The Human Soul: What Is It and Why Should One Believe in It?
by Brian Chilton
Recently, my son joined my wife and I as we attended the funeral of a dearly beloved friend. My son asked the question, “Why is she lying there?” My wife answered and said, “Honey, that’s just her body. Her soul has gone to be with the Lord.” Then, my son asked me the most challenging question yet, he said, “Daddy, what is a soul?” I compared the human soul to an electrical current. It is given by one that generates the power; it does its work; and then returns to the generator. In like manner, God gives us a soul which is our living, inner-being, and then one day God requires it back from us. Afterwards, I really began to wonder if I answered the question thoroughly enough for my young son. How would you answer the question? Furthermore, how does the Bible answer the question? That will be the topic of this article as we ask what is the human soul, and should the Christian believe in the existence of the human soul?
The Old Testament writers use the term nephesh to refer to the human soul. When used of God, “it refers to God as an immaterial, transcendent self, a seat of mind, will, and emotions, etc.” (Moreland 2014, 45). When used of a person, it can refer to a person’s “life itself or to a vital principle/substantial entity that makes something animated or alive” (Moreland 2014, 45). Moreland also states that “there are passages in which ‘nephesh’ refers to the continuing locus of personal identity that departs to a disembodied afterlife as the last breath ceases” (Moreland 2014, 46). What? The Old Testament teaches that an afterlife exists for the human being? Yes.
The Old Testament writers also used the term ruach to describe the soul, or spirit, of a person. Moreland suggests that the two terms are used in collaboration with one another. Yet, the two terms suggest different things. “First, ‘ruach’ is overwhelmingly the term of choice for God…and, second, ‘ruach’ emphasizes the notion of power” (Moreland 2014, 49). Therefore, one could deduce from the Old Testament terms ruach and nephesh that the Old Testament clearly teaches in the existence of the human soul. But what about the New Testament?
Two terms are also used in the New Testament to describe the soul or spirit…
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