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?