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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. Genesis 2:7 (KJV)

The Biblical soul in the Old Testament is translated only from the Hebrew word nephesh (נפש), which literally means the "complete life of a being" though it is usually used in the sense of "living being" (breathing creature).[1] Psyche is the equivalent New Testament Greek word from which the English word soul is only translated. In the Greek Septuagint nephesh is mostly translated as psyche (ψυχή).

The New Testament follows the concepts of the Septuagint, and thus uses the word psyche with the Hebrew nephesh understanding rather than the Greek philosophers[2], that is, an invisible power (or even more, for Platonists, immortal and immaterial) that gives life and motion to the body and is responsible for its attributes. The concept common today of an immaterial soul separate from and surviving the body is not found in ancient Hebrew beliefs.[3]

In Context of Neshamah (New Testament pneuma)

"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." (Genesis 2:7)

The Lord breathed "neshamah" into the human, corresponding to the Greek pneuma, the rational/reasonable aspect of the human existence. God claims to have placed eternity into the human heart (Eccl 3:11). Mankind has an acute awareness of, and perhaps obsession with the passing and measurement of time. The word of God separates body, soul and spirit (Heb 4:12). Human capacity to reason enables many other differentiating characteristics such as the ability to perform science, exchange knowledge with abstract symbols in both writing and speech, art, fashion, design of complex systems and machines, learning and teaching abstract concepts such as logic and mathematics, to name just a few. These aspects are not found in the "nephesh".

Nephesh is applied to humans, lower animals, corpses and also in limited application to God Almighty.


Illustration showing the number of times nephesh is translated in the Old Testament into an assortment of English words in the NIV and KJV. Besides the twelve common words listed, it is also translated into another 125 miscellaneous English words and phrases in the NIV. And, it is not even translated another 43 times that it appears in the texts.

The word soul is translated only from the Hebrew word nephesh in the Old Testament (nephesh appears 750 times in 683 verses) and only psyche in the New testament (psyche appears 104 times in 95 verses).[4] Nephesh is also translated into 131 other English words and phrases in the NIV Old Testament :

  • PERSON / BEING -- life, lives, as surely as live, alive, keep themselves alive, soul, souls, living soul, being, person, people, man, creatures, creature, spirit, body, breath, heart, hearts, heart's, hearts', lifeblood, mind, minds, thoughts, neck, throats, members.
  • PRONOUNS -- all, another, anyone, everyone, he, herself, him, himself, I, me, my, myself, one, ourselves, she, someone, them, themselves, these, they, thing, those, us, we, you, yourself, yourselves.
  • FEELINGS -- affection, appetite, appetites, craved, craving, desire, desires, discontented, earnest, earnestness, faint, feel, fierce, given to gluttony, greed, greedy man, hot_tempered, how it feels, hunger, hungry, in anguish, needs, pleased, relish, thirst, thirsty, wanted, weary, wished, wishes, zeal.
  • DEATH -- breathe last, breathed her last, corpse, dead, dead body, death, die, dying, kill, kills, made a fatal mistake, mortal, murders, takes life, wait to kill, wanted to kill.
  • MISC -- be a willing party, closest friend, completely, cost, counting on, courage, descendants, enemies, guilt of murder, his own, impatient, in all, its own, just what wanted, kidnapping, livelihood, long, member, none, perfume, personal vows, plunder, slave, slaves, stouthearted, that, the flock, threatened, willing.
  • UNTRANSLATED -- 43 times[5]

Biblical definition of nephesh

Genesis 2:7

  • The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being [nephesh]. NIV
  • 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 [nephesh]. KJV

God's nephesh recipe:

  1. Take one physical body
  2. Insert the breath of life into the body (e.g. animal life)
  3. "Breathe" "neshamah" into the human, the rational spirit (NT pneuma)
  4. Results: A living, breathing human in the image of God, capable of rational, reasoning thought
  5. Utterly differentiated from the animal kingdom, made in the image of God, who is also body, soul and spirit

Characteristics of nephesh

  • Hunger: Ex. 12:16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone [nephesh] to eat—that is all you may do. Note that when Christ was resurrected, he hungered and ate broiled fish (Luke 24:41-42). Clearly the resurrection body has operational life similar to original earthly life, and is rejuvenated by the Tree of Life for food (Rev 22:1,2)
  • Thirst: Prov. 25:25 Like cold water to a weary soul [nephesh] is good news from a distant land.
  • Emotions:
    • Affection: Eze. 24:21 I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your [nephesh] affection.
    • Distress: Gen. 42:21 We saw how distressed he [nephesh] was when he pleaded with us for his life,
    • Yearn: Psm. 84:2 My soul [nephesh] yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
    • Weep: Jer. 13:17 But if you do not listen, I [nephesh] will weep in secret because of your pride;
    • Love: Sngs. 3:2 I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart [nephesh] loves.
    • Delight: Isa. 61:10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul [nephesh] rejoices in my God.
    • Anger: Jdg. 16:16 And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, [so] that his soul [nephesh] was vexed unto death;
    • Grief: 1 Sam. 2:33 Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your [nephesh] heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.
  • Sin: Lev. 5:1 A person [nephesh] sins because his spirit is numb to reason and the regard for time and eternity.

In the above list, the characteristics are centered in the here-and-now temporal fulfillment of desire. These are also called "carnal" (Romans 8:5-9) and "the flesh" to differentiate them. When a person solely focuses on fulfilling these basic needs, that person is "in the flesh" and will not regard reason or rationality when discussing their carnal/fleshly-minded handling of these issues (Proverbs 28:21).

  • Reproduction - the nephesh life descends from Adam (as Eve was reproduced from Adam) and is reproduced anew in each new offspring from the original nephesh from Adam. God does not create a new soul in each human, or this would require a holy God to create a corrupt soul and likewise would not allow him to cease from his creative acts as he claimed he already did at the end of Day Six.
  • Descend from the father (Genesis 46:26). The soul or nephesh of Jesus Christ decended from his own father God, not from father Adam, because Jesus was not from the loins of Mary's husband Joseph, whose nephesh had decended from Adam.
  • Deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) The human heart (soul) is a black abyss and is not knowable by anyone but God himself.

A nephesh, therefore, has a physical body, is breathing and alive, gets hungry, thirsty, angry, lusts for a sexual partner, is able to be loyal to a partner (love), and is a sinner. A nephesh is not however, the rational/reasoning portion of the human existence. Basic, instinctive thought (human nature) is centered in the nephesh. Reason however, is centered in the neshamah/pneuma.

A person who is given anti-psychotic drugs may have their reason/rationality suppressed, and if so may behave like a common animal. This is the basic nephesh. King Nebuchadnezzar was reduced to basic, animalistic nephesh with a disease (lycanthropy) (Daniel 4:33) that has since been popularized in horror stories as a "werewolf".

Other nephesh

Human beings are not the only nephesh.

  • Gen 1:24 …Let the earth bring forth the living [chay] creature [nephesh] after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind:
  • Gen 2:19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; … what Adam called every living [chay] creature [nephesh], that was the name thereof.
  • Lev 11:46 This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living [chay] creature [nephesh] that moveth in the waters, and of every creature [nephesh] that creepeth upon the earth.

Animals have a physical bodies. Animals breath and live. They get hungry and thirsty. They are living nephesh. Animals do not however, have the reasoning capacity of mankind (e.g. the neshamah/pneuma).


Nephesh is a being with a physical body, the breath of life, and has basic instincts such as feelings. Many creatures including man have a nephesh. Animals and humans are however, forever separated by the capacity of the human neshamah/pneuma/spirit to reason and have rational thought.

Because not all creatures have a ruwach life (nephesh life with blood), not all living things "die" in Scriptural terms. Their basic life processes chay may cease, but only a ruwach/blood-based creature can "Biblically die". The life of the flesh ruwach is in the blood (Genesis 9:4) (Leviticus 17:11). Prior to the sin of Adam, no blood-borne creature had experienced death. God cursed the earth with death as a result of the sin of Adam. God will remove death from the creation, calling it the last enemy of the creation (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Psyche = Nephesh

Illustration showing the number of times psyche is translated in the New Testament into an assortment of English words in the NIV and KJV. Besides the five common words listed, it is also translated into another 25 miscellaneous English words and phrases in the NIV. And, it is not even translated another 8 times that it appears in the texts.

The New Testament psyche is equivalent with the Old Testament nephesh. The New Testament pneuma is equivalent with the Old Testament neshamah.

1 Corinthians 15:45

  • And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul (psyche) ; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit (pneuma). KJV
  • So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being (psyche)"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit (pneuma). NIV

Psyche as living being

  • Luke 10:27 He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul [psyche] and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
  • Luke 9:56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives [psyche], but to save them.
  • 1 Peter 1:9 “for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls [psyche].
  • James 5:20 “remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him [psyche] from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
  • The soul is the center of the sin nature of mankind. The soul and body are at constant conflict with the spirit, which is why the word of God serves to separate the soul and body from the spirit, so that God may reason with the spirit without their interference (Hebrews 4:22) (Romans 8:5-9).


Psyche is a living person with a physical body, who is breathing. It is not however, the eternal, rational spirit of man. Pneuma is the rational/reasoning part of the human that is distinct from the psyche and is the seat of rational thought (Heb 4:12).

The "carnal mind" and the "flesh" (Romans 8:5-9) are used to describe the human soul as it exists without the quickening power of the Holy Spirit. A carnally-minded person thinks in-the-flesh, that is only regarding the basic needs of the body and soul, often setting aside reason. This explains why people will pursue lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life without regard to the consequences (disregard of the passing of time, living only in the moment). Most acts of sin and depravity are fulfilled in-the-moment, disregarding the effects of time. Reason and rationality regard time with a priority, understanding the long-term consquences of actions. The book of Proverbs is largely devoted to imbuing wisdom through a series of lessons on the long-term consequences of actions.

Jesus came to save nephesh / psyche

  • 1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
  • Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
  • Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • Ezekiel 18:20 The soul [nephesh] who sins is the one who will die.
  • Having no nephesh descended from Adam, Jesus Christ is in the unique position of having a nephesh descended directly from God, just as Adam had a nephesh decended directly from God, and in this context Jesus is called "the last Adam" (1 Cor 15:45)

Nephesh / psyche die

  • Num. 23:10 "Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me [nephesh] die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!"
  • Num. 35:30 Anyone who kills a person [nephesh] is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
  • Jos. 11:11 Everyone [nephesh] in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed them, not sparing anything that breathed, and he burned up Hazor itself.
  • Isa. 47:14 Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves [nephesh] from the power of the flame. Here are no coals to warm anyone; here is no fire to sit by.
  • Eze. 18:4 For every living soul [nephesh] belongs to me, the father [nephesh] as well as the son [nephesh]—both alike belong to me. The soul [nephesh] who sins is the one who will die.
  • The spirit/neshamah/pneuma does not die. This is the reasoning/rational part of the human that is eternal. Jesus descended into hell to preach to spirits (pneuma) (1 Peter 3:19) in Abraham's Bosom (Luke 16:22).
  • When a believer dies, the spirit (pneuma) is immediately with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8)
  • When a believer dies, they join a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) literally a "throng of martyrs" which are depicted in this case as a stadium of spectators cheering the athletes to victory. Clearly the believer has rational consciousness to carry this out.
  • When an unbeliever dies, the spirit and soul are both committed to Torment (Luke 16:19-31) and the soul/spirit are aware of the passing of time and possess the ability to reason
  • All humans are resurrected and re-united as body, soul and spirit - the believers to everlasting life and the unbelievers to damnation (John 5:29)
  • All unbelievers are judged at the Great White Throne, where they are able to call upon their reasoning capacity (Rev 20:11-15), and are sent to the Lake of Fire, the "second death".


God and Immortality

  • 1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
  • Romans 1:22-23 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
  • 1 Timothy 16:15-16 God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Only God is intrisically immortal. He offers true immortality (everlasting life) to those who trust in his son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Man and Immortality

  • Proverbs 12:28 In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality.
  • Romans 2:6-7 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
  • 2 Timothy 1:9-10 Who has saved us and called us to a holy life... This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel
  • 1 Corinthians 15:52-54 In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory.“

Jesus, who is God and as such is intrinsically immortal, has destroyed death and gives immortality to mortal man. The mortal man is unable to make himself immortal. Everlasting life is a gift from the Lord.

"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." John 5:28-29

Clearly those who are in their graves have the capacity to "hear" Christ's voice just as Lazarus did. Every human will be resurrected in the same manner as Christ (body, soul, spirit) as Christ is the first fruits (1 Cor 15:20-23) of the first resurrection (Rev 20:5-6, the resurrection of the saints). Some will be resurrected to life and some to damnation.

"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

Clearly the fully resurrected body, soul and spirit appears before God at the Great White Throne, and is cast into hell where the soul (nephesh) and body are destroyed, but the pneuma is eternal. The wicked are then fully aware of their fate, rationally understand it as a consequence of their wickedness and are also aware of its duration.

Death of nephesh

  • Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
  • Psalm 104:29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.
  • Ecclesiastes 12:7 And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit [breath] returns to God who gave it.

Death of a nephesh is the reverse of the Creation of a nephesh.

  1. Start with a living physical being (nephesh).
  2. Remove the breath of life.
  3. Result: The dead physical body turns to dust.

A nephesh is a living physical body with the breath of life. A dead physical body without breath is not a nephesh. The nephesh is no more. The breath of life returns to God who gave it.

See 1 Corinthians 15 on a detailed description of the transformation of both dead and living believers when Christ returns to receive them as his bride.

Significantly, at the resurrection, the body is restored to its original form, but is a resurrected, immortal body. Likewise the soul and spirit are reunited with the body (see examples of Christ's resurrection above).

Consciousness after death

  • Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.
  • Books such as Ecclesiastes remind the reader of the emptiness of a life without God. It's what we would say to an atheist - "If you really believe this, then when you go to the grave, there is nothing". However, the sentiments of Ecclesiastes are offered in this tenor, that of presenting the irony and futility of life without a Creator. We must balance its biting commentary against the whole of Scrupture so that it is received in its proper context - the inexorable "truth" of human existence without a Creator.
  • Psalms 115:17 The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence. But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD.
  • The Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) descended into hell and had full availability of his reasoning capacity. He had memories of his former life, his brothers, and had a desire to keep them out of hell. He did not however, exhibit any signs of understanding why he was in hell, and likewise no repentance. It is true that the dead (in hell) praise not the Lord, because they never praised the Lord in life and have no understanding of why they are in hell.
  • The Rich Man instantly recognized Abraham, never having met him, so was actually more acutely rational and in possession of more knowledge than when alive.
  • The wicked dead who appear before the Great White Throne (Rev 20:11-15) are judged according to the heavenly books, representing a judicial proceeding, clearly in context of their awareness of the proceeding and outcome.
  • When a believer dies, the spirit (pneuma) is immediately with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8)
  • When a believer dies, they join a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) literally a "throng of martyrs" which are depicted in this case as a stadium of spectators cheering the athletes to victory. Clearly the believer has rational consciousness to carry this out.

There is full consciousness and rationality after death.


  • Nephesh / psyche have a physical body and the breath of life.
  • We are nephesh / psyche when we are living beings.
  • Nephesh / psyche ultimately die in the Lake of Fire, but the rational spirit/pneuma is eternal
  • Nephesh / psyche cease to exist at death, the spirit/pneuma continues on.
  • Nephesh / psyche is not conscious and knows nothing after death. Knowledge and memory are based in the pneuma/spirit.
  • The nephesh / psyche is fully restored at the resurrection, along with the body.

The English word soul commonly has meanings different than the Biblical nephesh / psyche.


MacDougall of Haverhill, Mass. conducted experiments on terminally ill people (six in all). He took these subjects and placed them on a very sensitive weight table to see if there was a weight change upon death, essentially taking the Biblical stance of the soul leaving the body. Each subject, regardless of size or weight, upon the moment of death lost 3/4 of an ounce (or 21 grams). This test was repeated several times and his conclusion was that this weight was indeed the human soul and that its weight is lost at the moment of its separation from the body.[6]

To confirm this he also conducted tests on 15 dogs, created by God without a soul. Upon death they did not experience this weight loss as did the humans. Because this type of test was controversial, and raised many eyebrows, several stories about Dr. MacDougal surfaced in an attempt to discredit his work. Words like inhumane were being thrown at him. He was even accused of poisoning the 15 dogs that he tested.

MacDougall's research was dismissed[7] because of clear evidence of selective reporting. He aligned with the results of one case but ignored additional evidence of the other five. When the human body dies and the lungs discontinue function, they also discontinue cooling of the blood. At death there is a notable rise in body temperature which can easily account for the loss of the weight through final sweat discharges. As dogs do not have sweat glands, this may account for why they did not lose similar weight. Several of the human bodies regained weight, and some lost yet more weight, but MacDougall did not report these findings ostensibly because they did not agree with his hypothesis.

MacDougall's experiment and his conclusions have been dismissed as having no scientific merit. That nobody has attempted the same experiemnt, or at least reported similar findings, is perhaps indicative that his findings are not reproducible. The Bible does not assign any earthly physicality to the human soul.

The human soul has some form of physicality however. As Christ renders the account of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), that the Rich Man realizes he is in hell, but Lazarus is carried by angels (Luke 16:22) to Abraham's Bosom, a second chamber of Sheol which hosted the spirits (pneuma) of those believers whose deaths preceded Christ's crucifixion. Christ himself asserts that no man had ascended to heaven (John 3:13). Christ taught with authority concerning heaven, so uses this term Abraham's Bosom instead, not as a metaphor for heaven, but a real place of rest for Old Testament saints.

The point being, Lazarus's spirit had to be carried by angels to a place that can contain them, so in spiritual terms the soul/spirit has physicality, but none that can be objectively measured with (current) earthly technology. The Bible also asserts a physicality for the angels, in that an angel was delayed in meeting Daniel for 21 days, and had to summon the archangel Michael to assist in his passage because the Prince of Persia, the demon overseer of Persia, would not allow the angel to pass (Danial 10:12-13). The angels who left their first estate are in prison in chains (Jude 1:6) and Satan himself is bound in chains for 1000 years (Rev 20:2-3).

In this regard, the angels are highly energetic beings but still exist within the same creation and timeframe as humans. Just as humans cannot see ultraviolet light with the naked eye, humans understand that real, measurable physics exists in a higher energetic plane, including X-rays and gamma-rays. This invites the question as to the level of the physical energy plane inhabited by the angels. At various points in Scripture, humans are able to see angels with the naked eye in their native energetic form (2 Kings 6:17)(Daniel 3:25)(Matthew 28:3)(Numbers 22:23-31)(Acts 1:9-11) but Scripture also warns that angels walk among humans as though part of humanity (Hebrews 13:2).

Scripture says that humans are made "a little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:5) and human eyes are easily enabled to see angels in energetic form. In the Old Testament, the Hebrews were required to build the Temple to include images of cherubim without any direct description of them in the accounts (Exodus 25:18-22). Clearly the Hebrews knew what cherubims looked like. From these passages we may surmise that in early human history, humans were able to easily see angelic beings but this functionality was lost to human eyesight.


  1. Hebrew-English Lexicon, Brown, Driver & Briggs, Hendrickson Publishers.
  2. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament
  3. Tabor, James, What the Bible says about Death, Afterlife, and the Future,, access date: September 25, 2009. "The ancient Hebrews had no idea of an immortal soul living a full and vital life beyond death, nor of any resurrection or return from death. Human beings, like the beasts of the field, are made of "dust of the earth," and at death they return to that dust (Gen. 2:7; 3:19). The Hebrew word nephesh, traditionally translated "living soul" but more properly understood as "living creature," is the same word used for all breathing creatures and refers to nothing immortal."
  4. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries
  5. The Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance
  6. MacDougall, Duncan. dr., 1907, Hypothesis Concerning Soul Substance, Together with Experimental Evidence of the Existence of Such Substance, Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, May

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