man, as souls, and a soul dies when it breathes no longer. The only form of life thereafter is either an eternal one in a resurrected body, or a condemned one to perish a second time, this time forever.

October 06 2015 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Image George Delmindo
The answer is found in Gen 2:7 - "And the Eternal God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." 

Man became a living soul; that is what man is - a soul. The scripture did not say that man has a soul, but that man is a soul.

The Hebrew word used in Gen 2:7 is nephesh. Nephesh can mean "a breathing creature i.e., animal or vitality" and is also rendered in the English as "appetite, beast, body, breath, creature... man, mind, mortally."

In Gen 1:24, nephesh is used to mean - living creature. "And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature [nephesh] after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so."
In Gen 2:19, 9:10, 12, 15 and 16, the word nephesh is used in every case, and is always translated "creature." 

Nephesh is used in many places where the revisers have supplied the English word "body." Lev 21:11, "Neither shall he go to any dead body [nephesh], nor defile himself..." A nephesh is called a "body" in this scripture! In Num 6:6, 9:6, 7, 10 and 19:13 we can find identical renderings, where the Hebrew word nephesh is translated into English as "dead body." 
The Prophet Haggai used the same word when he said, "If one that is unclean by a dead body [nephesh] touch any of these, shall it be unclean?" (Hag 2:13)

The Hebrew word nephesh is also translated into English as "life, physical life."
In Gen 9:4, God told Noah the life of any animal, or nephesh, was in the blood. "But flesh with the life [Hebrew, nephesh] thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood... he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For it is the life [nephesh] of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof" (Lev 17:11-14). In these verses the English word "life" comes from the Hebrew word nephesh, and is defined in theses biblical verses to be the life (blood) of all flesh, including all animal life, as well as humans.

Christ shed his soul for us. "Yet it pleased the Eternal to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul [nephesh] an offering for sin..." (Isa 53:10).

December 13 2015 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Craig Stephenson
I struggled long and hard regarding what the "soul" is or consists of. In one respect, the answer is not simple. In another, it's quite simple.

In Genesis 2:7 tells us "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." For all practical purposes, Adam was a perfectly formed human specimen with blood in all arteries and capillaries, perfectly functional eyes, perfectly formed limbs and functioning body parts and organs. EMS could have shocked his heart into rhythm and they would have had an original functional human specimen....but without thought. There was no true "life" in him until God breathed INTO him the breath of life.....and Adam 'became' a "living soul." EVERY living human being is a living soul. They possess the ability of cognitive thought....the ability to judge and choose between right and wrong. 

When a hospital has someone hooked up to life support, often the only way they can tell if that person is still viably alive or not is to monitor brain wave activity. While no doctor nor machine yet invented on earth is capable of "seeing" human thought, they can detect that it is actively going on. When the brain ceases to think, there is a lack of brain wave activity, and the "soul" portion of that person has left the body. It is the cognitive reasoning thought-capable mental processes which are the SOUL of a person.

Hebrews 4:12 describes the Word of God as alive and capable of dividing between the soul and the spirit......so the soul and spirit are not one and the same. The spirit, or Holy Spirit, only comes inside to dwell once we trust Christ as savior. Whether we have a "spirit" prior to that is unclear. There is one passage of scripture in Ephesians 2 which suggests we possessed a spirit but that its eternal destiny was death until quickened (change of eternal destinations) unto life at the moment of salvation.

Long and short of this answer is, the human being consists of three components, body, soul, and spirit. It is the soul which gives life and cognitive thought to the brain. Therefore, the "house" for the soul is the brain....although it cannot be simply described as the brain. Each living soul has the free-will ability to choose their eternal destination for themselves. That decision will determine where the soul and spirit will spend eternity. The scripture speaks of this "mortal shall put on immortality" in 1 Cor. 15:53-54. That means our mortal body will be transformed into a housing suitable as an eternal shroud for our soul and spirit which will live on for eternity. One designed to endure eternal suffering, the other designed to promote eternal joy. It is only while our souls are housed in this human flesh suit that we have the option of cognitively choosing Heaven or Hell as our destination. Romans 10:9-10 says it is with the "heart" man believes unto salvation. That word is synonymous with "soul." It is with cognitive thought - decision-making thought - with which we believe and have faith.

Hope that helps.

- Craig -

October 12 2015 2 responses Vote Up Share Report

Dscf1720 Myron Robertson Seeking God's heart
The concept of the soul is very difficult to understand because we do not do a thorough study of the matter in the Hebrew. This is greatly complicated because this is one of those issues where translators have always preferred to translate scripture according the common misunderstandings brought about by thousands of years of preference for certain Pagan teachings that have existed in our belief systems since before the exiles of Israel and Judah rather than teaching the understanding God provides in scripture.

The Hebrew word nephesh is not well translated in any Christian literature. Strongs lexicon says it is properly translated as a breathing creature, yet it does not take much reading beyond Gen 2:7, where we get that definition, to see that this is NOT a valid definition of this word. Something else is being defined in that verse, not soul, and it is beyond the scope of this discussion to determine what that is. 

As we continue reading in Strong's listing we come to the list of ways the KJV has translated this word and find that is has been translated into 38 different word or phrases. While most Hebrew words have at least 2 and often 3 legitimate definitions (usually showing some kind of prophetic symbolism) a list like this only serves to show just how careless we can get with the word of God when things get a bit complicated or teach us something we do not wish to accept.

Nephesh means only soul and does not mean any of these other things, although its close association with life makes it understandable how we have come to associate that definition with this word. No complete definition of soul is possible unless and until we have looked at every single text which uses the word nephesh, no matter how it has been translated, something no one involved in this discussion (myself included) has done. 

While I have not done this exhaustive study I have done a thorough study. I have found that because the soul is in the blood Gen 9:3; Lev 17:11, 14; Dt 12:23, we must also include studies of the blood and how it is used in the sacrificial system to understand the soul as well since it is the soul (blood) of the sacrifice that is being substituted before God for our own 

Once we start doing this study we find scripture is absolutely clear in stating the lower animals have a soul; the thing that distinguishes us from them is the neshamah (spirit, breath, intellect). All creature on the earth (not in the water necessarily) are born with a ruach (spirit, breath, wind) but it is this neshamah that makes us alive by the definition used in Gen 2:7 and furthermore, it is only the fully mature sons of God that are fully alive. This gets into what Jesus meant when he said he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly Jn 10:10. The Bible has more than one definition for life as it does for many other things.

As we study further into the soul we find that it is very closely associated with the flesh and the weakness of the flesh. We find it is subject to the inherent weakness of mortal flesh. I have heard it said that the mind is associated with the soul and the heart with the spirit, but I have not found the prophets to be especially consistent in this regard. However, there is an intellect associated with each. Paul describes these as the old man (of sin) Rom 6:6, Eph 4:22, Col 3:9 and the new man (of the spirit) 2 Cor 5:17, Eph 4:24, Col 3:10. These are two separate consciousnesses within us (or two sides of one consiousness -- I know some reject the idea of two separate consciousnesses.) The old man is associated with the soul and the new man with the spirit. 1Jn 3:9 tells us this new man cannot sin, yet even though he is born within us we continue to sin, so it is our soul which dominates us and which sins. Paul discusses this in more detail in Rom 7:14-25. We also find that the prophets are consistent in telling us it is the soul which is the object of loss or salvation. The old man is the soul.

January 07 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini John Appelt
The usual definition of “human soul” is that part of man considered as immaterial, immortal, separable from the body at death. However, the concept that man has or is a soul, is not found in the Bible. In fact, this teaching was not in the earliest Jewish thinking, but appeared during the Persian and Greek periods. Besides, man is mortal, Job 4:17, and only God is immortal, I Timothy 6:15-16.

The analysis of the Hebrew word “nephesh” and the Greek “psuche,” often translated as “soul,” show that consistently all through Scriptures it means the whole person. The more accurate translation is “person,” “creature,” “being,” or “life.” For example, when Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” Luke 1:46, she was saying poetically, “My being magnifies the Lord.” The word does not signify “soul” as traditionally defined.

I Thessalonians 5:23 is taken to mean man has a body, soul, and spirit. However, Paul is not defining the parts of man, but praying that God would sanctify the saints completely or thoroughly. The idea of entirety or totality through similar terms is also found in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27 (compare Deuteronomy 6:5). 

Hebrews 4:12 seems to indicate the soul and spirit are parts of man, but the verse says the sword of the Word is able to pierce and penetrate, even to its inward being, which is transparent and discernible to God.

Matthew 10:28 also seems to differentiate body and soul. Instead, it marks the difference between physical and eternal death. 

The composition of man is described as God creating the body from the dust of the earth and then breathing into it the breath of life, Genesis 2:7. Some translations have, “man became a living soul,” but it is better rendered, “man became a living being.” Man equals dust plus breath. The “breath of life” or “spirit of life” makes a person or animal alive, Genesis 2:7, 7:22, and function, Job 32:8, and its absence means death, James 2:26. At death the spirit or breath leaves the body, Ecclesiastes 12:7. 

The body does not contain inward parts called the soul and spirit. It is variously explained that the soul and/or spirit is the seat of the senses, character, identity, imaginations, desires, affections, reason, memory, appetites, etc. Instead, that which is attributed to the soul and spirit is all entailed in the body. From the bodies’ mind is the source of every emotion, feeling, decision, discernment, longing, and intent. The body is the vessel responsible for its every action. That is why the believer is answerable for what he does in his body, II Corinthians 5:10.

The immaterial, immortal human soul/spirit as a part of man is not a Biblical concept. And to call man “a soul” is not a good translation of “nephesh” and “psuche” which means a “person” or “being.” But what is Scriptural is that man is a body endowed with God’s breath of life or spirit, which makes him a living being.

October 06 2023 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Data jarod fields
Short and simple answer it's found in Genesis 2:7 when God breathed into Adams nostrils "the breath of life" if you look up the Hebrew word for breath it translates as; (ruach) breath= wind, spirit, also the translation from Greek is (pneuma)breath is also wind or spirit. That's where we get the English word for pneu·mat·ic
containing or operated by air or gas under pressure.
of or relating to the spirit.

So a breath also called spirit which came from God, so God breathed into Adam his spirit into Adams body(clay) then Adam became a soul. 

Short answer body+breath=soul!

January 08 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

1515012380789778228527 RICK PORTER Chaplain [ Truckers Chapel ]-- Undeserving Child of God
Genesis 2:7, says man was formed from dust of the ground, it became a Visible Vessel. Then, God breathed, the breath of life into the vessel, it became the source of Vital Vitality.

Body and soul were merged into a living being, however there is a component of the soul that can be called the spirit. 

Hebrews 4:12, states God's Word can divide the soul and the spirit, thus the spirit can be said to be a Virtual [from Latin- virtus] Value, that is born again John 3:3 or spiritually dead Ephesians 2:1-5.

I believe the human soul, then is the unseen part of humanity, that consist of the mind, will and emotions, that also has the spirit element that is born again or dead as pertaining to our relationship with God. 

We are directed then by a born again spirit and soul, or by our fleshly, carnal spirit and soul. When we physically die our spirit and soul either go to be with God 2 Corinthians 5:8, or is separated from God in a place called hell.

January 08 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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