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What is the Soul

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Key Verse: Genesis 2:7
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.

Question: What does the key verse mean to you?


In today’s modern religious circles the word “soul” is descriptive of a third component of man in addition to his body and spirit. This “soul” is supposed to be immortal and will live forever, either in Heaven or Hell, depending on the spiritual condition of the individual at the time of their death. In the Old Testament the word soul is translated from the Hebrew word “nephesh.” Before referring to Adam the word is used twice in allusion to lower forms of animals, whales and fish (Genesis 1:21) and cattle and creeping things (Genesis 1:24). It is translated “creature” which indicates a created entity. Adam was created. So were the whales, the fish, all cattle and all of the creeping things. All were described as “nephesh”, that is, living creatures. It would have been more accurate to render the Key Verse as “and man became a living creature” but the Catholic King James had an agenda to promote the idea that man has an immortal soul. According to what you have just learned, if man has an immortal soul, so do the animals. Animals do not live forever and this will be demonstrated later in this lesson.

A close study of the Key Verse forms a picture in one’s mind of God standing over the prone body of Adam, not yet living. Bringing His face close to Adam’s, God breathes into his nostrils and Adam stirs, shakes his head, blinks, and taking a deep breath, stands up on his feet, gazing about in amazement at the beauty of the Earth around him. Before receiving the breath of life, Adam was dead. No remark is made of any other component in the creation of Adam, only his body from the dust and the spirit of life from God. There is no mention of a third element. The combining of a physical body and the spirit of life results in a living creature, a “nephesh.”

The Key Verse shows that Adam’s spirit came from God, the source of all spirit. Every creature that has ever lived on this planet had a spirit and that spirit came directly from God, Who formed it within him (Zechariah 12:1). Biblical descriptions of soul and spirit come from Hebrew words analogous to air or breath. The Key Verse says God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Job, commenting on the spirit, relates it to breath in his nostrils (Job 27:3). Speaking of the spirit in man, Elihu alleges to inspiration, (Job 32:8) translated from the Hebrew neshamah (5397) meaning wind, breath or intellect and in other Scripture is rendered soul or spirit (Isaiah 57:16; Job 26:4; Proverbs 20:27). When Nicodemus came to speak to Jesus, during the conversation Jesus explained to him what the spirit is and used the wind as an analogy (John 3:1-8).

The spirit that is received from God at conception is the life-force that renders the physical body alive and the combination is a “soul”, a living creature. Take careful note that the spirit is received at conception! Dead cells cannot divide, so in order for the zygote to grow in the woman’s womb, it must be alive. To be alive, it must have a spirit (James 2:26). Examples abound showing that the spirit is the life-force of the body. Jesus said that the spirit quickens (gives life) (John 6:63). He referred to His words as “spirit” and they give life. Resurrection is the returning of the spirit to the body (Luke 8:49-55). Death is the departing of the spirit from the body (Luke 23:46). The phrase “gave up the ghost" is translated from the Greek word “ekpneo” (1606) meaning to expire or “breathe out”. Here is demonstrated the spirit as a life-force as well as the analogy of air or breath.

Death is the result of the spirit leaving the body. Without the combination of body and spirit the soul that walked about and envisioned dreams and loved and laughed throughout life does not exist anymore. Consciousness is lost (Ecclesiastes 9:5). “The memory of them is forgotten” does not mean that the living will forget the deceased. How many of us have lost loved ones and still remember them? Even King David, long dead, is still remembered. No, the phrase means that the memory of the deceased or, more plainly, his consciousness, is gone. Upon leaving the body, the spirit returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The dust returning to the earth is the body and the spirit returns to its original source.

Recall that the statement was made that animals do not live forever. The spirit that gives life to animals is not immortal, nor is man’s spirit. Both creatures are referred to as “nephesh” but each spirit, upon death, has a different destination (Ecclesiastes 3:21). The spirit of man returns to God and will be restored to a new body at the resurrection whereas the spirit of the beast goes into the ground and is lost forever. Both man and beast being referred to by the same Hebrew word indicates that each shares a common makeup. It’s the final destination of the spirit that is different, but this has no bearing on the immortality of the soul (spirit), either (Matthew 10:28). In this verse it would have been more accurate to render soul, which comes from the Greek “psuche”, as spirit. This would communicate the thought to today’s disciple as “Don’t fear those who can kill the body but not the spirit but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both spirit and body in hellfire.” No matter how much damage man can do to your body, he cannot touch your spirit. It came from God, it returns to God, it belongs to Him and combined with your body it makes you a soul.



  1. When a person’s spirit returns to God, is the person aware of what is going on?
    (Psalm 88:10, Ecclesiastes 9:5)

  2. Do insects have spirits? If they do, are they “souls”?

  3. If you don’t think animals can possess a spirit, where did Jesus send Legion?
    (Mark 5:13)

Job 33:4 God’s breath gives life
Psalm 6:5 There is no remembrance in death
Ecclesiastes 8:8 No one can willfully retain the spirit in the day of death
Ecclesiastes 9:10 No work, nor wisdom in the grave
Isaiah 38:18 No praise from the grave
Isaiah 42:5 The source of the spirit
Acts 7:59 The spirit after death
1 Peter 3:18 Quickened (life given) by the Spirit
Revelation 11:11 Resurrection is the return of the spirit

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