Definition: In the Bible, “soul” is translated from the Hebrew neʹphesh and the Greek psy·kheʹ. Bible usage shows the soul to be a person or an animal or the life that a person or an animal enjoys. To many persons, however, “soul” means the immaterial or spirit part of a human being that survives the death of the physical body. Others understand it to be the principle of life. But these latter views are not Bible teachings.
What does the Bible say that helps us to understand what the soul is?
Gen. 2:7: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” (Notice that this does not say that man was given a soul but that he became a soul, a living person.) (The part of the Hebrew word here rendered “soul” is neʹphesh. KJ, AS, and Dy agree with that rendering. RS, JB, NAB read “being.” NE says “creature.” Kx reads “person.”)
1 Cor. 15:45: “It is even so written: ‘The first man Adam became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (So the Christian Greek Scriptures agree with the Hebrew Scriptures as to what the soul is.) (The Greek word here translated “soul” is the accusative case of psy·kheʹ. KJ, AS, Dy, JB, NAB, and Kx also read “soul.” RS, NE, and TEV say “being.”)
1 Pet. 3:20: “In Noah’s days . . . a few people, that is, eight souls, were carried safely through the water.” (The Greek word here translated “souls” is psy·khaiʹ, the plural form of psy·kheʹ. KJ, AS, Dy, and Kx also read “souls.” JB and TEV say “people”; RS, NE, and NAB use “persons.”)
Gen. 9:5: “Besides that, your blood of your souls [or, “lives”; Hebrew, from neʹphesh] shall I ask back.” (Here the soul is said to have blood.)
Josh. 11:11: “They went striking every soul [Hebrew, neʹphesh] that was in it with the edge of the sword.” (The soul is here shown to be something that can be touched by the sword, so these souls could not have been spirits.)
Where does the Bible say that animals are souls?
Gen. 1:20, 21, 24, 25: “God went on to say: ‘Let the waters swarm forth a swarm of living souls* . . . ’ And God proceeded to create the great sea monsters and every living soul that moves about, which the waters swarmed forth according to their kinds, and every winged flying creature according to its kind. . . . And God went on to say: ‘Let the earth put forth living souls according to their kinds . . . ’ And God proceeded to make the wild beast of the earth according to its kind and the domestic animal according to its kind and every moving animal of the ground according to its kind.” (*In Hebrew the word here is neʹphesh. Ro reads “soul.” Some translations use the rendering “creature[s].”)
Lev. 24:17, 18: “In case a man strikes any soul [Hebrew, neʹphesh] of mankind fatally, he should be put to death without fail. And the fatal striker of the soul [Hebrew, neʹphesh] of a domestic animal should make compensation for it, soul for soul.” (Notice that the same Hebrew word for soul is applied to both mankind and animals.)
Rev. 16:3: “It became blood as of a dead man, and every living soul* died, yes, the things in the sea.” (Thus the Christian Greek Scriptures also show animals to be souls.) (*In Greek the word here is psy·kheʹ. KJ, AS, and Dy render it “soul.” Some translators use the term “creature” or “thing.”)
Do other scholars who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge that this is what the Bible says the soul is?
“There is no dichotomy [division] of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]. The Israelite saw things concretely, in their totality, and thus he considered men as persons and not as composites. The term nepeš [neʹphesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person. . . . The term [psy·kheʹ] is the N[ew] T[estament] word corresponding with nepeš. It can mean the principle of life, life itself, or the living being.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. XIII, pp. 449, 450.
“The Hebrew term for ‘soul’ (nefesh, that which breathes) was used by Moses . . . , signifying an ‘animated being’ and applicable equally to nonhuman beings. . . . New Testament usage of psychē (‘soul’) was comparable to nefesh.”—The New Encyclopædia Britannica (1976), Macropædia, Vol. 15, p. 152.
“The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.”—The Jewish Encyclopedia (1910), Vol. VI, p. 564.
Can the human soul die?
Ezek. 18:4: “Look! All the souls—to me they belong. As the soul of the father so likewise the soul of the son—to me they belong. The soul* that is sinning—it itself will die.” (*Hebrew reads “the neʹphesh.” KJ, AS, RS, NE, and Dy render it “the soul.” Some translations say “the man” or “the person.”)
Matt. 10:28: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul [or, “life”]; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul* and body in Gehenna.” (*Greek has the accusative case of psy·kheʹ. KJ, AS, RS, NE, TEV, Dy, JB, and NAB all render it “soul.”)
Acts 3:23: “Indeed, any soul [Greek, psy·kheʹ] that does not listen to that Prophet will be completely destroyed from among the people.”
Is it possible for human souls (people) to live forever?
Is the soul the same as the spirit?
Eccl. 12:7: “Then the dust returns to the earth just as it happened to be and the spirit [or, life-force; Hebrew, ruʹach] itself returns to the true God who gave it.” (Notice that the Hebrew word for spirit is ruʹach; but the word translated soul is neʹphesh. The text does not mean that at death the spirit travels all the way to the personal presence of God; rather, any prospect for the person to live again rests with God. In similar usage, we may say that, if required payments are not made by the buyer of a piece of property, the property “returns” to its owner.) (KJ, AS, RS, NE, and Dy all here render ruʹach as “spirit.” NAB reads “life breath.”)
Eccl. 3:19: “There is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit [Hebrew, ruʹach].” (Thus both mankind and beasts are shown to have the same ruʹach, or spirit. For comments on verses 20, 21, see page 383.)
Heb. 4:12: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul [Greek, psy·khesʹ; “life,” NE] and spirit [Greek, pneuʹma·tos], and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Observe that the Greek word for “spirit” is not the same as the word for “soul.”)
Does conscious life continue for a person after the spirit leaves the body?
Ps. 146:4: “His spirit [Hebrew, from ruʹach] goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” (NAB, Ro, Yg, and Dy [145:4] here render ruʹach as “spirit.” Some translations say “breath.”) (Also Psalm 104:29)
What is the origin of Christendom’s belief in an immaterial, immortal soul?
“The Christian concept of a spiritual soul created by God and infused into the body at conception to make man a living whole is the fruit of a long development in Christian philosophy. Only with Origen [died c. 254 C.E.] in the East and St. Augustine [died 430 C.E.] in the West was the soul established as a spiritual substance and a philosophical concept formed of its nature. . . . His [Augustine’s] doctrine . . . owed much (including some shortcomings) to Neoplatonism.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. XIII, pp. 452, 454.
“The concept of immortality is a product of Greek thinking, whereas the hope of a resurrection belongs to Jewish thought. . . . Following Alexander’s conquests Judaism gradually absorbed Greek concepts.”—Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de la Bible (Valence, France; 1935), edited by Alexandre Westphal, Vol. 2, p. 557.
“Immortality of the soul is a Greek notion formed in ancient mystery cults and elaborated by the philosopher Plato.”—Presbyterian Life, May 1, 1970, p. 35.
“Do we believe that there is such a thing as death? . . . Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the completion of this; when the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul, what is this but death? . . . And does the soul admit of death? No. Then the soul is immortal? Yes.”—Plato’s “Phaedo,” Secs. 64, 105, as published in Great Books of the Western World (1952), edited by R. M. Hutchins, Vol. 7, pp. 223, 245, 246.
“The problem of immortality, we have seen, engaged the serious attention of the Babylonian theologians. . . . Neither the people nor the leaders of religious thought ever faced the possibility of the total annihilation of what once was called into existence. Death was a passage to another kind of life.”—The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston, 1898), M. Jastrow, Jr., p. 556.