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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72 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 conscious “self” (ψυχὴ; “soul” in most English translations). I think I’ll write an article on this verse, since the full answer is too complex for a single comment 🙂

    • 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.

  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.

  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?

  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

  10. Thank you Dr. Schaser for the great insight and removing age-old confusing teaching that creates an elusive dichotomy between the soul and the body.

    I really appreciate Malan’s transparent comment and his resolve to discard traditions for truth.

  11. Strong’s Concordance
    neshamah: breath
    Original Word: נְשָׁמָה
    Part of Speech: Noun Feminine
    Transliteration: neshamah
    Phonetic Spelling: (nesh-aw-maw’)
    Definition: breath
    Man’s spirit, breathed into our bodies by G_d is like a transparent lamp shining in the darkness to Him.

  12. That’s where I get confused. Adam is not created by the spoken word, he is the only creation that got neshama. How it is that Ps 150 is translated 6 Let all that have breath. Breath is not the same as neshama, and not everything that “has breath” plays cymbals.

    • Thanks, Elena. Actually, the word for “breath” in Ps 150:6 is, indeed, neshamah; the same word that appears when God breathes “breath” into the first human in Genesis.

  13. This is a topic which is not very well defined regarding: person-hood, Cognitive-Intellect: Affective – Feelings, and Conative – Will. There are biblical terms used: Mind, Heart, Spirit, Soul, Strength. Why did Jesus add “Mind” to “Love God with all Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind”?

    • Good question, Mary. In Mark (12:30) and Luke (10:27), Jesus adds “mind” as a fourth category, but in Matthew (22:37) Jesus replaces “strength” with “mind.” The issue stems from the Hebrew word usually translated “strength” (meod), which actually just means “very.” So there was debate in ancient Jewish discourse as to what it would mean for one to love God with all his/her “very.” Jesus’ either adds (as in Mark and Luke) or inserts (Matthew) the term “mind,” in order to clarity what the Hebrew “meod” means for him.

  14. Very complicated indeed. I teach my scholars that the soul is the living breath, the privelage to exhale(consiousness). The spirit on the other hand is your character that ought to be like JESUS, Gal.5:22. Spirit will end up in afterlife with YHWH.

    • Thanks for your comment, Pepler. In biblical parlance, the “living breath” (neshamah) that God imparts to humanity is associated with the “spirit” (ruach). The “soul,” on the other hand, is not a whispy, breath-like entity, but rather the entire “person” or “being” or “self.” That is, while one’s “spirit” is the divine breath that goes into the body, what we see in English as “soul,” we might think of as the “embodied person.”

  15. I believe if Paul was talking to the church in 1Thessalonians 5:23, it was with hope and wisdom. The Spirit i believe reflects the soul. So, if our soul is corrupt what spirit will you see in that body? And yet if the soul is good, what do you see

  16. The physical body is the medium between the external world / universe and the internal Person. The five senses gather into the internal Person that which it senses from the outside. The Person exists internally to the physical body. I have considered that the Soul collects the senses.

  17. I only began to understand Psalm 119 vs 103 the sweetness of the words in the Bible to my taste that the Psalmist compares to honey, after getting more clarity through these teachings. Thank you for shedding light and I’m feel compelled to join the courses soon. Shalom

  18. In a world moving more in the direction of materialistic individualism the concept of the soul as the living person must be linked to the African Wisdom proverb: Umuntu Ngamuntu Abantu meaning “We are persons through other persons. Therein lies the unity of body, soul, spirit”.

  19. You are on dangerous ground. Telling people what the bible really teaches about the soul shines a light on the fact that many “Christian” teachings are based on Greek philosophy and not the Bible at all.

  20. Can we now say that when God created man in his image, he created with him soul as in his body, so that man can have emotions, feelings and thoughts, and he later breathe life into him so that he can be alive to express his feelings and thoughts ?

  21. Most awesome. Dr. Gruber, how does Mathews 10:28 relates to what you just mentioned about the separateness of the spirit and the soul? How is the soul immortal? Is hell a temporary abode or an eternal condition for the wicked, or a metaphor for eternal separation from God. GBY

  22. Thank you for the explanation of Soul Spirit Etc I loved it it kind of helps me sort out what I thought so and thank you for all your input it does help

  23. What are your thoughts on Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit…”?

    • Great question, Donald. I affirm Hebrews’ division between “soul” and “spirit”; the word for “soul,” though, should be understood as one’s “being” (i.e., one’s physical “self” rather than a breath-like entity inside us), and “spirit” is the internal breath-like entity. Thus, there is, indeed, a division between the “living being” (nefesh; translated in English as “soul”), and the internal, God-given “spirit.”

  24. This article just confused me more than the last on this topic. If a man is dead because he has no spirit, and you say that the spirit animates a man, then what animates the dead man (spiritually)… how are those who are dead in spirit animated? by their soul?

  25. Yes but what about the distinction between heart and soul (and mind) mentioned in Deut6:5, Lk10:27?

    • The best translation of Deut 6:5 (on which Lk 10:27 draws) is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your life (nefesh; not “soul” in the Platonic sense) and with all your might (Hebrew: meod).” Jesus adds “mind” in Luke (and in Mark) because the final Hebrew word in Deut 6:5 (meod) actually just means “very,” so early Jewish interpreters debated what it would mean for one to love God with all one’s “very.” Jesus adds “mind” in order to offer some specificity around how he interprets that final Hebrew word.

  26. Finally, I got it Dr.Schaser from the trail chain of this article that the body gets life i.e Spirit. Soul is a self being. So when a person is dead, the spirit leaves the body. Then how come “May his soul rest in peace” comes into picture…

  27. So when the Spirit leaves the body it goes to the LORD which means both body and soul are physically dead i.e we bury not only the body but also the soul along with it. I hope, am making sense. You can’t separate body and soul but death separates Spirit.

  28. Thank you very much Dr. Schaser for explaining things on Body, Soul & Spirit to clear doubts and certainly Numbers 5:2 helps.

  29. The spirit and soul of a person can be separated from each other, according to Hebrews 4:12

    For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents m of the heart.

  30. Mark 14:38 (Typical verse where Christ consulted his disciples)
    Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
    Two separate ” beings” with two different characteristics.

  31. I wish Dr. S. I had space to explain why the N.T. was not by coincidence written in ancient Greek. It’s the language with seventy million words, also for science, physics, mathematics, philosophy. One who knows the Koini understands without any doubt the Scriptures correctly, literally, metaphorically. Many are trying

  32. An excellent discussion, but we are something missing here. Spirit-less creatures fill the earth, many with clear expressions of personality and emotion. My rationalization has been that all sentient bodies are animated by a soul, but a spirit makes mankind unique in creation.

    • Thanks for your question, Mark. Could you be a bit more specific about what you’re asking vis-a-vis the spirit/soul dichotomy? I just want to be sure that I provide a proper answer to your question re John 3. Thanks!

  33. My understanding of the “soul” is that it is the person, or individual self (check the usage: “my soul” = I/myself, etc, as in Gen 46:26, Lev 26:30), and that “spirit” is the breath (as from Job 27:3, Ec 8:8). No qualifications other than I grew up reading the Bible.

  34. Shalom Dr.Nicholas i enjoy reading this discussion so much.keep bringing more topics.i have a question , you said in your discussion while answering REV.Babuu that “or better, “self” or “life” — dies “…can you make it clearer to me how “life “can die? i have always thought that man is

    • Thanks, Moses. If you think in terms of “life-force” it might make more sense. See Leviticus 17:11, in which God says that the “life (nefesh) of the flesh is in the blood.” Thus, when the blood of an animal or person is lost, so is the life (or “life-force” — that which keeps us alive).

  35. To fully appreciate man’s present state (dead in sin)we need to understand Adam’s state before he disobeyed God. Man died in two aspects. 1. physically – he became mortal, doomed to die. 2. spiritually – God broke communion with Adam’s spirit and Adam lost the glory he had (visual covering)

  36. cont’d: of the death of a substitute life, in that of His incarnate Son (Jesus), fallen man would have to be destroyed, body, soul and spirit, because when the physical realm is regenerated (new heaven and new earth) God will then reside in the New Jerusalem with his redeemed family,

  37. cont’d: there will be no evil or sinful beings present and God’s creation will then be complete, pure, holy and eternal. I believe that is an over view of God’s creative plan. We were meant to be as He is, body soul and spirit, immortal, pure and holy.

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