Leviticus 16:29-31. "And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that so journeth among you: For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever. (KJV)

From the above verses can anyone explain what it means to "afflict your souls" in the Day of Atonement ?


4 Answers 4


The Hebrew text וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם (alternatively תְּעַנּוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם) literally says "and ye shall afflict your souls," and it appears in two separate sections in Leviticus as well as once in Numbers. This text has always been understood to mean afflict your body through fasting. That being said, there is also a spiritual component to Yom Kippur in additional to the physical fast itself. A fairly substantial amount of data from Tanach supports this assertion. A good example is Isaiah 58:3 which reads:

לָמָּה צַּמְנוּ וְלֹא רָאִיתָ עִנִּינוּ נַפְשֵׁנוּ וְלֹא תֵדָע הֵן בְּיוֹם צֹמְכֶם תִּמְצְאוּ חֵפֶץ וְכָל עַצְּבֵיכֶם תִּנְגֹּשׂוּ:
Why have we fasted but You (G-d) have not seen; we have afflicted our souls but You do not know? Behold, on the day of your fast you pursue business, and [from] all your debtors you exact [payment].

In this example, the verb צמנ (fast) is clearly being equated with ענה (afflict).

Furthermore, the Hebrew word נֶפֶשׁ, in addition to meaning "soul," also has a physical meaning related to the human body. Psalms 107:9 is a good example of this:

כִּי הִשְׂבִּיעַ נֶפֶשׁ שׁוֹקֵקָה וְנֶפֶשׁ רְעֵבָה מִלֵּא טוֹב:
For He (G-d) has sated a longing soul, and filled a hungry soul with good.

Above we can see that the dual spiritual/physical meanings of נֶפֶשׁ are being used in the very same verse. So afflicting your soul on Yom Kippur means physically fasting, and being spiritually affected by that fast as well.

Here is an excellent article which discusses this topic in more detail.


The word for afflict is the Hebrew is H6031 and is transliterated "anah". This word carries with it the idea of humble, quiet reflection and introspection as well as an acknowledgement of confession. It would likely have included forms of self denial such as fasting (Isaiah 58:3) but not been limited to it. It is a time of recognizing ones own sinfulness and remembrance through reflection, and subsequently the need of the need of and looking to the Messiah.


According to websters afflict means to cause pain or suffering to someone or something. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/afflict

It's origin according to the same site Middle English, from Latin afflictus, past participle of affligere to cast down

It could be taken as to mean cast down which could imply prayer, or humility. Considering the use in the verse I could be taken as feeling bad for your sins. To afflict yourself could easily be a reference to looking on your sin and regretting it.

One more possibility is that they were asked to doing something difficult. Perhaps a fast where they refrained from something they typically needed. Probably Food or Water. There is less evidence to this, but it could be taken that way.

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    Why define the English translation when you could define the original Hebrew? Oct 14, 2014 at 2:39

You may want to consider investing in a parallel bible as other versions translate this as "Humble your souls". The Hebrew word in this passage translated as "afflict" in the KJV is וְעִנִּיתֶ֖ם (weinnitem) which is defined as "to be occupied, be busied with to afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, be bowed down" So this term has the sense of being prostrate and afflicted with humility. You can use this word as either humble or afflicted and the proper usage is based on context. It could also be a double entendre, but does not appear to be so here based on context.

All told, the KJV really is a terrible version as it is a translation of a Latin translation of The Bible and sources from only about a dozen sources. More modern translations source from thousands of manuscripts.

  • The KJV being "a translation of a Latin translation" does not automatically dictate that the KJV is thus a "terrible version." I don't know why you imply otherwise.
    – user862
    Oct 14, 2014 at 3:11
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    A translation from Latin? To my understanding, the KJV is primarily based on the Hebrew and Greek (and/or on Tyndale translating from Hebrew and Greek), albeit with some influence from the Vulgate (and the LXX). Modern text criticism has identified what are likely earlier/more accurate manuscripts compared to those used in 1611, but to say it's a translation primarily from Latin seems inaccurate. I'm not seeing that in the link you gave, but I may have missed it.
    – Susan
    Oct 14, 2014 at 3:48

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