What is a Soul?

The word soul in the Bible is the English translation for the Hebrew word nephesh, or the Greek word psyche. With that, we really have to study these Greek and Hebrew words to really understand what they say about God as our source of life. First, let’s look at nephesh.

Nephesh means life or self. Just think about this. This word is used in Psalm 16 when it says, “My flesh will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol. Nor will you let Your Holy One undergo decay.” A better translation would be, “My flesh will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my life to Sheol. Nor will you let your Holy One undergo decay.” Sheol means the grave. A deeper look at Sheol can be seen here.

We also see the word nephesh in the 23rd psalm when it says, “He restores my soul.” Another way to see it is, “He restores my life.” Another verse is Job 33:18 which shows that God raises the dead by saying, “He keeps back his soul from the pit, And his life from passing over into Sheol.”

Nephesh comes from the word naphash, which means to breath or to be breathed upon. It is passive, as we are receiving the air. Right now I am passively receiving the air around me. In the same way, God’s life is something we passively receive and continually depend on to live. On the day of the resurrection, out bodies won’t need physical oxygen because it will be forever sustained by God’s immortality.

Now that we know what nephesh means, we can look at psyche. Psyche means mind, will and emotion, but it is the Greek word that the Greek Old Testament uses for nephesh. For example, in Mark 8:36, Jesus says, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” When we see that soul means life, it means that gaining everything the world has is meaningless if we don’t have eternal life.

Psyche in some instances can refer to the original Greek definition of mind, will, and emotion. One example is 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This verse is for a Greek audience. It is meant to take a jab at Greek philosphy, which says that the body is evil and the soul needs to escape the body. The verse shows that the body is not evil and the complete man; body, soul, and spirit; will be restored by God’s immortality.

I know this is a lot. Just read it a few times and let the Holy Spirit precess it in you. You will see the work God does to preserve our lives.

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