Tuesday, July 29, 2008


In the Old Testament the word “Soul” is found in the King James Version in Genesis 2:7 “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.” The Hebrew words translated “living soul” are nepish hayah. It has been used as a proof text to show that man has a soul, distinguishing him from the animal kingdom. However, the same words are used of the animals: Genesis 1:24. Even the NIV fudges a bit, using the phrase “living being.” Since nepish Hayah is used of both man and animals 2:7 could more accurately be translated as “living creature.” It cannot refer to a human soul in the commonly understood meaning of the word.

The biblical difference between man and animal—found in the same 2:7—is that though both are made from the dust of the earth, only man received the breath or spirit of God directly.

New Testament usage is also problematical. The Greek word for soul is psyche. The Greeks used it to refer to the unsubstantial spirit that survives the body’s death. Though psyche is often translated “soul” in English, it seems that first century Jews and Christians used the term to mean spirit.

My problem is the way “soul” is used in popular theology. I’ve often heard the assertion that since man is made in the image of the triune God than man is a trinity as well: body, soul and spirit. Because of the above, I feel there is a confusion of soul and spirit. It goes against popular usage but I see no biblical evidence that the ancients had a concept of soul that was substantially different from that of spirit. In fact, until quite recently it was commonplace to see a headline like this: “Titanic Sinks With Loss of Some 1,500 Souls.” The meaning here is obviously referring to the whole person.

The Apostle Paul assures us that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” However, it should be remembered that in Christian theology we shall spend eternity in a resurrected body: body and spirit reunited.


Eric said...

How can theologians stay employed if they don't keep over-analyzing Scripture? Maybe in a hundred years we'll argue about man's quad-, quint-, sex- or even sept-une nature.

I personally have two souls. And many more at home on my shoe rack.

Don the Baptist said...

Are they holie?