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Dictionaries :: Soul

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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


sol (nephesh; psuche; Latin anima):

1. Shades of Meaning in the Old Testament:

(1) Soul, like spirit, has various shades of meaning in the Old Testament, which may be summarized as follows: "Soul," "living being," "life," "self," "person," "desire," "appetite," "emotion" and "passion" (BDB under the word). In the first instance it meant that which breathes, and as such is distinguished from basar, "flesh" (Isa 10:18; De 12:23); from she'er, "the inner flesh," next the bones (Pr 11:17, "his own flesh"); from beTen, "belly" (Ps 31:10, "My soul and my belly are consumed with grief"), etc.

(2) As the life-breath, it departs at death (Ge 35:18; Jer 15:2). Hence, the desire among Old Testament saints to be delivered from Sheol (Ps 16:10, "Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol") and from shachath, "the pit" (Job 33:18, "He keepeth back his soul from the pit"; Isa 38:17, "Thou hast.... delivered it (my soul) from the pit of corruption").

(3) By an easy transition the word comes to stand for the individual, personal life, the person, with two distinct shades of meaning which might best be indicated by the Latin anima and animus. As anima, "soul," the life inherent in the body, the animating principle in the blood is denoted (compare De 12:23,24, ‘Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the soul; and thou shalt not eat the soul with the flesh'). As animus, "mind," the center of our mental activities and passivities is indicated. Thus we read of ‘a hungry soul' (Ps 107:9), ‘a weary soul' (Jer 31:25), ‘a loathing soul' (Le 26:11), ‘a thirsty soul' (Ps 42:2), ‘a grieved soul' (Job 30:25), ‘a loving soul' (So 1:7), and many kindred expressions. Cremer has characterized this use of the word in a sentence: "Nephesh (soul) in man is the subject of personal life, whereof pneuma or ruach (spirit) is the principle" (Lexicon, under the word, 795).

(4) This individuality of man, however, may be denoted by pneuma as well, but with a distinction. Nephesh or "soul" can only denote the individual life with a material organization or body. Pneuma or "spirit" is not so restricted. Scripture speaks of "spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb 12:23), where there can be no thought of a material or physical or corporeal organization. They are "spiritual beings freed from the assaults and defilements of the flesh" (Delitzsch, in the place cited.). For an exceptional use of psuche in the same sense see Re 6:9; 20:4, and (irrespective of the meaning of Ps 16:10) Ac 2:27.

2. New Testament Distinctions:

(1) In the New Testament psuche appears under more or less similar conditions as in the Old Testament. The contrast here is as carefully maintained as there. It is used where pneuma would be out of place; and yet it seems at times to be employed where pneuma might have been substituted. Thus in Joh 19:30 we read: "Jesus gave up his pneuma" to the Father, and, in the same Gospel (Joh 10:15), Jesus gave up His "psuche for the sheep," and in Mt 20:28 He gave His psuche (not His pneuma) as a ransom-a difference which is characteristic. For the pneuma stands in quite a different relation to God from the psuche. The "spirit" (pneuma) is the outbreathing of God into the creature, the life-principle derived from God. The "sour" (psuche) is man's individual possession, that which distinguishes one man from another and from inanimate nature. The pneuma of Christ was surrendered to the Father in death; His psuche was surrendered, His individual life was given "a ransom for many." His life "was given for the sheep"

(2) This explains those expressions in the New Testament which bear on the salvation of the soul and its preservation in the regions of the dead. "Thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades" (the world of shades) (Ac 2:27); "Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil" (Ro 2:9); "We are.... of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul" (Heb 10:39); "Receive..... the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas 1:21).

The same or similar expressions may be met with in the Old Testament in reference to the soul. Thus in Ps 49:8, the King James Version "The redemption of their soul is precious" and again: "God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol" (Ps 49:15). Perhaps this may explain-at least this is Wendt's explanation-why even a corpse is called nephesh or soul in the Old Testament, because, in the region of the dead, the individuality is retained and, in a measure, separated from God (compare Hag 2:13; Le 21:11).

3. Oehler on Soul and Spirit:

The distinction between psuche and pneuma, or nephesh and ruach, to which reference has been made, may best be described in the words of Oehler (Old Testament Theology, I, 217): "Man is not spirit, but has it: he is soul..... In the soul, which sprang from the spirit, and exists continually through it, lies the individuality-in the case of man, his personality, his self, his ego." He draws attention to the words of Elihu in Job (33:4): ‘God's spirit made me,' the soul called into being; ‘and the breath of the Almighty animates me,' the soul kept in energy and strength, in continued existence, by the Almighty, into whose hands the inbreathed spirit is surrendered, when the soul departs or is taken from us (1Ki 19:4). Hence, according to Oehler the phrases naphshi ("my soul"), naphshekha ("thy soul") may be rendered in Latin egomet, tu ipse; but not ruchi ("my spirit"), ruchakha ("thy spirit")-soul standing for the whole person, as in Ge 12:5; 17:14; Eze 18:4, etc.

Written by J. I. Marais


Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
1 Strong's Number: g5590 Greek: psuche


denotes "the breath, the breath of life," then "the soul," in its various meanings. The NT uses "may be analyzed approximately as follows:

(a) the natural life of the body, Mat 2:20; Luk 12:22; Act 20:10; Rev 8:9; 12:11; cp. Lev 17:11; 2Sa 14:7; Est 8:11;

(b) the immaterial, invisible part of man, Mat 10:28; Act 2:27; cp. 1Ki 17:21;

(c) the disembodied (or "unclothed" or "naked," 2Cr 5:3, 4) man, Rev 6:9;

(d) the seat of personality, Luk 9:24, explained as == "own self," Luk 9:25; Hbr 6:19; 10:39; cp. Isa 53:10 with 1Ti 2:6;

(e) the seat of the sentient element in man, that by which he perceives, reflects, feels, desires, Mat 11:29; Luk 1:46; 2:35; Act 14:2, 22; cp. Psa 84:2; 139:14; Isa 26:9;

(f) the seat of will and purpose, Mat 22:37; Act 4:32; Eph 6:6; Phl 1:27; Hbr 12:3; cp. Num 21:4; Deu 11:13;

(g) the seat of appetite, Rev 18:14; cp. Psa 107:9; Pro 6:30; Isa 5:14 ("desire"); Isa 29:8;

(h) persons, individuals, Act 2:41, 43; Rom 2:9; Jam 5:20; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 2:14; cp. Gen 12:5; 14:21 ("persons"); Lev 4:2 ('any one'); Eze 27:13; of dead bodies, Num 6:6, lit., "dead soul;" and of animals, Lev 24:18, lit., "soul for soul;"

(i) the equivalent of the personal pronoun, used for emphasis and effect:

1st person, Jhn 10:24 ("us"); Hbr 10:38; cp. Gen 12:13; Num 23:10; Jdg 16:30; Psa 120:2 ("me");

2nd person, 2Cr 12:15; Hbr 13:17; Jam 1:21; 1Pe 1:9; 2:25; cp. Lev 17:11; 26:15; 1Sa 1:26;

3rd person, 1Pe 4:19; 2Pe 2:8; cp. Exd 30:12; Job 32:2, Heb. "soul," Sept. "self;"

(j) an animate creature, human or other, 1Cr 15:45; Rev 16:3; cp. Gen 1:24; 2:7, 19;

(k) "the inward man," the seat of the new life, Luk 21:19 (cp. Mat 10:39); 1Pe 2:11; 3Jo 1:2.

"With (j) compare a-psuchos, "soulless, inanimate," 1Cr 14:7.

"With (f) compare di-psuchos, "two-souled," Jam 1:8; 4:8; oligo-psuchos, "feeble-souled," 1Th 5:14; iso-psuchos, "like-souled," Phl 2:20; sum-psuchos, "joint-souled" (with one accord"), Phl 2:2.

"The language of Hbr 4:12 suggests the extreme difficulty of distinguishing between the soul and the spirit, alike in their nature and in their activities. Generally speaking the spirit is the higher, the soul the lower element. The spirit may be recognized as the life principle bestowed on man by God, the soul as the resulting life constituted in the individual, the body being the material organism animated by soul and spirit....

"Body and soul are the constituents of the man according to Mat 6:25; 10:28; Luk 12:20; Act 20:10; body and spirit according to Luk 8:55; 1Cr 5:3; 7:34; Jam 2:26. In Mat 26:38 the emotions are associated with the soul, in Jhn 13:21 with the spirit; cp. also Psa 42:11 with 1Ki 21:5. In Psa 35:9 the soul rejoices in God, in Luk 1:47 the spirit.

"Apparently, then, the relationships may be thus summed up 'Soma, body, and pneuma, spirit, may be separated, pneuma and psuche, soul, can only be distinguished' (Cremer)."*
[* From notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, pp. 205-207.]


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