soul

soul

A word in the Hebrew Bible with a wide range of meanings. “Soul” may refer to an individual person: Leah bore sixteen “souls” (children) to Jacob (Gen 46:18; NRSV: “persons”). Or it may refer to the life principle, to that which makes a human being alive: God “breathed the breath of life” into Adam and he became a “living soul” (Gen 2:7; NRSV: “living being”). In this latter sense, one may fear for one’s soul (Ezek 32:10), risk one’s soul (Judg 5:18), or take one’s soul (1Kgs 19:4). For a Hebrew, “soul” indicated the unity of a human person; the Greek notion, by contrast, allowed for dualism between body and soul, understanding the “soul” to be immortal and distinct from the body. Although the NT was written in Greek, its authors use the word “soul” with the basic Hebrew field of meaning. The concept of “immortality of the soul” was abhorrent to early Christians, because it rendered resurrection unnecessary (1Cor 15:35-54). Thus, in the NT “soul” is often simply a synonym for “life”: Herod sought Jesus’s soul (Matt 2:20); one might save a soul or take it (Mark 3:4); death occurs when God “requires your soul” (Luke 12:20). “Soul” generally refers to the whole person, the self: “three thousand souls” were converted in (Acts 2:41) (NRSV: “persons”; see Acts 3:23). “Soul” can denote the existence of a person after death (Luke 9:25; Luke 12:4; Luke 21:19), but even then the idea does not appear to be the Greek concept of some immortal aspect of a person that survived when the body died. See also Resurrection.

Gen 46:18

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Gen 2:7

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Ezek 32:10

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Judg 5:18

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1Kgs 19:4

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1Cor 15:35-54

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Matt 2:20

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Mark 3:4

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Luke 12:20

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Acts 2:41

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Acts 3:23

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Luke 9:25

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Luke 12:4

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Luke 21:19

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