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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Soul

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The Old Testament . The Hebrew word so rendered is nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ]. It appears 755 times in the Old Testament. The King James Version uses 42 different English terms to translate it. The two most common renderings are "soul" (428 times) and "life" (117 times). It is the synchronic use of nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] that determines its meaning rather than the diachronic. Hebrew is inclined to use one and the same word for a variety of functions that are labeled with distinct words in English.

Nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] in the Old Testament is never the "immortal soul" but simply the life principle or living being. Such is observable in Genesis 1:20,21 , 24 , where the qualified (living) nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] refers to animals and is rendered "living creatures." The same Hebrew term is then applied to the creation of humankind in Genesis 2:7 , where dust is vitalized by the breath of God and becomes a "living being." Thus, human being shares soul with the animals. It is the breath of God that makes the lifeless dust a "living being"—person.

Frequently in the Old Testament nepes [ Leviticus 17:10 ; 23:30 ). In its plural form it indicates a number of individuals such as Abraham's party (Genesis 12:5 ), the remnant left behind in Judah (Jeremiah 43:6 ), and the offspring of Leah (Genesis 46:15 ).

Nepes [ Numbers 6:6 ). More significant here is that nepes [ Numbers 5:2 ; 6:11 ). Here nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] is detached from the concept of life and refers to the corpse. Hebrew thought could not conceive of a disembodied nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ].

Frequently nepes [ Psalm 54:4 ; Proverbs 18:7 ). Admittedly this movement from the nominal to the pronominal is without an exact borderline. The Revised Standard Version reflects the above understanding of nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] by replacing the King James Version "soul" with such translations as "being, " "one, " "self, " "I/me."

Nepes [ Isaiah 5:14 ; Habakkuk 2:5 ), noting that it can be parched and dry (Numbers 11:6 ; Jeremiah 31:12,25 ), discerning (Proverbs 16:23 ), hungry (Numbers 21:5 ), and breathing (Jeremiah 2:24 ). Nepes [ 1 Samuel 28:9 ; Psalm 105:18 ), humbled and endangered (Proverbs 18:7 ), and bowed to the ground (Psalm 44:25 ). Even while focusing on a single part of the body, by synecodoche the whole person is represented.

Nepes [ Deuteronomy 12:20 ; 1 Samuel 2:16 ) and thirst (Proverbs 25:25 ). It can be used of excessive desires (gluttony Proverbs 23:2 ) and of unfulfilled desires (barrenness 1 Samuel 1:15 ). Volitional/spiritual yearning is also assigned to nepes [ Psalm 42:1-2 ), justice (Isaiah 26:8-9 ), evil (Proverbs 21:10 ), and political power (2 Samuel 3:21 ). Emotions are expressed by nepes [ Isaiah 1:14 ), grief (Jeremiah 13:17 ), joy and exultation, disquietude (Psalm 42:5 ), and unhappiness (1 Samuel 1:15 ).

Clearly, then, in the Old Testament a mortal is a living soul rather than having a soul. Instead of splitting a person into two or three parts, Hebrew thought sees a unified being, but one that is profoundly complex, a psychophysical being.

The New Testament . The counterpart to nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] in the New Testament is psyche [ ψυχή ] (nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] is translated as psyche [ ψυχή ] six hundred times in the Septaugint). Compared to nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] in the Old Testament, psyche [ ψυχή ] appears relatively infrequently in the New Testament. This may be due to the fact that nepes [ נֶפֶשׁ ] is used extensively in poetic literature, which is more prevalent in the Old Testament than the New Testament. The Pauline Epistles concentrate more on soma [ σῶμα ] (body) and pneuma [ πνεῦμα ] (spirit) than psyche [ ψυχή ].

This word has a range of meanings similar to nepes [ John 13:37 ; Acts 15:26 ; Romans 16:4 ; Philippians 2:30 ), give his life (Matthew 20:28 ), lay down his life (John 10:15,17-18 ), forfeit his life (Matthew 16:26 ), hate his life (Luke 14:26 ), and have his life demanded of him (Luke 12:20 ).

Psyche , as its Old Testament counterpart, can indicate the person (Acts 2:41 ; 27:37 ). It also serves as the reflexive pronoun designating the self ("I'll say to myself" Luke 12:19 ; "as my witness" 2 Corinthians 1:23 ; "share our lives" 1 Thessalonians 2:8 ).

Psyche can express emotions such as grief ( Matthew 26:38 , ; Mark 14:34 ), anguish (John 12:27 ), exultation (Luke 1:46 ), and pleasure (Matthew 12:18 ).

The adjectival form "soulish" indicates a person governed by the sensuous nature with subjection to appetite and passion. Such a person is "natural/unspiritual" and cannot receive the gifts of God's Spirit because they make no sense to him (1 Corinthians 2:14-15 ). As in the Old Testament, the soul relates humans to the animal world (1 Corinthians 15:42-50 ) while it is the spirit of people that allows a dynamic relationship with God.

There are passages where psyche [ Matthew 10:28 ). While Scripture generally addresses humans as unitary beings, there are such passages that seem to allow divisibility within unity.

Carl Schultz

See also Person, Personhood ; Spirit

Bibliography . W. Dryness, Themes in Old Testament Theology ; R. H. Gundry, Somma in Biblical Theology ; R. Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms ; N. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament ; H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament .


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Soul'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bed/s/soul.html. 1996.

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