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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Words



Soul
By Jeff A. Benner
נֶפֶשׁ nephesh
What is the soul? Webster' Dictionary gives the following definition. "The spiritual nature of humans, regarded as immortal, separable from the body at death, and susceptible to happiness or misery in a future state." In most cases people will understand the soul through this definition. But, as I have so often stated, our interpretation of Biblical words should be from a Hebraic perspective, not a modern western perspective.

The Hebrew word translated as "soul" is the word nephesh (Strong's #5315). If we look at the various ways in which this word is translated in an English translation, such as the KJV, we will see a wide variation in its interpretation. Some of these translations include; soul, life, person, mind, heart, creature, body, dead, desire, man, appetite, lust, thing, self, beast, pleasure, ghost, breath and will. What exactly does this word mean?

I had always assumed that only humans had a soul, but it was during a study of the word "soul" many years ago that I discovered that translations often influence how we interpret Biblical concepts. In Genesis 2:7 we find that man is a "living soul" and in Genesis 1:21 we find that animals are "living creatures". When I first started using a concordance to look up the original Hebrew words I was amazed to find out that these two English phrases were the translations of the same Hebrew phrase - nephesh hhayah. Why would the translators translate nephesh hhayahas "living soul" in one place and "living creatures" in another? It was this discovery that prompted me to learn the Hebrew language.

In the Hebrew mind we are composed of multiple parts. The body is the flesh and bones, the vessel. The organs are viewed as the seats of thought (the heart), emotion (the kidneys), intuition (gut), etc. The breath is ones character, what makes a person who they are.

The soul is the whole of the person, the unity of the body, organs and breath. It is not some immaterial spiritual entity, it is you, all of you, your whole being or self.



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