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THEOLOGY > Man > Nature of Man > Crucial Question 


Should we affirm
that man has a soul,
or that man is a soul?

The question is crucial, for the position taken will determine the answer given to other pressing questions, such as death, immortality, the resurrection, and judgment.

The issue is whether man possesses a soul as an independent entity within his body, or whether man in his totality should be spoken of as a soul. The question takes various forms:

* Should man be viewed as body and soul, or should man be viewed as soul?

* Does the soul animate the body, or is the animated body a soul?

* Is the soul a distinct entity itself, independent of the body; or is it simply a reference to the body being alive, in essence, used to refer to the totality of the living individual?

* Is the soul independent of the body, or are the body and soul so intricately related that they cannot be separated?

* If the body and soul are separate, then does the soul possess immortality?

* If the body and soul cannot be separated, then will the soul be resurrected?

* Is the idea of body and soul a dualism that has been imported into the Christian faith from Platonic thought?

“And Yahweh God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7); the phrase of interest is “man became a living being (nephesh).”

In this verse note the use of “man”; God formed “man” of the dust—the body is associated with the word “man.” And into his nostrils (the nostrils of “man”) God breathed life; at that point “man” became a soul, a living being, a living person. The word, “man,” is used of the body, a part of the body, and what the body “became.”

Man is thus body with life, a material part and an immaterial part, distinct and yet intricately related; the union of the two is really a mystery—dirt with life.

There is no dualism here or component parts that are placed together with the result being a man; from beginning to end the subject is man—man as body and then man as animated body.

It is not what was placed within the body
but it is what the body became—
the body became animated,
the body came alive.

The animated body is referred to as:

“a living soul” in KJV, ASV;

“a living being” in the NKJV NASB, RSV, NIV, CSB;

“a living creature” in ESV;

“a living person” in NLT.

It seems that nephesh (Heb. for “soul,” “being,” “creature,” or “person” in the above verses) speaks of the resulting animation of the dust by God; nephesh is what the body became.

The soul is not something the body has
but the word "soul" speaks of the living being
that appeared when the body was animated by God.

The soul is the living being.

The word “soul” is a synonym for the person in both Testaments, for nephesh in the Old Testament and for psuche in the New Testament.

and the people (nephesh) whom they had acquired in Haran (Gen. 12:5);

Give me the persons (nephesh), and take the goods for yourself (Gen. 14:21);

whoever has killed any person (nephesh) (Num. 31:19);

the men of war . . . one of every five hundred of the persons (nephesh) (Num. 31:28);

Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons (nephesh) (Deut. 10:22);

the one who takes a bribe to slay an innocent person (nephesh) (Deut. 27:25);

have I not wept . . . has not my soul (nephesh) grieved (Job 30:25; “I” and “soul” are synonyms);

my soul (nephesh) is cast down within me; therefore I will remember (Ps. 42:6; “soul” and “I” are synonyms);

my soul (nephesh) . . . and all that is within me” (Ps. 103:1; “soul” and “me” are synonyms);

our soul (nephesh) has escaped . . . and we have escaped (Ps. 124:7)

men, women, children, the king’s daughters, and every person (nephesh) (Jer. 43:6);

the sword comes and takes any person (nephesh) from among them (Ezek. 33:6);

about three thousand souls (psuche) (Acts 2:41);

Joseph . . called . . . all his relatives to him, seventy-five people (psuche) (Acts 7:14);

we were two hundred and seventy-six persons (psuche) on the ship (Acts 27:37);

the first man Adam became a living being (psuche) (I Cor. 15:45);

eight souls (psuche) were saved through water (I Pet. 3:20).

is the Greek word for “soul” and translates nephesh in the Septuagint; in the above verses, note that psuche is translated as: “soul,” “people,” “person,” and “being.” Nephesh is what man “became” when God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s body; it is not what man came to have (Gen. 2:7; see: Constitution).

There is no soul that inhabits the body and can exist outside of the body. The self is not a something in a body, but the quality of being bestowed upon the body by the breath of God. This type of thinking about the soul results in the wholeness of man, a unity that does not accept the dissection of man into various parts or entities.

A person, a self, or mind,
is not an invisible and immaterial entity called the soul
that can exist in a disembodied state,
but a person is always an animated body functioning in the world.

The soul is the person!

The individual is the complexity of living associated with the body that was brought into existence by the Creator—the distinctiveness of man is that this complexity of living reflects the Creator; man is made in the image of God (see: Image of God and Nature of the Image).

It is the image and not the soul that is the distinctiveness of man.

Therefore, the answer to the above crucial question is that man is a soul.

Return to Nature of Man; Next Article: Nature of the Soul

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