"Soul", Bible meaning of
Christendom Admits "Immortal Soul" UnBiblical, and Based On
When we turn to works of reference by the learned expositors
of the immortal soul theory, we see how this "believing a lie" works out quite
naturally. Most of them make no attempt to conceal the fact that scriptural
teaching and popular theology are very different regarding the meaning of
"soul." They are in fact, proud that they have developed many "improvements"
upon what they consider the partial and hazy conceptions voiced by the "Holy men
of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2Pe 1:21).
We soon find that we are forced to choose between Scripture
teaching and orthodox Christianity. It is very fortunate for us that the issue
is so clear-cut, and that the leading exponents of the immortal soul theory are
so frank in admission of its non-Biblical origin. Webster's Dictionary
"The Christian conception of the soul derives from the Greek, especially as
modified by the mystery cults, as well as from the Bible...
Funk & Wagnall Dictionary is even more to the
"The more exact determination of the Christian conception was reserved for the
Church Fathers, especially Saint Augustine, who taught that it is simple,
immaterial and spiritual, devoid of quality and spatial extension. He argued its
immortality from the fact that it is the repository of imperishable
"Among the ancient Hebrews 'soul' was the equivalent of the principle of life as
embodied in living creatures, and this meaning is continued throughout the
Hasting's well-known Bible Dictionary freely
"It was Augustine especially who, in part on religious grounds and in part as
the disciple of the later Greek Philosophy, taught the simple, immaterial and
spiritual nature of the human soul -- a view which has remained that of the
scholastic philosophy and of Christian theologians down to the present
"Soul is throughout a great part of the Bible simply the equivalent of 'life'
embodied in living creature. In the earlier usage of the OT it has no reference
to the later philosophical meaning -- the animating principle -- still less to
the idea of an 'immaterial nature' which will survive the
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
"Soul has various shades of meaning in the OT , which may be summarized as
follows: Soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, appetite, emotion and
Young's Concordance defines both nephesh and psuche as
"Nephesh or soul, can only denote the individual life with a material
organization or body.
"In the NT 'psuche' appears under more or less similar conditions as in the OT
Strong's Concordance defines nephesh as, "A breathing
creature, an animal; or, abstractly vitality." Psuche it likewise defines as
"The animal, sentient principle."
The noted lexicographer Parkhurst (himself a believer
in immortal soulism) says:
"As a noun nephesh hath been supposed to signify the spiritual part of man, or
what we commonly call his soul. I must for myself confess that I can find no
passages where it hath undoubtedly this meaning.
These quotations show clearly that the immortal soul doctrine
is generally admitted by its supporters to be entirely different from the BIBLE
meaning of soul, and based mainly upon GREEK PHILOSOPHY.
"Gen 35:18, 1Ki 17:21,22 and Psa 16:10 seem fairest for this signification. But
may not nephesh in the three former passages be most properly rendered 'breath,'
and in the last, 'a breathing or animal
Is God's Word A Final, Infallible Authority?
The issue then is this: is the Word of God to be our final
authority, or is religious truth something to be gradually developed by man's
speculation on the basis of pagan Greek philosophy?
For nearly 2,000 years, the bulk of Christendom, beginning
with the Church Fathers, have favored the latter, but there have always been a
few who have regarded the Bible as wholly inspired by God, consistent from
beginning to end, and the only possible source of true knowledge of such things
as life, death and the nature and destiny of man.
A Bible that is anything less than this is NO BIBLE AT ALL.
And the Bible itself leaves no room for compromise. It takes a bold and
unequivocal stand throughout as the direct Word of God in every part [Isa 8:20;
Jer 36:1-4; 1Co 2:9-13; Gal 1:11,12; 2Ti 3:16,17; Heb 1:1,2; 2Pe 1:19-21; Rev
1:1,2]. We must accept it as that, or else throw it away entirely as the most
brazen and blasphemous of falsehoods.
Those who take the middle ground are the Bible's greatest
enemies, and this unfortunately includes the vast majority of professing
Christians. They dare not openly deny its divinity, because it is so obviously
divine, but they seek to rob it of all power by spinning an endless web of
theories around it that confuse the mind and distract the attention, and obscure
its plain, clear teaching.
It is impossible in any one consideration to fully examine the
Biblical use and meaning of "soul." But it is possible to lay the foundation by
demonstrating that popular theology on the subject is admittedly derived from
other sources than the Bible, and is at direct variance with it.
The Bible meaning of "soul" (which modern writers mention
briefly in passing), is regarded by them as a rather amusing phase of ancient
Hebrew speculation, hardly worthy of serious attention, and which no one laying
claim to "modern" learning would dare allow his name to be associated
The following brief outline of the BIBLICAL use of the term is
for those few to whom the Bible is still the one unique Book among millions --
the wholly inspired divine message to man -- one v of which is worth more than
countless volumes of the cloudy, inconclusive speculations of human philosophy
and "modern wisdom." [1Co 1:17; 2:16; 3:18-20].
The Original Words Translated "Soul"
In the OT Hebrew, the original word for soul is nephesh. In
the NT Greek it is psuche. Both mean the same thing and are used
interchangeably. One is used to translate the other.
Nephesh occurs about 750 times. About 500 times it is
translated "soul" in the Authorized Version. The other 250 times it is
translated by over 40 different English words, as shown on the chart.
Psuche occurs about 100 times, and is translated
It is quite obvious at the outset that a word of such broad
application, including all the animal kingdom, all its bodily [and] physical
aspects, CANNOT POSSIBLY indicate some immortal essence in man distinguishing
him from the lower creation.
It is clear from the words used to translate it that it is
related throughout to ANIMAL BODIES, including man, and this will become more
and more clear as we consider some of the passages in which it is
It can be readily seen, too, that with such a range of meaning
the translators could do much to color the various passages by their choice of
English words -- using one set of terms when used of animals and another when of
On the other hand, it is evident that in an article of this
kind, it is impossible to quote sufficient of the 850 occurrences to fully
illustrate the word, and that by choosing obscure, borderline passages, a very
distorted picture could be drawn.
Therefore, only a careful, individual investigation, seeking
divine guidance, can bring solid, durable conviction and enlightenment. THERE IS
NO SHORTCUT TO THE ENLIGHTENED FAITH THAT LEADS TO SALVATION.
For instance, soul is used in relation to God. He says: "My
servant in whom MY SOUL delighteth" (Isa 42:1). But examination will show that
this is a very exceptional, isolated use, and is a figure of speech that has no
bearing on the literal meaning of soul. The expression "my soul" is often used
simply as an emphatic term meaning "myself," because of its undeniable animal
basis. Clearly it is in this secondary sense of emphasis only [that] it is used
The Scriptures Cannot Be Broken
As in the case of most other Biblical subjects, we find
ourselves taken back to the opening chapters of Genesis when we begin to examine
the meaning of soul.
There the foundations for many things are laid, and lost
indeed are those poor "modern" thinkers who dismiss these early books of the
Bible as folklore and fairy tales.
Here again, let us courageously face the consequences of our
convictions. Christ put his seal upon the ancient Hebrew Scriptures as the
unbreakable Word of God. He said:
"The SCRIPTURES CANNOT BE BROKEN" (John
And again (John 5:47): "If ye believe not Moses' writings, how
shall ye believe my words?"
If we reject Moses' writings, let us at least be consistent
and reject Christ's too. If we believe in Christ, let us give those Holy
Writings he endorses our full assurance of faith.
Nephesh First Used of Animals
THE FIRST FOUR OCCURRENCES OF THE WORD "NEPHESH" RELATE
EXCLUSIVELY TO ANIMALS. That is a good fact to start with and to remember. A
good foundation. Let us get them firmly in our mind:
Gen 1:20: "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly
the moving creature that hath life" (The word "life" here is nephesh --
Next verse: "And God created great whales, and every living
creature (nephesh -- soul) that moveth, which the water brought forth
V 24: "The living creature (nephesh) after his kind, cattle
and creeping things."
V 30: "Every beast... every foul... everything that creepeth,
wherein there is life (nephesh)."
Then Used of Man
Then, having prepared our understanding by applying nephesh
four times to every species of living creature on the earth, the Scriptures'
next use of the word is in the record of the creation of man (Gen 2:7): "The
Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground." (and that in itself is a phrase
to be well noted when we consider the nature and composition of man)
"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
(EXACTLY THE SAME WORD as four times already applied to
animals: Man, formed of the dust of the ground, became a living soul (an animal,
breathing creature) when God breathed into him the breath of life.)
Now the usual response at this point from the immortal soulist
is to switch over to the word spirit, and abandon the argument based on soul.
Our present subject, is however, SOUL, and we hope to thoroughly dispose of
that, but in passing it may be mentioned that exactly the same remarks apply to
"spirit." It, too, in these early foundation chapters of Genesis, is used of
animals alone, and also of men and animals together, and to the same point
Solomon says (Ecc 3:19): "Man and beasts... they have all ONE spirit."
In applying both these words, soul AND spirit, to animals as
well as to men, the Scriptures seem to be taking especial care to protect us
from erroneous conceptions, if only we will heed and accept its divine guidance,
and not depend upon the Greek philosophers against whose teachings the Apostle
Paul so bitterly contended and so vehemently warned.
Man and Animals Together Indiscriminately
We have considered the first five occurrences. Of the next
eight, six are applied to animals. There are seven places where the word is
applied to man and animals together without distinction. An interesting example
is Num 31:28:
"Levy a tribute... one SOUL (nephesh) of 500, both of the persons, of the
beeves, of the asses..."
One more typical passage of the use of soul for animals before
we go on, Pro 12:10:
"A righteous man regardeth the life (nephesh -- SOUL) of his beast; but the
tender mercies of the wicked are
Surely we can consider it definitely established, therefore,
that there is no difference between men and animals in the matter of being or
having souls. This IS VERY IMPORTANT. It is one of the first principles of
Scripture. If we have not definitely fixed this in our minds, let us keep going
back over these facts and passages and stick with them. They are worth more than
all the volumes ever written of Greek or modern philosophy.
Adam's Sentence "Dust Thou Art"
The sentence passed on Adam is in full accord with the record
of his creation from the dust (Gen 3:19):
"Dust THOU art, and unto dust shalt THOU
The sentence was passed upon the conscious, thinking, sinning
individual -- the LIVING SOUL, created from dust, and animated by breath from
God. This is in harmony with the general expression of the dispensation of God's
justice, as expressed through Ezekiel:
"The soul that sinneth, IT SHALL DIE" (Eze
Any attempt to transfer this sentence from the thinking,
responsible Adam to his mere body is such an obviously weak subterfuge as not to
be worthy of serious consideration.
And finally, we note, in passing, very distinctly that in this
first pronouncement of the wages of sin, THERE IS NO MENTION OF ETERNAL TORTURE
-- but on the contrary, the sentence is dissolution into original
Nephesh: Physical Functions of Fleshly
Now a few passages to show that soul (Hebrew: nephesh) is not
some immaterial essence, but is applied to the ordinary, natural functions of
It is clear that the immortal soulists' only solution is to do
what they have done, and regard the Bible as merely the speculations of
partially enlightened men. They could not possibly agree with Peter's statement
(2Pe 1:21), that:
- Pro 6:30: "Men do not despise a thief, if he
steal to satisfy his soul (nephesh) when he is hungry."
- Isa 29:8: "A hungry man dreameth, and behold, he
eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul (nephesh) is empty -- a thirsty man
dreameth, and behold, he drinketh, but he awaketh, and his soul (nephesh) hath
- Lev 17:10-11: "I will even set my
face against that soul (nephesh) that eateth blood... For the life (nephesh --
soul) of the flesh is in the blood..."
12:20-23: "Thy soul (nephesh) longeth to eat flesh thou mayest eat flesh,
whatsoever thy soul (nephesh) lusteth after... the blood is the life (nephesh --
soul); and thou mayest not eat the life (nephesh -- soul)..."
"Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy
Souls Subject to Death
Now we reach what perhaps may be termed the climax of the
subject -- the soul's relation to death. The term "immortal soul" expresses one
side of the argument. "Immortal" means "not subject to death." That is the stand
of Plato and orthodox Christendom.
Let us look at what GOD says. Now it would have been quite
possible for the Scriptures never to have mentioned soul in connection with
death. Many other terms and expressions could have been used. So that when we
find that in nearly 300 places (one-third of the total uses of the word) souls
are described as being mortal, subject to death, from which they can be saved
and delivered, it is quite clear that God is taking special pains to give us
correct ideas on this subject, and remove all excuse for believing in "immortal
souls" after the manner of the unenlightened heathen. Examples of this
One out of every three occurrences of the word are of this
character -- referring to its mortality and liability to death. How could the
immortal soul theory be more strikingly disproved? The most prominent fact
regarding the soul that is forced upon our attention throughout is its frailty
and danger of destruction. Upon this is based the one great lesson of
- Psa 22:20: "Deliver my soul (nephash) from the
- Jer 38:17: "If thou wilt assuredly go
forth unto the King of Babylon's princes, then thy soul (nephesh) shall live..."
- 1Sa 19:11: "If thou save not thy life (nephesh
-- soul) tonight, tomorrow thou shalt be slain."
- 1Ki 19:10: "...they seek my life (nephesh) to
- Est 7:7: "Haman stood up to make
request for his life (nephesh)..."
- Psa 22:29:
"...none can keep alive his own soul (nephesh)."
"Hear, and your soul (nephesh) shall live" (Isa
Let us go further. In 32 passages, souls (nephesh) are spoken
of as being KILLED BY MAN. Examples are:
Jos 10:28: "Joshua took Makkedah, and smote it with the edge
of the sword, and the king thereof he utterly destroyed, and all the souls
(nephesh) that were therein..."
This is repeated in vv 30,32,35,37, and 39.
Deu 27:25: "Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an
innocent person (nephesh -- soul)."
Let us look particularly at Lev 24:17-18. The AV
"...he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And he that killeth a
beast shall make it good; beast for
In the original, nephesh occurs here four times, as
"He that smiteth the nephesh (soul) of a man, shall surely be
put to death. And he that smiteth the nephesh (soul) of a beast shall make it
good; nephesh for nephesh."
Here again the translators have, by inconsistent and biased
translation, obscured another clear divine lesson in the meaning of nephesh, or
One more step, and then we are as far away from the immortal
soul theory as it is possible to be -- in 13 places souls (nephesh) are said to
be actually DEAD.
These are parts of the Mosaic regulations concerning
uncleanness and defilement by contact with corpses.
- Num 6:6: "...he shall come at no dead body
- Lev 21:11: "Neither shall he go in to
any dead body (nephesh)..."
NT and OT In Harmony
All references quoted so far have been from the OT. That is
the foundation of the New, and the word "soul" occurs in the Old seven times as
often as in the New. It is ignoring the foundation work of the OT that has
prevented so many from understanding the New.
The Bible is one single, indivisible unit. It cannot be broken
up and a part cast aside. Only when it is regarded as one equally inspired and
equally divine book can it be properly understood. God has varied His commands
at different times to different people, but statements of FACT and TRUTH never
change from beginning to end.
"Soul" in the NT cannot be considered apart from soul in the
Old. Considering them together, we find them in complete harmony. As in the Old,
so in the New, "soul" is used of animals; it is spoken of as dying; it is used
for the mind, the heart, the appetite and the emotions.
"Living Soul" Equals "Natural Body"
Whenever speakers in the NT quote from passages in the Old
containing the Hebrew word nephesh, they use the Greek word psuche. One
outstanding example will illustrate this. In 1Co 15, beginning at v 42, Paul
makes a contrast between corruption and incorruption, weakness and power,
mortality and immortality. Then (v 44) he says:
"There is a natural body and there is a spiritual
The word "natural" here is psuchikos -- soulish, from psuche
-- soul. He continues, v 45:
"And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul
He is quoting Gen 2:7 which we have considered. In v 46, he
calls this living soul, "that which is natural." In v 47, he calls it "of the
earth, earthy." In v 50, he calls it "flesh and blood" and "corruption." Paul's
conception of soul fits perfectly with what we have already
Similarly souls are applied to animals, and souls die, in the
NT just as in the Old. In Rev 8:9, we read:
"And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life (psuche
-- soul), died..."
Rev 16:3: "...every living soul (psuche) died in the
And "soul" is used for natural life and function, as in the
Old. In Mat 6:25, Jesus says:
"...Take NO THOUGHT for your life (psuche -- soul), what ye shall eat, or what
ye shall drink..."
The soul here is clearly that which is supported by eating and
drinking. Acts 15:25,26 we read: "...Our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that
have hazarded their lives (psuche) for the Name of our Lord Jesus
In faithfully serving Christ, they certainly could not have
been hazarding immortal souls, but they WERE hazarding their scriptural souls --
their natural lives and bodies.
The same applies to Paul's words in Acts 20:24: "...neither
count I my life (psuche) dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with
And Jesus' words (John 10:15): "...I lay down my life (psuche)
for the sheep."
And Phi 2:30: "...for the work of Christ he was nigh unto
death, NOT REGARDING his life (psuche)..."
In all these, psuche is used in the common sense of natural
life, and cannot be harmonized with the immortal soul idea.
"Not Able to Kill the Soul"
Now, as in the Old [Testament], so in the New [Testament],
there are a few passages where the use of the word could possibly be made to fit
with the immortal soul idea. There are none, of course, that prove or even
support this idea -- that would be impossible as we can see from the basic
meaning and general use of the word -- -but there are some where it could be
read in if the rest is ignored.
The passage most frequently quoted is Mat 10:28:
"...fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but
rather fear Him which is able to DESTROY both soul and body in
Now it is rather peculiar at the outset that the one passage
most quoted to support the indestructible soul theory is the very one that
speaks of the soul being DESTROYED, but, we find that these people do not regard
"destroyed" as meaning destroyed, but the opposite -- eternally
And we find further that they do not regard "death" as meaning
death, but "eternal LIFE in misery." We can see that with definitions such as
this we could make anything prove anything.
We have seen that according to the Scriptures elsewhere, a man
can and DOES kill the soul. We have looked at several passages to this effect,
and there are many others. The first use of the word in the NT (Mat 2:20) speaks
of Herod "seeking the young child's life" (psuche -- soul). The first appearance
in the gospel of Mark is similar. Jesus says (Mark 3:4): "...is it lawful... on
the sabbath... to save life (psuche), or to kill?..."
Paul in Rom 11:3 quotes Elijah as saying: "...I am left alone,
and they seek my life (psuche)."
What is meant here by saying that man cannot kill the soul?
Are the Scriptures contradictory? Of course they are not. We must use wisdom to
discern them properly. There is no difficulty in understanding what Christ
means, if we sincerely seek a scriptural solution. Man can kill the body, but
this has no permanent effect on our ultimate existence. To the faithful, this is
but a brief sleep [Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2; Mat 9:24; 27:52; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52;
John 11:11-14; Acts 7:60; 1Co 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1Th 4:13-15; 5:10; 2Pe 3:4; Deu
31:16; 2Sa 7:12; 1Ki 1:21; Job 7:21; 14:12; Psa 13:31 Jer 51:39, 57; Acts 13:36;
1Ki 2:10; 11:21,43; 14:20,31; 15:8,24; 16:6,28; 22:4050; 2Ki 8:24; 10:35; 13:9,
13; 14:16,22,29; 15:7,22,38; 16:20; 20:21; 21:18; 24:6; 2Ch 9:31; 12:16; 14:1;
16:13; 21:1; 26:2,23; 27:9; 28:27; 32:33; 33:20; Job 3:13; Mat 25:5]. In this
sense, the ultimate, eternal sense, man can not kill the soul, or life. But God
on the other hand is able to blot us out of existence forever and make all our
memory to perish [Deu 32:39; 1Sa 2:6; Ecc 9:4-6; Psa 31:12; 88:5; Isa 26:14; Ecc
Now, to sum up the points that have been covered:
ANYTHING MORE DIFFERENT FROM THE IMMORTAL SOUL THEORY, IT
WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO IMAGINE.
- We have seen that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is admittedly
traced to heathen Greek philosophers, and its followers are quite willing to
concede that the Bible meaning of soul is something very different.
issue is clear and there is no middle ground -- we must choose between Bible
teaching and human speculation.
- The words nephesh and psuche, translated
"soul," occur 850 times in the Bible and in not one case is there any suggestion
- The translators have used over 40 words in translation and a
glance at this list shows how far different the Bible soul is from the orthodox
- The word is first used of ANIMALS.
- One-third of all its occurrences
speak of it in terms indicating its mortality and subjection to death.
- It is
often spoken of as being killed by man, and it is several times spoken of as
actually being dead, and being handled and touched in a dead
Salvation Requires Devotion, and Diligent Application to
In conclusion, let us urge two points of action: FIRST, make a
thorough, scriptural examination of the word "soul." The word occurs 850 times.
Make the effort to trace them through. Compare them with the general, hazy ideas
on the subject. It takes time, but there is no other way. God requires us to
work and search.
And SECOND, having determined the facts of what we are --
perishing creatures of dust -- investigate God's great offer of what we may
become: "...There is a natural (soul) body, and there is a spiritual body" [1Co
"...As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of
the heavenly" [1Co 15:49].
"...this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on
immortality... then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death
is swallowed up in victory" [1Co
These glorious words of the Apostle Paul will be fulfilled
someday in the great joyful host of the redeemed, as they stand assembled before
the judge of all the earth [Rev 5:9-14; 14:1-5; Gen 18:25; Acts 10:42; 17:31;
Rom 2:16; 14:10; 1Co 4:5; 2Co 5:10; 2Ti 4:1,8; 1Pe 4:5].
For all others it will be: "As the beasts that perish" [Psa
"Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed upon them... and their
beauty shall consume in the grave..." [Psa
Let US choose the path of wisdom and life.