REDEFINING THE SOUL
Ever notice all the talk about the soul in church?
"Your soul is in danger of eternal hellfire!"
"Believe in Jesus or you will lose your soul…"
There's an intangible, inexplicable sense about this word in the modern
Christianity. When asked, most Christians will hem haw, trying to explain
the soul as something like this: "A person is both body and soul. The body
is the physical flesh-and-blood temporary 'shell.' The soul is the
nonmaterial, intangible, immortal aspect. At death the soul leaves the
body, and lives on consciously forever in either heaven or hell."
I'm going to make the case that we've been wrong—dead wrong. This
is another critical Bible word that I believe has been way misconstrued
(and mistranslated) to mean something it does not. It has taken on a soul
of it's own, if you will, and the result is that many a soul has been lost in
wrong conclusions (not hell, thankfully)!
What is a Soul?
Translators have made an utter mess of the Greek and Hebrew words
for soul, and as a result, have contributed to the huge distortion of this
once simple word. The Hebrew and Greek words for soul are nephesh and
psuche respectively, both nouns, yet this one little word has been
unbelievably mistranslated as a myriad of other words. Here are but a few
of many: life, death, corpse, heart, endure, myself, desire, greedy, hunger,
heartily, perfume, slave, strength, fish, thirst, throat, mind, suspense, thing—oh
yes, and soul. You'll notice that within the list of words, each of which have
radically different meanings, are also verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and
What is the reason for such sloppy translation? Nephesh and psuche
are translated correctly in all the passages where translators wish to
convey the concept of the immortality of the soul and it's supposed
potential for "everlasting destruction." However, passages that would
nullify the notion of the soul's immortality, when translated correctly, are
masked with an assortment of misleading words. Let's bring some clarity
to the definition of soul using Scripture:
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
wonder how many other significant things you read that have not been
translated correctly. Certainly by now you have come to realize it happens
When Translators Lost Their Souls
The truth about the soul has been almost completely concealed in
modern Bibles. Consider the word translators most often substitute in
place of soul, and that is life. Hebrew and Greek each have a specific word
for life (chayay and zoe, respectively), so there was no need to "improve
on" or interpret the original intent of the writers of Scripture. In fact, there
are many verses where both of these words occur together, showing that
they are not interchangeable. Looking again at the same two verses above:
Genesis 2:7: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the
ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (chayay); and
man BECAME a living (chay) soul (nephesh)" (KJV).
1 Corinthians 15:45: "So also it is written, 'The first man, Adam,
BECAME a living (zoe) soul (psuche). The last Adam became a life
Now, using the word life in and of itself is not so bad or far off of the
true meaning of soul, but the problem is the way nephesh and psuche
have been calculatingly and intentionally mistranslated, misleading people
to think that the soul is immortal and can be damned forever. Whenever a
passage is about something that carries a negative connotation such as
being lost or destroyed, translators correctly use the word soul. Whenever
a passage conveys temporal existence or carries a positive or neutral
connotation, they swap soul for the word life. To help you understand the
significance of this more clearly, I'm going to give several verse examples.
The italicized and bolded word in each of these verses is soul in the
original text, not life:
Genesis 9:5: "Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I
will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will
require the life of man." In order to keep up the fallacy of the immortality
of soul, translators would not be able to give an accurate rendering of this
verse because in context, God requires the death of every soul.
Exodus 4:19: "Now the LORD said to Moses in Midian, 'Go back to
Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.'"
Leviticus 17:11: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have
given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the
blood by reason of the life that makes atonement." Notice now nephesh
occurs three times in this verse but is translated two different ways at
whim, attempting to convey a completely skewed picture to the reader.
Leviticus 17:14: "As for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with
Deuteronomy 19:21: "Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for
eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."
Psalm 31:13: "For I have heard the slander of many, terror is on every
side; while they took counsel together against me, they schemed to take
away my life."
Matthew 2:20: "Get up, take the Child [Jesus] and His mother, and go
into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead."
Matthew 6:25: "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about
your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your
body, as to what you will put on. Is not (the) life more than food, and the
body more than clothing?"
Matthew 10:28: "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 (Gehenna)."* Why is soul suddenly translated correctly where it is
speaking of being destroyed, the translator intent suggesting in hell?
Matthew 16:25–26: "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but
whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man
if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give
in exchange for his soul?" Again, psuche is used by New Testament
writers four times here, not two! We are told to intentionally lose (give up)
our own soul here in the Greek text, but this would not be good for
Sunday morning theology. Also, the word chosen by translators, "forfeits,"
BECAME a living soul (nephesh)" (KJV).
1 Corinthians 15:45: "So also it is written, 'The first man, Adam,
BECAME a living soul* (psuche). The last Adam became a life-giving
According to the Scriptures, a person does not HAVE a soul. Each
person IS a living soul. Your soul is the sum total of you—your body,
mind, will, emotions, and spirit (breath). No one part of it can be separated
from the rest or it is no longer you. You were brought to life as a living
soul. I should briefly mention the concept of "spirit." Our spirit, as I
understand it, is the breath of God that brings us to life and sustains us
until our physical death. In Ecclesiastics 12:7 we learn that, at death, our
spirit goes back to God while our body goes back to the ground, awaiting
resurrection. What about our "soul" at death? Well, since I believe our soul
is the total of us (body, intellect, will, spirit), it is basically put away until
God resurrects us back to life all in one piece again.
Actually, any created creature—man or beast—that has breath and blood
is called a soul, although you might not glean this from reading most
modern translations. For instance, in Genesis 1:20 and 24, where God is
creating the sea and land animals, here is how the original language text
reads, "Then God said, 'Let the waters teem with swarms of living souls
(nephesh)…Let the earth bring forth living souls after their kind."
Feel free to look up the words in a concordance for yourself (or you can
check the Darby Translation on Studylight.org—they translated this
Pretty nifty, huh? When such mistranslating happens in the very first
chapter of the Bible, twisting such an important concept, it should make you
is a completely blatant, biased (aggravating) mistranslation. It is Strong's
#2210, zemioo, and should be "does damage to" or "suffers loss to."*
Matthew 20:28: "…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."† Did you know that
Jesus gave His soul for you? This would not be possible based on modern
theological teachings that want you to think the soul is immortal and only
dies when it is eternally damned.
How Soul was Influenced by Greek Mythology
Hopefully by now you see how important it is to scrutinize verses and
themes you have always taken for granted, and you realize also that you
don't have to be a pastor or have a doctorate in theology to see how we've
been misled. And now perhaps you're still wondering where the whole
teaching of the immortal, intangible soul came from, if not from the Bible.
In his book, The Subversion of Christianity, French author Jacques Ellul
"A familiar example of the mutation to which revelation was
actually subjected is its contamination by the Greek idea of the
immortality of the soul. I will briefly recall it. In Jewish thought death
is total. There is no immortal soul, no division of body and soul. Paul's
thinking is Jewish in this regard. …The soul is as mortal as the body.
But there is a resurrection. Out of the nothingness that human life
becomes, God creates anew the being that was dead. There is a
creation by grace; there is no immortal soul intrinsic to us. Greek
philosophy, however, introduces among theologians the idea of the
immortal soul. The belief was widespread in popular religion and it
was integrated into Christianity. But it is a total perversion.
Everything is not now dependent on the grace of God, and assurance
of immortality comes to be evaluated by virtues and works. All
Christian thinking is led astray by this initial mutation that comes
through Greek philosophy and Near Eastern cults.
"An ardent work brings to light this type of deformation. Louis
Rougier, in his L'Astronomie et Religion en Occident (Paris: PUF, 1980),
shows how belief in the soul's celestial immortality arose in the second
half of the fifth century B.C. on the basis of astronomy. Pythagorean
astronomy radically transformed the idea of the destiny of the soul
held by Mediterranean peoples. For the notion of a vital breath that
dissipates at death, for belief in a survival of shades wandering about
in the subterranean realm of the dead, it substitutes the notion of a
soul of celestial substance exiled in this world. This idea completely
contaminates biblical thinking, gradually replaces the affirmation of
the resurrection, and transforms the kingdom of the dead into the
kingdom of God.
"Successive generations have reinterpreted Scripture and
modeled it after their own cultures, thus moving society further from
the truth of the original gospel. The church also perverted the gospel
message, for instead of simply doing away with pagan practice and
belief, it reconstituted the sacred, set up its own religious forms, and
thus resacralized the world."63
Historian and archeologist, Keith Stump, provides some additional
information on where the idea of immortality of soul originated, even
before the Greeks:
"The idea of an 'immortal soul' long predates the founding of
today's major religions. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (5th
century B.C.) tells us in his History that the ancient Egyptians were the
first to teach that the soul of man is separable from the body, and
immortal. This Egyptian idea was centuries before Judaism,
Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam came onto the scene.
"The pagan Greeks got the concept of an immortal soul from the
Egyptians! The foremost advocate among the ancient Greeks of the
idea of an 'immortal soul' was the Athenian philosopher Plato (428–
348 B.C.), the pupil of Socrates. …It was Plato who popularized the
immortal soul concept throughout the Greek world. [Ancient Greek
and Roman writers] suggest that he may have simply popularized
what he knew to be a fiction as a means of keeping the citizenry in line
through the fear of mysterious 'unseen things' beyond this life.
"The immortal soul concept, in other words, was a necessary companion
doctrine to the doctrine of the terrible torments of parts of Hades or hell. Such
fearsome teachings, some philosophers thought, were necessary to scare the
masses into being good citizens.
Plato and the Jews
"The Jewish communities of antiquity were deeply influenced by
Greek philosophical ideas. Many will suppose that the Platonic view
of the soul imprisoned in the flesh would have been nothing new to
the Jews. But notice the testimony of Jewish scholars themselves:
"'The belief that the soul continues its existence after the
dissolution of the body is…nowhere expressly taught in Holy
Scripture. …The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews
from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy
of Plato its principle exponent, who was led to it through Orphic and
Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were
strangely blended' (The Jewish Encyclopedia article, 'Immortality of the
"But what of the professing Christian world? Certainly here we
should find the doctrine of an immortal soul independent of any
Greek influence. Now consider this fact: Many of the early theologians
and scholars of the professing Christian religion—including such men
as Origen, Tertullian, and Augustine—were closely associated with
"Tertullian (A.D. 155–220), for example, wrote: 'For some things
are known even by nature: the immortality of the soul, for instance, is
held by many…I may use, therefore, the opinion of Plato, when he
declares: "Every soul is immortal"' (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. III).
"Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354–430)—held to be the greatest
thinker of Christian antiquity—also taught the immaterial and
spiritual nature of the human soul. But notice the source of his
teachings. The Encyclopedia Britannica states, '[Augustine] fused the
religion of the New Testament with the Platonic tradition of Greek
228 REDEFINING THE SOUL
"Why should those early professing Christian scholars have
resorted to the opinions of a pagan Greek philosopher? Could it be
that the immortal soul doctrine is not clearly supported in Christian
Scripture? Throughout the centuries of professing Christianity,
innumerable sermons have been preached and countless pamphlets
written purporting to prove the soul's immortality. Upon careful and
open-minded examination, they are all found to be riddled with
surprising error. …The doctrine of the immortal soul is built on a
foundation of biblical mistranslations, false premises, and sloppy
scholarship. Few had the spiritual courage to take a fresh,
unprejudiced look at the question and accept the true Bible teaching.
For when the false doctrine of the immortal soul is toppled, along with
it falls the equally pagan and false concept of heaven and hell—one of
the cornerstones of traditional Christianity!"64
Every Soul Must Die
God declares that every soul must die (Gen. 9:4–5). In reality, this is the
curse of Adam, not eternal separation from God or eternal death. Adam
brought the death of soul, or the death of every living, breathing, warmblooded
person (and animal). And when you understand this, it is easy to
see that the gift Jesus brought to all mankind is life back from the dead
"So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to
all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted
justification of life to all men" (Romans 5:18).
"We know love by this, that He laid down His soul for us; and we
ought to lay down our souls for the brethren" (1 John 3:16, MLT).
Once so muddled and misleading, now such a simple, beautiful truth.
We've made quite a journey together, but we're not quite finished yet!
Now that we've come to the end of our Hebrew perspectives, I'd like to
share some of my recent reflections with you—my own personal take on
The Story. Through some unexpected life parallels, I feel like I've come to
see a glimpse of the heavenly Parent's heart. These thoughts, however
humanly flawed, have continued to favorably transform my view of God