Soul

The Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as ‘soul’ in our Bibles are also translated many times as ‘life’ or ‘person’ or ‘anyone’ or ‘creature’. The word that is used depends very much on the Bible translation. For example, in Leviticus 4:2, the KJV has ’If a soul sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD …’, while the ESV has ‘If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’s commandments …’.

In Heberw, the word is nephesh and means a living being. It can also apply to animals. See, for example, Genesis 1:24; 2:19; Lev 11:46.

Sometimes the word ‘soul’ might appear to refer to our inner feelings. For example, in Deuteronomy 6:5, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.’ However, it is likely that we are reading the idea into the text because of our modern understanding of the English word “soul”. More likely, the Hebrew meant to love God with “mind, body and strength”. (In ancient Hebrew, the heart was the place of thinking.)

Interestingly, the term ‘immortal soul’ does not occur anywhere in the Bible. In fact it says in Ezekiel 18:4 that the soul is mortal — ‘The soul who sins shall die’. Nor does the Bible ever suggest that we have a soul that can exist apart from the body.

Spirit

The words that are translated as ‘spirit’ are also translated many times (in the Old Testament) as breath or wind. For example in Genesis 6:3, the LORD says, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh’, and in verse 17, ’I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life.’ The same Hebrew word is translated spirit in one case and breath in the other. Such verses are teaching that it is God’s Spirit or breath that keeps us alive. What happens at death is described in Ecclesiastes 12:7 — ‘The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it’.

However, Genesis 2:21-22 says that the animals that died in the flood had possessed the breath of life (or spirit). Similarly, Psalm 104:29-30 is describing God’s relationship with animals and says

When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. (Ps 104:29-30)

So the same “breath of life” or spirit that keeps us alive, keeps animals alive.

The relationship between soul (or creature) and spirit (or breath of life) is clearly shown in Genesis 2:7

The LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature.

Thus the soul is the whole living person or animal, and the spirit is the breath of life that keeps each person or animal alive.

Linguist Dr Joel Hoffman provides a good discussion of the meaning of “soul” and the underlying Greek and Hebrew words on his blog.

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  • Kim Green

    So, are you saying animals do not have nephesh??? Research some more, genius. They do have nephesh!!! Not a Hebrew scholar are you?

    • Rob J Hyndman

      You are correct. Unfortunately, the author of this answer died a few weeks ago and so is unable to respond to your comments. However, I have updated his answer to be more accurate.

  • Gabriel Collado

    Amen. indeed he is correct. however he is wrong where he says that the same breath of life that keeps us alive is what keeps animals alive. remember that we can have a direct connection with God and a relationship with him because we possess a spirit. God blew the breath of life into man. However he did not to animals. he simply created them with a command. remember that animals don’t go to heaven. they just simply cease to exist.

    • Patricia Arquette

      FINALLY!!! I found someone who does know their Bible. I argue this on many sites. Animals have souls but NOT a spirit that is accountable to God. Jesus died a horrendous death for mans’ sins that brought sin to the earth and animals are effected as well. But animals have no moral conscience and exist by instinct and conditioning. They have no knowledge of a creator to pray to or to ask repentance. Man is only creature Bible says was formed by God all other creation was spoken into being. THere is no reason or Bible teaching our pets go to heaven OR if they are crazed and wanton, vicious that they go to Hell. Heaven and Hell pertain to man and man alone. THe animlas in Isaiah 11:6-9 pertain to paradise restored on earth as God intended in the Garden of Eden. The Horse in heaven is the White War Stallion Jesus will return as the Lion of Judah to war with the nations that have rejected His Kingdom. He rode a donkey as a servant of man to die as the sacrificial lamb. He will return on a White Stallion to set things straight. Animals won’t fear his coming…Mankind will if not on the Side of righteousness.

  • Christine van Duuren

    Hey Gabriel. If you have read the bible you will read in a few verses that animals have a spirit and they go to heaven.

    ECCLESIASTES 3
    18 “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [b] ; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal [c] goes down into the earth?”
    22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?

    PSALM 145

    9-10,13,15-21 God loves all His creation and has made plans for all His children and the lesser creatures to enjoy His eternal Kingdom.

    ROMANS 8

    21-22 “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now”

    ECCLESIASTES 12

    7 ‘The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it’.