Genesis 2:7 – Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. — World English Bible version
This scripture should be plain enough, and directly shows what the human soul is. We find that Yahweh formed man’s body from the elements of earth, and then blew into his nostrils the breath or spark of life, and when these two components — the body formed from dust and the spark of life from God — were combined, then the first man became a living soul. From this we can see that a living soul — the animated sentiency — is combined of these two components: the body formed from the dust and the spark of life as given by God.
Nevertheless, the introduction of the hellenistic dualistic view of man’s makeup has taken away the simplicity of the scripture, and it is through great imagination that many have tried to blend the mythological dualist view into the Bible.
It is a mistake to assume that Adam was born with sinful flesh, but this is the conclusion many have come to, simply because they add to the scriptures the idea that man has two separate “natures”: one human, which is supposedly mortal (with the claim that this means that man must die), and another, either spirit or soul, which is supposedly immortal and cannot die. Believing that Adam as a man was destined to die anyway, they refer to the death sentence upon Adam due to this disobedience as a “spiritual death”, not a physical death. Although various shades of this idea have been around probably before the time of ancient Egypt and Babylon, the Jews and early Christians adopted these ideas from the Greek philosophies and mythology. These philosophies place a great emphasis on the distinction between the physical and spiritual components of human nature.
Plato, for instance, taught that human nature consists of both a material and spiritual nature. According to him, the body is material and therefore temporary, and is itself evil in nature. He believed that the soul of man, however, is spiritual and immortal — permanent. According to this philosophy, when man dies physically, the spiritual part of man — his soul — is still alive and sentient, because it cannot die.
Others claim that there was actually two condemnations, but their logic is never taken to completion. It is claimed that Adam, due to his disobedience, was indeed condemned to die physically, but that he was also condemned to die spiritually. Thus, they would have it that the wages of sin is both eternal death physically and also eternal spiritual death; the latter they usually claim is separation from God. To pay the wages of sin in blood atonement, if the philosophy should be applied to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, would require for Jesus to remain eternally dead not only physically, but also that he be eternally separated from God; of course, we know of no “dualist” that would think of carrying the “dualist” condemnation to such a degree; indeed, most who make the claim of two condemnations not only believe that Jesus is now fully in harmony with his God, but that Jesus has been and always with be the only true God; additionally, most of these dualists claim that Jesus is now physical, that Jesus still has the physical body that the Bible says that he offered in sacrifice. We agree that sin does separate one from his Creator, and that the sinner may be reckoned as dead before physical death, but this, in itself, is not the wages of sin, as we plan to demonstrate in our study on Romans 6:23, The Wages of Sin.
But let us here study Genesis 2:7 a little, for herein lies the definition of the human soul. We should not read the Bible without thinking over what God has to tell us. “Yahweh God formed the man of dust from the ground.” Adam’s body was formed of the elements of the earth. He had eyes, ears, and a mouth, but so far no ability to see, hear or speak. Then God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Notice, the Bible does not say that God breathed into his nostrils a soul. What the Word says is that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath (Hebrew, neshâmâh, Strong’s No. 5397, wind, vital breath) of life,” the spirit or power of life. And what was the result? Do we find the insinuation that Adam had now a soul in him — a soul that cannot be destroyed? No, we find that the result of the breath of life having been breathed into Adam was that he “became a living soul.” In other words, the soul is not the body, nor is it the spirit of life, but in order to be a living soul it must possess both a body and the spirit of life. The opposite of a living soul is a dead soul, a soul that has ceased to have sentiency. Thus, in the Hebrew, the Bible speaks of dead souls, or souls that have died. Most translators, however, believing that the soul does not die, have usually rendered the Hebrew word (transliterated as nephesh, or nefesh) for soul as “body” or some other word when the Bible speaks of dead souls. — Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 5:6; Haggai 2:13.
Having become a living soul (Genesis 2:7), Adam was now able to see, hear and speak; to think, walk and work. He was now a living being able to sense and respond to his environment. Therefore the best scriptural definition of a living soul that one could give is that it is a being capable of knowing of its existence and environment — a sentient being. It may be objected that such a definition would include the lower animals. Some claim the scriptures do not teach that the lower animals are (or, as they usually put it, “have”) souls. But the Word of God DOES speak of lower animals in this way, although in the King James Version and many other translations it is somewhat obscured. When the Hebrew words nephesh hhayyah (living soul) are used with reference to the lower animals, the KJV never (except for one exception, namely, Numbers 31:28) gives the translation “soul” but always “life” or “living creature” or some other such expression. Yet in the Hebrew the expression nephesh hhayyah is also applied to humans. When this expression does occur in relation to human beings the KJV invariably translates it “soul” or “living soul.” This does reflect the hellenistic mythological dualistic influence upon their translation. An illustration of this may be seen in the first chapter of Genesis, 21. In the 21st verse we read from the KJV: “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth.” If you have a Strong’s Concordance you can see that the expression “living creature” are Strong’s words 2416 & 5315, or the Hebrew expression, nephesh hhayyah (transliterated). This expression is likewise translated as “living creature” in Genesis 1:24. In both instances, animals other than man is being spoken of. Then in the 30th verse of the same chapter we read (KJV, Genesis 1:30): “To every beast of the earth and to every fowl of the air and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth wherein there is life [Hebrew, nephesh hhayyah].” Thus these scriptures and many others not examined show that animals are living souls.
The next part of our discussion is a very important one. It is the answer to the question: Is the soul immortal? A great deal depends upon the correct answer to this question. Since the Bible tells us that some will be saved, it follows that if the soul is immortal then those not worthy of being with God would have to spend eternity somewhere. We would have to conclude that either all will ultimately attain eternal bliss with God, or some are doomed to an eternal existence of anguish, whatever may be the form of that suffering. On the other hand, if our loving heavenly Father is able to destroy the soul, he will not be restricted to the above alternatives. He will not be required to ignore the freedom of man’s will as the doctrine of “universalism” would demand, nor will he be compelled to condemn the willfully wicked to some eternal misery.
To understand the Bible’s true teaching on this subject will require some genuine thinking on God’s Word, and accepting what it teaches regardless of your personal upbringing or traditional beliefs. Many are completed surprised when they try to find a scripture that teaches that the soul never dies. They might be further surprised at the number of scriptures that speak of the soul as dying, slain, being destroyed, or “dead souls.” Yet they will not find one scripture that speaks of souls as inherently immortal. How can this be proved? It is easily proved. All you have to do is get a complete Concordance (such as Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance), look up first the word “soul”, and every word that means “soul”, and then the word “immortal”, and every word that means “immortal”, and you will find that there is not a single verse from Genesis to Revelation which states that the soul is immortal. Even better yet, take a Hebrew concordance, (such as The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament) and a Greek concordance, (such ( as The Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament), and look up Strong’s Hebrew No. #5315 nephesh (Hebrew word from which the word “soul” is translated) and Strong’s Greek No. 5590 psukee (Greek word from which the word “soul” is translated) and see how the Bible speaks of dead souls and that the soul dies (Numbers 6:6; 9:13; Mark 14:34; etc.); the soul can be cut off (Exodus 31:14; Leviticus 7:21; 19:8; 22:3; Acts 3:23; etc.); the soul can be destroyed (Leviticus 23:30; Matthew 10:28); but not once does it say the soul is immortal or that it continues to have sentient life after death.
It has been claimed by some that the Hebrew word neshamah, translated “breath” in most translations of Genesis 2:7, corresponds with pneuma of the New Testament Scriptures, that it is the immortal soul common to all human beings, that it is immortal and does not apply to lower animals. It is further claimed that nephesh, translated “soul” in most translations of Genesis 2:7, corresponds with psuche (or psyche) of the New Testament scriptures, that it applies to all living creatures, animal and human. It is claimed that the neshamah is immortal and cannot die while the nephesh is not immortal.
What do the scriptures themselves indicate? Is neshamah only used of humans? Is it immortal? Is it an entity that continues to live after the death of the body?
The first of occurrence of this word in the Bible is at Genesis 2:7, and in this scripture we can see its meaning: “And Jehovah Elohim formed Man, dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [neshamah] of life ; and Man became a living soul [nephesh].” (Genesis 2:7, Darby) We learn here that the neshamah — breath or force of life — is not the nephesh [soul], but that it is a component of the nephesh. Two elements make up the nephesh as described in our text. The body (from the dust) + neshamah (force of life from God) = living nephesh. God was not placing an immortal entity in the dust from the earth, but he was supplying the energy or force that causes sentiency — a living soul.
Its next occurrence is in Genesis 7:21,22: “And all flesh that moved on the earth expired, fowl as well as cattle, and beasts, and all crawling things which crawl on the earth, and all mankind: everything which had in its nostrils the breath of life [neshamah], of all that was on the dry [land], died.” Here we find that neshamah is applied to lower animals, so that if it is an immortal entity that continues to live after death, we would have to believe that the lower animals also possess such immortality.
That the Hebrew word neshamah is used in the sense of force or power, especially as the force from God, can be seen from its usuage in the following scriptures: 2 Samuel 22:14-16; Job 4:9; 37:10; Isaiah 30:33. This word (neshamah – Strong’s #5397) is often used in connection with and interchangeably with the Hebrew word ruach (spirit – Strong’s 7307): Genesis 6:3,17; 7:15;22; Job 27:3-5; 34:14,15; Isaiah 42:5. It is this life-force, represented in the Hebrew words neshamah and ruach, that returns to God who gave it, when the nephesh no longer lives, both for animals and humans. The fact that the scriptures says it “returns” to God shows that it is not a living entity, else we would have to say it was a living entity when God gave it, thus that it was a alive before becoming human. — Genesis 7:22; Deuteronomy 20:16; Joshua 10:40; 11:11,14; 1 Kings 15:29; 17:17; Job 34:14,15; Psalm 104:29; 146:3,4; Ecclesiastes 3:18-22; 12:7. — See our study on “The Spirit – Does it Continue as a Consciousness When A Person is Dead?“
Never is the neshamah spoken of in the Bible as a living entity that continues to live after the body dies, or that it possesses immortality — a sentiency that cannot die. The idea has to be read into the scriptures.
For a complete listing of how these words are used in the Bible and how they are translated in the KJV, see Englishman’s Hebrew/Greek Concordances.
or see online:
The Occurrences of Neshamah (Breath)
(Appendix 16 from The Companion Bible)
The Use of Nephesh in the Old Testament
(Appendix 13 from The Companion Bible)