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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
• Nave's Topical Bible
• Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
Ransom for soul
Soul or life
• Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
• International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Greek - soul, souls
Hebrew - soul, soul's, souls
Hebrew - soul
Hebrew - soul
Hebrew - soul

The vital existence of a human being. The Hebrew word nephesh is a key Old Testament term (755 times) referring to human beings. In the New Testament, the term psyche retreats behind the ideas of body, flesh, spirit to characterize human existence. In the Bible, a person is a unity. Body and soul or spirit are not opposite terms, but rather terms which supplement one another to describe aspects of the inseparable whole person. See Anthropology; Humanity.

Such a holistic image of a person is maintained also in the New Testament even over against the Greek culture which, since Plato, sharply separated body and soul with an analytic exactness and which saw the soul as the valuable, immortal, undying part of human beings. In the Old Testament, the use and variety of the word is much greater while in the New Testament its theological meaning appears much stronger.

The soul designates the physical life. Vitality in all of its breadth and width of meaning is meant by the soul. The basic meaning of nephesh is throat. Thus, the Bible refers to the hungry, thirsty, satisfied, soul (Psalms 107:5,Psalms 107:9; Proverbs 27:7; Jeremiah 31:12,Jeremiah 31:25). The soul means the entire human being in its physical life needing food and clothing (Matthew 6:25). The breathing organs and the breath blown out from them also express individual life in animals as well as human beings (Job 11:20; Job 41:21; Acts 20:10). At times, then, soul can be interchanged with life (Proverbs 7:23; Proverbs 8:35-36) and can be identical with blood (Deuteronomy 12:23). A person does not have a soul. A person is a living soul (Genesis 2:7). That means a living being that owes life itself to the Creator just as does the animal (Genesis 2:19). For this life or soul, one gives all one has (Job 2:4). Satan is permitted by God to take health, that is flesh and blood, but Satan cannot take the bare life of a person (Job 2:5-6).

Soul designates the feelings, the wishes, and the will of humans. The work of the throat, its hunger and appetite, stands for the desire and the longing of the human being after power and sex, after satisfaction, and after even the evil (Proverbs 21:10), but also after God (Psalms 42:2-3). The soul can be incited, embittered, confirmed, unsettled, or kept in suspense (Acts 14:2,Acts 14:22; Acts 15:24; John 10:24). The word mirrors the entire scale of feelings under the influence of the human being, even the psychological. The bitter soul of the childless, the sick, or the threatened (1 Samuel 1:10; 2 Kings 4:27; 2 Samuel 17:8) reminds us of the nephesh as the organ of taste that also stands for the entire embittered person.

The soul also knows positive emotions. The soul rejoices, praises, hopes, and is patient. Never in these cases is only one part of the human being meant. It is always the powerful soul as an expression of the entire personality (Psalms 33:20). In the command to love (Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:30), the soul stands next to other expressions for the human being to emphasize the emotional energy and willpower of the human being all rolled into one.

The soul designates the human person. Soul is not only a synonym with life. One can also speak of the life of the soul (Proverbs 3:22). Every human soul (Acts 2:43; Romans 2:9) means each individual person. The popular expression used today “to save our souls” goes back to this biblical way of thinking (1 Peter 3:20). It means to save the entire person. In legal texts, the soul is the individual person with juristic responsibilities (Leviticus 17:10, a blood-eating soul). Connected with a figure showing statistics or numbers of people, soul becomes an idea in the arena of the statistician (Genesis 46:26-27; Acts 2:41). At times, soul simply replaces a preposition such as the expression “let my soul live,” which means “let me live” (1 Kings 20:32). It is even possible for all the nuances of meaning to sound forth together in the same expression. For instance, in Psalms 103:1, we read, “Bless, Yahweh, O my soul.” This includes the throat as the organ of life, the soul as the totality of capabilities; my own personal life which experiences the saving actions of Yahweh our God; my person; my own “I”; and the vital, emotional self.

Soul designates the essential life. Physical life is given and maintained by God (Matthew 6:25-34). Meaningful and fulfilled life comes only when it is free to give itself to God as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Life is the highest good when it is lived according to God's intentions and not used up in search for material and cultural goods (Mark 8:34-37). This life is stronger than death and cannot be destroyed by human beings (Matthew 10:28). The soul does not, however, represent a divine, immortal, undying part of the human being after death as the Greeks often thought. Paul, thus, avoids the word soul in connection with eternal life. There is a continuity between the earthly and the resurrected life that does not lie in the capabilities or nature of mortal humans. It lies alone in the power of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 15:44). According to the Bible, a human being exists as a whole unit and remains also as a whole person in the hand of God after death. A person is not at any time viewed as a bodiless soul.

Christian Wolf

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'SOUL'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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