In much contemporary discourse, the “soul” is distinct from the body and is the seat of one’s emotion, intellect, or integrity. Yet, this view of the soul comes from Greek philosophy rather than Hebrew theology. Plato states that the “soul” acquires “self-discipline and justice together with wisdom,” which shows that “the soul is more precious than the body” (Republic 9.591b). The authors of the Hebrew Bible, however, did not share this dichotomous view of “body” and “soul”; for them, the word that is often translated “soul” (nefesh; נפשׁ) should be understood as one’s physical “self” or “being.” Rather than a “soul” that animates the body, the Bible describes a God-given “spirit” (ruach; רוח) that enlivens humanity.

According to Genesis, God animates the first person by breathing into the human body: “The Lord God… breathed into his nostrils the breath (neshamah; נשׁמה) of life, and the human became a living being (nefesh; נפשׁ)” (Gen 2:7). The word for “being” in this verse is the same term that many English translations render as “soul.” However, here God breathes into the human to create a living “being”  or “person” (nefesh; נפשׁ) rather than an abstract “soul.” The Lord imbues humanity with the “breath” (neshamah; נשׁמה) of God’s mouth, which the psalmist associates with the divine “spirit” (ruach; רוח): “By the word of the of the Lord the heavens were made; and all the host of them by the spirit of his mouth (ruach piv; רוח פיו)” (Ps 33:6). The deity imparts the divine breath that constitutes the human spirit.

While Genesis 2 refers to the “breath of life” (nishmat hayim; נשׁמת חיים), the “spirit of life” appears shortly thereafter. Before the flood, God resolves to “destroy all flesh, in which is the spirit of life (ruach hayim; רוח חיים)” (Gen 6:17; cf. 7:15, 22). These similar phrases highlight the connection between the divine “breath” that forms the human “spirit.” In fact, most English translations translate “spirit of life” as “breath of life,” since the concepts are so closely related. Whereas the Greeks posit a “soul,” the Hebrews speak of the “spirit” that God breathes into human beings.

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94 COMMENTS

  1. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 we read: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It seems to, at least our translations, to differentiate between soul, spirit and body. How can we best understand it?
    • A great question, Eli. There are, indeed, differences between what Paul refers to as the "spirit" (πνεῦμα; pneuma) "soul" (ψυχὴ; psuche), and "body" (σῶμα; soma). The most important thing to understand is that when Paul refers to the "soul," he doesn't mean an internal, breath-like entity floating around in the body -- that's the Greek understanding of the "soul," and it would correspond to Paul's view of the God-breathed "spirit." That is, there aren't two spirit-like entities for Paul, one called the "spirit" and the other called the "soul." What Paul means by "soul" (ψυχὴ; psuche) is one's "selfhood" or "personhood" -- beyond the mere flesh and blood of the body. A good way to think of it is, God breathes into the "body" to implant the "spirit"; that "spirit" is the engine by which a person becomes a conscious "self" (ψυχὴ; "soul" in most English translations).

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    • I'm thinking that the soul is the spirit, encapsulated, and tied to the body. It allows the spirit to interface with the physical world, at the expence of not being able to see the spiritual world.
    • Physical death clarifies the body is separate from life, intellect, emotion, identity and animation all of which constitutes the soul in all living creatures. Spirit is a special God given force that connects only man to God.
      Unbelief disconnected spirit from God. Belief reconnects spirit and it communes with God.
    • I just, wondering this verse in Matthew 27:50 But Yeshua cried again with a loud voice, and his Spirit departed.
  2. I trust I am not moving outside the rules boundary. When I ventured out of the Calvinistic world into the Pentecostal and later Charismatic, I found many teachings in seminars and elsewhere based on trichotomism - man IS a spirit, HAS a soul and LIVES IN a body. These invariably depict the soul as the "bad guy." My questions grew when working on a doctoral thesis and an intended two-page explanation turned into a 52 page chapter. That later turned into my first book (free ebook) and the title (The Lamp of the Lord) was inspired by Proverbs 20:27, where the word neshamah is used and not nephesh or ruach. Our translations do not render this word the same.
    By no means am I saying I found all the answers, but I think I underline that "the Bible does not need to be re-written, it needs to be re-read." And in this regard the Israel Bible Center has been more than a wonderful blessing to this 73 year old who has been trying the past 12 years to read the Bible as if for the first time, setting aside 56 years of tradition since starting to go to Sunday School in 1952.
  3. Whether dichotomy trichotomy or one, the more we try to dissect the more they pull back together a mystery like the triune God, the more we try to separate them, into Father, Holy Spirit and the Son, they come back to one another eternal mystery.
    • Gaynor, unfortunately the staff that runs the technical side of our website won’t allow external links in the IBC comment threads. Gerrie, it’s up to you if you’d like to get your link to folks via the email addresses listed. Thanks.
  4. Gen 2:7 clearly states that God's breath of life was breathed into the inanimate Adam and he became of living soul (Hebrew "nephesh") Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary H5315 explains the general use as "properly a breathing creature", a complete being. (Sorry out of comment space.)
  5. (conyinued) You say as much yourself but then falsely add your own thought to support your belief. Most versions at Gen @:7 translate "nephesh" as soul, one as "living thing" (ESV), anotrer as "...and the man started breathing"(CEV), ...the man became of living being" (ISV) continued
  6. (continued) all versions including your quote do not imply another part of man's creation was a separate and distinct structure of whatever source (human or spiritual) only you added that additional thought because it seems to fit the general thought or belief. Man is a living soul.
  7. The soul of man. His personality. Mind, will, emotions. Mind can be renewed by God's Word. Emotions are closely related to the body. The will determines our steps, so easily influenced by our emotions. Yet the will is strengthened by the renewing of the mind to put to death the
  8. Could it be throughout Scripture when God spoke to People For instance He said “Abram Abram”he also said “Saul Saul””Samuel Samuel “”Martha Martha”!And others he was speaking to the soul and the spirit?
    • Thanks, David. In these instances, God is talking to the person (i.e., the nefesh). The "spirit" (ruach) is part of the person (internally); it may be better not to make too great a distinction between the person (sometimes translated "soul") and the spirit.
  9. I think when we try to make what the lord says so complex we miss the blessing He gives up. Yes he breathed his spirit into us, such as the spark of life, and as stated before our being or soul , body is our dwelling today and for eternity
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