corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

SOUL.—In every act of thinking, a distinction exists between the thinker and his thought, or, as it is otherwise expressed, between the self and the not-self, the ego and the non-ego, the thinking subject and the object of thought. This ego, self, or thinking subject, is denominated the soul (ψυχή, נֶפֶשׁ, נְשִׁמָה), or spirit (πνεῦμα, דוּחַ; see Spirit); often also, both in the OT and NT, the heart (καρδία, לֵב, לֵבָב; see Heart). In the OT the soul is sometimes confused with the blood or with some important physical organ, but in the NT it is clearly distinguished from the body as an immaterial principle, the seat of conscious personality, and essentially immortal (Matthew 10:28 etc.; see Immortality). There was much speculation in our Lord’s time, and had been for some two centuries, on the mysterious questions of the soul’s origin and destiny. Some, following Plato and Philo, believed in its eternal pre-existence (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 8:19 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ); others (mainly orthodox Rabbis) in its creation at the creation of the world (cf. 2 Esdras 4:35 ff.); others in its premundane creation (Slavonic Enoch 23:5); others (perhaps the majority) in its concreation with the body, which is apparently the doctrine of the OT (Isaiah 44:2; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 49:5, Job 31:15). A few supported the Platonic speculation of metempsychosis (so apparently Josephus; see BJ iii. viii. 5). The disciples of Jesus were aware of these discussions, and on one occasion asked Him whether a certain man had been born blind as a penalty for sins committed by him in a previous state of existence. It is a significant illustration of the economy of revelation that Jesus avoided entering upon the discussion (John 9:2).† [Note: The Creationist view of the soul’s origin was held by all Jews in our Lord’s time. The Traducianist hypothesis first appears in Tertullian (a.d. 200).]

1. The use of ψυχή in the Gospels.—In the Pauline Epistles, as is well known, there is frequently a decided difference of meaning between ψυχή and πνεῦμα. There ψυχή is used for the principle of life of the natural man, while πνεῦμα, is the principle of supernatural life which manifests itself in the regenerate Christian. Hence the derivative ψυχικός (literally ‘soulish’) comes to be used in a depreciatory, and even in a bad sense (1 Corinthians 12:14; 1 Corinthians 15:44, James 3:15, Judges 1:19). But in the Gospels there is no such distinction of usage. As applied to the human soul, ψυχή and πνεῦμα are synonyms throughout the range of their meaning. Thus in the sense of natural life, we have Mark 3:4, cf. John 13:37 (ψυχή); and Matthew 27:50, cf. Luke 23:46, John 19:30 (πνεῦμα). (For the lower sense of πνεῦμα, cf. also Mark 8:12, Luke 8:55; Luke 24:37; Luke 24:39, John 11:33; John 13:21). ψυχή, as well as πνεῦμα, is used quite normally for the soul in its highest religious activities (see, e.g., Luke 1:46, where the identity of ψυχή and πνεῦμα is especially apparent; Matthew 11:29; Matthew 22:37, ||; cf. 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 4:19, 2 Peter 2:8 etc.; and even in the Pauline Epp. see 2 Corinthians 1:23, Ephesians 6:8, Philippians 1:27; cf. Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 13:17). In one passage (John 10:24) ψυχή seems even to stand for the rational or deliberating faculty (λόγος, νοῦς). There is, however, between ψυχή and πνεῦμα, as used in the Gospels, one slight distinction. ψυχή emphasizes more strongly than πνεῦμα the idea of individual personality. Hence ψυχαί (not πνεύματα) is used for ‘individuals’ or ‘persons’ (Acts 27:37, 1 Peter 3:20); and it is usual to speak of the salvation or loss of the ψυχή rather than of the πνεῦμα (Matthew 6:25; Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25-26, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33; Luke 21:19, John 12:25, Hebrews 10:39, James 1:21; James 5:20, 1 Peter 1:9). Yet the salvation of the πνεῦμα is alluded to (1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:23). πνεῦμα, however, is not by any means a strictly impersonal term (see Matthew 5:16, Hebrews 1:14). It is used like ψυχή to denote a disembodied soul (Luke 24:37; Luke 24:39, Hebrews 12:23, 1 Peter 3:18, Revelation 6:9; Revelation 20:4). In Matthew 12:18 (a quotation from Isaiah 42:1) God is said to possess a ψυχή. In John 4:24 He is said to be spirit (πνεῦμα).

The following particular statements about the soul (ψυχή) are made in the Gospels. As the principle of physical life it is sustained by food (Matthew 6:25); as the organ of spiritual life it ‘magnifies the Lord’ (Luke 1:46). It is capable of physical and sensuous pleasure (Luke 12:19), also of spiritual rest and refreshment (Matthew 11:29). It can suffer acute sorrow (Luke 2:35) and anxiety (John 10:24). It can grieve (Matthew 26:38) and love (Matthew 22:37). It can be lost and saved (Matthew 10:39 etc.). At death it is yielded up (John 10:11; John 10:15; John 12:21), but survives as a personal self-conscious being (Matthew 10:39 etc.).* [Note: It follows from this, that in the view of Jesus and the Twelve, the ψυχή and τνεῦμα of man are not distinct principles or entities, as, according to some, St. Paul affirms in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, cf. Hebrews 4:12. The language of the Gospels makes decisively for the unity of the soul, and for a dichotomy of man (body and soul), not for a trichotomy (body, soul, and spirit).] See, further, Spirit.

2. Christ’s teaching about the soul.—According to Jesus, the soul, being a man’s inmost self, the seat of his self-conscious personality, and inherently immortal (Matthew 10:28), is precious beyond all price. Nothing can be accepted in exchange for it, and the gain of the whole world will not compensate for its loss (Matthew 16:26). Jesus drives home this truth in the parable of the Rich Fool, who said to his soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry’; and whom God rebuked with the awful words, ‘Thou fool, this night they (i.e. the ministers of my vengeance) require of thee thy soul’ (Luke 12:18-21). Much is said in the Gospels about the gain or loss of the soul, generally with a play upon the double meaning of ψυχή (‘life’ or ‘soul’). Most of these passages take the form of exhortations to martyrdom, as, for instance, Matthew 10:39 ‘He that findeth his soul (i.e. he that saves his life by denying me in time of persecution), shall lose it (by eternal punishment in Gehenna); and he that loseth his soul for my sake (i.e. he who confesses me in time of persecution, and suffers a martyr’s death), shall find it (in heaven)’; (see also Matthew 16:25, Luke 17:33, John 12:35). All these passages refer primarily to martyrdom, but in their secondary applications teach that even lesser sufferings and trials endured patiently for Christ’s sake have as their reward the salvation of the soul (Matthew 10:38). The same idea is expressed in Luke 14:26, where the strange phrase ‘to hate the soul’ is a rhetorical expression for willingness to suffer martyrdom or any lesser inconvenience for Jesus’ sake (cf. also John 12:25). The gain or salvation of the soul means certainly its eternal happiness in heaven, and the loss or destruction of the soul, as certainly, not its annihilation, but its eternal punishment in Gehenna. The endlessness of the soul’s final retribution is not simply an inference from the soul’s immortality, but is exegetically established from Matthew 25:46 etc. According to the conceptions represented in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, retribution does not wait till the Last Day, but begins as soon as the soul leaves the body. At death the disembodied soul passes to a ‘middle state’ (Hades), where, if righteous, it experiences rest and refreshment in ‘Abraham’s bosom,’ or ‘Paradise’; or, if unrighteous, expiatory punishment (symbolized as a tormenting flame) in a limbus or ‘prison,’ which is separated by an impassable barrier from the abodes of the righteous. The disembodied souls are represented as conscious and intelligent, able to converse with one another, and interested in the welfare of their friends upon earth (Luke 16:19; Luke 23:43, 1 Peter 3:18, Revelation 6:9).

The most important question about the intermediate state is whether spiritual change is possible in it. The point has been keenly debated, but the affirmative opinion seems to have the better exegetical support. For (1) the NT represents not death, but the Second Advent, as the time when the soul will render its final account to God. Presumably; therefore, the middle state is included in the period of probation. (2) Christ appears to the present writer to teach that some sins may be forgiven after death (Matthew 12:32); and at least to hint that even grievous sinners may be released from torments, after adequately expiating their crimes (Matthew 5:26). (3) The torments of Dives seem to nave been remedial in effect, causing him for the first time to interest himself in the spiritual welfare of others (Luke 16:27). (4) The descent of Christ into Hades, and His preaching to the disobedient spirits there (1 Peter 3:18), plainly presuppose the possibility of repentance after death.’* [Note: the striking words of Clement of Alexandria: ‘The Apostles, following the Lord, preached the gospel to those in Hades.… [God’s] punishments [in Hades) are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of a sinner.… Did not the same dispensation obtain in Hades, so that even there, all the souls, on hearing the preaching, might either exhibit repentance, or confess that their punishment was just because they believed not?’ (Strom. vi. 6). See also the Shepherd of Hermas, Simil. ix. 16: ‘These Apostles and teachers, having fallen asleep, preached also to those who had fallen asleep before them, and themselves gave the seal of their preaching.’]

At the Last Day, according to Jesus, there will be a bodily resurrection of all men, followed by a final judgment, and a final settlement of the destiny of each soul (Matthew 25:31-46). The resurrection of the wicked is clearly taught in Matthew 10:28, John 5:29. See, further, Resurrection of the Dead, Eschatology, Abraham ($ ‘Abraham’s bosom’), Paradise, Hell [Descent into].

Jesus claimed to stand in the same relation to human souls as God Himself; and as the Lord of souls issued the universal invitation, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden … and ye shall find rest unto your souls’ (Matthew 11:28-29). He also declared that His special object in coming into the world was to save souls (Luke 9:56) by laying down His own soul as a ransom (John 10:11; John 10:15; John 17:3).

3. The soul of Jesus.—If Jesus was perfect man, it follows that He must have possessed not only a human body, but also a human soul and a human spirit; and this is, in fact, the doctrine of the Gospels and of the NT generally. Thus He came to give His soul (ψυχήν) a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28 ||). After the interview with the Greeks (John 12:27), His soul (ψυχή) was troubled, and He doubted what to say. In Gethsemane His soul was exceeding sorrowful (περίλυπός ἐστιν ἡ ψυχή μου, Matthew 26:38 ||). There are similar references to His human spirit. He groaned (or was angry) in spirit (ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι, John 11:33); and was troubled in spirit (ἐταράχθη τῷ πνεύματι, John 13:21). On the cross He commended His spirit to God (παρατὶθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου, Luke 23:46), and yielded up His spirit (ἀφῆκε τὸ πνεῦμα, Matthew 27:50; παρέδωκε τὸ πνεῦμα, John 19:30). After death, His Divine Personality, still in hypostatic (i.e. personal) union with His disembodied human spirit, descended to Hades, and there preached to the disobedient spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18, cf. Ephesians 4:9); visiting also, we infer from Luke 23:43, that compartment of Hades which is reserved for the spirits of the just. It is obvious from these and other passages, that the view of Apollinaris that Christ did not possess a human soul,* [Note: Apollinaris admitted that Jesus possessed the lower or animal soul (ψυχὴ ἄλογος), but denied to Him the distinctively human or rational soul (ψυχὴ λογική).] but that the Divine Logos took its place, is not Scriptural. The soul and spirit of Jesus were subject to human weakness and infirmity, and were therefore human, not Divine.

But the rejection of Apollinarism, and the adoption of the view that Christ possessed a perfect human soul, involves a great psychological difficulty. A perfect human soul is personal, and therefore, if Christ was perfect God and perfect man, it seems to follow that He must have been two persons, as Nestorius thought, or was supposed to think. This difficulty has never yet received a full solution. The solution of the ancient Church was that the human nature of the incarnate Christ was impersonal. The human ψυχή of Christ, which, under normal conditions, would have developed independent personality, was prevented, owing to its hypostatic union with the Logos, from doing so. It attained personality, not in itself, but in the Divine Logos with which it was united; and hence, though Christ possessed a true human ψυχή, His personality was single, being seated entirely in the Divine Nature. The Patristic view is open to criticism on several grounds, but it still holds the field as the best attempt to reconcile the two apparently conflicting principles of Scripture, that Christ is perfect God and perfect man, and yet only one Person.† [Note: The details of the question are in the highest degree intricate, and cannot be entered upon here. The reader may consult Dorner, Person of Christ, ii. i. 116 ff., 152 ff., 201 ff., 266 ff., for an acute criticism of the Patristic view. See also Ottley, Incarnation, pt. vii. 1. 4, 2. 2.]

4. The human will of Jesus.—Jesus, as possessing a human soul, possessed also a human will, for volition is one of the most characteristic activities of the soul. The Gospels regard Jesus as endowed with a human will, which, though in the end always conforming itself to the Divine will, yet did so sometimes at the cost of an inward struggle. Thus in the Agony in the Garden, Jesus prays (Luke 22:42), ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done’ (πλὴν μὴ τὸ θέλημά μου, ἀλλὰ τὸ σὸν γινέσθω). The distinction of wills is evident also in John 5:30 (cf. John 6:38) ‘I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.’ It is thus the teaching of Scripture that there are two wills in Christ, a Divine and a human, and that these two wills are united in one Person. The reconciliation of the two different points of view (duality of will, and unity of Person) is not easy. According to modern ideas, the faculty of willing is so essentially a function of personality, that it seems necessary to postulate two egos where there are two wills. The ancients, however, did not connect willing with personality so closely as we do; and, moreover, ‘will’ is too strong a term to translate their θέλημα (voluntas). θέλημα, it is true, in its stronger sense, approaches the meaning of ‘will,’ but more often it bears the weaker sense of ‘wish,’ ‘liking,’ ‘inclination,’ ‘propension.’ The true Greek term for will in our sense is γνώμη, or more definitely προαίρεσις, or still more definitely αὐτεξουσιότης, or αὑτεξούσιον (self-determination). It is clearly in the weaker sense of ‘inclination’ that θέλημα is used in the Gospels, and it is probably in the same sense that Dyothelitism was declared by the Sixth General Council (a.d. 680) to be the doctrine of the Church.‡ [Note: On the Monothelite and Dyothelite question see Dorner, op. cit. ii. i. 155 ff. The last word (even from the strictly orthodox point of view) has not yet been said upon this difficult subject.]

See also art. Incarnation in vol. i., esp, p. 812 f.

Literature.—M. F. Roos, Fundamenta Psychologiœ ex sacra Scriptura collecta (brief, but valuable); J. T. Beck, Umriss der bibl. Seelenlehre [English translation 1877]; Böttcher, de Inferis (a storehouse of Biblical and Rabbinical material); Olshausen, de Nat. Human. Trichotomia (in Opusc. Theol.); von Rudloff, Die Lehre vom Menschen; Franz Delitzsch, Syst. d. bibl. Psychol. [English translation 1867] (learned, but fanciful); J. Laidlaw, The Bible Doctrine of Man; J. B. Heard, The Tripartite Nature of Man; W. P. Dickson, St. Paul’s Use of Flesh and Spirit (contains short bibliography); Ellicott, ‘The Threefold Nature of Man,’ in The Destiny of the Creature; W. R. Alger, Destiny of the Soul (contains exhaustive bibliography by Ezra Abbot); R. H. Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life; Salmond, Christian Doctrine of Immortality; F. W. H. Myers, Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death; Piat, Destinée de l’homme; Welldon, The Hope of Immortality; Martineau, Study of Religion, bk. 4; Mason, Purgatory; Plumptre, Spirits in Prison; Luckock, After Death; Pusey, What is of faith as to Everlasting Punishment?; C. Harris, pro Fide, c. [Note: circa, about.] xv.; A. Westphal, Chair et Esprit; Lüdemann, Die Anthropologie des ap. Paulus; art. ‘Psychology’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ; art. ‘Geist’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; artt. ‘Soul,’ ‘Eschatology,’ ‘Immortality of the Soul’ in JE [Note: E Jewish Encyclopedia.] ; art. ‘Eschatology’ in EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] ; consult also OT Theologies of Schultz, Smend, Oehler; and the NT Theologies of Schmid, van Oosterzee, B. Weiss, Holtzmann.

C. Harris.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Soul'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, February 28th, 2020
the Last Week after Epiphany
There are 44 days til Easter!
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

Prev Entry
Next Entry
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology