In our last message, we had been studying the meaning of the words “spirit” and “soul” as they are used in Scripture. To do this, merely looking at all the occurrences of these words in our English Bibles is not enough. Many times, our translators have hidden the truth concerning these words, and what the Lord means when He uses them, by translating the Hebrew and Greek words by different words when their usage doesn’t fit the modern conception of what these words mean. To get God’s truth, rather than man’s re-written truth, we must examine the original Hebrew words that are translated “spirit” and “soul.”
The Hebrew word for “spirit” is ruach. In our last message, we examined all the occurrences of ruach, and established the different meanings that this word has in the book of Genesis. We discovered the following four meanings of the word “spirit” in the book of Genesis:
1. An aspect of God, the “Spirit of God,” “God is Spirit.”
2. An aspect of man that means he is alive, and is connected with his breath.
3. The wind.
4. The mind, thoughts, and opinions of men.
Now, to continue this study, we move on to an examination of the word “soul” in Genesis. This word is actually used far more often in Genesis, and so even an examination of all the uses of the word in this book will get quite lengthy. Let us start off examining the first few occurrences, though, and then move on from there.
The Hebrew word for “soul” is nephesh, and this word occurs 753 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word psuche occurs 105 times. There can be no doubt that these are the Biblical words for “soul,” and so an examination of them would reveal to us the completeness of God’s teaching upon the subject of this important aspect of man. The first occurrence of nephesh is in Genesis 1:20.
Genesis 1:20. Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”
Here, the word “living” might best be translated “that have soul life,” for both the word for “soul,” nephesh, and a word for life, chay, occur here. So in its first occurrence, “soul,” nephesh, is connected with “life,” or at least with a certain kind of life. Notice that here it is the sea creatures have soul life. Therefore, from its very first occurrence, we can conclude that it is an absolute falsehood to suggest that only men have the aspect of soul. Sea creatures have soul life here just as much as men do.
Genesis 1:21. So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Here, in the phrase “every living thing that moves,” the word “thing” is nephesh, the word for “soul.” Therefore, this should be “every living soul that moves.” So, again, sea creatures are souls. It is a mistake, even a lie, to say that only men are souls.
Genesis 1:24. Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so.
Here, “living creature” is “living nephesh” or “living soul.” So all the land animals are also souls. Again, it is clearly a falsehood to say that only men are souls.
Genesis 1:30. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.
In the phrase,” in which there is life,” the word “soul” appears, but is basically not translated. Clearly, the New King James translators did not wish to apply the word “soul” to animals. Yet this should read, “In which there is soul life.” Every creeping animal on the earth has soul life.
Genesis 2:7. And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Here, the word the New King James has translated “being” is again the word nephesh or “soul.” This again shows that what is traditionally taught is wrong. It is taught that man has a soul, just like man has a body. But this verse reveals that man does not have a soul, man is a soul. Every living being, every being that has a body in which is the breath of life, is a living soul. A being that has lost the breath of life is a dead soul. Yet neither animals nor men “have” a soul. We are souls, we don’t “have” them.
Genesis 2:19. Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.
The “living creatures” are actually “living souls” in Hebrew. Adam was naming all the animals, in other words, all the living souls, that the LORD brought before him. Notice again that in five of the first six occurrences of the word “soul” in the Bible, it is applied to animals, not to men.
Genesis 9:4. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
Here, the word “life” is the Hebrew word nephesh, or “soul.” From this we see that “soul” is connected with the blood just like “spirit” is connected with the breath. So we see why a “soul” can be dead. A dead body no longer has breath, so its spirit is gone. Yet it still has the blood, though it is no longer flowing, so it still has its soul, though its soul is dead.
Genesis 9:5. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
Nephesh occurs twice here. “Lifeblood” is “soulblood,” and “life of man” is “soul of man.” Again, soul is connected with the blood, and with the life.
Genesis 9:10. and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth.
Again here, “living creature” is “living nephesh” or “living soul.”
So let us pause for just a minute now. We have examined the first ten occurrences of the word “nephesh” or “soul.” We have the following definitions of “soul,” then.
1. Any creature of the land, sea, or air.
2. What man is as a product of his body and his breath of life being mixed together.
3. The blood of men, or something connected to the blood of men.
But, as I said, with so many more occurrences of the word “soul” than of the word “spirit,” I believe we have missed out on some definitions by only looking at the first ten occurrences. Yet there are still thirty occurrences of this word in the book of Genesis. A study of these will, I believe, bring out the remaining meanings attached to the word “soul” or nephesh in Hebrew. Let us move on, and examine the remaining occurrences of the word nephesh or “soul” in the book of Genesis.
Genesis 9:12. And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
Here again the word translated as “creature” is the Hebrew word for “soul,” nephesh, demonstrating that animals too are souls. It is utterly false to say that the word “soul” only applies to human beings, or indicates that which makes men different from animals.
Genesis 9:15. “and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
Here again the living creatures are in Hebrew the living souls. The covenant was between the LORD, Noah, and every living soul of all flesh. The translation “creature” makes it sound like this meant animals, exclusive of human beings. But once we understand that both animals and people are souls, we can understand that this covenant was between God, Noah, and every living soul of all flesh, whether it be men or animals. God’s covenant with all is that He will never again destroy all flesh with water.
Genesis 9:16. “The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
Yet again the living creatures are living souls. This includes both men and animals. The covenant is between God and all living beings on earth.
Genesis 12:5. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.
Here, the word “people” is the word nephesh. So “souls” can just be used for “people.” Since Genesis 2:7 declares people to be living souls, this makes perfect sense. We too use this word this way, when we say things like, “I didn’t meet another soul as I was walking.” We would all recognize this to mean I didn’t meet another person. The Bible uses the word “soul” this same way, as it does here in Genesis 12:5. So this is another meaning we can add to our list of meanings of the word “soul.”
Genesis 12:13. “Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
Here, Abraham fears for his life, and encourages Sarah to lie and say he is her brother, saying that if she does this “I may live.” In Hebrew that is, “that my soul may live.” So here the word nephesh or “soul” is just used for “me myself.” Therefore, we have found another meaning of this word. Nephesh or soul can just be used for your self, your being.
Genesis 14:21. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”
We know from the context that Abram had just rescued his nephew Lot from captivity, but had therefore also rescued those who were captive along with Lot, including the wicked king of Sodom. Now, the king of Sodom seeks to ingratiate Abram to himself by giving him all the spoils, seeking only the souls for himself. “Persons” here is the translation of the Hebrew word nephesh. Again, it means just people, since people are living souls.
Genesis 17:14. “And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
Again “person” here is the Hebrew word nephesh or soul. Persons are souls.
Genesis 19:17. So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.”
Here this is translated “escape for your life,” but the Hebrew is “escape for your soul.” It was the soul life they were to preserve by escaping. If they died along with all the rest in Sodom, they would cease to be alive, and they would thus lose the soul life they possessed.
Genesis 19:19. Indeed now, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have increased your mercy which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die.
Lot pleads with the angel that he has shown him mercy by saving his soul, but now he fears to flee to the mountains as he has been bidden, for he is frightened of the dangers that may await him there. Again it is his soul that is saved, the fact that he is a living being and not a dead being.
Genesis 19:20. “See now, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.”
It seems Lot does not trust God’s chosen place of refuge for him, but instead seeks a city of his own choosing, certain that if God will grant him this he will live. Again, it is his soul living that concerns him.
Genesis 23:8. And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me,”
The word translated “wish” here is the word for “soul” in Hebrew, nephesh. Here we see yet another meaning of the word “soul.” It has to do with one’s wishes, or alternately, one’s desires. This meaning of soul is connected with the emotions of men. Abraham by appealing to the souls of these men appealed to their wishes or desires. Your desires, longings, wishes, and emotions all have to do with your aspect as a “soul.” We can see how this contrasts to the aspect of spirit that has to do with your thoughts, opinions, and ideas. The spirit has to do with the mind, whereas the soul has to do with the emotions. Thus, we have another definition of the word “soul.”
Genesis 27:4. “And make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
In this instance, we can see two meanings of the word “soul” coming into play. One is the meaning of just one’s self, for Isaac means that he himself may bless Esau before he dies. Yet this is also connected with Isaac’s desires, which will be satisfied by the savory food he loves, and thus will be in the right mood, we may say, to bless Esau before he dies.
Genesis 27:19. Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done just as you told me; please arise, sit and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.”
Jacob deceives his father with the very words he had used in speaking to Esau, giving him savory game and seeking a blessing from his soul.
Genesis 27:25. He said, “Bring it near to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, so that my soul may bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.
Satisfied that Jacob was his son Esau, Isaac again repeats that his soul will bless his son.
Genesis 27:31. He also had made savory food, and brought it to his father, and said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that your soul may bless me.”
Esau now returns, and also seeks the blessing of his father’s soul.
Genesis 32:30. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Again here nephesh is translated as “life.” It was his soul life that Jacob was happy was preserved, in spite of the fact that he had seen God face to face.
Genesis 34:3. His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman.
Here, we read of a young man whose soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. In Genesis 34:8, we learn more about what was attracted to Dinah.
Genesis 34:8. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife.”
His soul longed for Dinah. So again we see that “soul” is connected with the emotions, strong feelings, and desires. This contrasts with “spirit,” which is connected with the thoughts and opinions. These two uses of “spirit” and “soul” go together in this way.
Genesis 35:18. And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
Here, as Rachel is dying, her death is described as her “soul departing.” Thus again the soul is connected with the life, which departs at one’s death.
Genesis 36:6. Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the persons of his household, his cattle and all his animals, and all his goods which he had gained in the land of Canaan, and went to a country away from the presence of his brother Jacob.
Here again the word translated “persons” is the Hebrew word nephesh, meaning “souls.” These were all the souls of Esau’s household, in other words, all the people who were part of his family, and all the servants that belonged to him.
Genesis 37:21. But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.”
Reuben’s advice here should be translated “Let us not kill his soul.” Reuben well knew that one’s soul could be killed. He had no illusions about a soul being immortal. This is a modern idea, but it finds no backing in the word of God. Thus, from the perspective of God’s Word, one can kill a soul. Again, “soul” here is just used for Joseph’s life. Reuben did not want them to kill Joseph’s soul, and take his life away from him.
Genesis 42:21. Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.”
Standing in peril before the man they do not yet realize is their brother Joseph, the sons of Israel remember how they had seen the anguish of Joseph’s soul as he pled with them to spare him from the bottom of the pit where they had so heartlessly cast him. In this case, “soul” again has reference to Joseph’s strong emotions and desires. He was in anguish, fearing for his life and what his brothers would do to him. Thus his soul, his emotions, were in anguish.
Genesis 44:30. “Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life,
In this verse, the word nephesh occurs twice, and both times is translated “life.” This should read that Isaac’s “soul is bound up in the lad’s soul.” His soul was dependent upon the soul of his son Benjamin. If Benjamin died, if his soul was destroyed, his sons believed Jacob’s soul would die as well.
Genesis 46:15. These were the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Padan Aram, with his daughter Dinah. All the persons, his sons and his daughters, were thirty-three.
Again here, the word nephesh or “soul” is translated as “persons.” Jacob’s sons and daughters through Leah are called “souls” here. A more thorough reading of the passage will reveal that these included grandchildren, for Leah did not give birth to thirty-three children herself. Again, “souls” just means the persons descended from Jacob.
Genesis 46:18. These were the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob: sixteen persons.
The descendents of Jacob through Zilpah are listed as sixteen persons. Again, this word “persons” is the Hebrew word nephesh or “souls.” These sixteen people were sixteen souls descended from Jacob.
Genesis 46:22. These were the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob: fourteen persons in all.
Again, the sons of Rachel Jacob’s wife are listed as being fourteen persons, and again this is fourteen souls in the Hebrew.
Genesis 46:25. These were the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and she bore these to Jacob: seven persons in all.
The lists of Jacob’s descendents are completed with the descendants of Bilhah. Again, they are listed as seven persons, which in Hebrew is seven souls. Souls here just indicate persons.
Genesis 46:26. All the persons who went with Jacob to Egypt, who came from his body, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all
In this verse, we have two occurrences of the word nephesh, again both translated as “persons.” We have the souls who went with Jacob to Egypt, sixty-six souls in all.
Genesis 46:27. And the sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt were two persons. All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy.
Again, the word “souls” occurs twice in this verse. Two souls were born to Joseph in Egypt. Again, “souls” clearly just means two people here. Then, all the souls of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt are listed here as seventy. Of course, seventy souls means seventy persons.
Genesis 49:6. Let not my soul enter their council;
Let not my honor be united to their assembly;
For in their anger they slew a man,
And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox.
Israel is speaking of the future of his twelve sons, and ultimately of the twelve tribes that will come from them. He is prophesying here about Simeon and Levi, his two sons who were responsible for some of the cruelest acts done by his often wicked sons. He expresses his desire that his soul not enter into their council. Soul here just means himself. He does not wish to be included in the wicked councils of these men.
So with this occurrence we have completed our examination of all the instances of the Hebrew word nephesh or “soul” in the book of Genesis. From our examination of “soul” in this book we have found, in all, the following meanings of soul:
1. Any creature of the land, sea, or air.
2. What man is as a product of his body and his breath of life being mixed together.
3. The blood of men, or something connected to the blood of men.
5. A person’s self or being.
6. The emotions, strong feelings, and desires of men.
Now, combining this with the meanings we discovered for the word ruach or “spirit,” we could summarize and break down our findings a little differently as follows:
Related to you (as a person):
1. Your life, your breath
2. Your mind, your thoughts.
1. Your life, your blood
2. Your emotions, your desires.
Related to animals:
1. Their life, their breath
2. Their mind, their thoughts.
1. Their life, their blood
2. Their emotions, their desires.
Spirit = wind, the Spirit aspect of God
Soul = a person, individual, me myself
This study really just begins the examination of these two words. The diligent student, to fully understand and appreciate all that God has taught regarding these important words, will have to examine every occurrence of both ruach and nephesh in every book of the Old Testament. Then, he will have to move on to study every occurrence of pneuma and psuche in the New Testament. However, I believe that what we have discovered in Genesis alone is a good starting point. These definitions of these words and the way the Spirit has used them at the start should guide us in a study of these words in the rest of the Bible.
Some may be disturbed by what we have found regarding these words. Traditional ideas regarding souls and spirits do not always match up with what God has taught regarding these things. But for one whose claim is to be a believer, and that what he believes is God’s Word, it is only this way, by using the definitions God has attached to words, that we can find the truth He would teach us regarding these words. It is His thoughts, not those of men, that must guide us if we are to come to an understanding of all truth. I pray that what I have written will aid my readers in beginning a study of these important topics, and understanding more of God’s truth. For that truth, indeed, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path in this dark world.