by C. Parker Thomas

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the January-February 1975 issue of the Midnight Cry Messenger.)

A common teaching today is that the soul is immortal, therefore it must spend eternity somewhere in a conscious state. Tradition says hell is the place the soul must go to and suffer forever because it cannot die. Another concept has an intermediate place called purgatory where erring ones must go and suffer until they are purged and cleansed from their sins.

What about these teachings? Do they harmonize with the Word of God? Because of so much divergent opinion in our religious world we certainly need to prayerfully examine the scriptures concerning these doctrines. In fact much that we believe today has been handed down to us by tradition. We believe it because it is the teachings of our group or our church. Even if our cherished traditions are true, our conviction should be the result of personal persuasion from the scriptures. What Is The Soul?
In order to determine the mortality or immortality of the soul we need to know what the soul is. Most of us have been taught to believe that only man has a soul and it is that triune part of man that lives on after death. We think of the soul as the man without a body or in some mystical spirit form.

The Hebrew word “nephesh” for soul occurs 752 times in the Old Testament and is translated 44 different ways. According to Strong’s Concordance the word means, “a breathing creature, i.e. animal or (abstr.) vitality; used very widely in a lit., accommodated or fig. sense (bodily or mental: — any, appetite, beast, body, breath, creature, X dead (-ly), desire, X (dis-) contented, X fish, ghost & greedy, he, heart (-y), (hath, X jeopardy of) life (X in jeopardy), lust, man, me, mind, mortally, one, own, person, pleasure, (her-, him-, my-, thy-) self, them (your) -selves, & slay, soul, & tablet, they, thing, (X she) will, X would have it.”

The New Testament equivalent in the Greek is psuche, which occurs 105 times. This word is translated life and lives 40 times, soul 58 times, mind three times, you one time, heart one time, us one time and heartily one time.

The Greek word psuche is identified with the Hebrew nephesh by comparing Acts 2:27 with Psa. 16:10; Rom. 11:3 with I Kings 19:10; I Cor. 15:45 with Gen. 2:7; and Matt. 20:28 with Isa. 53:10. It is evident these two words from the Old and New Testaments are the same. However the average understanding or definition of the word soul today is altogether different from the wide range of usage in the Bible.

Created Life
One of the most common meanings of soul (nephesh & psuche) is simple life. Life as a principle. That which causes all created things to pulsate with life. Gen. 2:7 says, “And 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.” Adam became a living soul but not an immortal soul. The life given to him was earthly and subject to death even as the beast.

Everywhere in the Old Testament this life is said to be possessed by all the lower creatures. Gen. 1:20, 1:21, 1:24, 1:30, 2:7, 2:19, 9:10, 9:12, 9:15, 9:16. Lev. 11:10, 11:46. Num. 31:38. Pro. 7:23, 12:10. Eze. 47:9. See also Rev. 8:9, 16:3. Let’s remember now this is the same word (nephesh) translated soul in reference to man. This nephesh (life) is possessed by the beast of the field, the fowl of the air and the fish of the sea.

Actually nephesh is translated something other than soul 277 times. Nine times nephesh is translated creature and is speaking of created things other than man. Genesis 1:21, 1:24, 2:19, 9:10, 9:12, 9:15, 9:16. Lev. 11:46. Twice it is translated beast. Lev. 24:18. And twice it is translated thing. Lev. 11:10. Eze. 47:9. Once it is translated fish. Isa. 19:10.

For example where Gen. 1:24 says, “...Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind...” the word creature is nephesh which is translated soul elsewhere. All the scriptures above have reference to the lower creation. And beyond any shadow of doubt, except for the higher intelligence of man, the creatures possess the same life that man does.

No doubt some will take exception to our contention that man and beast are on the same level with respect to the possession of this earthly life (nephesh: soul). Man has a higher intelligence and is God-conscious as a result of this intelligence. But without the new birth or life from Christ he is no more than the beast and will perish as the beast. Ecc. 3:19 says, “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.” No doubt it was because of this that Peter referred to the natural unregenerate man as “...natural brute beasts made to be taken and destroyed.” II Peter 2:12.

E. W. Bullinger’s Critical Lexicon and Concordance has the following things to say about the soul.

“Soul is one of the manifestations of life, that which is manifested in animals, animal life; hence, breath, (not breath as mere air, but as the sign of life.) Once applied to vegetable life, Is. 10:18.”

In confirmation of this, Pro. 12:10 says, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” The word life here is nephesh and could just as well have been translated soul.

The Same
Although the scriptures abundantly testify to the fact that nephesh or soul life is possessed by the lower creation, most references apply to man. The choice of soul as a translation for nephesh and psuche is no doubt an effort to distinguish between man and beast. But this does not change the fact that the life principle is the same except for man’s higher intelligence. Other scriptures showing us that man possesses the same life as the animals are as follows: Gen. 12:5, 14:21, 17:14, 19:17, 19:19, 19:20, 46:18; Ex. 12:15; Lev. 4:2, 5:15, 7:27; Est. 9:31; Isa. 47:14, (compare Rev. 6:9). Also of a dead person (with the adj., Lev. 21:11). And of those raised (Rev. 20:4) as contrasted with those yet unraised (Rev. 20:5).

Since nephesh or earth life was such a prominent part of man, it was very easy for the word (nephesh) to become the common denominator in reference to man in general. This is especially true where the translation of nephesh was soul. However I might add that nephesh or soul life is more than just the life principle. This is especially true when used in reference to man.

Other aspects of nephesh (soul) are man’s will, his intellect, his emotions and his body with its five senses. However trying to separate the soul from the body and the spirit of man is a very difficult task. The more I study the subject the less I believe God ever intended such a division to be made.

The common teaching that the soul is that mystical triune part of a human being that must live forever cannot be confirmed by the scriptures. Not only is nephesh or soul used in a broad sense in reference to man but it is used many times in reference to some aspect or manifestation of human life. Let’s note some of these different aspects of a human being beginning with his body.

The Body
In Lev. 21:11 where the priest is commanded to “...not go in to any dead body...” it is nephesh which is translated body. Exactly the same word that is translated soul in other places. When a human being dies the soul dies if the person has not been regenerated by the Spirit of God. In this case the dead body was representative of a life or a soul that formerly had life.

Certainly all of us will agree that blood is part of our body. Interestingly enough nephesh (soul) is identified with the blood in the following scriptures. Gen. 9:4, 9:5. Lev. 17:11, 17:14. Psa. 72:14, 94:21. Prov. 28:17. Let’s note Gen. 9:4 which says, “But the flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” The word life is a translation of nephesh.

Lev. 17:11 says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood....” Once again the word life is a translation of nephesh which is translated soul elsewhere. It could be translated “for the soul of the flesh is in the blood” instead of “the life of the flesh.”

Manifestations of The Flesh
Proverbs 23:1-2 says, “When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: and put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.” The word appetite is a translation of nephesh, which could have just as easily been translated soul. It is obvious that the appetite here is physical desire for food. We wouldn’t have any need for food if we didn’t have a physical body.

If nephesh (soul) is something distinctly different and separate from the body, why then is desire for food said to be an expression of the soul (nephesh)? The same principle is true of Ecc. 6:7 where nephesh is also translated appetite in connection with the desire for food. In Psa. 78:18 nephesh is translated lust in reference to Israel’s desire for meat while in the wilderness.

Human Emotions
In reference to man’s emotions, desires or sentiments nephesh is translated desire five times, mind fifteen times, heart fifteen times, lust two times, she will one time, pleasure three times, discontented one time, greedy one time, hearty one time and appetite two times.

One popular definition of the soul is that it is the seat of the emotions. Although our emotions are definitely a part of the nature and character of the soul we can equally say our emotions are an expression of our body and spirit. When Jesus said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,” did he just mean a triune part of him was suffering? Of course not, his spirit and body was affected also. The total person was so affected until “...his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:44.

In many instances the very same manifestations are ascribed to the person, to his spirit, to his soul or to his body.

For example David said, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.” Psa. 34:1-2.

Now the question is did David mean something different when he said, “...I will bless the Lord ...” and “my soul shall make her boast in the Lord”? Certainly not. Man cannot bless the Lord apart from his whole being taking part. This includes his body, his soul and spirit.

Another example of the same human emotions being ascribed to man’s spirit, soul and body is vexation. Ten times Solomon spoke of “vanity and vexation of spirit.” Ecc. 1:14, 1:17, 2:11, 2:17, 2:22, 2:26, 4:4, 4:5, 4:16, 6:9. Isaiah used the same expression “...vexation of spirit.” Isa. 65:14.

Delilah oppressed Samson “ that his soul was vexed unto death.” Judges 16:16. When the Shunammite woman was grieved over the loss of her son, Elisha the prophet said, “...her soul is vexed within her.” II Kings 4:17.

Job spoke of “...the Almighty, who hath vexed my soul.” Job 27:2. In Psa. 6:2, 6:3, and 6:10 David spoke of his bones, his soul and his enemies being vexed. II Peter 1:8 speaks of Lot’s righteous soul being vexed from day to day.

Many other scriptures use the word vexation, vexations and vexed simply in reference to man, not mentioning his body, his soul or his spirit. All of this brings us to the conclusion that the soul of man is simply the fusion of his body with its five senses and his spirit with its various attributes. This includes his mind, his will and his emotions. The lone exception to this is the soul of the righteous temporarily disembodied awaiting the resurrection. Rev. 6:9-11 and Rev. 20:4.

It is true the soul can experience humility, sorrow, joy, lust, pleasure and jealousy. It can also be discontented, vexed and greedy. However let’s not forget that nephesh, which is translated soul elsewhere, often points to some particular aspect or manifestation of the total human personality. This is also true when it comes to human emotions.

The Inward Man
Another scriptural definition of soul is the inward man or the hidden man of the heart. In one sense the human body is no different from the beast. I might add that in many respects it is actually inferior. However, it is the earthly house that man lives in. The thing that makes man different from the beast is his God given intelligence.

It was Paul and Peter who spoke of the inward man and the hidden man of the heart. Rom. 7:22 and I Peter 3:4.

Beyond doubt such expressions simply have reference to the human spirit that resides in the body. This includes the will, the mind, the emotions and I might add, the faith or lack of faith in the person. The real person may for expedience sake hide or cover up his true self. Only God is able to look into man’s heart and see what is there. I Cor. 4:5. Jer. 17:10. I Sam. 16:7.

Many other scriptures speak of the heart, no doubt in reference to the hidden man. It is also obvious the heart is the seat of the emotions or the place where the deliberations of life are made. Such references could very well be spirit, soul, mind, the inward man or simply the person. For example let’s note some Old and New Testament scriptures in reference to man’s heart.

Seven references speak of the wise hearted: Ex. 28:3, 31:6, 35:10, 35:25, 36:1, 36:2 and 36:8. Two references speak of the brokenhearted: Isa. 61:1 and Luke 4:18. Three scriptures speak of the fainthearted: Deut. 20:8, Isa. 7:4 and Jer. 49:23. Ezek. 3:7 speaks of Israel as being “hardhearted.” Isa. 24:7 speaks of the “merryhearted.” Many scriptures speak of the merry heart: Ruth 3:7, II Chron. 7:10, Pro. 15:13 and others. Eze. 2:4 speaks of the stiffhearted. Two scriptures refer to the stouthearted: Psa. 76:5 and Isa. 46:12. II Chron. 13:7 and Eph. 4:32 speak of being tenderhearted.

What is said of a man’s heart could very well be said of his soul, his spirit or simply the person. A man’s soul can be grieved, his spirit can be grieved and his heart can be grieved. Is there any difference in a grieved heart, a grieved spirit or a grieved soul? Certainly not. The result is the same in every case.

Other examples of the same human emotions being ascribed to different parts or aspects of man’s being are troubled bowels (Jer. 31:20; Lam. 1:20, 2:11), troubled spirit (Gen. 41:8; Job 21:4; Dan. 2:1, 2:3; John 13:21), troubled heart (John 14:1, 14:27), troubled soul (John 12:27), and troubled countenances (Ezek. 27:35).

Once again may I ask the question “What is the difference?” The answer is none. When a man is troubled, his soul is troubled, his heart is troubled, his spirit is troubled, his bowels are troubled and it registers in his countenance.

Man In General
Perhaps the best definition of nephesh or psuche where it is referring to man in the broad sense is simply the person in totality including his body and spirit. The lone exception to this rule would be the disembodied souls under the altar in Rev. 6:9-11.

For example Gen. 46:26 says, “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, all the souls were threescore and six.”

It will be noted that this scripture speaks of the souls that came out of Jacob’s loins. Certainly no one would deny that this reference to souls (nephesh) means the whole human personalities of these people including their body and spirit.

In reference to man, nephesh is translated person or persons thirty times, man four times, men one time, him four times, me three times, yourselves six times, himself eight times, we one time, myself one time, her one time, thee two times, herself two times, thyself one time, themselves three times, they one time and fellow one time. It is translated life and lives 120 times, ghost two times and breath one time.

“My soul” is the same as “me,” or “myself.” Num. 23:10. Judg. 16:30. I Kings 20:32. Psa. 59:3, 35:13, 131:2. Jer. 18:20 (compare 38:6).

“His soul” is the same as “him” or “himself.” Gen. 37:21. Job 18:4. 32:2. Amos 2:14.

Mortality of The Soul
The effort of some to immortalize the soul of man is wrong. Not only is the life substance (nephesh, psuche, soul) of man earthly and temporal, it is also dead as a result of Adam’s transgression. Rom. 5:12. I Cor. 15:45-48. Physical death is the result of being dead in trespasses and sins. The consummation of all death is the lake of fire. Rev. 20:11-15, 21:8.

Can Die
Many scriptures bear out the fact the soul can die, be killed or destroyed. Lev. 24:17, 24:18. Judg. 16:30. Num. 23:10, 31:19. Prov. 7:23. Ecc. 3:19. So of persons: Josh. 10:28, 10:30, 10:39; Lev. 23:30. Also Matt. 10:28; Mark 3:4; Luke 9:54-56; Rev. 16:3.

It goes to the grave (Job 33:22) and can be hazarded by danger (Acts 15:26; Rom. 11:3).

The Souls of The Dead
Only the souls of the righteous have eternal life. Though their body dies, their spirit or soul will live on. John 3:36. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 11:26 says, “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

The soul (nephesh or psuche) of the wicked is no more immortal than a beast of the field. God has to resurrect them from the dead to bring them to judgment. Otherwise physical death would be eternal sleep for the wicked.

The state of the two groups is plainly set forth in Rev. 20:4-6. One group (the righteous), though slain for the Word of God, is said to live and reign with Christ a thousand years prior to the resurrection. It is the souls of this group that is seen in eternity. But it will be noticed in verse 5 that “...the rest of the dead [the unrighteous] lived not again until the thousand years were finished.”

These that live and reign with Christ are those that have life because they believe in the Son. John 3:36. When the physical body of the righteous dies, the soul or spirit simply departs this earth to be with Christ. Phil. 1:23. II Cor. 5:1.

When the unrighteous dies, he remains dead until the resurrection because he does not have life from above. There is nothing immortal about man without Christ. Only in Christ do we have immortality. Speaking of Christ, I Tim. 6:16 says, “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.”

From the studies made so far we learn there are three general categories that soul (nephesh, psuche) comes under.

1. It is created earth life possessed by both man and beast. Therefore it is temporal and subject to death. However with a higher God-given intelligence, man has access to eternal life through Jesus Christ (the tree of life).

2. It is some aspect or manifestation of man’s life including his body and spirit such as his will, his mind, his emotions, or his desire.

3. It is the total person whether on earth or in heaven. Where the reference is to living persons it includes their body and spirit. Where the reference is to the souls of the righteous in eternity it means the person as he exists in that state.

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