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Reading: Advice to Christian Philosophers by Alvin Plantinga

And this leads me to my point here. Many Christian philosophers appear to think of themselves
qua philosophers as engaged with the atheist and agnostic philosopher in a common search
for the correct philosophical position vis a vis the question whether there is such a person as
God. Of course the Christian philosopher will have his own private conviction on the point; he
will believe, of course, that indeed there is such a person as God. But he will think, or be
inclined to think, or half inclined to think that as a philosopher he has no right to this position
unless he is able to show that it follows from, or is probable, or justified with respect to
premises accepted by all parties to the discussion-theist, agnostic and atheist alike.
Furthermore, he will be half inclined to think he has no right, as a philosopher, to positions that
presuppose the existence of God, if he can't show that belief to be justified in this way.
What I want to urge is that the Christian philosophical community ought not think of itself as
engaged in this common effort to determine the probability or philosophical plausibility of belief
in God. The Christian philosopher quite properly starts from the existence of God, and
presupposes it in philosophical work, whether or not he can show it to be probable or plausible
with respect to premises accepted by all philosophers, or most philosophers at the great
contemporary centers of philosophy.
Taking it for granted, for example, that there is such a person as God and that we are indeed
within our epistemic rights (are in that sense justified) in believing that there is, the Christian
epistemologist might ask what it is that confers justification here: by virtue of what is the theist
justified? Perhaps there are several sensible responses. One answer he might give and try to
develop is that of John Calvin (and before him, of the Augustinian, Anselmian, Bonaventurian
tradition of the Middle Ages): God, said Calvin, has implanted in humankind a tendency or
nisus or disposition to believe in him:
"There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity." This
we take to beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of
ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty .
Therefore, since from the beginning of the world there has been no region, no city, in short, no
household, that could do without religion, there lies in this a tacit confession of a sense of deity
inscribed in the hearts of all.[2]
Calvin's claim, then, is that God has so created us that we have by nature a strong tendency or
inclination or disposition towards belief in him. Although this disposition to believe in God has
been in part smothered or suppressed by sin, it is nevertheless universally present. And it is
triggered or actuated by widely realized conditions:
Lest anyone, then, be excluded from access to happiness, he not only sowed in men's minds
that seed of religion of which we have spoken, but revealed himself and daily disclosed himself
in the whole workmanship of the universe. As, a consequence, men cannot open their eyes
without being compelled to see him (p. 51).
Like Kant, Calvin is especially impressed in this connection, by the marvelous compages of
the starry heavens above:
Even the common folk and the most untutored, who have been taught only by the aid of the
eyes, cannot be unaware of the excellence of divine art, for it reveals itself in this innumerable
and yet distinct and well-ordered variety of the heavenly host (p. 52).
And now what Calvin says suggests that one who accedes to this tendency and in these
circumstances accepts the belief that God has created the world-perhaps upon beholding the
starry heavens, or the splendid majesty of the mountains, or the intricate, articulate beauty of a
tiny flower- is quite as rational and quite as justified as one who believes that he sees a tree
upon having that characteristic being-appeared-to-treely kind of experience.
No doubt this suggestion won't convince the skeptic; taken as an attempt to convince the
skeptic it is circular. My point is just this: the Christian has his own questions to answer, and his
own projects; these projects may not mesh with those of the skeptical or unbelieving
philosopher. He has his own questions and his own starting point in investigating these
questions. Of course, I don't mean to suggest that the Christian philosopher must accept
Calvin's answer to the question I mentioned above; but I do say it is entirely fitting for him to
give to this question an answer that presupposes precisely that of which the skeptic is
skeptical-even if this skepticism is nearly unanimous in most of the prestigious philosophy
departments of our day. The Christian philosopher does indeed have a responsibility to the
philosophical world at large; but his fundamental responsibility is to the Christian community,
and finally to God.
Again, a Christian philosopher may be interested in the relation between faith and reason, and
faith and knowledge: granted that we hold some things by faith and know other things: granted
we believe that there is such a person as God and that this belief is true; do we also know that
God exists? Do we accept this belief by faith or by reason? A theist may be inclined towards a
reliabilist theory of knowledge; he may be inclined to think that a true belief constitutes
knowledge if it is produced by a reliable belief producing mechanism. (There are hard problems
here, but suppose for now we ignore them.) If the theist thinks God has created us with the
sensus divinitatis Calvin speaks of, he will hold that indeed there is a reliable belief producing
mechanism that produces theistic belief; he will thus hold that we know that God exists. One
who follows Calvin here will also hold that a capacity to apprehend God's existence is as much
part of our natural noetic or intellectual equipment as is the capacity to apprehend truths of
logic, perceptual truths, truths about the past, and truths about other minds. Belief in the
existence of God is then in the same boat as belief in truths of logic, other minds, the past, and
perceptual objects; in each case God has so constructed us that in the right circumstances we
acquire the belief in question. But then the belief that there is such a person as God is as much
among the deliverances of our natural noetic faculties as are those other beliefs. Hence we
know that there is such a person as God, and don't merely believe it; and it isn't by faith that we
apprehend the existence of God, but by reason; and this whether or not any of the classical
theistic arguments is successful.
Now my point is not that Christian philosophers must follow Calvin here. My point is that the
Christian philosopher has a right (I should say a duty) to work at his own projects-projects set
by the beliefs of the Christian community of which he is a part. The Christian philosophical
community must work out the answers to its questions; and both the questions and the
appropriate ways of working out their answers may presuppose beliefs rejected at most of the
leading centers of philosophy. But the Christian is proceeding quite properly in starting from
these beliefs, even if they are so rejected. He is under no obligation to confine his research
projects to those pursued at those centers, or to pursue his own projects on the basis of the
assumptions that prevail there.
Perhaps I can clarify what I want to say by contrasting it with a wholly different view. According
to the theologian David Tracy,

In fact the modern Christian theologian cannot ethically do other than challenge the traditional
self-understanding of the theologian. He no longer sees his task as a simple defense of or
even as an orthodox reinterpretation of traditional belief. Rather, he finds that his ethical
commitment to the morality of scientific knowledge forces him to assume a critical posture
towards his own and his tradition's beliefs. . . In principle, the fundamental loyalty of the
theologian qua theologian is to that morality of scientific knowledge which he shares with his
colleagues, the philosophers, historians and social sciences. No more than they can he allow
his own- or his tradition's-beliefs to serve as warrants for his arguments. In fact, in all properly
theological inquiry, the analysis should be characterized by those same ethical stances of
autonomous judgment, critical judgment and properly skeptical hard-mindedness that
characterizes analysis in other fields.[3]
Furthermore, this "morality of scientific knowledge insists that each inquirer start with the
present methods and knowledge of the field in question, unless one has evidence of the same
logical type for rejecting those methods and that knowledge." Still further, "for the new scientific
morality, one's fundamental loyalty as an analyst of any and all cognitive claims is solely to
those methodological procedures which the particular scientific community in question has
developed" (6).
I say caveat lector. I'm prepared to bet that this "new scientific morality" is like the Holy Roman
Empire: it is neither new nor scientific nor morally obligatory. Furthermore the "new scientific
morality" looks to me to be monumentally inauspicious as a stance for a Christian theologian,
modern or otherwise. Even if there were a set of methodological procedures held in common
by most philosophers, historians and social scientists, or most secular philosophers, historians,
and social scientists, why should a Christian theologian give ultimate allegiance to them rather
than, say, to God, or to the fundamental truths of Christianity? Tracy's suggestion as to how
Christian theologians should proceed seems at best wholly unpromising. Of course I am only a
philosopher, not a modern theologian; no doubt I am venturing beyond my depths.
So I don't presume to speak for modern theologians; but however things stand for them, the
modern Christian philosopher has a perfect right, as a philosopher, to start from his belief in
God. He has a right to assume it, take it for granted, in his philosophical work-whether or not
he can convince his unbelieving colleagues either that this belief is true or that it is sanctioned
by those "methodological procedures" Tracy mentions.
Reprinted from Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers vol. 1:3,
(253-271), permanently copyrighted October 1984. Used by permission of the Editor. New
preface by author. Journal web site:
This article is the sole property of Faith and Philosophy. It may not be altered or edited in any
way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All
reproductions of this data file must contain this Copyright/Reproduction Limitations notice.
This data file may not be used without the permission of Faith and Philosophy for resale or the
enhancement of any other product sold.

Reading: An Introduction to Biblical Thought

In what follows, I have excerpted a significant article which was edited
by Dr. Richard T. Nolan on his website. Seehttp://www.philosophy- for his C.V. Dr. Nolan has brought
together some of the significant ideas in Christian anthropology in the
article which follows. Please do not think that Dr. Nolan's writing
constitutes a definitive understanding of the Christian point of view.
More will follow in the later activities this week. -RZ
Introduction to Biblical thought on Human Nature
This exploration of human nature provides a general orientation to the topic in
biblical thought. We do not delve into the fascinating topics of the mind, the brain,
the self, the genetic bases of human behavior, cognitive neuropsychology, artificial
intelligence, biology and ethics, social construction, and the specific qualities
required for "personhood.” Nonetheless, we may conclude that the biblical view of
human nature is a repudiation of any ontological dualism between body and soul
along with the frequent cynical response to malevolent behavior: "that's human
Humanity In The Bible(1)

There are certain inherent understandings about human nature in the biblical
view: (l) each person is a unique individual - (s)he has the power to act under
his/her own initiative; (2) as a whole, mankind is a good creation of God, firmly tied
to the finite world, but with the important qualifications of dominion and
stewardship, a freedom to move within the limits of time and space, and to affect
the course of history; (3) the real criteria for the exercise of that freedom is its
correspondence to the will and intention of God - there are right and wrong modes
of conduct. In substance, these considerations make one aspect about mankind
central to biblical religion: by design, human beings are in relation. They are in
relation to their environment, to God, to their neighbors, and to the larger human
community. This is a natural consequence of each person's status as a personal
being. Women and men enter into contact with events, objects, and characters
surrounding them. Moreover, as noted by Wright, "The central fact about the place
of man in creation according to the Old Testament is the dignity and honor
accorded him by God."(2) Elsewhere it has been noted:
[In the Bible] the individual is in a special relationship to the Creator.
Human uniqueness lies not chiefly in our reason or in our relationship to
nature. Instead, each person is a worthwhile, unique individual created by
God. ...Human beings are made "in the image of God"; that is,
the Creator has endowed us with unique attributes of a free agent capable
of love, characteristics analogous to God's own self-expression.(3)
(1) Dr. Cherbonnier's Hardness of Heart: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Doctrine of Sin is
available in its entirety in the Cherbonnier subsite. The book is part of the "Christian Faith Series”
edited by Reinhold Niebuhr. Also, a sermon by RTN on persons as unique children of God (entitled
as Pentecost and Baptism”) may be found in the Reflections” subsite.
(2) G. Ernest Wright, "The Faith of Israel," The Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon, 1952), I, p.
(3) H. H. Titus, M. S. Smith and R. T. Nolan, Living Issues in Philosophy, 9th ed. (Belmont, CA:
Wadsworth, 1995), pp. 30f.
The Human Soul

It is important to distinguish between the classical mysticism and biblical

religion's contrasting value of human activity. A key premise is that mystical religion
encourages an escape from (or downplay of) this world, while the biblical
recognizes a vibrant involvement with it. A significant factor that supports this motif
relates to the concept of the human soul.
The image of the soul projected by perennial philosophy is of a "divine spark"
trapped within the human body. In this sense, everyone carries within himself a
share of ultimate reality, of the Wholly Other. Thus, one can refer to the "God
within," or in the extreme, "I am God." An implication, however, is that there is no
real human claim on the soul; it is strictly a trace of the Absolute, which at death
automatically escapes the body and eventually returns to its point of origin. In
human nature, there is a "higher self," the soul or spirit, which aspires to the
perfection of Pure Spirituality; there is also the "lower" state that is associated with
all physical needs and desires. (Be sure to note this definition - it will help you
follow the argument later!! A religion such as Hinduism would fit the definition here
given.-- RZ) Perennialism, therefore, is consistent in its approach to human
nature, because ultimately it divides individuals into two realms, one part that is a
trace of the "wholly other" and another part that is finite. The primary motivation is
to pull these two realms even further apart, to minimize, deny or renounce the body
and the finite, so that the One can retrieve that small "portion" of itself which is
trapped in the natural world.
The biblical image of the human soul is distinctly different: it is God's gift. God
has made man as inherently good, in God's own image, i.e., with the ability to act,
to make decisions, and enter into relation. The logical extension of this
interpretation is that the human soul, through an act of God's grace, remains
uniquely human, though not necessarily mortal. According to biblical religion, "The
soul is not an entity with a separate nature from the flesh and possessing or
capable of a life of its own. Rather it is the life animating the flesh." (4) By way of
elaboration, others have noted:
Nephesh means primarily "breath." ... (It) is often used also with the meaning
"living being," human or otherwise. In Gen. 2:7 the first man became a
living nephesh when Yahweh's breath (a different word) was breathed into his
nostrils. ... Frequently the best translation of the ... word is "person." ... Clearly the
word "soul" in the Bible has a much broader meaning than in current use now. (5)
One might also say that a human being is a "breather."
Man is a living soul. This sentence, which corresponds easily to Gen. 2:7,
says three things: It says first of all that man became a living soul and now is a
living soul. It does not say that man has a living soul. Soul is the nature of man, not
his possession. ... The second thing that the sentence says is that man is a soul.
Were man only flesh made from the dust he would be only body. Were man only
spirit without body, he would be formless. (6)
(4) James Hastings, ed., Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Scribner's, 1963), p. 932.
(5) Millar Burrows, An Outline of Biblical Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956), pp. 135ff.
(6) L. Kohler, Old Testament Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1957), p. 142.

The third implication, according to Kohler, is that man has a body, for "Form is
essential to the soul."(7)
The famous verse in Genesis (2:7) does not say, as is often supposed, that
man consists of body and soul; it says that Yahweh shaped man, earth from the
ground, and then proceeded to animate the inert figure with living breath blown into
his nostrils, so that man became a living being, which is all that nephesh here
means. ... the important thing here is the conception of man as body, not as soul or
spirit. The Hebrew idea of human personality is an animated body, not an
incarnated soul.(8)
The soul, therefore, is a functioning, integrated aspect of human nature and of
behavior. It represents that part of human consciousness which moves toward
fellowship with God. This is not, however, a union of like parts, of the fragment
returning to the whole, but rather two individual identities joining together in positive
relation, in communion. The soul can then be spoken of as being active, not as the
prisoner of the body, but as its animating conscience. It enters into human activity,
directing that action by offering up possibilities which correspond to the will of God.
Another scholar has written:
... for many theological anthropologists, it is axiomatic that the original
Christian vision of humanity followed the Jewish tradition in affirming human life as
a 'psychosomatic unity', distinguishing, but never separating the soul and the body
as different dimensions of human existence. What is distinctive about the Christian
vision of humanity, therefore, is not that it posits the existence of an additional
entity, the soul, not recognized by other anthropologies, but that it posits the
existence of an additional relation - a relation to God, as creator and redeemer -
which encompasses all other relations which define us as individuals. The
insistence that the human being is an 'embodied soul' or an 'ensouled body', and
not a soul somehow occupying a body, is now not just the conclusion of arguments
in theological anthropology but also the premise of arguments in some other
theological disciplines, and this is one measure of success of the campaign against
dualism in the second half of the 20th century.(9)
(7) Ibid.
(8) H. W. Robinson, "The Psychology and Metaphysics of 'Thus Saith Yahweh'," Zeitschrift fur die
Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft XLI (1923), p. 2 of a mimeographed edition provided in a 1957 class
by Theodor M. Mauch, Th.D.
(9) Colin Crowder, Humanity,” The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, ed. Adrian Hastings, et
al (New York: Oxford, 2000), p. 313.

Human Freedom and Grace

An essential feature of human nature is freedom. It is the ability to form
judgments and then to act accordingly. As Cherbonnier states:
.... all human endeavor presupposes freedom, including the enterprise
of philosophy itself. For the philosopher depends upon the distinction of true
from false, that is, on the freedom to distinguish true from false. Take away
freedom and you thereby preclude all thinking. (10)
Acting from this position of freedom puts humans either with or against God's
intentions. Human choices are to be made. That God's Holy Spirit totally controls
anyone's behavior and the flow of events (as believed by some fatalists) is utterly
absent from biblical thought. Uninformed disciples of particular "spiritualties” -
ironically, often devoted to the Bible - may be heard repeatedly transferring their
own responsibilities to "The Lord” - whom they seem to believe will take care of all
their problems. Contrary to that fantasy, in the Bible human initiative (and
responsibility) - often inspired by the Spirit - is central.
Obviously, the biblical interpretation seems much less certain than the
perennial. It appears that the idea of a divine spark makes an individual's union
with God much more likely. Two points of clarification follow: first, union is not
dependent on any condition of human nature; at death, the divine spark inevitably
returns to Pure Spirituality (in some versions, after a series of reincarnations), like
a drop of water merging into an ocean. Second, the method by which that union is
achieved is a type of spiritual suicide; the mystic, recognizing the duality of human
nature, represses the natural tendencies of the body to enter into relation with the
finite. Thereby the divine within his own being can leave him and return to
Oneness; that divinity, however, is unconscious by definition--it has nothing to do
with a personal, human nature. Ultimately, no part of the human being ever comes
into relation, communion, with Oneness, because Pure Spirituality cannot be
related to anything external to itself; it is Wholly Other. As noted elsewhere about
this biblical motif:
In Judaism and Christianity we have the capacity to act under our own
initiative; we have the freedom to move within the limits of time and space.
We can alter the paths of history, but not God's ultimate sovereignty or the
final outcome of the historical process. ...because we have the freedom to
make choices, we can choose to disobey and rebel against the Creator; a
choice of false gods is one cause of an individual's separation from the true
The Bible does not address the limitations on some individuals' freedom to
choose - due to psychological conditioning, chemically caused inhibitions, and
physiological constructions (e.g., the "wiring" of their brains). Degrees of freedom
to choose is a discovery remaining imprecise, but significant. It may be fair to
assume that each person is free to make significant choices, unless compelling
evidence to the contrary is provided. However, though undeveloped as a doctrine
in the Bible, the New Testament especially recognizes that, for whatever reasons,
individuals need God's grace to live in harmony with the Creator's purposes. In
Cherbonnier's words, which do not include "grace,"
The gift of a transformed heart frees men at last to come into their own;
to inherit the high destiny originally prepared for them; to exult with a joyous
company in the glorious liberty of the sons of God. (12)

(10) Cherbonnier, "Jerusalem and Athens," p. 265.

(11) Titus, Smith, and Nolan, op. cit., p. 31.
(12) Cherbonnier, Hardness of Heart, p. 188.
Edited by Richard T. Nolan, Ph.D.
Retrieved from

Reading: Two Points of view

the Christian concepts of Soul and Spirit. These are important concerns in Christian

Soul and Spirit

Soul and Spirit: What’s the Difference?

“What is the difference between the spirit and soul of a human being?”
There is no simple answer to this question because the words, “soul” and “spirit,” are employed
in varying senses within the different biblical contexts in which they may be found. The
following represents a very brief summary of some of these major uses.

The Soul
The Hebrew term for “soul” is nephesh and it is found more than 780 times in the Old
Testament. Because of the variety of contextual meanings, it is not always rendered by the
English word “soul.” The King James Version uses 28 different words by which to translate the
original term. Nephesh, therefore, signifies different things, depending upon the passage in
which it occurs.
Similarly, in the Greek New Testament, the original word for “soul” is psuche, found 103 times.
Our modern word “psychology” derives from this Greek term.
Here are some uses of “soul” in the Scriptures.
A Person
“Soul” may signify merely an individual person. The prophet Ezekiel declared that the “soul”
(i.e., the person) who sins will surely die (Ezek. 18:20), or, as Peter would write centuries later,
“eight souls” were saved by water in the days of Noah (1 Pet. 3:20). See also Exodus 1:5.
In some contexts, “soul” simply has reference to biological life, the animating principle that is
common to both humans and animals. All creatures have “life” (see Gen. 1:30;
cf. ASVfootnote). The wicked king, Herod the Great, sought to take the “life” of baby Jesus (Mt.
2:20; cf. Rev. 12:11). In one of the visions of the Apocalypse, certain creatures of the sea were
said to possess psuche, or life (Rev. 8:9).
The Mind
“Soul” can have to do with that aspect of man that is characterized by the intellectual and
emotional (Gen. 27:25; Job 30:16). It is the eternal component of man that is fashioned in the
very image of God (Gen. 1:26), and that can exist apart from the physical body (Mt. 10:28;
Rev. 6:9).

The Spirit
In the Old Testament, “spirit” is ruach, found some 378 times in the Hebrew Old Testament,
and literally meaning “breath,” “wind,” etc. The corresponding Greek term is pneuma, occurring
379 times in the New Testament (the original form being found in our English word,
pneumonia). Again, though, as with “soul,” the word “spirit” may take on different senses,
depending upon its contextual setting.
The Air We Breathe
Ruach can literally denote a person’s “breath.” The queen of Sheba was “breathless” when she
viewed the splendor of Solomon’s kingdom (see 1 Kgs. 10:4-5). The word can also signify the
“wind.” For instance, some people, pursuing empty goals, are but striving after the “wind” (Eccl.
1:14,17, etc.).
A Non-physical Being
The term “spirit” can be employed, however, in a higher sense. It also is used to depict the
nature of a non-material being, e.g. God. God (the Father), as to his essence, is spirit (Jn.
4:24), i.e., he is not a physical or material being (Lk. 24:39; Mt. 16:17; cf. also the expression,
“Holy Spirit”). Similarly, angels are “spirit” in nature — though they are not deity in kind (Heb.
A Person
“Spirit” can be used, by way of the figure of speech known as the synecdoche (part for the
whole, or vice versa) for a person himself. John wrote: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but
prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into
the world (1 Jn. 4:1; emphasis added). Note that the term “spirits” is the equivalent of “false
prophets” in this text.
The Soul
“Spirit” may refer to the “inward man” (2 Cor. 4:16) that is fashioned in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-
27), and thus be a synonym of “soul.” A sacred writer noted that the “spirit of man is the lamp
of Jehovah” (Prov. 20:27); this is an allusion to that element of man that distinguishes him from
the beasts of the earth.
Daniel affirmed that his “spirit” was “grieved” within his body (Dan. 7:15), and Paul noted that it
is man’s spirit that is capable of “knowing” things (1 Cor. 2:11). Paul also affirmed that church
discipline is designed to save a man’s “spirit” in the day of the Lord (1 Cor. 5:5; see also, 1 Cor.
16:18; 2 Cor. 7:1; Jas. 2:26).
“Spirit” sometimes stands for a person’s disposition or attitude — either for bad or good, e.g.,
the spirit of fear, etc. (2 Tim. 1:7), a meek and submissive spirit (cf. 1 Pet. 3:4), or a spirit of
gentleness (Gal. 6:1).

From this brief discussion, then, it is readily apparent that the careful student must examine
biblical words in their context. The context can override all other linguistic considerations, e.g.,
etymology and grammatical format. A Bible term, extracted from its original context, loses its
divine authority.
One thing is for certain. An honest student cannot study the uses of “soul” and “spirit” in the
documents of Scripture, and then conclude that humans are wholly mortal. And yet this is what
skeptics contend, and some religionists allege as well (e.g., “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and
Seventh-day Adventists).
Retrieved from

Holman Bible Dictionary


The vital existence of a human being. The Hebrew word nephesh is a key Old Testament term
(755 times) referring to human beings. In the New Testament, the term psyche retreats behind
the ideas of body, flesh, spirit to characterize human existence. In the Bible, a person is a
unity. Body and soul or spirit are not opposite terms, but rather terms which supplement one
another to describe aspects of the inseparable whole person. See Anthropology; Humanity .
Such a holistic image of a person is maintained also in the New Testament even over against
the Greek culture which, since Plato, sharply separated body and soul with an analytic
exactness and which saw the soul as the valuable, immortal, undying part of human beings. In
the Old Testament, the use and variety of the word is much greater while in the New
Testament its theological meaning appears much stronger.
The soul designates the physical life. Vitality in all of its breadth and width of meaning is meant
by the soul. The basic meaning of nephesh is throat. Thus, the Bible refers to the hungry,
thirsty, satisfied, soul ( Psalm 107:5,Psalms 107:5,107:9; Proverbs 27:7; Jeremiah
31:12 ,Jeremiah 31:12,31:25). The soul means the entire human being in its physical life
needing food and clothing (Matthew 6:25 ). The breathing organs and the breath blown out
from them also express individual life in animals as well as human beings (Job 11:20; Job
41:21; Acts 20:10 ). At times, then, soul can be interchanged with life (Proverbs 7:23; Proverbs
8:35-36 ) and can be identical with blood (Deuteronomy 12:23 ). A person does not have a
soul. A person is a living soul (Genesis 2:7 ). That means a living being that owes life itself to
the Creator just as does the animal (Genesis 2:19 ). For this life or soul, one gives all one has
(Job 2:4 ). Satan is permitted by God to take health, that is flesh and blood, but Satan cannot
take the bare life of a person (Job 2:5-6 ).
Soul designates the feelings, the wishes, and the will of humans. The work of the throat, its
hunger and appetite, stands for the desire and the longing of the human being after power and
sex, after satisfaction, and after even the evil (Proverbs 21:10 ), but also after God (Psalm
42:2-3 ). The soul can be incited, embittered, confirmed, unsettled, or kept in suspense (Acts
14:2 ,Acts 14:2,14:22; Acts 15:24; John 10:24 ). The word mirrors the entire scale of feelings
under the influence of the human being, even the psychological. The bitter soul of the childless,
the sick, or the threatened (1 Samuel 1:10; 2 Kings 4:27; 2 Samuel 17:8 ) reminds us of
the nephesh as the organ of taste that also stands for the entire embittered person.
The soul also knows positive emotions. The soul rejoices, praises, hopes, and is patient. Never
in these cases is only one part of the human being meant. It is always the powerful soul as an
expression of the entire personality (Psalm 33:20 ). In the command to love (Deuteronomy
6:5; Mark 12:30 ), the soul stands next to other expressions for the human being to emphasize
the emotional energy and willpower of the human being all rolled into one.
The soul designates the human person. Soul is not only a synonym with life. One can also
speak of the life of the soul (Proverbs 3:22 ). Every human soul (Acts 2:43; Romans 2:9 )
means each individual person. The popular expression used today “to save our souls” goes
back to this biblical way of thinking (1 Peter 3:20 ). It means to save the entire person. In legal
texts, the soul is the individual person with juristic responsibilities (Leviticus 17:10 , a blood-
eating soul). Connected with a figure showing statistics or numbers of people, soul becomes
an idea in the arena of the statistician (Genesis 46:26-27; Acts 2:41). At times, soul simply
replaces a preposition such as the expression “let my soul live,” which means “let me live” (1
Kings 20:32 ). It is even possible for all the nuances of meaning to sound forth together in the
same expression. For instance, in Psalm 103:1 , we read, “Bless, Yahweh, O my soul.” This
includes the throat as the organ of life, the soul as the totality of capabilities; my own personal
life which experiences the saving actions of Yahweh our God; my person; my own “I”; and the
vital, emotional self.
Soul designates the essential life. Physical life is given and maintained by God (Matthew 6:25-
34 ). Meaningful and fulfilled life comes only when it is free to give itself to God as a disciple of
Jesus Christ. Life is the highest good when it is lived according to God's intentions and not
used up in search for material and cultural goods (Mark 8:34-37 ). This life is stronger than
death and cannot be destroyed by human beings (Matthew 10:28 ). The soul does not,
however, represent a divine, immortal, undying part of the human being after death as the
Greeks often thought. Paul, thus, avoids the word soul in connection with eternal life. There is
a continuity between the earthly and the resurrected life that does not lie in the capabilities or
nature of mortal humans. It lies alone in the power of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 15:44).
According to the Bible, a human being exists as a whole unit and remains also as a whole
person in the hand of God after death. A person is not at any time viewed as a bodiless soul.
Christian Wolf

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Soul'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

Reading: A Jewish Point of View

On the meaning of Soul
Here is a fascinating article from a Jewish point of view as the author attempts to pull together
teaching from (what we call Old Testament) Scripture, the Jewish Talmud, and Midrash
writings. I often appreciate the contributions of Jewish scholars because they are so deeply
immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures that they have insights that those of us who are less adept
at Hebrew would miss.--RZ

Body & Soul

Indispensable partners for doing life's sacred work
Judaism teaches that the body and soul are separate yet indivisible partners in human life.
Caring for the body's health
Rather than imprisoning or corrupting the soul, the body is a God-given tool for doing sacred
work in the world. It requires protection, care, and respect, because it is holy.
Ancient Israelite Concepts of Soul
The Bible gives few clues to the ancient Israelite idea of the soul or spirit. Three words which
over time developed the meaning of "soul" are present in Tanakh: Neshamah, Nefesh,
and Ruah. Tracing the evolution of these terms gives us some idea of the ancient Israelites'
beliefs regarding the soul.
In the Creation story, we read of God blowing a "breath of life" into the man of earth and dust
(Genesis 2:7). The word used is a form of the Hebrew root indicating breath. Although this
"neshamah" later becomes associated with the soul, the word here only describes the element
that animates a body. This animating element is not, in early biblical tradition, separate from
the body in life, nor does it possess any personality.
Similarly, ruah is the animating force from God. Most often used as "wind," ruahmay also be
used as "breath." "God said, 'My breath [ruhi] will not govern man forever, since he is flesh…'"
(Genesis 6:3). Here, we see the added element of transience: The ruah ends its association
with the mortal body at death.
The word nefesh is often used to mean "person" or "living being". In the Torah, however,
animals may also possess this life force--a "nefesh behemah." The term nefesh is particularly
associated with blood, as in "the life [nefesh] of the flesh is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11).
Nefesh does reflect a personal dimension. It may be used in the sense of "self" (including
"himself"). Nefesh is also associated with personal desire or attraction. One's nefesh may
cleave to someone (as in the case of Shehem's yearning for Dinah, Jacob's daughter), or to
evil (see Proverbs 21:10). In a later example of this usage, a person of considerable appetite is
called "ba'al [possessor of] nefesh" (Proverbs 23:2). In all of these usages, the nefesh is
connected to the body and its material wants.
In later books of the Bible, the soul (using all three terms) is mentioned apart from the body
and as more than just an animating spirit. This subtle evolution of meaning reflects the growth
of the idea of what we call the soul--the unique, everlasting, intangible part of a person. In the
stunning poem that serves as the centerpiece of the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, the death of a
person is described as occurring when "… the dust returns to the ground where it had been
and the ruah returns to the God who had given it" (12:7). While previously we saw the life-
breath leaving the body at death, here we see it as a separate entity that returns to God, rather
than simply disappearing.
Pure in Body & Soul
Ancient Jews displayed an awareness of how influential non-Jewish philosophers regarded the
soul. For example, the Greek Jew Philo tried to use the three words associated with spirit--
neshamah, nefesh, ruah--to support Plato's claim that the soul has three parts. The Sages of
the Talmud, however, were not as keen on many of these foreign ideas. Although the Rabbis
also saw human beings as composed of body and soul, they generally rejected the Greeks'
and Gnostics' belief that the earthly body imprisons the soul.
Instead, literature of the Talmudic period gives us images of body and soul in harmony. "Just
as the Holy One of Blessing fills the world, so does the soul [neshamah] fill the body. Just as
the Holy One of Blessing sees but cannot be seen, so does the soul see but cannot be seen…
Just as the Holy One of Blessing is pure, so is the soul pure" (Berakhot 10a).
In Midrash Leviticus Rabbah, we read that the soul is a guest in the body and that care of the
body is deemed a commandment by the great sage Hillel the Elder, who cited the idea in the
Creation story that God made the human in the divine image. In the medieval period, Rabbeinu
Bahya points out that even bodily fluids (menstrual blood, semen, and fluid from certain skin
eruptions) considered impure (tamei) are only deemed such after they have left the human
In the mind of the Sages, sin is not the product of an unruly body asserting itself over a pure
soul; on the contrary, the body and soul are seen in a partnership of equal responsibility for
actions, in this life as well as the next.
This concept is illustrated in the following Talmudic anecdote, from tractate Sanhedrin: The
Emperor Antoninus tries to convince Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi that the body and soul can each
excuse themselves from sin by claiming that the transgression is the fault of the other, since
without its counterpart, it is lifeless. Rabbi Yehudah counters with a parable: Two guards--one
blind and one lame--are in a garden. Together, they are able to steal some fruit from a high
tree. When caught, each claims that he is obviously unable to commit the crime due to his
disability. In the end, the orchard owner places the lame man on the back of the blind man, and
they are judged as one (91b). Similarly, God judges the actions of the body and soul in
partnership after returning the soul to the body at resurrection.
Where Souls Come From & Where They Go To
The Rabbis rejected another claim Plato made for the soul--that souls pre-date Creation. Many
in the ancient world believed that all human souls were created before the material world, but
the midrash Tanhumah tells us that all souls were made during the six days of Creation. Before
the birth of each person, God calls forward the proper soul and has angels show that soul how
earthly existence benefits spirit by allowing for spiritual development.
According to another midrash, sleep, like death, temporarily separates body and soul (Genesis
Rabbah 14:9). Several rituals surrounding going to sleep and waking up evolved from this
belief. Like birth and death, even temporary severings of the connection between body and
soul require holy acts (for example, the washing of hands or recitation of particular prayers).
Jews express gratitude to God every morning for renewal of both body and soul: "I offer thanks
to You, living and everlasting King, for having returned to me my soul with compassion and
great faithfulness" (the Modeh Aniprayer).
The path of the soul following death was not a particularly significant matter of speculation for
the Sages, nor is there consensus on the matter in the Talmud and Midrash. In Tanhumah, we
read a vaguely worded passage suggesting that the body cannot live without the soul nor the
soul without the body. On the other hand, many Talmudic Rabbis taught that the soul not only
exists separately from the body, but also exists in a fully conscious state in an ethereal realm
(Ketubbot 77b, Berakhot 18b-19a, and elsewhere).
A Tool for the Soul's Redemption
Saadia Gaon, a product of Greco-Arabic philosophy as well as Jewish tradition, presented his
own view of the soul in the sixth chapter of his work Emunot veDeot. In it, he states that a soul
is created at the same moment of the body, from a more subtle, but still material, element.
Although he opposed many of Plato's views, Saadia also disagreed with many of the more
abstract opinions of the Talmudic Sages. Despite this, he preserved the belief that the soul
benefits from its partnership with the body. Without the body, the soul would be unable to do
the holy, redemptive work of following the commandments.
Maimonides developed a complicated Aristotelian model of the soul. He described a number of
faculties of the soul, all of which are related to the relationship of a person to his or her material
environment, perceptions, memories, creativity, and desires. Most of these faculties of soul
exist only in a living human body; with the death of the body, they too die. For Maimonides, the
only eternal aspects of soul are the logical and spiritual speculations and learning of a person
produced over his or her lifetime.
Treatment of the Human Body
Halakhah (Jewish law) teaches us that the paramount holiness of human life extends to the
human body. Mitzvot (commandments) cover mundane bodily matters such as clothing, eating,
and sexual habits precisely because care of the body is also care for the soul. Healthcare is
the maintenance and upkeep of the soul's home. Torah law prohibits mutilations of the body,
including tattooing (Leviticus 19:27-28, Deuteronomy 23:3). Not only medical but even hygienic
treatments are often elevated to the level of commandment. Maimonides deemed it obligatory
to provide proper sustenance and respectful clothing for the body.
Judaism offers an optimistic view of life, the union of body and soul. The body is a gift from
God to be protected and tended. Only with our pure, holy bodies can we bring the
commitments and truths of our souls into every action.
By the staff of My Jewish Learning
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