SOUL (Heb. nephesh, Gr. psychē). The word commonly used in the Bible to designate the nonmaterial ego of man in its ordinary relationships with earthly and physical things. It is one of a number of psychological nouns, all designating the same nonmaterial self, but each in a different functional relationship. Thus, the “mind” (nous) is the self in its rational functions. Again “mind” (phronēma) is the self as deeply comtemplating. “Heart” (kardia) is the self as manifesting a complex of attitudes. “Will” (thelēsis) is the self as choosing and deciding. “Spirit” (pneuma) is the self when thought of apart from earthly connections. When the blessed dead in heaven are spoken of as having been put to a martyr’s death, they are called “souls” (Rev.6.9). When there is no reference to their former bodily experience, they are called “spirits” (Heb.12.23).

These functional names of the ego are not used with technical discrimination. They often overlap. The difference between man and beast is not that man has a soul or spirit (Gen.1.20; Gen.7.15; Eccl.3.21), but that man is created in the image of God, whereas the beast is not.

The above remarks assume dichotomy, that is, that there are only two substantive entities that make up the whole person: (1) the body, which at death returns to dust, awaiting the resurrection, and (2) the nonmaterial self, which if regenerate goes to paradise or heaven; if not, to the abode of the wicked dead. There are many, however, who hold to a trichotomous view, arguing that “soul” and “spirit” are two distinct substantive entities, and the body, a third. They cite 1Cor.15.44; 1Thess.5.23; Heb.4.12 for evidence.

Modern non-Christian psychology ignores or denies the existence of the soul as a substantive entity. The “self” is usually spoken of as a mere behavior pattern, a consciousness, but not a being that is conscious.

It is reasonable to see that, in this created world, whenever movement in space occurs, there is something that moves; and similarly, whenever consciousness occurs, there is something, the soul or mind, that is conscious.——JOB

Usage of this term in the history of the Christian Church has been affected by three main factors: the biblical data, particularly about man's creation in the image of God, and the resurrection of the body; dualistic philosophies, both ancient Greek and modern Cartesian and post-Cartesian versions; and, through Thomas Aquinas,* the influence of Aristotle.* “Soul” has thus often been a theory-laden term and even in popular usage has reflected the theories of metaphysics as well as the data of revelation.

According to Greek dualism—e.g., Plato's teaching in the Phaedo-the human person consists in an immortal soul, which has had preexistence, enclosed in a mortal body. This view is clearly incompatible with God's creation of man, “a living soul.” Moreover, the influence of this Greek dualism has often had an unfortunate effect on Christian ethics—e.g., in the idea that man is a composite of “higher” and “lower” elements (“soul” and “body”), and hence that bodily activities and desires as such are unworthy of the true Christian (see Manichaeism). In Cartesian dualism the soul is an “incorporeal substance” located in a corporeal substance, the body. The chief philosophical difficulty is in accounting for an interaction between the two substances. Besides the philosophical difficulties there are other features of Cartesianism that are unwelcome from a Christian standpoint—e.g., the Cartesian idea of free will, and the view that the soul is in principle inaccessible to scientific investigation. Cartesian dualism has been heavily attacked in Gilbert Ryle's Concept of Mind (1949).

Aristotle's monistic view that the soul is the form of the body may come nearer to the biblical view in making intelligible the idea of bodily resurrection, but it seems to entail the noncontinuity of the individual as an individual after death, and before resurrection. The many conceptual problems in this area are partly due to the apparently untechnical and often opaque character of biblical terminology—e.g., Paul's phrase “a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44). Perhaps some of the difficulties can be at least minimized by thinking of “soul” and “body” not as names for two substances, but as referring to two levels at which the human person can be regarded.

SOUL (נֶ֫פֶשׁ, H5883; ψυχή, G6034, meaning life or self, but implying a wide range of connotations).

OT usage.

The OT is not a textbook on human psychology but its doctrine of man seems to involve this polarity: man is a unified being but his being is profoundly creative and complex. This profoundness about man’s being can only be understood by the use of a whole set of terms; hence, various dimensions of his being are pictured by such terms as “soul,” “spirit,” “heart,” and “mind.” Of these terms, “soul” seems to be the most basic.

Etymology and definition:

BDB provides no less than ten different meanings of the term, and it is suggested that its origin is to be found in the Akkad. napasu meaning “to get breath,” “be broad,” “extended” or perhaps from the related term napistu meaning “life” but sometimes used as “soul,” “living being,” “person.” Linguistic parallels can be found in Arabic, Ethiopic, Phoenician and Syriac (s.v.). נֶ֫פֶשׁ, H5883, means, therefore, “soul,” “living being,” “life,” “self,” “person,” “desire,” “appetite,” “emotion” and “passion.” In some passages like Isaiah 5:14 and Psalm 105:18, the term conveys the idea of “neck” (cf. Porteus IDB, s.v.).

Hebrew psychology:

Death and the soul:

NT usage.

The NT concept of the soul is predicated upon this OT teaching.

The soul as the self:

The psychology of the soul:

Eschatology and the soul.


H. W. Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man (1926); D. R. G. Owen, Body and Soul (1956); A. B. Come, Human Spirit and Holy Spirit (1959); G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (1962); W. N. Pittenger, The Christian Understanding of Human Nature (1964); D. W. Mork, The Biblical Meaning of Man (1967); L. Verduin, Somewhat Less Than God (1970).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(nephesh; psuche; Latin anima):

1. Shades of Meaning in the Old Testament:

(1) Soul, like spirit, has various shades of meaning in the Old Testament, which may be summarized as follows: "Soul," "living being," "life," "self," "person," "desire," "appetite," "emotion" and "passion" (BDB under the word). In the first instance it meant that which breathes, and as such is distinguished from basar, "flesh" (Isa 10:18; De 12:23); from she’er, "the inner flesh," next the bones (Pr 11:17, "his own flesh"); from beTen, "belly" (Ps 31:10, "My soul and my belly are consumed with grief"), etc.

(2) As the life-breath, it departs at death (Ge 35:18; Jer 15:2). Hence, the desire among Old Testament saints to be delivered from Sheol (Ps 16:10, "Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol") and from shachath, "the pit" (Job 33:18, "He keepeth back his soul from the pit"; Isa 38:17, "Thou hast .... delivered it (my soul) from the pit of corruption").

(3) By an easy transition the word comes to stand for the individual, personal life, the person, with two distinct shades of meaning which might best be indicated by the Latin anima and animus. As anima, "soul," the life inherent in the body, the animating principle in the blood is denoted (compare De 12:23,24, `Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the soul; and thou shalt not eat the soul with the flesh’). As animus, "mind," the center of our mental activities and passivities is indicated. Thus we read of `a hungry soul’ (Ps 107:9), `a weary soul’ (Jer 31:25), `a loathing soul’ (Le 26:11), `a thirsty soul’ (Ps 42:2), `a grieved soul’ (Job 30:25), `a loving soul’ (So 1:7), and many kindred expressions. Cremer has characterized this use of the word in a sentence: "Nephesh (soul) in man is the subject of personal life, whereof pneuma or ruach (spirit) is the principle" (Lexicon, under the word, 795).

(4) This individuality of man, however, may be denoted by pneuma as well, but with a distinction. Nephesh or "soul" can only denote the individual life with a material organization or body. Pneuma or "spirit" is not so restricted. Scripture speaks of "spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb 12:23), where there can be no thought of a material or physical or corporeal organization. They are "spiritual beings freed from the assaults and defilements of the flesh" (Delitzsch, in the place cited.). For an exceptional use of psuche in the same sense see Re 6:9; 20:4, and (irrespective of the meaning of Ps 16:10) Ac 2:27.

2. New Testament Distinctions:

(1) In the New Testament psuche appears under more or less similar conditions as in the Old Testament. The contrast here is as carefully maintained as there. It is used where pneuma would be out of place; and yet it seems at times to be employed where pneuma might have been substituted. Thus in Joh 19:30 we read: "Jesus gave up his pneuma" to the Father, and, in the same Gospel (Joh 10:15), Jesus gave up His "psuche for the sheep," and in Mt 20:28 He gave His psuche (not His pneuma) as a ransom--a difference which is characteristic. For the pneuma stands in quite a different relation to God from the psuche. The "spirit" (pneuma) is the outbreathing of God into the creature, the life-principle derived from God. The "sour" (psuche) is man’s individual possession, that which distinguishes one man from another and from inanimate nature. The pneuma of Christ was surrendered to the Father in death; His psuche was surrendered, His individual life was given "a ransom for many." His life "was given for the sheep"

(2) This explains those expressions in the New Testament which bear on the salvation of the soul and its preservation in the regions of the dead. "Thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades" (the world of shades) (Ac 2:27); "Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil" (Ro 2:9); "We are .... of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul" (Heb 10:39); "Receive ..... the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas 1:21).

The same or similar expressions may be met with in the Old Testament in reference to the soul. Thus in Ps 49:8, the King James Version "The redemption of their soul is precious" and again: "God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol" (Ps 49:15). Perhaps this may explain--at least this is Wendt’s explanation--why even a corpse is called nephesh or soul in the Old Testament, because, in the region of the dead, the individuality is retained and, in a measure, separated from God (compare Hag 2:13; Le 21:11).

3. Oehler on Soul and Spirit:

The distinction between psuche and pneuma, or nephesh and ruach, to which reference has been made, may best be described in the words of Oehler (Old Testament Theology, I, 217): "Man is not spirit, but has it: he is soul. .... In the soul, which sprang from the spirit, and exists continually through it, lies the individuality--in the case of man, his personality, his self, his ego." He draws attention to the words of Elihu in Job (33:4): `God’s spirit made me,’ the soul called into being; `and the breath of the Almighty animates me,’ the soul kept in energy and strength, in continued existence, by the Almighty, into whose hands the inbreathed spirit is surrendered, when the soul departs or is taken from us (1Ki 19:4). Hence, according to Oehler the phrases naphshi ("my soul"), naphshekha ("thy soul") may be rendered in Latin egomet, tu ipse; but not ruchi ("my spirit"), ruchakha ("thy spirit")--soul standing for the whole person, as in Ge 12:5; 17:14; Eze 18:4, etc.

See Psychology.