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What is the "soul"?

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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 Genesis 1:20And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that has life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
American King James Version×
) or that “man became a living being [ nephesh ]” (Genesis 2:7 Genesis 2:7And 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.
American King James Version×
) or read God's declaration that “the soul [ nephesh ] who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4 Ezekiel 18:4Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die.
American King James Version×
).

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 Ezekiel 18:4Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die.
American King James Version×
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 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×
, 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 Job 32:8But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty gives them understanding.
American King James Version×
).

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

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