Fun with Bible Words 4: Soul

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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 our modern church world. When asked, most Christians will try 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 heaven or hell.”

I’m going to make the case that we’ve been wrong—dead wrong. This is one Biblical 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!

What is a Soul?

Translators have made a mess of the original word soul throughout the Bible, and as a result, have contributed to the grotesque distortion of this once simple word. Let’s allow accurately translated Scripture to define Scripture in order to help us unveil the truth.

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 BECAME a living soul” (KJV).

According to Scriptures, each person does not HAVE a soul. Each person IS a living soul. You are brought to life as a living soul and your soul is the sum total of you—your body, mind, will, and emotions. No one part of you can be separated from the rest or it is no longer you.

It’s interesting to see the contortions translators did with this one little word throughout Scriptures in order to keep up the false tradition of the “immortal soul,” a concept that came straight out of Babylonian and Greek paganism.

Whenever a passage is about something with a negative connotation such as being lost or destroyed, translators will stick with the correct word soul. Whenever a verse is conveying temporal existence or used with a positive or neutral connotation, they swap soul for the word life. For instance, if you could see an accurate translation of the whole first chapter of Genesis, you would find that anything with blood and breath is a soul—including animals.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving souls that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” And God created great whales, and every living soul that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly… And God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living souls after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.”

The underlined words in each of the following verses are usually errantly translated “life” in most modern translations to cover up the true meaning of soul (even though there is a word in both Hebrew and Greek for life and it is NOT used in any of these passages).

Leviticus 17:14: “As for the soul of all flesh, its blood is identified with its soul.”

Matthew 20:28: “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His soul a ransom for many.”

I love putting this verse with 1 Timothy 2:5–6:

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for ALL, the testimony given in due season.”

In light of that, did you know that Jesus gave His soul for you? This would not be possible based on modern theological teachings that want you to believe the soul is immortal. There are many hundreds of such verses that have been mistranslated with this word, covering up an important picture. We don’t have time to cover them all here, but a more in depth study on this word will be available in my forthcoming book!

For now, let me leave you with this. In Genesis 9:4–5, God declares that every soul must die. In reality, this is the curse of Adam. Adam brought the death of soul, or the physical death of all people. And when you understand this, it is easy to see that the gift Jesus brought to all mankind is life back from the dead and from the curse of Adam.

“So then as through one transgression (Adam’s) there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness (Jesus’) there resulted justification of life to all men” (Romans 5:18).

Once so muddled and misleading, now such a simple, beautiful truth. Everybody loses their soul temporarily through physical death, but there is no evidence in the Greek or Hebrew Scriptures that anyone “has a soul” or that they can lose it permanently.

“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).

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  • Damian Masters

    This a good one. For years I have asked people if we have a soul that floats away after death, why worry about where we go a death. Also if the so called soul goes to the place of torment where does the flesh come from that burns off during your stay there, for ever. Plus how does flesh burn forever. Keep the word study's coming. They are bound to help true seekers. Thanks.

    • jferwerd

      Hey Damian! I agree with you…so much we've been taught doesn't make any sense and when you get to snooping around in the Greek and Hebrew, you find out how many contortions have been done in our modern translations to keep up the traditions of men, rather than just print what's in there. It's crazy!!

  • This is very good. I am so glad to see the direction you are headed in. To the Jewish people the Soul is explained as the spiritual part of us that connects us with the Lord. not in the Physical only in the Spiritual.

    • jferwerd

      That is interesting Brian. If the soul is the spiritual part of us, what is the "ruwach" of us?

      "…of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit (ruwach) of life, died" (Gen 7:22)

      I see soul as the total of us–body, mind, emotions, and spirit–and the spirit of us being the "breath of God" living in us that departs from us and goes back to Him at death.

      "…then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit (ruwach) will return to God who gave it. Ecc. 12:7

      Also, do you have any insight on the Hebrew word "[email protected]"? The spirit ([email protected])of man is the lamp of the LORD, Searching all the innermost parts of his being. (Prov. 20:27). How do you distinguish [email protected] from ruwach?

  • I love this!!

  • Chester

    The way you refer to "translators" throughout the text implies that they are a unified group of individuals who have collectively decided to promulgate "grotesque distortions" and "false traditions." To put it bluntly, this isn't a very credible accusation. The Bible has been translated hundreds (if not thousands) of times from the original Greek/Hebrew into many disparate languages. To state that specific verses/words in the Bible are the victim of deliberate distortion (or 'contortion') is to assert that every single one of these scholars embraced and promoted the 'false belief'.' In short, one must delve into conspiracy theory.

    I think it is important to remember that texts that are translated from one language to another should NOT be expected to retain the exact words, order, phrasing, etc. 'Literal' translations are often wrong, simply because idioms, meaning, inflection, etc differ so much from language to language. To give a specific example, romance languages have two different forms of the verb "to know," depending on the direct object. Similarly, German has words and concepts that do not occur in English, and are often presented in English texts in italics ('schadenfreude'). If one ignored this context/complexity in lieu of direct references to specific nouns,one would find numerous cases of 'mistranslation' where none may actually exist.

    Lastly, I don't see how this fundamentally changes any aspect of traditional Christian theology. It is merely semantics whether one refers to a 'person,' a 'spirit,' a 'being,' or a 'soul'; the resurrection has the same power and meaning with every word choice.

    • Ranjit

      Chester, I am having same questions. Perhaps Julie will answer what you are saying.

  • jferwerd

    Get out of town! Are you serious? LOL…we have to talk.

  • Ranjit

    I am sorry for being late to writing on this post.

    [quote]Translators have made a mess of the original word soul throughout the Bible, and as a result, have contributed to the grotesque distortion of this once simple word. Let’s allow accurately translated Scripture to define Scripture in order to help us unveil the truth.[/quote]

    Julie, your first sentence seems to disagree with the second sentence or maybe to be requiring some proof of how you have the access to "accurately translated" Scripture when for the last 1500+ years all of the Christians do not have that access. Do you see that? Is it not like you saying something like "All doctors for the last 1500+ years have interpreted test X incorrectly. The accurate interpretation is Y". That makes me wonder 1) why they all do it wrong, 2) why lots of people did not catch them in their error for last 1500+ years, and 3) how you Julie know the doctors that interpret it correctly…how would you know they interpreted it correctly…especially if you are not a doctor. Maybe to be asking, are you knowing Hebrew/Greek well enough to decide which translators are good translators and which are bad translators? Perhaps :) but I am doubting.

    I am asking about assumptions and not soul because if assumptions are not solid then anything building on top is up to question, as you are arguing, correct?