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In the New Testament the Greek term "psyche" often, if not always, gets translated as "soul." Would the original author using that term have meant "psyche" like we mean it today? Or, more precisely, what is the semantic range that "psyche" would have originally signified?

For example, when in Matthew 22:37 when Jesus references Deuteronomy 6:5:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'

is he being redundant? If "soul" refers to "psyche" as we think of it today, then what does "mind" refer to?

Or take, as another example, Matthew 16:26:

"What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Is this text saying implying that "gaining the whole world" can result in mental instability?

And lastly, when 1 Peter 2:11 advises the reader to

abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

Is this text making a statement about how sinful desires affect the "psyche"?

I want to be careful not to impose a 21st century understanding onto an ancient word, yet I can't help but wonder if we don't know what we're talking about when we refer to the soul sometimes. Thoughts?

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    Hello and welcome. Here questions like this need to be focused on a specific passage. If you could edit this to give an example of a place where this is an issue, we could see about re-opening. Thanks. – Susan Jan 20 '16 at 17:10
  • Oops! Sorry. I'd added in three specific texts to clarify the question. Let me know if I'm off the mark. – P. G. Gable Jan 20 '16 at 20:49
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    Thank you for editing, but IMO this is now too broad. The use of psyche in the NT is quite diverse, in no small part because the semantic range of the corresponding Hebrew word impinges on the normal Greek usage to an inconsistent degree. I would think this needs to be focused on a single usage in order to be answered reasonably. – Susan Apr 22 '16 at 8:20
  • Agreed --> too broad with all these passages. It needs to at least focus on a single author's usage of the term, but even then the context matters. – Dan Feb 21 '18 at 5:38
  • In the Greek speaking world of the time, “psyche” had several very different meanings, some of which occur in the Bible, in various contexts. For a comprehensive outlook please consider Liddell&Scott’s Greek-English lexicon: perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/… On the left there is a column with 161 references, including OT and NT. That would perhaps fully answer your question. – Constantin Jinga Feb 21 '18 at 16:05
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SOUL, WHAT IS IT?

When reading the scriptures , the Hebrew word "ne'phesh" and the Greek word " phy'khe" meaning " Soul", we notice that it is basically used to refer to " Living Creatures","People" and "Life".

From my research into the topic, I noticed that translators are not always consistent , meaning that in many cases they use the word "life", "people" , or " creatures" for the word soul ,on many other occasions they opt to leave the word "soul". So to understand which meaning is used, we have to read the verse in context.

SOUL IS USED TO REFERS TO "PERSONS", or " PEOPLE"

After being anointed with holy Spirit , Peter stood with the other eleven and spoke to the crowds , many were pierced in the heart and accepted his message. Here the word soul clearly stands for persons or people.

Acts 2:41 " Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day".(NABRE)

Acts 2:41 " Those then who had accepted his word were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls. (DARBY)

Likewise in the days of Noah eight persons,or people were saved.

1Peter 3:20 " Who sometime disbelieved, when once the long-suffering of God did wait, in days of Noah -- an ark being preparing -- in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water." (YTL)

1 Peter 3:20 "Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the [a]water."(NASB)

1 Peter 3:20 "To those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water."(NIV)

SOUL REFERS TO "LIVING CREATURES".

From the account of creation , the word "soul" is used, to refers to living creatures, birds , animals etc.

Genesis 1:20 "And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living souls, and let fowl fly above the earth in the expanse of the heavens."(DARBY) Also Gen. 1:24

Genesis 1:20 "Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens".( NASB) Also Gen 1:24.

Genesis 9:10 "And with every living soul which is with you, fowl as well as cattle, and all the animals of the earth with you, of all that has gone out of the ark—every animal of the earth".(DARBY)

Genesis 9:10 "And with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth."(NASB).

Revelation 16:3 "and every living thing in the sea died".( YTL) "and every living soul died in the sea".(NET) " and every living creature that was in the sea died."

SOUL REFERS TO " LIFE".

Jesus stresses the need for his followers to take up his cross and follow him, if need be to be put to shame,torture or even death for being a Christian. that is forfeit his soul/life

Mark 8:36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul."(NASB)

Mark 8:36 "For what shall it profit a man, if he may gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?(YLT)

John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep". (NASB)

John 10:11 Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός· ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς τὴν ψυχὴν (soul) αὐτοῦ τίθησιν ὑπὲρ τῶν προβάτων·(SBLGNT)

THE SOUL : IS NOT IMMORTAL, IT CAN DIE , SUFFOCATE , HAS DESIRE TO EAT.

Revelation 16:3

"And the second messenger did pour out his vial to the sea, and there came blood as of dead, and every living soul died in the sea."(YLT)

"The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died."(NASB)

Ezekiel 18:4 "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die".(NASB) Also Acts 3:23 .

Matthew 10:28 "And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna".(YLT).

Exodus 21:23 "But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life." (ne,phesh for ne,phesh) (NASB)

Job 7:15 "So that my soul would choose suffocation, Death rather than my pains.(NASB)

Leviticus 7:18 "And if [any] of the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace-offering be eaten at all on the third day, it shall not be accepted, it shall not be reckoned to him that hath presented it; it shall be an unclean thing, and the soul that eateth of it shall bear his iniquity."(DARBY)

Jesus said:

"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. " John 17:3 (NASB)
The Greek text implies a continues effort.

Paul comments:

Philipians 1:9 "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,"(NASB)

CONCLUSION.

The common belief as stated below by the Greek philosopher Plato , IS NOT A SCRIPTURAL TEACHING. No where in the scriptures there is a mention that the soul is immortal.

Some point to the parable " Lazarus and the Rich Man" to support their belief in "Hell". A close look at it ,if taken literally , it not only contradicts the scriptures (John3:13), but also the laws of nature, the rich man was buried,whilst Lazarus was not buried, but whisked by the angels to the bosom of Abraham.How on earth could this be possible?.

Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived in Greece 427-347 B.C.E., believed in the afterlife and coined the theory of the immortality of the soul.

FROM WIKIPAEDIA

"What did Plato believe about the human soul?

Socrates, Plato, and Augustine were all dualists who believed the soul to be immortal. Socrates believed the soul is immortal. ... He asserted that upon physical death of the body, the soul moves onto another body. Building on this belief, he called the body the prison of the soul."

  • I'm sorry you have received a downvote and no explanation. However, I don't know enough to upvote you and even it out. It is things like this which led to my inactivity on this particular SE. Unless they are rectified this site will become useless. Thank you for your work. – Rubellite Fae Mar 23 '18 at 4:13
  • Rubellite Fae, thanks for your comment, the same thought has passed my mind, basically I use the scriptures to answer the sciptures and the down vote is disheardening . – Ozzie Nicolas Mar 23 '18 at 19:20
  • Don’t be disheartened. A vote doesn’t prove nor validated that what you said is correct or valid and vice versa. If it’s true it would be nice to be acknowledge but truth is truth whether acknowledged or not. I’m curious if you ascribe to the soul being the housing of the will, emotions and the mind? The body thus housing the soul and the spirit. – Nihil Sine Deo Feb 8 '19 at 17:30
  • Autodidact: 6:3 Genesis it is "spirit" not "Spirit" The NRSV has "My spirit". which is a correct rendering. Regarding the soul ,according to bible usage shows that soul to be a person, or an animal or the life that the person or the animal enjoys.The spirit you mentioned above,is the housing of the will, that is the figurative heart that make a person say and do things in a certain way.. – Ozzie Nicolas Feb 8 '19 at 19:27
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ψυχή is used ambiguously in the New Testament, as it is sometimes in English. It can mean, as it does in English, the spiritual or immaterial part of a person1, but it can also mean a human life. This latter usage has become less common in English, but it is found, for example, it something like, "The ship went down with all souls aboard."

One discussion of the word from a Greek text on the subject2 states:

"The word 'soul' [ψυχή] is one of the most difficult words in the Bible and in Christian literature."3 'Soul' has many meanings in Holy Scripture and in patristic literature. Professor Christos Yannaras says: "The Septuagint translators of the Old Testament carried over into Greek with the word 'psyche' ('soul') the Hebrew 'nephesh', a term with many meanings. Anything which has life is called a soul, every animal, but more commonly it pertains to man. It signifies the way in which life is manifested in man. It does not refer to just one department of human existence - the spiritual in opposition to the material - but signifies the whole man, as a single living hypostatis."4

Soul is also the life which is expressed within the spiritual element in our existence.5

The Byzantine (Greek) theologian Gregory Palamas (ca 1296-1359) wrote:

Just as the soul communicates life to the animated body and we call this life 'soul', while realizing that the soul which is in us and which communicates life to the body is distinct from that life, so God, Who dwells in the God-bearing soul, communicates the light to it.6

The following summarizes different uses of the term in the New Testament, following the NIV (which seems to be the version the OP is consulting). Words which translate ψυχή are in bold.

Soul as "life"

Matthew 2:20

Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.

John 10:11

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Romans 16:4

They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Soul as the spiritual element of our existence

Matthew 10:28

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

This verse refers to the ability of the devil to kill man's soul by separating it from the Holy Spirit (viz. Hebrews 4:12).

Matthew 15:25

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Most translation renders this verse as shown, but it might be more accurate to interpret it as referring to both soul as life and soul as our spiritual element. An alternative translation might be:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever 'loses' their soul for my sake will find it.

Another example:

Revelation 6:9

I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.


1. Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th ed.)
2. Met. Nafpatkos Hierotheos, Ορθόδοξη Ψυχοθεραπεία (Orthodox Psychotherapy)
3. C. Yannaras, Elements of Faith (in Greek), p.55 4. Ibid. 5. Orthodox Psychotherapy (English translation from the Greek), pp.97-98 6. Triads, I.III.23

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