What Does the Bible Teach About the Nature of the Soul?
by J Warner Wallace
The Biblical authors used two words currently translated as “soul”: “nephesh” (neh’-fesh) in the Old Testament and “psuche” (psoo-khay’) in the New Testament. These Hebrew and Greek words are used to describe many characteristics of animals and humans other than their soulish nature, so for the most part, they typically don’t tell us much about the nature of the soul. There are, however, two places in the New Testament where the word “psuche” does seem to be describing our dual nature as soulish creatures:
“And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
2 Corinthians 5:1-8
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
In these two passages, a clear distinction is drawn between the body and the soul. In the Matthew passage, although the word for “soul” (psuche) can be translated in a number of ways, the most reasonable inference here is Paul’s use of the word to describe our dual nature as physical beings with immaterial, everlasting, “souls”. These souls cannot be destroyed by the death of the body. Paul calls the soul our “house” made by God; as soon as we are away from the body we are at home with the Lord. We can learn a lot from these (and other) passages describing the clear disembodied life of the soul (I’ve posted an entire section on the nature of the soul at the ColdCaseChristianity.com website). Here is a quick summary of what the Bible teaches about the nature of our souls…
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