Correcting The Error About The Meaning Of ‘Soul’

PSUCHE IS the only word translated “soul” in the New Testament. It occurs 105 times, and is rendered “soul” 58 times, “life” 40 times, “mind” 3 times, and “heart”, “heartly”, “us”, and “you” once each.

To ascertain its meaning, it is useless to go to heathen authors. The Greek philosophers were at variance among themselves. ARNOBIUS, a Christian writer of the latter part of the third century, in his work Adversus Gentes, speaking of the speculations of the heathen of his day, says: “In exactly the same way (as the creation and the gods) is the condition of souls discussed. For this one thinks they are both immortal, and survive the end of our earthly life; that one believes that they do not survive, but perish with the bodies themselves; the opinion of another, however, is that they suffer nothing immediately, but that, after the [form of] man has been laid aside, they are allowed to live a little longer, and then come under the power of death.” ¹

We must, therefore, let Scripture be its own interpreter.Psuche exactly corresponds to the Hebrew Nephesh (Ap.13), as will be seen from the following passages: Mark 12:29, 30, compared with Deuteronomy 6:4, 5; Acts 2:27 with Psalm 16:10; Romans 11:3 with 1Kings 19:10;1Corinthians 15:45 with Genesis 2:7. In all these places,psuche in the New Testament represents Nephesh in the Old.

The following are the occurrences of the word:—   I.  Psuche, used of the lower animals twice, is rendered    1. “Life”: Revelation 8:9.     2. “Soul”: Revelation 16:3.  II. psuche, used of man as an individual (just as we speak of a ship going down with every soul on board, or of so many lives being lost in a railway accident), occurs 14 times, and is rendered    “soul”: Acts 2:41, 43; 3:23; 7:14; 27:37. Romans 2:9; 13:1. 1Corinthians 15:45, James 5:20. 1Peter 3:20.2Peter 2:14. Revelation 6:9; 18:13; 20:4.  III. Psuche, used of the life of man, which can be lost, destroyed, saved, laid down, etc., occurs 58 times, and is rendered    1. “Life”: Matthew 2:20; 6:25, 25; 10:39, 39; 16:25, 25; 20:28. Mark 3:4; 8:35, 35; 10:45. Luke 6:9; 9:24, 24, 56; 12:22, 23; 14:26; 17:33.² John 10:11, 15, 17; 12:25, 25; 13:37, 38; 15:13. Acts 15:26; 20:10, 24; 27:10, 22. Romans 11:3; 16:4. Philippians 2:30. 1John 3:16,  Revelation 12:11.   2.  “Soul”: Matthew 10:28, 28; 16:26, 26. Mark 8:36, 37, Luke 12:20; 21:19. 1Thessalonians 2:8; 5:23. Hebrews 4:12; 6:19; 10:39; 13:17. James 1:21. 1Peter 1:9; 2:11, 25; 4:19.   IV. Psuche, used to emphasize the pronoun, as we use “self” (for example, “my soul” = “myself”), occurs 21 times, and is rendered    1. “soul”: Matthew 11:29; 12:18; 26:38. Mark 14:34. Luke 1:46; 12:19, 19. John 12:27. Acts 2:27, 31; 14:22; 15:24. 2Corinthians 1:23. Hebrews 10:38. 1Peter 1:22.2Peter 2:8. Revelation 18:14.    2. “Mind”: Acts 14:2. Hebrews 12:3.    3. “Us”: John 10:24.    4. “You”: 2Corinthians 12:15 (see margin).   V.  Psuche, used with intensive force, to express all the powers of one’s being, occurs 10 times, and is rendered

  1. “Soul”: Matthew 22:37. Mark 12:30, 33. Luke 2:35; 10:27. Acts 4:32. 3John 2. 2. “Heart”: Ephesians 6:6. 3. “Mind”: Philippians 1:27.    4. “Heartily”: Colossians 3:23.

The word nephesh occurs 754 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Each occurrence is noted in the margin, but it will be useful for the Bible student to have a complete list. In the Authorized Version and Revised Version it is translated “soul” 472 times, while in the other 282 places it is represented by forty-four different words of phrases. In fifty-three of these places there is a marginal rendering which calls attention to the fact that the word is “nephesh”, while in 229 passages the English reader has hitherto been left in ignorance of the fact. The English word “soul” is in every occurrence the rendering of the Hebrew nephesh, except in Job 30:15 and Isaiah 57:16. See the notes. The time has come to “open the book”, and let it speak for itself. Henceforth, everyone who uses ‘The Companion Bible’ will have complete information as to the facts, and can use it in determining his definitions, making his own classifications, and formulating his doctrines as to the Biblical use of the word. Though, with these two exceptions the English word “soul” always represents the Hebrew nephesh, nephesh is not always translated “soul”. This Appendix will exhibit all the varieties of translation; and, while it is not intended to teach either Theology or Psychology, it will give such information as will enable every Bible reader to form his own views and come to his own conclusions on an important subject, about which there is such great controversy. This can be done only by giving every occurrence of the Hebrew word nephesh.

Each occurrence is noted in the margin of ‘The Companion Bible; but it is well to present a complete, separate, and classified list of the recognized Lexical usages of the word; and the reader will be left to form his own judgment as to how far the following classification is correct.

The usage of the word nephesh by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God is the only guide to the true understanding of it.

It will be seen that the word “soul,” in its theological sense, does not cover all the ground, or properly represent the Hebrew word “nephesh”. The English word “soul” is from the Latin solus = alone or sole, because the maintenance of man as a living organism, and all that affects his health and wellbeing, is the one sole or main thing in common with every living thing which the LORD God has made. The correct Latin word for the theological term “soul” (or nephesh) is anima; and this is from the Greek anemos = air or breath, because it is this which keeps the whole in life and in being.

[The usage of the corresponding New Testament word psuche will be presented in a later Appendix.]

By David L. Matthews

Be Made Whole Int. Ministry