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4.2 The Soul

In the light of the foregoing it ought to be inconceivable that man has an ‘immortal soul’ or any immortal element within him naturally. We will now attempt to clear up the confusion surrounding the word ‘soul’.

The Hebrew and Greek words which are translated ‘soul’ in the Bible (‘Nephesh’ and ‘Psuche’ respectively) are also translated in the following ways:

Body Breath Creature Heart Mind  Person Himself Life

The ‘soul’ therefore refers to the person, body or self. The famous ‘Save Our Souls’ (S.O.S.) clearly means ‘Save us from death!’ The ‘soul’ is therefore ‘you’, or the summation of all the things that make up a person. It is understandable, therefore, that many modern versions of the Bible (e.g. the N.I.V.) rarely use the word ‘soul’, translating it instead as ‘you’ or ‘the person’. The animals which God created are called “living creatures...every living thing that moves” (Gen. 1:20,21). The Hebrew word translated “creatures” and “living thing” here is ‘nephesh’, which is also translated ‘being’; for example in Gen. 2:7: “...and man became a living being”. Thus man is a ‘soul’ or ‘living being’, just as the animals are ‘souls’ or ‘living beings’. The only difference between mankind and animals is that man is mentally superior to them; he is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26; see Study 1.2), and some men are called to know the Gospel through which the hope of immortality is opened up to them (2 Tim. 1:10). As regards our fundamental nature and the nature of our death, there is no difference between man and animals.

“What happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts; one thing befalls them: (note the double emphasis): as one dies, so dies the other... man has no advantage over beasts...All (i.e. man and animals) go to one place (the grave); all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecc. 3:19,20). The inspired writer of Ecclesiastes prayed that God would help men to appreciate this hard fact, “that (men) may see that they themselves are like beasts” (Ecc. 3:18). It is therefore to be expected that many people will find this fact hard to accept; indeed, it can be humiliating to realise that by nature we are just animals, living out the same instincts of self-preservation, survival of the fittest and procreation. The N.I.V. translation of Ecc. 3:18 says that God ‘tests’ man by making him see that he is just an animal; i.e. those who are humble enough to be His true people will realise the truth of this, but those who are not will fail this ‘test’. The philosophy of humanism - the idea that human beings are of such supreme importance and value - has quietly spread throughout the world during the twentieth century. It is a considerable task to clear our thinking of the influence of humanism. The plain words of Ps. 39:5 are a help: “Man at his best state is but vapour”. “It is not for man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23 N.I.V.).

One of the most basic things that we know is that all human bodies - indeed all “living creatures” - eventually die. The ‘soul’, herefore, dies; it is the exact opposite of something that is immortal. Indeed, 652 of the 754 times the Hebrew word nephesh occur, it is used about the soul or creature dying. It is not surprising that about a third of all uses of this word in the Bible are associated with the death and destruction of the ‘soul’. The very fact that the word ‘soul’ is used in this way shows that it cannot be something which is indestructible and immortal.

§         “The soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:4).

§         God can destroy the soul (Mt. 10:28). Other references to souls being destroyed are: Ez. 22:27 (people = nephesh); Prov. 6:32; Lev. 23:30 (person = nephesh).

§         All the “people” (nephesh) that were within the city of Hazor were killed by the sword (Josh. 11:11; cf. Josh. 10:30-39).

§         “...every living creature (psuche). died” (Rev. 16:3; cf. Ps. 78:50).

§         The Hebrew word nephesh translated “soul” is also translated “dead body” in Num. 9:6. “No man can deliver his life (nephesh) from the power of the grave” (Ps. 89:48).

§         Frequently the Law of Moses commanded that any “person” (nephesh) which disobeyed certain laws should be killed (e.g. Num. 15:27-31).

§         References to the soul being strangled or snared can only make sense if it is understood that the soul can die (Prov. 18:7; 22:25; Job 7:15).

§         None can “keep himself (nephesh) alive” (Ps. 22:29).

§         Christ “poured out his soul unto death” so that his “soul”, or life, was made an offering for sin (Is. 53:10,12).

That the ‘soul’ refers to the person or body rather than some immortal spark within us is shown by the majority of verses in which the word occurs, here are some obvious examples.

§         “The blood of the lives (nephesh) of ... ” (Jer. 2:34).

§         “If a person (nephesh) sins in hearing ... an oath ...if he does not tell it...if he (nephesh) touches human uncleanness ...if a person (nephesh) swears, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips” (Lev. 5:1-4).

§         “O my soul...all that is within me...Bless the Lord, O my soul...Who satisfies your mouth with good things” (Ps. 103:1,2,5).

§         Num. 21:4 shows that a group of people can have one “soul”. The “soul” therefore cannot refer to a spark of personal immortality within each of us.

 “Whosoever will save his life (‘soul’) shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life (‘soul’) for my sake...shall save it” (Mk. 8:35). This is proof enough that the soul does not refer to any spiritual element within man; here, ‘soul’ (Greek ‘psuche’) just means one’s physical life, which is how it is translated here. We must give our lives/souls after the pattern of the Lord Jesus on the cross, who “poured out his soul unto death” (Is. 53:12).

Not that it makes any difference to Bible truth, but it’s worth mentioning that many eminent Bible students and theologians have come to the same conclusions as we’ve reached here - the soul isn’t immortal. One of the clearest evidences for this is in the following quote: "Contrary to what is usually supposed, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul finds no place in the Old Testament or the New" John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, On Being The Church In The World (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1960) p. 18.

Bible Basics: Contents

Part 1: "The things concerning the Kingdom of God" Study 1: God 1.1  The Existence Of God || 1.2  The Personality Of God || Belief In Practice 1: Knowing God || 1.3  God's Name And Character || Belief In Practice 2: Grace (John Parkes) || Belief In Practice 3: The All Seeing God || Belief In Practice 4: God Is Omnipotent || Belief In Practice 5: Responding To The One God || 1.4     The Angels || Belief In Practice 6: God As Creator || Digression 1: God Manifestation || Digression 2:  Why The Trinity Was Accepted || Study 1: Questions Study 2: The Spirit Of God 2.1  Definition || 2.2  Inspiration || 2.3  Gifts Of The Holy Spirit || 2.4  The Withdrawal Of The Gifts || 2.5  The Bible The Only Authority || Digression 3: Is The Holy Spirit A Person? || Digression 4: The Principle Of Personification || Belief In Practice 7: The Implications Of Inspiration || Study 2: Questions Study 3: The Promises Of God 3.1  Introduction || 3.2  The Promise In Eden || 3.3  The Promise To Noah || 3.4  The Promise To Abraham || 3.5  The Promise To David || Belief In Practice 8: Covenant Relationship With God || Study 3: Questions Study 4: God And Death 4.1  The Nature Of Man || 4.2  The Soul || 4.3  The Spirit || 4.4  Death Is Unconsciousness || 4.5  The Resurrection || 4.6  The Judgment || Belief In Practice 9: Judgment Now || 4.7  The Place Of Reward: Heaven Or Earth?|| 4.8  Responsibility To God || 4.9  Hell || Digression 5: Purgatory || Digression 6: Ghosts And Reincarnation || Digression 7: The 'Rapture' || Belief In Practice 10: The Motivational Power Of Understanding Death || Study 4: Questions Study 5: The Kingdom Of God 5.1  Defining The Kingdom || 5.2  The Kingdom Is Not Now Established || 5.3  The Kingdom Of God In The Past || 5.4  The Kingdom Of God In The Future || 5.5  The Millennium || Digression 8: The Kingdom Of God Now (Graham Bacon) || Belief In Practice 11: What The Kingdom Of God Means Today || Study 5: QuestionsStudy 6: God And Evil 6.1  God And Evil || 6.2  The Devil And Satan || 6.3  Demons || Digression 9: The Implications And Origin Of The Belief In A Personal Satan || Digression 10: Witchcraft || Digression 11: What Happened In Eden? || Digression 12: Lucifer || Belief In Practice 12: Battle For The Mind || Study 6: Questions

Part 2: "The things concerning...the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12) Study 7: The Origin Of Jesus. 7.1  Old Testament Prophecies Of Jesus || 7.2  The Virgin Birth || 7.3  Christ's Place In God's Plan || 7.4  "In the beginning was the word" || Digression 13: Jesus The Son Of God (Michael Gates) || Digression 14: Did Jesus Create The Earth? || Belief In Practice 13: Jesus Didn’t Pre-exist: And So What? || Study 7: Questions Study 8: The Nature Of Jesus 8.1  Introduction || 8.2  Differences Between God And Jesus || 8.3  The Nature Of Jesus || 8.4  The Humanity Of Jesus || 8.5  The Relationship Of God With Jesus || Belief In Practice 14: The Real Christ || Digression 15: How The Real Christ Was Lost || Digression 16: The Divine Side Of Jesus || Study 8: Questions Study 9: The Work Of Jesus 9.1  The Victory Of Jesus || 9.2  The Blood Of Jesus || 9.3  Jesus As Our Representative || 9.4  Jesus And The Law Of Moses || 9.5  The Sabbath || Digression 17 The Crucifix || Digression 18: Was Jesus Born On Dec. 25th? || Belief In Practice 15: The Meaning Of Christ’s Resurrection For Us || Belief In Practice 16: Christ Died For Me- So What Should I Do? || Belief In Practice 17: The Real Cross || Belief In Practice 18: The Inspiration Of The Cross || Study 9: Questions || Study 10: Baptism Into Jesus 10.1  The Vital Importance Of Baptism || 10.2  How Should We Be Baptized? || 10.3  The Meaning Of Baptism || 10.4  Baptism And Salvation || Digression 19: Re-baptism || Digression 20 The Thief On The Cross || Belief In Practice 19: The Certainty Of Salvation || Study 10: Questions Study 11: Life In Christ 11.1  Introduction || 11.2  Holiness || 11.2.1  The Use Of Force || 11.2.2  Politics || 11.2.3  Worldly Pleasures || 11.3  Practical Christian Life || 11.3.1  Bible Study || 11.3.2  Prayer || 11.3.3  Preaching || 11.3.4  Ecclesial Life || 11.3.5  The Breaking Of Bread || 11.4  Marriage || 11.5  Fellowship || Study 11: Questions ||