Nephesh and The Soul


The following was a comment to a post on another blog:

You are absolutely correct when you say, “The term (nephesh)…can refer to the self, emotion, desire, etc. and gets translated those ways depending on the context of the passage.’ This fits pretty well with English use of the term ‘soul.'”

It is true that nephesh can be interpreted as meaning simply one’s life (Judaism, of course, maintains this interpretation); Psalm 89:48 is frequently used to support this understanding.

At the same time, though, the attributes ascribed to the nephesh also imply more than simply the breath of life. The nephesh is shown as desiring food and drink (e.g., Deuteronomy 12:15; Isaiah 29:8). It’s also portrayed as a form of volition or free will (e.g., Deuteronomy 21:14; Jeremiah 44:14).

The nephesh is further used to describe one’s emotions (Jonah 2:7; Psalm 142:3).

The nephesh is also directly linked to our life in God: the psalmist’s nephesh thirsts for God (Psalm 42:2), and the nephesh is lifted up to God (Psalm 25:1).

It is not wonder, then, that nephesh is used for the entirety of the person (e.g., Genesis 12:13; Leviticus 11:43-44).

Looking into this term — not to mention other terms, like neshamah and ruach — gives us a wonderful look into humanity as God’s creation. It always saddens me when people cheapen this knowledge through misuse and misunderstanding.

You can find more about biblical Hebrew words for the soul in our article, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Immortal Soul,” as well as in the book, The Case for a Creator.