Post details: Soul And Spirit In The Hebrew Context


Permalink 02:40:23 pm, Categories: GraceHead teaching, By Pam, 2164 words   English (US)

Soul And Spirit In The Hebrew Context

Emily C. requested that I post what I have learned regarding the Biblical meaning of soul and spirit and that is what I will attempt to present here. Emily, this is for you.

When studying scripture, it is important to understand that the people whom God inspired to write His Word were all Jews and that Jesus Himself walked the earth as a Hebrew. To understand the scriptures in depth, it is important to gain some understanding of Hebrew thought and culture. God gave His chosen people much more than the Ten Commandments. He gave them Laws that dealt with all the minutia of life. He also gave them incredible knowledge that was far beyond their capabilities as a nomadic people to gain unaided. Many things written in the Old Testament such as, stars singing and the earth being round and 'hung upon nothing', as well as the concept of dimensional time and space, have been proven true by science only in recent times but were long ago held as truth by God's chosen people. Their view of the world was quite different from the Pagan cultures that surrounded them and this is also true of the Hebrew concept of soul and spirit.


Although gaining an understanding of Hebrew thought and culture is of great benefit in clarifying many concepts in scripture, it is not necessary for becoming a Christian. Neither is it required for maintaining one's state of salvation. Christ is for the non-Jew as well as the Jew and no knowledge is required to become a Christian but only faith in Jesus Christ. It is also not necessary to practice the Christian faith as the Jewish faith was practiced. This controversy was settled long ago by the church as recorded in the 15th chapter of Acts.

Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."

At the point of this controversy, a council was formed and the following, regarding the keeping by the saints of the Old Testament Law was decided:

Acts 15:8-11 "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, "and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefor, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they. AND Acts 15:19-10 "Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God. "but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.

Though we as Christians are not required to keep the Old Testament Law that doesn't mean that the Law is evil. The Law is very good and the Law itself is Spiritual for it comes from God Who is Spirit. Also, Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it and indeed, He did fulfill the entire Law of God during the time He walked the earth, died a sacrificial death on the cross, and rose again. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law for all who believe in His Name. However, Jesus did not believe as a Pagan believes and during His time on earth, He remained Hebrew in His thinking and practice of faith. Jesus did not change anything that God had taught His people in regards to the nature of man, the afterlife, the future prophecies, or the resurrection and the judgement. None of these things, set down by God, changed with the establishment of the New Covenant in His blood.

The idea of man possessing an eternal soul is a Greek and Pagan concept and not Biblical at all. To gain insight into the Hebrew concept of soul and spirit, it is good to begin by examining the Hebrew words and all of the ways that they have been translated into English. Hebrew is a simpler language than English and as all less complex languages, a single word contains many concepts within the whole. English, on the other hand, is a highly descriptive language and in looking at the various ways the Hebrew words of soul and spirit are translated, we will gain a good description of the whole Hebrew concept contained in two simple words.

The word for soul in the Old Testament is 'nephesh' and it is translated in the following ways and number of times: appetite 2, beast 2, body 4, breath 1, creature 9, dead 5, dead body 4, desire 4, fish 1, ghost 2, himself 8, life 117, lust 2, man 3, mind 15, mortally 1, myself 1, one 1, own 1, person 29, pleasure 3, soul 475, thing 2, themselves 3, thyself 1, will 4, would have it 1, yourselves 6.

When I read the list above, I am struck that within it is described the entirety of a human being in all of our contradictory complexity. Everything pertaining to our physical and mental nature is expressed here and I can't help but notice that the words, immortal or immortality are not present.

The word for spirit in the Old Testament is either ruach or neshamah. Ruach is translated in the following ways: air 1, anger 1, blast 4, breath 27, cool 1, courage 1, mind 6, quarters 1, side 6, Spirit or spirit 240, wind 94, vain 2. Neshamah is translated in the following ways: blast 3, breath 17, inspiration 1, souls 1, spirit 2.

Again in the preceding descriptions of the spirit of man and woman there is no mention of anything eternal. We truly are completely made of dust, the elements of the earth and there is nothing in us that can live apart from the breath of God. Genesis 2:7 says, "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." This is from the NKJV and in the KJV, 'living being' is simply translated 'living soul' which I find to be a more accurate description in light of the above. We do not possess an immortal soul, we are living souls and without the breath of God animating us, we are nothing but dust.

The second step of this study is to look at all the different ways the words for soul and spirit are used in scripture. By this method, we will gain contextual understanding that is objective rather than subjective as when we read the Bible and twist what we read there to our own cultural understanding. This list is by no means exhaustive but only meant to give an overall view. For more in depth usage, simply google "Hebrew Words Soul and Spirit" and a wealth of information will be at your fingertips.

The Hebrew word for soul is used in the Old Testament 94 times.

"And God created great whales, and every living creature (nephesh, psuche) that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good" (Gen. 1:21). "And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature(nephesh, psuche)after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so" (Gen. 1:24) [According to the Bible, animals are "souls"]

"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 soul (nephesh, psuche)(Gen. 2:7) [Again notice, that Adam became a soul, he did not receive a soul.]

"But flesh with the life(nephesh, psuche)thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of you lives(nephesh, psuche) will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life (nephesh, psuche) of man" (Gen. 9:4,5) [Either the "soul" is in the blood, or the blood is the "soul".]

"Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul (nephesh, psuche) shall live because of thee" (Gen. 12:13) [Souls can die.]

"And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life(nephesh, psuche)" (Ex. 4:19) [Someone can take someone else's "soul."]

"And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man (nephesh, psuche)must eat, that only man be done of you" (Ex. 12:16). [Souls can eat.]

"Whoso toucheth any thing that is unclean by the dead(nephesh, psuche), or a man whose seed goeth from him" (Lev. 22:4) [A dead body is a soul.]

"The slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person (nephesh, psuche) at unawares" (Num. 35:15). ["Souls" can be murdered.]

"All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul(nephesh, psuche)" (Ps. 22:29) [The "soul' cannot be kept alive, humanly speaking.]

"The soul (nephesh, psuche) that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). [The sinning soul shall die.]

There are 27 verses in the Old Testament using the Hebrew words for spirit (neshamah, pnoe, ruach).

"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath (neshamah, pnoe) of life; and man became a living soul: (Gen. 2:7). [God put the 'spirit' into Adam's nose.]

"And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruach, pneuma) of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die: (Gen. 6:17). [Animals have the "spirit' in them too.]

"And as soon as we had heard these thing, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage (ruach, pneuma) in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" (Josh. 2:11). [Their 'spirits' were all gone, but they were still alive."]

The Spirit (neshamah, pnoe) of God hath made me, and the breath(ruach, pneuma) of the Almighty hath given me life" (Job 33:4) [God's Spirit gives us life.]

"If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit (ruach, pneuma) and his breath (neshamah); all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust: (Job 34:14,15). [Man cannot live without his 'spirit']

"So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts...Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: though takest away their breath(ruach, pneuma), they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit (ruach, pneuma), they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth" (Ps. 104: 25,29,30) [They don't get their own 'spirit' back again when they are recreated. Instead, it's God's spirit that enters into them.]

"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit (ruach, pneuma) shall return unto God who gave it' (Eccl. 12:7) [The 'spirits' of all, both good and bad, go back to God.]

All of this and more to prove what God so nicely sums up Ecclesisastes 9:5-6

For the living know that they will die; BUT THE DEAD KNOW NOTHING, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished: Nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.
All that lives is dependent upon the Author of Life for said life and there is nothing in any of us that can live apart from Him. A Jewish friend of mine described the concept of soul being that of our life as it is extended to us by God. It is He Who made us unique and He Who fills us with life and gives us our being. There simply is no 'soul' apart from Him. Even if there were a hell of eternal torture, there is nothing in a dead man to suffer. The only thing immortal about our soul is in the memory of God, Who has the power to resurrect each of us to stand before Jesus on that final day. Only He has the power to truly destroy us body and soul if He should choose to cease remembering. Satan has no power to hurt us in eternity and truly, Satan is the one who will suffer eternal torment not man. After the judgement, when death swallows itself, the nature of all things will be changed. The old mortal nature folded up and put away as the eternal state unfolds and is revealed to us all at the end of time. Oh, glorious day!

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Comment from: emilyc [Member] ·
Thank you, Pam, for taking the time out to post this. I'm going to take some time to really look through it.
Permalink 05/22/07 @ 21:14
Comment from: Pam [Member]
Hi Emily,

I hope it is helpful and I'm glad you showed up because it is so long there will probably be few who manage to wade through it! This really is just the tip of the iceberg though. You can find out much more about it online. We've so much information at our fingertips now, I can't get enough and I don't know what I did before I could look up in an instant whatever question happens to pop into my head. Talk to you later.

Permalink 05/22/07 @ 21:38
Comment from: Judah [Visitor] ·
Good article.

As a Law-observer myself, I disagree with some parts (in particular that the Law is not for today), given that the quotation of Acts 15 was cut short. The next verse after your quotationd was,

"For Moses is preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.""

So, it's true, the apostles agreed that new believers should start out with eating the right foods (no blood), being sexually pure, and to worship only God (abstain from idols). However, the next verse is telling, in that he's saying, "Moses [the Law] is taught everywhere, every week. Start them out on these basic laws; they'll pick up the rest as they go."

Anyways, that's my take on it.

I liked the article overall, though. It's clear and concrete; not filled with airy spiritual meanings. Good post.
Permalink 05/22/07 @ 22:01
Comment from: Pam [Member]
Hi Judah,

I'm glad you enjoyed the post but I have to disagree with what you state regarding the 15th chapter of Acts. The entire chapter has to do with those who are called in the book of Galatians, judizers. Jesus fulfilled the entire Law and though that does not free us to commit sin without consequence, we who are in Christ are not under the Law for Jesus lives for us as well as died for us. He paid the penalty of sin which was physical death and as that requirement was fulfilled then so too is His life lived for us. In Christ Jesus our hearts are not made perfect by obedience to the Law but our hearts are being purified by faith. As we are new creatures in Christ, the Law is natural to us as it was natural to Jesus. It is not natural to the carnal man, those who have not been reborn from above.

Acts Chapter 15:8-10 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they." Another passage from Galatians to consider, among many concerning legalism: Galatians 3:2-3 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you being made perfect by the flesh?"

In the book of Galatians, Paul tells them they are foolish and demands to know who has bewitched them. Truly, legalism is that which resembles the delusion of magical enchantment. It appears genuine but it is false. The Law was given to show us our need for Christ Jesus. The Law points to the holiness of God and the utter failure of man having the ability to replace God by choosing for himself between good and evil. Only God who is above good and evil and not subject to them as we are is able to objectively and correctly choose between them and achieve ultimate good. We are utterly helpless without God. Just as this article proves that we are utterly dependent upon God for life so too are we utterly dependent upon God to live that life as it should be lived. I am not capable on my own to fulfill what God has created me to fulfill, that of glorifying Him. The Law has no power to change my nature only Jesus is able to take me from carnal and unable to bear the Law that is Spiritual to that of a Christ like individual that obeys the Law from the heart, naturally and not as one who keeps the Law through continual sacrifice (which is what the Law requires, by the way). God desires Mercy not sacrifice and by His Mercy, I have been given faith that I might please Him.

I'm not quite sure what I should think about the 'airy spiritual remark' but what comes to mind is that the scriptures are spiritually discerned. If you do not have eyes that have been made spiritual through faith in Jesus Christ then the meaning of scripture will be beyond you. The Bible will become only line upon line and precept upon precept and not those words that actually become the Living Word that is Jesus in the heart of the believer.

I, like the Galatians, was at one time, foolish and too fell captive to legalism. I pray that God would keep me free of that deceiptful bewitchment and that I might serve as one to warn others. I hope to be as Paul in the following passage: Galatians 2:3-5 And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), TO WHOM WE DID NOT YIELD SUBMISSION EVEN FOR AN HOUR, THAT THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL MIGHT CONTINUE WITH YOU.


If need be, I will post the entire 15th chapter of Acts and I will remain standing as it stands on the side of liberty in Christ Jesus and not in turning from Grace back to Law.
Permalink 05/22/07 @ 23:55
Comment from: Judah [Visitor] ·
Ah, you misunderstand the term Judaizers: Judaizers were those telling others to follow oral law, that is, the laws of Judaism, hence the term Judaizer. The Pharisees, for example, wanted others, including Jesus and his disciples, to follow the rabbinical laws built around Scripture regarding the Sabbath, regarding the washing of hands, regarding the association with gentiles, to name a few.

However, those laws -- the oral law, which is now written down modernly in the Talmud -- are man's laws, not God's laws.

Judaizing a person is not telling that person to follow God's Laws. If following God's Laws was purely Judaizing, then Judaism would be God's religion. But Judaism is polluted with man-made ritual and laws not from God. Moreover, Judaism has rejected Messiah, as you know. These man-made laws (including that man-made law that you had to be circumcised to be 'saved') is what Paul is addressing in Galatians.

As far as legalism goes, legalism is not following God's commandments. Legalism is fighting over minutia in the Law, for example, whether or not to eat bread baked in an over built with a brick laid on sabbath. That's legalism. But following God's sane and holy commandments -- which Paul says are for our own good! -- is not legalism. It's obedience.

Finally, you say we're free in Jesus and not under the Law. Which is it? Does "free in Jesus" mean we're free to break the Law? That would mean Jesus gives us license to sin, since Paul defines sin as breaking the Law (see Romans 6). Obviously, Jesus does not give us the license to sin. Being "under the Law" means you're subject to it's penalty, which is death. That's what Jesus freed us from: breaking the Law (e.g. sinning) does not lead to death, because we have forgiveness and atonement in Messiah. That does *not* mean we can trample the wonderful grace given to us by Messiah by sinning freely and being Lawless.

Don't think grace and Law are opposites. The Law is filled with grace and forgiveness, the commandments of God are full of mercy; they do not conflict with Jesus. Jesus says this explicitly in his "fundamentals of the faith" sermon in Matthew 5. The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament, so let's not lie to ourselves, saying that following the Old Testament is somehow conflicting with following the New Testament.

I also encourage you to hear a study on the book of Galations from Avi Ben Mordechai: An In-Depth Study of Galatians.

One last thing, what is your take on the "For Moses is taught in every synogogue every Sabbath" in Acts 15?

Take care, and blessings in our common Messiah, Yeshua HaMoshiach.
Permalink 05/23/07 @ 22:03
Comment from: Judah [Visitor] ·
Oops, the web page stripped out the link to the Galatians study. Here it is:
Permalink 05/23/07 @ 22:06
Comment from: Pam [Member]
Hi Judah,

I have known many legalises, those persons claiming that Jesus isn't enough and there is yet more to be be done and obedience must conform to their standards. Jesus knows when I'm in obedience and when I am not for only He knows my heart and He never judges by outward appearance, as man does, as the law does.

My take on Moses being read every Sabbath is that the law justifies no one and it does not bring life, if life could have come through the law, then God would have given that law. Rather, we are justified through faith and that faith began as a promise to Abraham 430 years before the law and the law can't annul that promise. That which is better than the law is her, Jesus the Christ. Faith in Jesus does what the law could never do, justify man before God.

My teacher is the Holy Spirit and we study the Bible together. I also have many reference books and a computer. Though I enjoy good teaching, I am not dependent upon human teachers in understanding the Will of God. I'll not go chasing after any that can only be second rate to the one who is with me continually, the Holy Spirit.

Blessing to you too and I also have high regard for the Jews, as God's Chosen People, but I am a Christian and it is not required of me to become a Jew.

Permalink 05/24/07 @ 10:49
Comment from: Dennis Thompson [Member] ·
Jer 31:31-34 States that the Old Covenant law was imperfect. It says he is sending a New Covenant and in this New covenant God writes right and wrong on the hearts of those who receive Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 1:9 states that the law was only given for the unrighteous to begin with.

It also says that the Law was NEVER given to the Gentiles in thefirst place. This scripture is found in the Nre covenantscriptures, meaning those that are writtenafte Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Anything before that is old covenant because no atonement for mankind had yet come.

Hebrews 8:13 proclaims the old covenant is defunct.

Galatians 5 says that thaose that are of the spirit, meaning all born again believers in Jesus Christ are under no law.

Its all very simplewhen one stops mixing the defunct Covenant with the New one.

I believe the Soul is made up of our Mind, Our Will and our emotions. This flesh is what battles against God. God is Spirit, in order to worship him inSpirit and truth, we must worship him with our Spirit.

We are formed in his image (Spirit)

He is eternal and our Spirit is eternal.
Permalink 08/02/07 @ 21:41
Comment from: pam [Visitor]
Hi Dennis,

That is the definition of soul that I have always been taught but I find no Biblical base for that. This study is a reflection of my personal study in recent years in which I have been attempting to develop a more Biblical understanding of terms we use that have all kinds of meanings attached to them. The Hebrews are culturally unique and when they say soul the meaning is not the same as in Pagan cultures. Since Hebrews wrote the entire Bible, I think their definitions best fit the text.

Having said all that none of it is required for Salvation. All that is required is belief in Jesus Christ and it is through He and the Holy Spirit that indwells us at the moment of our belief that God's Laws are written on our hearts. Our desires are forever changed. That change is what the Law could not do. Only Jesus can change our inward man.

Permalink 08/02/07 @ 23:19

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