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Part 2

So far, we have examined the Old Testament view of human nature in the light of man 's creation in the image of God as a living soul. We have found that the two fundamental texts of mankind 's creation, Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:7, do not allow for a dualistic interpretation of human nature with a mortal body and an immortal soul. On the contrary, the body, the breath of life, and the soul are present in man 's creation, not as separate entities, but as characteristics of the same person. Body is man as a concrete being; soul is man as a living individual; the breath of life or spirit is man as having his source in God. To test the validity of this initial conclusion, we now take a closer look at the broader Old Testament use of four key aspects of the human nature: soul, body, heart, and spirit.

Our initial study of the meaning of nephesh soul in the context of creation has shown that the word is used to designate the animating principle of life as present in both human beings and animals. At this point, we wish to explore the broader use of nephesh in the Old Testament. Since nephesh occurs in the Old Testament 754 times and is rendered in 45 different ways,23 our focus is on three main usages of the word that relate directly to the object of our investigation. 

Soul as a Needy Person. In his state-of-the-art book Anthropology of the Old Testament, which is virtually undisputed among scholars of various theological persuasions, Hans Walter Wolff entitles the chapter on the soul as Nephesh Needy Man. 24 The reason for this characterization of nephesh as needy man becomes evident when one reads the many texts which picture nephesh soul in dangerous situations of life and death proportions.

Since it is God who made man a living soul and who sustains the human soul, the Hebrews when in danger appealed to God to deliver their soul, that is, their life. David prayed: Deliver my soul [nephesh] from the wicked (Ps 17:13, KJV); For thy righteousness sake, O Lord, bring my soul [nephesh] out of trouble (Ps. 143:11, KJV). The Lord deserves to be praised, for he has delivered the soul [nephesh] of the poor from the hand of the evildoers (Jer 20:13).

People greatly feared for their souls [nephesh] (Jos 9:24) when others were seeking their souls [nephesh] (Ex 4:19; 1 Sam 23:15). They had to flee for their souls [nephesh] (2 Kings 7:7) or defend their souls [nephesh] (Es 8:9); if they did not, their souls [nephesh] would be utterly destroyed (Jos 10:28, 30, 32, 35, 37, 39). The soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ez 18:4, 20). Rahab asked the two Israelite spies to save her family and deliver our souls [nephesh] from death (Jos 2:13). In these instances, it is evident that the soul was in danger and needed to be delivered was the life of the individual.

The soul experienced danger not only from enemies but also from lack of food. In lamenting the state of Jerusalem, Jeremiah says: All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul [nephesh] (Lam 1:11). The Israelites grumbled in the wilderness because they no longer had meat as they had had in Egypt. But now our soul [nephesh] is dried away: there is nothing at all, besides this manna, before our eyes (Num 11:6).

Fasting had implications for the soul because it cut off nourishment that the soul needed. On the Day of Atonement, the Israelites were commanded to afflict your souls (Lev 16:29) by fasting. They abstained from food to demonstrate that their soul was dependent upon God for both physical nourishment and spiritual salvation. Quite appropriately, writes Tory Hoff, they [the Israelites] were asked to fast on the Day of Atonement because it was their soul that was atoned for through the shedding of blood [of an innocent soul] and it was the providential God who sustained the soul despite the sin of the soul 25

The theme of danger and deliverance associated with the soul [nephesh] allows us to see that the soul in the Old Testament was viewed, not as an immortal component of human nature, but as the uncertain, insecure condition of life which sometimes was threatened unto death. Those situations which involved intense danger and deliverance reminded the Israelites that they were needy souls [nephesh], living persons whose life depended constantly upon God for protection and deliverance.

Soul as Seat of Emotions. Being the animating principle of human life, the soul functioned also as the center of emotional activities. In speaking of the Shunammite, 2 Kings 4:27 says: Her soul [nephesh] is vexed within her (KJV). David cried to the Lord, seeking deliverance from his enemies, saying: My soul [nephesh] is also sore vexed. . . . Return, O Lord, deliver my soul [nephesh] (Ps 6:3-4). 

While the people were waiting for God's deliverance, their soul was losing vitality. Tory Hoff notes: 

Because the Psalmist often wrote from within this experience [of danger], the Psalms include phrases such as 'their soul fainted in them ' (Ps 107:5), 'my soul melts for sorrow ' (Ps 119:28), 'my soul languishes for salvation' (Ps 119:81), 'my soul longs, yea, faints for thy courts' (Ps 84:2), and 'their soul melted away in their evil plight' (Ps 107:26). Job asked, 'How long will you torment my soul' (Job 19:2). It was also the soul that would wait for deliverance. 'For God does my soul wait in silence ' (Ps 62:1). 'I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope' (Ps 130:5). Since the Hebrew knew all deliverance came from God, his soul would 'take refuge ' in God (Ps 57:1) and 'thirst for him ' (Ps 42:2; 63:1). Once the danger had passed and the intense, precarious nature of the situation was over, the soul would praise God for deliverance received. 'My soul makes its boast in the Lord, let the afflicted hear and be glad' (Ps 34:2). 'Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exalting in his deliverance' (Ps 35:9).26 
These passages which speak of the soul as the seat of emotion are interpreted by some dualists as supporting the notion of the soul being an immaterial entity attached to the body and responsible for the emotional and intellectual life of the individual. The problem with this interpretation is, as Tory Hoff explains, that the soul is the 'seat of emotion ' no more than any other Hebrew anthropological term. 27 We shall see that the soul is only one center of emotions because the body, the heart, the bowels, and other parts of the body also function as emotional centers. From the Biblical wholistic view of human nature, one part of the body can often represent the whole.

Wolff rightly observes that the emotional content of the soul is equated with the self or the person and is not an independent entity. He cites, as an example, Psalms 42:5, 11, and 43:5 in which the same song of lament and of self-exhortation is found: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him. Here, Wolff writes, nephesh [soul] is the self of the needy life, thirsting with desire. 28 There is nothing in these passages to suggest that the soul is an immaterial part of human nature that is equipped with personality and consciousness and is able to survive death. We shall note that the soul dies when the body dies.

The Soul as the Seat of Personality. The soul [nephesh] is seen in the Old Testament not only as the seat of emotions but also as the seat of personality. The soul is the person as a responsible individual. In Micah 6:7 we read: Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, and the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul [nephesh]? The Hebrew word translated here as body is beten, which means belly or womb. The contrast here is not between body and soul. In commenting on this text, Dom Wulstan Mork writes: The meaning is not that the soul is the human cause of sin, with the body as the soul 's instrument. Rather, the nephesh, the whole living person, is the cause of sin. Therefore, in this verse, responsibility for sin is attributed to the nephesh as the person. 29

We find the same idea in several texts that discuss sin and guilt. If a soul [nephesh] shall sin through ignorance . . . (Lev 4:2, KJV); And if a soul [nephesh] sins . . . he shall bear his iniquity (Lev 5:1, KJV); But the soul [nephesh] that doeth ought presumptuously . . . that soul [nephesh] shall be cut off from among his people (Num 15:30, KJV). Behold all souls [nephesh] are mine; . . . the soul [nephesh] that sinneth, it shall die (Ez 18:4). It is evident that in texts such as these, the soul is the responsible person who thinks, wills, and is answerable for his conduct.

Any physical or psychical activity was performed by the soul because such activity presumed a living, thinking, and acting person. The Hebrew did not divide and assign human activities. Any act was the whole nephesh in action, hence, the whole person. 30 As aptly expressed by W. D. Stacey, Nephesh sorrowed, hungered, and thought because each of these functions required the whole personality to perform it, and the distinction between emotional, physical, and mental was not made. 31 

In the Old Testament the soul and the body are two manifestations of the same person. The soul includes and presumes the body. In fact, writes Mork, the ancient Hebrews could not conceive of one without the other. Here was no Greek dichotomy of soul and body, of two opposing substances, but a unity, man, who is bashar [body] from one aspect and nephesh [soul] from another. Bashar, then, is the concrete reality of human existence, nephesh is the personality of human existence. 32

The Soul and Death. The survival of the soul in the Old Testament is linked to the survival of the body, since the body is an outward manifestation of the soul. This explains why the death of a person is often described as the death of the soul. When death occurs, writes Johannes Pedersen, then it is the soul that is deprived of life. Death cannot strike the body or any other parts of the soul without striking the entirety of the soul. Therefore it is also said to 'kill a soul ' or 'smite a soul ' (Num 31:19; 35:15,30; Jos 20:3, 9); it may also be called to 'smite one as regards the soul, ' i. e. to smite one so that the soul is killed (Gen 37:21; Deut 19:6, 11; Jer 40:14, 15). There can be no doubt that it is the soul which dies, and all theories attempting to deny this fact are false. It is deliberately said both that the soul dies (Judg 16:30; Num 23:10 et al.), that it is destroyed or consumed (Ez 22:25, 27), and that it is extinguished (Job 11:20). 33

Readers of the English Bible may question the validity of Pedersen 's statement that the soul dies, because the word soul does not occur in the texts which he cites. For example, speaking of the cities of refuge, Numbers 35:15 says: Anyone who kills any person [nephesh] without intent may flee there. Since the word soul nephesh does not occur in most English translations, some may argue that the text is speaking of the killing of the body and not of the soul. The truth of the matter is that nephesh is found in the Hebrew, but translators usually chose to render it with person, presumably because of their belief that the soul is immortal and cannot be killed. 

In some instances, translators render nephesh soul with personal pronouns. Readers of English versions have no way of knowing that the pronoun stands for the soul nephesh. For example, one of the texts quoted by Pedersen is Deuteronomy 19:11, which in the RSV reads: But if any man hates his neighbor, and lies in wait for him, and attacks him and wounds him [nephesh] mortally so that he dies. . . . The phrase wounds him mortally in Hebrew reads wounds the soul nephesh mortally. Pedersen quotes the texts from the Hebrew Bible and not from English translations. Thus, his statement that the soul dies accurately reflects what the Hebrew text says. Furthermore, there are texts even in the English version, that clearly speak of the death of the soul. For example, Ezekiel 18:20 reads: The soul that sins shall die (See also Ex 18:4).

Death is seen in the Old Testament as the emptying out of the soul of all its vitality and strength. He poured out his soul unto death (Is 53:12). He poured out translates the Hebrew arah which means to empty, to bare, or make naked. This means that the Suffering Servant emptied himself of all the vitality and strength of the soul. In death, the soul no longer functions as the animating principle of life, but is at rest in the grave.

The dead, writes Pedersen, is a soul bereft of strength. Therefore the dead are called 'the weak ' (rephaim). 'Now thou art become weak ' is the greeting with which the fallen king of the Babylonians is received in the realm of the dead (Is 14:10). 34 The dead body is still a soul, but a soul without life. The Nazarites were not allowed to defile themselves by coming near a dead body (Num 6:6), or as the Hebrew text says: the soul of one dead. In the same manner, the priests were not to defile themselves by coming near the dead souls of their relatives (Lev 21:1, 11; Num 5:2; 9:6, 7, 10).

The fate of the soul is linked to the fate of the body. As Joshua conquered the various cities beyond the Jordan, we are told repeatedly he utterly destroyed every soul [nephesh] (Jos 10:28, 30, 31, 34, 36, 38). The destruction of the body is seen as the destruction of the soul. In the Bible, writes Edmund Jacobs, nephesh refers only to the corpse prior to its final dissolution and while it has distinguishable features. 35 When the body is destroyed and consumed so that its features are no longer recognizable, then the soul no longer exits, because the body is the soul in its outward form. 36 On the other hand, when the body is laid to rest in the grave with the fathers, the soul is also at rest and lies undisturbed (Gen 15:15; 25:8; Jud 8:32; 1 Chron 29:28). 

The Old Testament view of the soul as ceasing to function at death as the animating life-principle of the body raises some interesting questions regarding Jesus ' statement: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Mat 10:28). This text seems to suggest that the death of the body does not necessarily entail the death of the soul. This text is examined in the next chapter dealing with the New Testament view of human nature.

The Departure of the Soul. In addition to those passages we have just considered in which the soul nephesh is associated with death, at least two texts deserve special consideration because they speak of the departure and return of the soul. The first is Genesis 35:8, which says that Rachel 's soul was departing as she was dying, and the second is 1 Kings 17:21-22, which tells of the soul of the widow 's son returning to him. These two texts are used to support the view that at death the soul leaves the body and returns to the body at the resurrection.

In his book Death and the Afterlife, Robert A. Morey appeals to these two texts to support his belief in the survival of the soul upon the death of the body. He writes: If the authors of Scripture did not believe that the soul left the body at death and would return to the body at the resurrection, they would not have used such a phraseology [departing and returning of the soul]. Their manner of speaking reveals that they believed that man ultimately survived the death of the body. 37

Can this conclusion be derived legitimately from these two texts? Let us take a closer look at each of them. In describing Rachel 's hard labor, Genesis 35:18 says: And as her soul was departing (for she died), she called his name Benoni; but his father called his name Benjamin. To interpret the phrase her soul was departing as meaning that Rachel 's immortal soul was leaving her body while she was dying, runs contrary to the consistent teaching of the Old Testament that the soul dies with the body. As Hans Walter Wolff rightly points out, We must not fail to observe that the nephesh [soul] is never given the meaning of an indestructible core of being, in contradistinction to the physical life, and even capable of living when cut off from that life. When there is a mention of the 'departing ' (Gen 35:18) of the nephesh from a man, or of its 'return ' (Lam 1:11), the basic idea is the concrete notion of the ceasing and restoration of breathing. 38

The phrase her soul was departing most likely means that her breathing was stopping, or we might say, she was taking her last sigh. It is important to note that the noun soul nephesh derives from the verb by the same root which means to breathe, to respire, to draw breath. The inbreathing of the breath of life resulted in man becoming a living soul, a breathing organism. The departing of the breath of life results in a person becoming a dead soul ( for she died ). Thus, as Edmund Jacob explains, The departure of nephesh is a metaphor for death; a dead man is one who has ceased to breathe. 39

Tory Hoff offers a similar comment: Through the concrete image of the departure of breath, the text communicates that Rachel was in the process of dying while she named her newborn son. She was not yet dead in the modern sense of the word, but was ebbing closer to death by the moment. She was loosing the nephesh vitality that ruah [breath] sustained to the degree that she would soon depart from nephesh existence. 40 We conclude that the departure of the soul is a metaphor for death, most likely associated with the interruption of the breathing process. This conclusion is supported by the second text, 1 Kings 17:21-22, which we now examine.

The Return of the Soul. In relating the story of the raising to life of the widow 's son at Zarephath by Elijah the prophet, 1 Kings 17:20-22 says: Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the Lord, 'O Lord my God, let this child 's soul come into him again. ' And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. It must be granted that, taken in isolation, this text could be taken to mean that the soul leaves the body at death and in this instance was recalled by Elijah 's prayer. This conclusion obviously would support the belief that the soul is immortal and survives the death of the body.

Three major reasons cause us to reject this interpretation. First, neither in this passage nor anywhere else in the Bible is there any indication that the human soul is immortal. On the contrary, we have found that the soul is the animating principle of life manifested in the body as long as the body is alive. 

Second, in verse 17, the death of the boy is described as the cessation of breathing: There was no breath left in him. This suggests that as the cessation of breathing caused the departure of the soul nephesh, so the revival of breathing caused the return of the soul. As Edmund Jacob puts it: In 1 Kings 17:17 lack of neshamah [breath] causes the departure of nephesh, which returns when the prophet gives the child breath again, for nephesh alone is what makes a living creature into a living organism. 41 Since breathing is the outward manifestation of the soul, the cessation or restoration of breathing causes the departure or return of the soul.

Third, in Hebrew, verse 21 literally reads: Let this child's soul come into his inward parts again. This reading, which is found in the margin of the AV, puts a different construction on the passage. What returns to the inward parts is breathing. The soul as such is never connected with some inward organs of the body. The return of breathing in the inner parts results in the revival of the body, or, we might say, in the body becoming again a living soul. 

Basil Atkinson perceptively observes that, "the writer did not think of the soul as being the real child or carrying his personality. The child was lying dead on the bed and the soul came back to the child. Elijah did not think or say such words as are sometimes heard at modern funerals, 'I can't think of him as here any longer." 42 

In the light of the above considerations, we would conclude that the statement the soul of the child came into him again simply means that the child came to life again or the child began breathing again. This is the way the translators of the NIV understood the phrase by rendering it as the boy 's life returned to him. This is a perfectly intelligible way of understanding the text and is consistent with the rest of the Old Testament teaching.

Conclusion. Our study of the meaning of nephesh soul in the Old Testament has shown that never once is the word used to convey the idea of an immaterial, immortal entity capable of existing apart from the body. On the contrary, we have found that the soul nephesh is the animating principle of life, the life-breath, which is present in both human beings and animals. The soul is identified with blood because the latter is seen as the tangible manifestation of the vitality of life. At death, the soul ceases to function as the animating life-principle of the body. The fate of the soul is connected inextricably with the fate of the body because the body is the outward manifestation of the soul.