What is the "soul"?

You are here

What is the "soul"?

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up


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?


  • rwp_47
    "the soul that sinnith, it shall die" ... what does that actually mean? We learn in Revelation that there are two deaths (Rev.2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8). The second death is "the lake of fire" ... this is the same fiery lake that the devil is cast into (Rev. 20:10) and where souls die. The death that Matthew 10:28 speaks of (when the body dies but the soul doesn't) is the first death. So its second death dying that Ezekiel is speaking of in 18:4. Its the kind of dying that those in the first resurrection will never be hurt with. Those who will be in the first resurrection will have immortal souls. Because while they did die the first death (which was body death only as described in Matthew 10:28) their souls never died ... and never will die ... because only in gehenna fire do souls die. The second death is not a natural death but is an execution carried out under God's authority alone. A key point is - only God can kill a soul. And even then it may not be how we might imagine. Because Ezekiel says ... all soul's are God's. They belong to him. So it "may" be (from here on is speculation) that the souls of those that are cast into the lake of fire are not actually destroyed ... but it may be that our right to the soul is forfeited (one's right to that "piece" of God's soul is utterly destroyed) . Genesis 2:7 shows how Adam was created. The earthly body that was man was transformed into a living soul by God supplying his own soul to that lifeless earthly body. Its like he was partitioning off a piece of his own soul and giving that piece of his soul autonomy as a separate being (it was reprogrammed for autonomy). And in that case the being was called Adam (an autonomous being with free will but whose being was built out of God's own immortal soul). Think of soul partitioning as similar to the partitioning God appears to do with his Holy Spirit which he gives to his saints. And that is why all souls are God's. Because they are literally his soul that he graciously gave/shared with each of us conditionally. However, if he doesn't like us he will destroy the autonomy he made in the soul and utterly end one's existence by blotting out the algorithm that made the soul autonomous (which totally annihilates the autonomy and therefore the person's being) and then reacquires "his soul" to himself. Anyway, just a thought.
  • DiazOlmedo

    Creo que hay una confusión entre ALMA Y ESPÍRITU
    Son tres los componentes del ser humano
    1Ts 5:23 Y el mismo Dios de paz os santifique por completo; y todo vuestro ser, espíritu, alma y cuerpo, sea guardado irreprensible para la venida de nuestro Señor Jesucristo.

    El Alma es la capacidad de vivir, es ser un viviente (nos diferencia de lo inerte)... y el ESPÍRITU es lo que nos diferencia de los animales, capacidad de razonar, crear e inclusive adorar a DIOS....


  • rwp_47
    Hi one more time cj - You said the Word "divested himself of immortality" and became flesh. I would say that the meaning I'm seeing you (and the article's author) apply to the word immortal would mean that a truly immortal individual wouldn't be able to "divest" himself of immortality. That is ... if one can commit suicide (in any form) ... then that one is not immortal if one uses Ezekiel 18:4 along with stating - "If the soul is immortal, it would be impossible to say that sinning would produce death" as their proof of a lack of immorality. Call this logic - "the argument". Didn't sin produce the Word's death? The fact that it wasn't his own sin regardless - it killed him (but notice that I'm saying according to Matthew it only killed his body). But "the argument" says he's not immortal (because it assumed his soul died too). But I say he is immortal (his soul didn't die). But that's because I'm looking at immortal as being something different than the way you (or the above article's author) looks at it in "the argument". I think "the argument's" logic is based on an incorrect notion of what the bible would call immortal (which makes it really hard for you to read Matthew 10:28 without twisting it). Because when its used on the Word it concludes he is not immortal. Because if one is immortal by "the argument's" standard then divesting one's self of immortality is out of the question. Immorality isn't something, in that case, that one can take off (or divest himself of) like a dirty shirt. Another way to look at this is - if the church's idea that man is actually a soul is correct, and if Matthew is actually saying that the first death is only body death (not soul death). Then the fact that Jesus experienced body death doesn't preclude him from being immortal. In fact, "the argument" basically proves that the first death is only body death if it is also assumed that the Word is immortal. Because it means you don't believe his soul died. Which means he didn't die in a way that would preclude his being immortal. He only died in the first way ... but not in the second way. And the same would be true with all of us. We're all "conditionally immortal" - depending on whether God destroys us in Gehenna or not. If he doesn't destroy us in Gehenna then the soul is immortal.
  • rwp_47
    Hi again cjgennaro I took another look at your comment. Your comment is convoluted. You said: "This statement assumes a soul is something that can live after death separate from a body." But the statement you were referring to didn't assume anything of the kind - and obviously so. It simply was a statement "questioning an assumption" that I was seeing others making ... it wasn't an assumption I was making at all. All the articles appear to "assume" that the soul is something that can't exist without a body. I questioned that assumption. And I pointed out that "assuming" that a soul can't exist apart from a body is in obvious contradiction to what Matthew 10:28 plainly says. Because Matthew says " ... fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul ...". I don't know how it could be stated any clearer than that. Matthew speaks of two different, independent things (body and soul) ... both of which can be killed. Its saying that when we die only our body dies. So its saying that this first death that we all experience is a body death only. Whether one is killed or dies naturally the thing that dies is one's body only. And its clear that this is what its saying because then it informs the reader that only God can kill one's soul ... souls only die if executed! And it even tells us where that happens ... in the lake of fire. Which means that no soul has yet ever died. And that makes perfect sense. Because the bible calls this soul death (gehenna death) the second death. And its made clear that there is no resurrection from soul death. Its permanent destruction. So it shouldn't happen until after one is judged and found guilty ... which won't happen until after the great white Throne Judgment. So the notion that no soul should be destroyed until after that judgment is rendered makes sense. So yes ... I am saying that soul is something that Matthew says can exist after death separate from a body. But its not something I'm assuming. I just observed that this is what Matthew 10:28 is plainly telling us ... and then I ask why the writers of the articles are making an assumption contrary to what Matthew is saying here?
  • rwp_47
    cjgennaro - No cj - I'm not assuming that a soul always lives separate from a body. Sometimes it lives installed in a body. And if its not installed in a body then the body isn't alive, But yes - the soul can exist separate from a body (Matt.10:28 plainly tells us that) - but in that case it isn't conscious. When our bodies are killed we "sleep" (the "we" then must be our soul) - awaiting a resurrection - whereupon God provides us with another body. And we become a living being again. Just like what happened with Adam (Gen.2:7). It says man "became" a living soul. So what was he before that? The "became" implies there was a before. Since the body is not the man then what was he previously? The only alternative is he had to be what God "breathed". And what does God "breathed" mean? I'm saying it means he (God) put a portion of his own life (his own soul) in that earthly statue that he had just made out of dirt. Prove me wrong. Circular reasoning? What? First ... all the people writing articles on this site believe that Eze.18:4 (taken alone) proves the soul is not immortal. That can be shown to be incorrect in any number of ways. I simply used the fact that the Word died as a counter to that notion. Because I'm saying that the Word (who is God) is immortal. And regardless of how it was done ... the fact is he died. Otherwise, all I said was that as I read thru the articles provided on the site I noticed that invariably they always made the assumption that when one's physical body dies the soul dies too (at the same time). What I said was simply a statement pointing out the assumption I saw them making. And I stated it twice in two different ways so to preclude the possibility of misunderstanding what I meant. But evidently you did anyway. All I said was that their assumption was in obvious conflict with Matt.10:28. Why insert anything cj? Why not just read what the bible actually says rather than restate it in some fashion to fit your own personal philosophy? Does what it actually states make you uncomfortable? The body, the soul, and the spirit are three separate objects. Besides - life can't be killed. It can only be removed from something that is said to be alive. And when that happens then that something is said to be dead. Just like your body would be if either the soul or spirit was removed from it.
  • cjgennaro
    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.
  • rwp_47
    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?
  • rwp_47
    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.
  • Malachi 3_16-18
    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: http://www.ucg.org/bible-faq/what-did-jesus-christ-mean-do-not-fear-those-who-kill-body-cannot-kill-soul 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).
  • Join the conversation!

    Log in or register to post comments