What is the "soul"?

Is the soul talked about in the Bible an immortal part of human beings...or is it something else entirely?


The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, repeatedly makes reference to the "soul." Mainstream Christianity generally teaches that this soul is an immortal component of human beings; that upon our death, it is released from our bodies to spend eternity in either eternal bliss or eternal torment, depending on our conduct in this life. But a closer examination of the word shows that this is not the case.

The only Hebrew word translated as "soul" in the Old Testament, nephesh , is also translated elsewhere as "creature" or "being." All three words are synonymous, whether we look at God's creation of "an abundance of living creatures [ nephesh ]" in the sea (Genesis:1:20) or that "man became a living being [ nephesh ]" (Genesis:2:7) or read God's declaration that "the soul [ nephesh ] who sins shall die" (Ezekiel:18:4).

That last verse is key to understanding the concept of a soul. If the soul is immortal, it would be impossible to say that sinning would produce death. Rather, if mainstream Christianity were correct in its doctrine of hell, Ezekiel:18:4 would have to say, "the soul who sins shall be condemned to eternal torment." But it, along with the apostle Paul in Romans:6:23, plainly states that the penalty of sin is death , not never-ending fiery torment in hell.

Given that the soul is capable of death, and taking into consideration the fact that the word translated "soul" is used in reference to all sorts of living creatures, we can only conclude that the soul talked about in the Bible is a living being itself—not an eternal component of mankind.

For further explanation of the soul, including a look at instances of the word in the New Testament and information about the "spirit in man" (Job:32:8).

Please read our booklets What Happens After Death? and Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?

Malachi 3_16-18

Malachi 3_16-18's picture

Hi rwp,

Regarding Mt 10:28, you may want to check out this link, which I also included in my response to your other, related question:


In many places in the Bible, the word soul simply means “living being”, or “person”. (For instance, consider 2 Sam:4:9 and Acts:2:43). So it perishes when we die (Ezek:18:4).

God is immortal (1 Tim:6:16), so when the word is applied to Him, as in Jer:5:29, it refers to His immortal person or being. But just because we were created in God’s image (Gen:1:26-27) doesn’t mean we are a mirror image, for He made both male and female. Neither did He make us a spiritual or a perfect image at this time, but just as He has hands, feet, a face, etc, we have these features too. And we resemble Him so much more closely than the animals. We also have an intangible component called a spirit, but it differs from God’s Spirit in that it is specifically called the spirit in man (Job:32:8; 1 Cor:2:11).

God’s Spirit is mentioned separately in this passage (verses 10-11). Everything that is part of God is spiritual, so yes, His soul/body (person) is non-physical, and His spirit (the Holy Spirit) is also not physical. We obviously aren’t a complete replica of Him yet, because we aren’t immortal at this time, and our faces don’t yet shine as the sun (Rev:1:13-16, Dan:12:3). While we do have a body and a spirit, which are not the same thing (Eccl 12:7), they aren’t the same as God’s, although they can be patterned after God’s.

Jesus is the only Being currently in God’s express image (Heb:1:3). When we are transformed to spirit-composed bodies like God’s, then we will resemble Him and the Father much more closely in character and appearance (1 Jn:3:2).

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