Study 4: God and Death
The Nature of Man | The Soul | The Spirit | Death Is Unconsciousness | The Resurrection | The Judgment | The Place of Reward: Heaven or Earth? | Responsibility To God | Hell | Digressions (Purgatory, Ghosts And Reincarnation, With What Nature Are We Raised?, The "Rapture") | Questions

4.2 The Soul

In the light of the foregoing it ought to be inconceivable that man has an 'immortal soul' or any immortal element within him naturally. We will now attempt to clear up the confusion surrounding the word 'soul'.

The Hebrew and Greek words which are translated 'soul' in the Bible ('Nephesh' and 'Psuche' respectively) are also translated in the following ways:

Body Breath
Creature Heart
Mind Person
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The 'soul' therefore refers to the person, body or self. The famous 'Save Our Souls' (S.O.S.) clearly means 'Save us from death!' The 'soul' is therefore 'you', or the summation of all the things which make up a person. It is understandable, therefore, that many modern versions of the Bible (e.g. the N.I.V.) rarely use the word 'soul', translating it instead as 'you' or 'the person'. The animals which God created are called "moving creatures...every living creature" (Gen. 1:20,21). The Hebrew word translated "creature" here is 'nephesh', which is also translated 'soul'; for example in Gen. 2:7: "...and man became a living soul". Thus man is a 'soul', just as the animals are 'souls'. The only difference between mankind and animals is that man is mentally superior to them; he is created in the physical image of God (Gen. 1:26; see Study 1.2), and some men are called to know the Gospel through which the hope of immortality is opened up to them (2 Tim. 1:10). As regards our fundamental nature and the nature of our death, there is no difference between man and animals:-

"That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them (note the double emphasis): as the one dieth, so dieth the that a man hath no preeminence above a beast...All (i.e. man and animals) go unto one place (the grave); all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again" (Ecc. 3:19,20). The inspired writer of Ecclesiastes prayed that God would help men to appreciate this hard fact, "that (men) might see that they themselves are beasts" (Ecc. 3:18). It is therefore to be expected that many people will find this fact hard to accept; indeed, it can be humiliating to realize that by nature we are just animals, living out the same instincts of self-preservation, survival of the fittest and procreation. The N.I.V. translation of Ecc.3:18 says that God 'tests' man by making him see that he is just an animal; i.e. those who are humble enough to be His true people will realize the truth of this, but those who are not will fail this 'test'. The philosophy of humanism - the idea that human beings are of such supreme importance and value - has quietly spread throughout the world during the twentieth century. It is a considerable task to clear our thinking of the influence of humanism. The plain words of Ps. 39:5 are a help: "Man at his best state is altogether vanity". "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).

One of the most basic things which we know is that all human bodies - indeed all "living creatures" - eventually die. The 'soul', therefore, dies; it is the exact opposite of something which is immortal. It is not surprising that about a third of all uses of the words translated 'soul' in the Bible are associated with the death and destruction of the soul. The very fact that the word 'soul' is used in this way shows that it cannot be something which is indestructible and immortal:

"The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4).

God can destroy the soul (Matt. 10:28). Other references to souls being destroyed are: Eze. 22:27; Prov. 6:32; Lev. 23:30.

All the "souls" that were within the city of Hazor were killed by the sword (Josh. 11:11; cp. Josh. 10:30-39).

"...every living soul died" (Rev. 16:3; cp. Ps. 78:50).

Frequently the Law of Moses commanded that any "soul" which disobeyed certain laws should be killed (e.g. Num. 15:27-31).

References to the soul being strangled or snared can only make sense if it is understood that the soul can die (Prov. 18:7; 22:25; Job 7:15).

"None can keep alive his own soul" (Ps. 22:29).

Christ "poured out his soul unto death" so that his "soul", or life, was made an offering for sin (Isa. 53:10,12).

That the 'soul' refers to the person or body rather than some immortal spark within us is shown by the majority of verses in which the word occurs. Some obvious examples are:-

"The blood of the souls" (Jer. 2:34).

"If a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing...if he do not utter it...if a soul touch any unclean thing...if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips" (Lev. 5:1-4).

"O my soul...all that is within me...Bless the Lord, O my soul...Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things" (Ps. 103:1,2,5).

"Whosoever will save his life ('soul') shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life ('soul') for my sake...shall save it" (Mark 8:35).

This is proof enough that the soul does not refer to any spiritual element within man; here, 'soul' (Greek 'psuche') just means one's physical life, which is how it is translated here.

Num. 21:4 shows that a group of people can have one "soul". The "soul" therefore cannot refer to a spark of personal immortality within each of us.