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What is a Soul?

What is a Soul?


“Many in reading the account of creation in Genesis have noted the fact stated that when God had formed man of the dust of the ground, and had communicated to him the breath (spirit) of life, the record is, “Man became a living soul.” (Gen 2:7)

This statement to the average reader taken in connection with his general misconception of the meaning of the word “soul,” as misrepresented to him by those who should have instructed him properly, and should have understood the subject themselves (being as this is one of the first principles of TRUE Christian doctrine), is sufficient to bewilder him and leads him to think that somehow there is some basis for the prevalent error which he does not comprehend, but which he supposes his chosen theological teachers have investigated and proven beyond peradventure.

Not comprehending the meaning of the word soul, many feel at liberty to use it in a reckless manner, and hence they reverse the Scriptural statement and instead of speaking of man as being a soul, they speak of man as having a soul, which is a very different thought altogether. It is necessary, therefore, that each truth-seeker should, so far as possible, divest his mind of prejudice on the subject, and especially with respect to things and features which he admits he does not fully understand; because it is the natural tendency to give attributes and powers to that which is mysterious and not comprehended. Thus the general idea of a soul is that it is wonderfully intelligent, possessed of wonderful powers, that it is indestructible, intangible, and incomprehensible.

A Methodist bishop is credited with having given the following definition of a soul, which certainly accords well with so-called “orthodox” theories, even if it is absurd when closely analyzed. He states concerning the soul,

It is without interior or exterior, without body, shape, or parts, and you could put a million of them in a nutshell.”

These various things are predicated of a soul, to help fill out a theory, which is wholly erroneous. The theory is that the soul is the real being, a spark of divinity, possessed of divine quality and intelligent life, etc., separate and apart from the body; and that it inhabits the human body for a time, and uses it for a house, and when the body is worn out or disabled abandons it. Inasmuch as no one ever saw a soul enter a body, and inasmuch as a soul cannot be found while it is in the body, by the most critical examination, and with all the improved appliances of the microscope, photography and X-ray equipment, therefore it is supposed that it is “without a body, without shape, and without parts“; and since it is supposed to be so small that it cannot be distinguished by a microscope, it might as well be said that you could put fifty millions of them in a nutshell. Really, the bishop gave an excellent definition of nothing; and all will agree that a hundred millions of nothings could be put into the smallest kind of a nutshell and have room to spare.

But what foundation is there for such wild speculation? We answer, it is wholly unwarranted. It is the result of man’s taking his own theory of a future life, and rejecting the divine theory and plan.

Human theory says there must be something which never dies; else there can be no future life. The divine theory says, the same God who created in the beginning is able to resurrect the dead. This is the conflict between the Word of God and all the human theories of earth amongst the civilized as well as amongst the heathen: all human theories teach that man does not die, and hence has no need of a Life-giver and a resurrection. The Bible theory is that man does die, and that without the Life-giver, and without a resurrection, death would indeed end all, and there would be no future life.

It is to support its theory that the world, and all its religious books (including, we are sorry to say, the majority of works on eschatology written by professed Christians), teach the doctrine of the immortality of the soul–that there is a soul in man, possessed of a separate life from his body, and that it is immortal, indestructible, and therefore destined to an eternity of pain (eternal life in torment in Hell) or pleasure (eternal life in heaven).” (E320-22)

So what is a soul? Where did it come from, how did it originate? Let’s let the Lord answer this question.

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 being (soul).” Gen2:7

“The word ‘soul;’ as found in the Scriptures, signifies sentient being; that is a being possessed of sense-perception. Note closely the sequence of events entailed in the creation of man as stated in the above text.

First the organism or body was formed from the dust of the earth, and then the spirit of life, called ‘breath of life,’ was instilled in the body or organism, which in turn resulted in the creation of a living soul, or sentient being.

Thus seen a soul is the combination of body and breath; it is a living, thinking creature. Man does not have a soul. Man IS a soul.

This is very simple, and easily understood. It shows that the body is not the soul, nor is the spirit or breath of life the soul; but that when these two were united by the Lord, the resultant quality or condition was living man, living being–a living soul, possessed of perceptive powers. There is nothing mysterious about this nor is there any intimation that a spark of divinity was infused into humanity, any more than into the lower animals.”

“And so it is written, the first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” 1 Cor 15:45

This scripture clearly states that the first man WAS MADE or BECAME a living soul; there is no mention of a soul being placed into the man.

When a man dies, the process is reversed. Genesis 2:7 describes the beginning of human life by saying that the Lord God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man BECAME a living soul.”

Psalm 146:4 describes the termination of a man’s life: “His breath goes forth; he returns to his earth. In that very day his thoughts perish.” It is just the reverse. We know the soul is not immortal because the Bible plainly states, “the soul, that sins, it shall die” (Ezek 18:4, 20) Thus when a man dies, “in that very day, his thoughts perish.” He is really, dead. God said to Adam, “Thou shall surely die.” It was Satan, the father of lies, who first suggested that man has an immortal soul when he said, “Thou shall not surely die.”

“If the soul is immortal, why does Paul say in 1 Cor 15:53, 54, “…this mortal must put on immortality?” If mortal man must put it on, does this not indicate he does not possess it now? When Paul said when “this mortal shall have put on immortality,” he was signifying this process would occur at some time in the future.”

In the first, second and ninth chapters of Genesis the words “living soul” are equally applied in the Hebrew language to the lower animals nine times, but the translators (as though careful to protect the false but common vagary respecting a soul, derived from Platonic philosophy) sedulously guarded their work, so that, so far as possible, the English reader is kept in ignorance of this fact–that the word soul is common to the lower creatures, and as applicable to them as to man in inspired Scripture usage.

How else could it happen that in all of these cases, and in many other instances throughout the Scriptures, they have carefully covered the thought, by using a different English word to translate the Hebrew word, which, in the case of man, is rendered “soul“? So carefully have they guarded this point that only in one place in the Bible is this word translated “soul,” in connection with the lower creatures, viz., in Num 31:28, and there, very evidently, they were compelled to show the matter, by reason of the peculiar construction of the sentence–no other translation being reasonably possible. The passage reads:

“Levy a tribute unto the Lord of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons and of the beeves and of the asses and of the sheep.” Num 31:28

Here it will be noticed that the word “soul” is used respecting the lower creatures as well as in reference to man; and so it would appear elsewhere in the Scriptures, had the translators been free from the warp and twist of their false theories on this subject.

Let us now notice the nine texts in Genesis in which the Hebrew original of the word soul (“nehphesh chaiyah”) occurs in connection with the lower animals:

“God said, let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving [creeping] creature that hath life [Heb., nehphesh–soul].” (Gen. 1:20) Note that the marginal reading is soul; and that this was on the fifth creative day or period, long before man’s creation.

“God created great whales, and every living creature [Heb., nehphesh–living soul] that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly.” (Gen. 1:21) This also was in the fifth “day,” before man’s creation. These were fish-souls.

“God said; Let the earth bring forth the living creature [Heb., nehphesh–living soul] after his kind–cattle and creeping thing and beast.” (Gen. 1:24) These were dry-land souls, higher than the fishes–but man, human soul or being, had not yet been created.

“And God said…To every beast of the earth and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creeps upon the earth, wherein there is life [living soul–nehphesh] I have given every green herb for meat.” (Gen. 1:30) Here the lower animals are specified, and it is distinctly declared that they are all living souls–in exactly the same terms that refer to man.

“Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air…and whatever Adam called every living creature [Heb., living soul–nehphesh], that was the name thereof.” (Gen. 2:19)

Comment here is unnecessary: there can be no question that soul is not exclusively a human part or quality, but rightly understood is applicable to all sentient creatures from the lowest to the highest– all creatures possessed of sensibilities.

“Every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you… but flesh with the life thereof [Heb., flesh, soul–nehphesh] which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” (Gen. 9:3, 4) Here the animals which man may eat are not only declared to possess soul or being, but their blood is said to represent their existence, being or soul, and hence man is forbidden to use blood as food–forbidden to cultivate blood-thirstiness.

“Behold I establish my covenant with you [Noah] and with your seed after you; and with every living creature [Heb., living soul–nehphesh] that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth.” (Gen. 9:9, 10)

Thus the scriptures confirm that all living creatures are souls as well as man–though inferior to him in nature, organism, etc.