Before this life-giving breath came from God, there was no “Adam.” He became an individual (a soul) when body and breath came together. The soul is the full integration that makes up each individual person. It is specific to each person. It never leaves his or her body and it dies when the person dies.
The fact the soul is this all-in-one combination of body and God’s life-giving breath is a big deal. The Bible teaches us to think holistically about the soul and the lives we live. It’s also important to take care of ourselves and be good stewards of the bodies, minds and spirits God has given us as our souls.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says about the soul.
- The formula for a living soul
- How the Bible describes a soul
- What happens to the soul when we die?
- How the definition of “soul” changed through history
- Is there a “location” for our souls?
It plays a big part in how we look at life, death, grief, life after death, and more.
The formula for a living soul
Body + Breath of Life = Living Soul
If you have a look at the original languages the Bible was written in, terms sometimes translated as “soul” actually meant “life” or “person.” Two examples come to mind:
In Hebrew, the term nephesh and in Greek, psuche are both translated as “soul” in the Bible. However, they can also be translated as “life” or “person.”
Looking at the original Hebrew and Greek as well as the various uses of these terms helps us get to a more comprehensive view of who we are as humans.
It turns out “soul” may not even be the best-fitting modern translation of the original language because of the connotations of immortality and mysticism linked to the word “soul.”
In Hebrew, the way to say “Let me live” (I Kings 20:32) is “Let my soul live.” See how the use of “soul” here ties into a person’s overall existence?
Now take a look at the more drawn-out phrase, “that my soul may bless you before I die” (Genesis 27:4, NKJV). It actually means “that I may bless you.”
The use of the word “soul” is speaking to someone’s complete identity. The Bible uses these terms as a way of closely identifying with an individual—it’s not referring to a separate entity, life force, or energy.
Another way to look at this is that humans do not have a soul but are a soul (1 Corinthians 15:45; Genesis 2:7).
How the Bible talks about the soul
Now that we know what a soul is, let’s look further at how the Bible describes it:
The “soul” can weep (Jeremiah 13:17).
“Souls” can be taken captive (Jeremiah 52:28-30).
“Souls” can be baptized (Acts 2:41).
And yes, the “soul” can die (Ezekiel 18:4; James 5:20; Revelation 20:4; Psalm 89:48; Job 36:14; Leviticus 19:8; 21:1, 11).
The “soul,” in the Bible, is a whole person with consciousness, desires and emotions.
The book of Proverbs says, “The laborer’s appetite works for him” (Proverbs 16:26).
The Hebrew word for “appetite” here (nephesh) can also be translated as “desires” or “needs.” So the desires of a worker’s soul compel him to work.
The Bible talks about the soul here as a whole person who needs, wishes for, and craves things.
Nephesh is also translated as “soul” in other places in the Bible, and that it has feelings.
David prays to God saying, “Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes” in Psalm 27:12. Here, the word for “desire” is also nephesh. In this context, the Hebrew word means “desire” or “greed.”
The Bible portrays souls as the full integration of what makes us individuals. Souls are what make us human.
The soul isn’t something that exists independently of the body. Instead, when the Bible talks about the soul, it is talking about the complete being—the living individual.
It’s also important to realize that as far as the Bible is concerned, the soul does not last forever. Because it is a complete form of body + breath = life, it dies as the body dies.
Where did the idea of an immortal soul come from?
The idea of immortality apart from God came from Satan. It is part of a fundamental deception that has been around since the start of humanity.
Satan lied to Eve right in the Garden of Eden, telling her she wouldn’t die if she ate the forbidden fruit. (Genesis 3:4) He planted the idea that she could disobey God and continue to live forever.
The Bible only uses the term “immortality” twice:
There’s 1 Timothy 6:14-16, where we learn that God alone possesses immortality. As things currently stand, we humans are mortal. We die and cease to exist. Simple as that.
Also, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 talks about believers receiving immortality at the resurrection, at Jesus’ Second Coming. As in, we as humans, do not have it now.
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The Bible teaches that people go to sleep when they die. Their consciousness ends.
“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything that happens under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5,
Quite the sobering message, right?
That isn’t the end of the whole story, though.
The Bible teaches that eternal life is a gift Christ offers us. Without this gift, we simply do not continue to live in any way after we die (Romans 6:23; John 3:36; 5:24; 1 John 5:11, 12).
Our “souls” go to sleep when we die. And if we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we can have the hope that we’ll wake up again at His Second Coming.
The development of the concept of the soul throughout history
Since the first mistruth about the immortality of the soul, the idea of a conscious part of us that keeps living after the body dies has become a popular belief.
Ancestor worship, for example, is a common belief and practice. This is based on the idea that relatives who have died still keep living, though their lives are now within a different plane of existence. This belief often includes that these ancestors are able to influence the lives of the living.
It’s considered very important to worship these deceased relatives to ensure their favor and have them intervene positively for the family members still alive.
Immortality of the soul was also expressed in human sacrifices. In some cultures, an individual would be sacrificed specifically so they could play a special role in the next life.
Ancient philosophy is full of references of the immortality of the soul. The Greek philosopher Plato saw the body as the prison of the soul and believed the soul was set free from this imprisonment at death.
He reasoned that because the soul is capable of understanding scientific truth, and truth, according to Plato, was immortal, the soul had to be immortal. Plato taught his students that the body and the “immortal soul” separate when a person dies.
This part of Greek philosophy was able to influence Christian traditions as well. It is thought that this process of belief infiltration started around the 3rd century AD, as Platonic philosophy popped up in Christian teachings about the soul.
The Italian philosopher and Catholic Priest, Thomas Aquinas, further cemented this belief in the 13th century.
A little later, the Roman Catholic Church officially proclaimed the doctrine of the immortality of the soul as truth in 1513.
This Catholic doctrine has also heavily influenced Protestant churches, many of which also believe the soul does not die.
Human ideas about the location of the soul
The ancient Egyptians believed the soul was in the heart. In the 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci thought he could find the human soul by dissecting the brain. He was influenced by a common belief of his time that the soul was located in the center of the head.
Fast-forward to 1907 and Duncan MacDougall, an American physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts became convinced the soul had physical weight.
To measure this, he monitored the change in weight of tuberculosis patients who were dying. He suggested, based on his attempt to measure the mass lost at the point of death, that the soul weighs 21 grams.
As you can see, human theories about physical properties of the soul and where it is located have varied widely!
The Bible describes the soul differently. It makes no reference to the soul as a physical part of the human body that takes up space or has physical weight. The Scriptures don’t speak of the soul as being separate from the physical body. It’s not a “part” of the body, but all of a person’s existence!
That being the case, in addition to looking after our bodies, we can deduce that it is our Christian duty and privilege to grow socially, physically, and spiritually. If you want to strengthen your soul and live a richer life, it’s important to treat our whole person with respect and care.
Part of this holistic care includes eating a clean diet, exercise, education, maintaining healthy relationships, and managing time so we don’t get burned out or overworked.
Looking after your soul also means taking time to worship God, and spend quality time with family and friends.
Being a “soul” means we are living the lives God gave us. It doesn’t mean we are God, or that we’re walking containers for God’s spirit. We are souls created in the image of God but we most definitely are not God. We rely on Him to sustain us.
The difference between a soul and a spirit
According to the Bible, the soul and the spirit work together. A person’s “spirit” is his or her life force. This refers to the breath of life God breathed into Adam (Genesis 2:7), and into each of us.
This life force comes from God (Isaiah 42:5) and goes back to Him when we die (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Psalm 104:29; Acts 7:59).
But at no point does the spirit do anything of its own power, such as the way many stories portray a ghost of someone after they die. This life force connects the body and makes the soul, and the soul without the life force is dead.
Physical Body + Breath of Life from God = Human Soul
And what a gift it is to be a living soul!
The spirit of life God gives us is not just the ability to live, but also what gives us an individual identity as humans. It allows us to think and feel. The range of emotions that is a part of human experience also comes to us courtesy of the spirit.
It allows us to feel anger (Judges 8:3) and grief (Genesis 26:35, Isaiah 54:6). Even angst (Exodus 6:9) and depression (Proverbs 15:13; Psalm 143:4) are something we feel because of the spirit.
It also allows us to experience joy, love, and peace (Galatians 5:22, 23).
Although it is true we can invite the Holy Spirit to “live in our hearts,” this expression is not intending to say that the soul is God, or that it is a piece of God inside of us. It simply means that we are inviting the Holy Spirit’s guidance and influence in our lives. We are opening up our inner thoughts to Him, allowing Him to help us overcome sin and experience the fruits of the Spirit.
The spirit allows us to think rationally (Psalm 77:6). It allows for understanding (Job 32:8), self-awareness (1 Corinthians 2:11), and self-control (Job 32:18; Ezra 1:1,5).
In short, the spirit is part of what makes us the complex human beings we are.
Being a living soul is the ultimate gift from God—existence
The soul, according to the Bible, is the combination of the physical body and the life-giving spirit of God that makes up a human being. It’s the complete package!
When we commit our lives to Jesus and become saved, we are not trying to save only our bodies, we are trying to save our complete souls. We know that at the resurrection, we will again become “whole souls,” as we are given new, perfect bodies once again imbued with God’s breath of life.
Ultimately, our hope, peace and all of life comes from Jesus. As we decide to accept the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins and make him Lord of our lives, our future is secure. God gave us life to make us living souls and if we die in our earthly lives, He promised to give this life “back” to us at the resurrection if we continue in our relationship with Him.
As long as we choose to live with Him we don’t have anything to worry about. Not in life or death.
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, NKJV).