The word "soul" (nephesh) is never used to refer to something external to a person. The "soul" refers to either the whole person, or some aspect of the person, such as what we would call thoughts, feelings, energy, spirituality, the subjective viewpoint, mind, personality, psychology, or breath. The soul could never exist outside of a person. Death affects the soul as well as the body, says Barth (1960:370). "The ostensibly all-powerful soul becomes completely impotent in death because it becomes bodiless."
When the Bible says that a person's soul departed, it could be translated as "the person's life departed," or "she died" (Genesis 35:18).
The Old Testament theologian Hans Walter Wolff (1974:20) says that the soul (nephesh) of a person is "never given the meaning of an indestructible core of being, in contradistinction to the physical life, and even capable of living when cut off from that life." Where there is mention of a "departing" of the soul from a person (Genesis 35:18), or its "return" (Lamentations 1:11), the basic idea is that of a ceasing or restoration of breathing.
The concept of an immortal soul is thus without clear biblical support. The saying of Jesus in Matthew 10:28 should not be construed as teaching the immortality of the soul: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." This does not say that the soul cannot be killed, Barth reminds us, "but only that no man can kill it, while God has the power to cause both soul and body to pass away and be destroyed in the nether world. Hence we do not have here a doctrine of the immortality of the soul" (1960:379).
Humans are not described in Scripture as having a different earthly origin than animals, but as having their origination, as human creatures, qualitatively marked off from that of non-human creatures by the endowment of the divine image.
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