Barry Newman's Blog

September 16, 2010

The Essence of Spirit (XV)

Filed under: kardia,Leb and Lebab,nephesh,psuche,The Heart,The Soul — barrynewman @ 9:28 pm

Comparison of the Semantic Domains of Ruach and Pneuma with those for Leb/Lebab and Kardia, and Nephesh and Psuche

The domains of ruach and pneuma overlap with those of leb/lebab and kardia, and nephesh and psuche in a number of areas.  Sometimes they may refer to the same entity, for instances “breath” as is the case with nephesh and psuche, and ruach and pneuma.  The righteous leb/lebab or kardia can barely be distinguished from the righteous nephesh or psuche and the distressed of leb/lebab or kardia can barely be distinguished from the distressed in ruach or pneuma.  Overall, however, the three sets of words serve different purposes.  Taking the emotional aspects of mankind as an example, in general terms the differences are as follows.  Leb/lebab or kardia, in modern terms, the mind is the source of the emotions.  The nephesh or psuche, the person, portray emotional characteristics.  The ruach or pneuma of the person refers to that non-tangible inner being that possesses the emotional characteristics.  Though the three sets of words operate here and there within the same domains, in general terms they refer to different entities.

That the semantic domain of ruach is substantially different to those of leb/lebab and nephesh on the one hand and that the semantic domain of pneuma is substantially different to those of nephesh and psuche on the other is illustrated by comparing the frequency with which these words are used of God and of mankind.  See Table 14. In this table the frequency of occurrence is given as the ratio of the number of instances, where the word is used of God or mankind, to the total number of instances.  The ratio is then given as a percentage.

    Leb/lebab Nephesh Ruach Kardia Psuche Pneuma
Used of God Frequency% 27/8553 21/7543 104/385  27 1/1611 2./1122 230/372   62
Used of Mankind Frequency % 791/855   93 694/754  92 156/385 41 158/161 98 108/112 96 72/372    19

Table 14 – Comparison between Frequency of Usage with Reference to God or Mankind, of Leb/lebab, Nephesh and Ruach, and Kardia, Psuche and Pneuma

Whereas both the Hebrew words leb/lebab and nephesh are used relatively rarely of God, ruach is used somewhat frequently of God.  The former pair is used very commonly but ruach far less commonly, with reference to mankind.  Comparing the usage of the pair of Greek words kardia and psuche, with that for pneuma reveals a similar pattern.

Concluding Remarks

Except for the notion of wind, often evident in the use of ruach, the semantic domains of ruach in the Old Testament and pneuma in the New Testament are somewhat similar though the relative populations of the categories that inhabit those domains differ.  Taken together their semantic domain, as judged by a western mind, is however rather diffuse in character.  This is consistent with the general character of each of the words, as judged by the western mind, that is, the non-material, non-tangible though functional reality on which they focus – their essence.


Blog at