What is the "soul"?
Is the soul talked about in the Bible an immortal part of human beings...or is it something else entirely?
The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, repeatedly makes reference to the "soul." Mainstream Christianity generally teaches that this soul is an immortal component of human beings; that upon our death, it is released from our bodies to spend eternity in either eternal bliss or eternal torment, depending on our conduct in this life. But a closer examination of the word shows that this is not the case.
The only Hebrew word translated as "soul" in the Old Testament, nephesh, is also translated elsewhere as "creature" or "being." All three words are synonymous, whether we look at God's creation of "an abundance of living creatures [nephesh]" in the sea (Genesis 1:20) or that "man became a living being [nephesh]" (Genesis 2:7) or read God's declaration that "the soul [nephesh] who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4).
That last verse is key to understanding the concept of a soul. If the soul is immortal, it would be impossible to say that sinning would produce death. Rather, if mainstream Christianity were correct in its doctrine of hell, Ezekiel 18:4 would have to say, "the soul who sins shall be condemned to eternal torment." But it, along with the apostle Paul in Romans 6:23, plainly states that the penalty of sin is death, not never-ending fiery torment in hell.
Given that the soul is capable of death, and taking into consideration the fact that the word translated "soul" is used in reference to all sorts of living creatures, we can only conclude that the soul talked about in the Bible is a living being itself—not an eternal component of mankind.
For further explanation of the soul, including a look at instances of the word in the New Testament and information about the "spirit in man" (Job 32:8), please see the related resources below.
Related Online ResourcesWhat Does the Bible Say About the "Immortal Soul"?
Many people think the Bible says we have an immortal soul destined, at death, for heaven, hell or purgatory. What does the Bible say?
The Biblical Truth About the Immortal Soul
Ideas about us going to heaven or hell hinge on belief in the immortal soul, which must go somewhere when the body dies. Yet the Bible nowhere teaches the soul is immortal. So where did the idea originate?
Video: The Myth of the Immortal Soul
What if I told you that at death you have no thoughts, no memory, no knowledge of anything beyond the grave? Would you believe me?
The Spirit in Man
The apostle Paul asked, "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?" (1 Corinthians 2:11). What is this "spirit in man"? Is it immortal?
The Mystery of Death from the booklet What Happens After Death?
Death is one of life's greatest mysteries. Do we really die, or do we have a soul that lives on apart from the body? Many are confused about this, and this has led to great misunderstandings about death. Does the Bible provide answers?