Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.
Question: What is the soul?
Answer: Genesis 2: 7 reads:
“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.” This verse is an account of the creation of the first
man, Adam. By considering each of its three parts, we will better understand what a soul is:
(1.) “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” This clause refers to
the formation of the body, or organism of man from the various elements of the earth.
The body alone was not man, but would be made into man.
(2.) “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” God then imparted the breath, or
spirit of life into the lifeless body that had been formed. The Hebrew word for breath is
neshamah, which means life power − the power to live.
(3.) “And man became a living soul.” The uniting of the body and the breath of life
resulted in a living soul, a living man, a sentient being capable of sensation, perception
and thought. The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, and means “a breathing creature.”
We see from the foregoing that the body is not the soul, nor is the breath of life the
soul, but that the combination of the two produces a living being.
The Scriptures show also that the lower animals, such as dogs, horses, cows, birds and fish are
all souls − they all possess the combination of a body and the breath of life, giving them the
powers of sense – to see, hear, feel, taste and smell. The differences between man and the lower
animals is not that man has a higher kind of life, but (1) man has a higher organism, and (2) God
has made provision for a future life for man, something He has not promised for the lower
There are many instances in the Scriptures when the Hebrew word nephesh should have been
translated “living soul” when referring to lower animals. The translators, however, laboring
under false ideas as to what a soul is, translated nephesh by using other English words instead.
The one case when it is properly translated “soul” is found in Numbers 31: 28:
“And levy a tribute unto the LORD of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five
hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep.”
Another characteristic of souls, when referring to human souls or human beings, is that they can
and do die because of Adam’s sin of disobedience − the whole human race can be spoken of as
resting under Adamic condemnation. Death means that the soul or sentient being ceases, that
thoughts and feelings come to an end (Ecclesiastes 9: 10). The body returns to the dust from
which it came, and the spirit or breath of life returns to God, who originally imparted it to Father
Adam, and to his race through him (Ecclesiastes 12: 7).
The good news is that God, through the redemptive sacrifice of Christ Jesus, has promised that
in due time mankind in general will be awakened from the unconscious sleep of death
(John 5: 28, 29). Each individual will be given the opportunity to go on to perfection and eternal
life, under the favorable arrangements of Christ’s Kingdom; or he may choose the way of sin,
and if so, he will suffer the penalty of death − not temporary, but permanent, spoken of in
Ezekiel 18: 20:
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall
the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and
the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
Note: Please find a more thorough examination of this subject in Study 3 of Hope Beyond the