Barry Newman's Blog

December 2, 2009

The Soul (part I)

Filed under: nephesh,psuche,The Soul — barrynewman @ 6:34 am

What follows, from part I to part (?), is based on an article that was published in the ISCAST Online Journal, July 2006.  Hebrew and Greek words have however been transliterated.  My apologies, but here and there the article is somewhat complicated and sections may need to be read a few times in order to get the sense.  It proceeds by way of an introduction and then the methodology employed is outlined.


 If we were sure what the “soul” really is, our philosophical and scientific debates on the subject and related issues would be so much easier to follow.  One way forward is to examine afresh the biblical evidence.  Two words immediately suggest themselves for scrutiny – the Hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psuche. The word “soul” is often used as a translation for these words and they have been the subject of considerable study over the years. This “article” simply represents a fresh and independent approach.


 The procedure adopted was an examination of all instances of nephesh in the Massoretic Old Testament Hebrew Text followed by an examination of those passages in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) of the Old Testament where nephesh occurred in the Massoretic Text.  All instances of psuche, the dominant word replacing nephesh in the LXX, were then examined in the New Testament Greek text.  That is, having determined that in the Greek LXX, the main word used to “replace” the Hebrew word nephesh is the Greek word psuche, this same Greek word was examined for its usage in the Greek New Testament.  Each occurrence of nephesh was categorized in terms of context and/or sense.  Once the categories for nephesh were finalized the same category system was tentatively applied to all instances of psuche of the New Testament.  The same basic category system was found to be suitable for both the Hebrew word, nephesh as used in the Old Testament and the Greek word psuche as used in the New Testament.  The categories indicated the nature of the semantic domains involved.  That is, they give us a sense of the range of usage.  One should not automatically expect the range to be quite limited given that some Hebrew words in particular “have to do a lot of work”.  That is, they can mean one thing in one context but another relatively different thing in another context.  Of course, any category system is problematic, being determined by one’s own mental idiosyncrasies.   Another person might well come up with a different category system, but hopefully there would be some common ground.

 The categories can also suggest how nephesh and psuche might be translated using words other than “soul”.  An analysis was performed to see how translations over time have avoided using the word “soul”.  A question that underlies discussion throughout this “paper” relates to whether or not the soul is an object that requires serious scientific and/ or philosophical consideration.


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