Genesis 2:7 is the description of God's formation of man (Adam). It uses the words dust, ground, blow, nostrils, breathe, life, man, living, and soul. Three words “came to be” a living soul are what describes man. The verse does not say that man “was a soul.
Does man have a soul? Is the soul separate from the spirit? The answer to both questions depends upon the meaning of the Hebrew word that is translated as soul and various passages in the Bible. So, what is the meaning of the Hebrew word for soul?
First, according to the King James Version (KJV) Genesis 2:7 reads as follows,
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. Genesis 2:7 (KJV)
But, both the New American Standard Bible and New International Version translates the verse as,
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Genesis 2:7 (NASB)
When we compare these verses, we discover both the NASB and NIV have translated “soul” differently than the KJV. Why did this occur? First, the Hebrew word the KJV translated as “soul” is nephesh. This Hebrew word can and has been translated as “life, creature, live, breath, emotion, passion, or person.” That is, nephesh has a wide semantic range of meaning. This Hebrew word does not refer to a “spirit” of spiritual life.
Notice that nephesh is translated as creature, life, lifeblood, and live in Genesis 1:20, 30; 2:7; 9:5, 12 and 12:5. In each of these verses nephesh is used to refer to birds, land animals, and water animals. Nephesh refers to the inner body which includes the organs such as brain and heart (Genesis 34:3). This reveals that nephesh does not refer to our spirit. It appears to refer to life force that causes the internal organs to function.
Therefore, while the KJV translation uses the traditional translation of nephesh, it is inadequate.
Second, we will now discover how the Hebrew word for soul is used in Genesis 3:19. Here is the verse,
It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. Genesis 35:18 (NASB)
Here we are told that as Rachel was dying her “soul” departed. Then we are told she was dying. In order to understand this verse accurately, we should remember the above discussion that provided the meaning of nephesh. Therefore, a better understanding of the verse is that her bodily functions were stopping. We would say she was “dying.” It is like a man in a hospital whose kidneys have stopped working. Then something else stops working, and other internal organs cease until he is dead. We must remember that nephesh does not refer to the man’s spirit. So, when the internal organs cease to function, Scripture teaches the soul has died.
So, does man have a soul? The answer is yes, but Scripture appears to teach that “soul” does not mean spirit. It is important to notice that every person has a body (the material elements), soul (that which causes the body to function) and spirit (the eternal spiritual life). The next two verses reveal that man has body, soul and spirit.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NASB)
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and fable to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NASB)
The message is that souls and spirits are not the same. When we die, the spirit of a man or woman goes to either heaven or hell; but the body remains here. The soul appeared to refer to that part of man that causes his nephesh or body to function. The body is placed into a grave and decays and returns to the dust. Listen to Jesus’ comments about what happens to our spirits after we die,
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NASB)
These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25:46 (NASB)
Both verses reveal that we do have eternal life. The Bible does teach that we have eternal life if we believe in Jesus Christ. The word belief has the idea of belief plus submission to Christ. The last verse indicates that after death we either have eternal life or eternal punishment. Everyone lives forever, the question is, “Where will you live?” That is, the real you, your spirit, will experience eternal life or eternal punishment. The phrase “eternal life” means that we live in fellowship with God forever. One can live with God forever only if one believes in Jesus Christ. The true mark of a real Christian is that he or she submits to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Where will you live forever?
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