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).


rwp_47's picture

While the answer given rightly impugns Mainstream Christianity, it too is lacking.

The "answer" is lacking in that it neglects to tell the whole story in that it doesn't point out that God himself speaks of his own soul (his own nephesh) in numerous places ... Lev:26:30, Is.1:14, Jer:8:9, Matt:12:18.

And doesn't Gen:2:7 show Adam receiving his soul (his life) directly from God - doesn't God breath it directly into his earthly body? Do not each of us receive a portion of God's soul from him as Adam did - just like each saint receives a portion of God's Holy Spirit from him upon the laying on of hands? Can't it be partitioned out in a similar manner as he does his Spirit? Isn't that why all souls are his? - because all souls (all life) come from him - and him only? And is God's soul not immortal? Can he not remove his soul from us similarly as he can remove his spirit from us? If he removes his Spirit from us are we then no longer his children? And if he removes our spirit from us do we not expire? So wouldn't we also expire if he took his soul back as well?

Also the answer states that since Ezekiel:18:4 instructs that the soul that sins shall die, then if the soul were immortal, it would be impossible to say that sinning would produce death. But doesn't that really depend on exactly what is meant by immortal? For instance - is the Word not immortal? But didn't he die? That being the case, wouldn't that imply that just because something can die doesn't mean its not immortal? And notice Ezekiel doesn't say how, when, or where a sunning soul will die. For instance, if one sins does he die immediately? Obviously not - right? Otherwise I couldn't be writing this now.

There is a verse in the bible that actually illuminates this whole issue if one is only willing to simply read and fully analyze what it plainly says ... and then believe it. And that verse is Matthew:10:28 -
"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul [G5590 psyche]: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [G1067 Gehenna]."
It answers virtually all the unanswered questions that Eze:18:4 and Rom:6:23 fail to answer. What it does is show a soul as being "conditionally" immortal.


rwp_47's picture

In Jer:5:29 (and many other places as well) God speaks of his own soul (nephesh). Why wasn't this mentioned in the article? And how is God's soul different from our own ... considering that Adam received his directly from God (Gen:2:7)?

We know that man is created in the image of God. If man then is a soul that has a body and a spirit ... then isn't the same true for God (isn't he a soul that has a body and a sprit)? And if not ... then how would we then have been created in his image?

If Ezekiel:18:4 proves that it is impossible to say that sinning would produce soul death if the soul was immortal ... then how can we say that the "Word" is immortal ... after all ... he died.

There is an assumption seemingly made in the answers to almost all of the FAQs that involve some issue about the "soul". And the assumption that is made is that when we die, as we all do, that the soul dies at that time too. That is, its being assumed that when our bodies die ... our souls die at that same time too. I point this out because it appears to be in direct conflict to the bible's teaching in Matthew: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 hell [G1067 Gehenna]"

Here it plainly infers that our bodies can be killed without killing our souls. And further it implies that actually only God can kill the soul and that he does this in the lake of fire spoken of in Revelation:20:15 - "and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."
And (as we all know) this Gehenna fire won't occur on this side of the millennium. So if it is true that the assumption is being made that the soul always dies when the body dies. Why is that assumption being made considering the clear implications of Matthew:10:28?


cjgennaro's picture

Hi rwp,

Regarding some of your points. The Word divested Himself of immortality and became flesh.

I think some you are assuming is that when 'soul' is mentioned, it always refers to something that lives separate from a body. You said, "And the assumption that is made is that when we die, as we all do, that the soul dies at that time too. That is, its being assumed that when our bodies die ... our souls die at that same time too."

This statement assumes a soul is something that can live after death separate from a body. You can't assume the point your are trying to prove, which is circular reasoning.

Psuche can be translated as 'life'. In Mtt 10:28, when we read man cannot kill the soul, only God. The translation that probably fits best here for the word 'soul' is life. So man cannot take away the possibility for someone to live. Because even if they kill you, God can resurrect you. But fear God, who can take away all possibility of 'life' for you. Because if you die, the second death, there is no coming back.

So inserting life for soul in this verse gives a better understanding. Do not fear man, who cannot take away the possibility for your existence. But fear God who can eliminate the very possibility for you to have life.

The verse says man cannot kill the soul, they cannot kill life. Because even if you die, God can give it back to you. This does not mean that the soul is something separate from the body that can live on its own.

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