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The verse in question occurs in the sad story of Rachel's death in childbirth. It begins this way: "And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died)" (Genesis 35:18). This suggests that souls are the sorts of things that might "depart." Is this merely metaphorical, or more literal? Should we conclude that the soul is understood to be immaterial, as Christian philosophers and theologians say? Does the present verse constitute evidence that the Bible itself endorses that doctrine?

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3 Answers 3

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While I believe the soul remains after death, it is not certain that Gen. 35:18 describes Rachel's soul surviving after death. Note the possible meanings of נֶפֶשׁ (translated soul). It is a probable interpretation that it indicates the soul surviving death and is claimed in Lange's commentary shown at the end.

Figure 1. Senses of נֶפֶשׁ in the MT (generated with Logos Bible Software) enter image description here

Figure 2. How נֶפֶשׁ is translated in the LXX (essentially the declension of ψυχή). enter image description here

Figure 3. Senses (NA28 & LXX) of ψυχή that translates נֶפֶשׁ in the LXX Gen. 35:18. enter image description here

Commentaries

[As her soul was departing, denotes not the annihilation of the soul, but the change of state and place. It presupposes, of course, its perpetual existence; at least, its existence after death.—A. G.] -- Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Lewis, T., & Gosman, A. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Genesis (p. 568). Logos Bible Software.

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No, they do not support the doctrine of the immaterial/immortal soul. The only word ever translated as "soul" in the Hebrew Bible is נֶפֶשׁ(Strong's H5315), pronounced nephesh. Though it is translated as soul in many places, and this is highly unfortunate.

What Is a Soul?

When we hear the word "soul", one thing comes to mind; that it is the eternal, immaterial, conscious part of us that lives on after death.

This conception is 100% accurate. "Soul" is defined as the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal. I have no problem with this. That is the definition of soul. What I have a problem with is Bible translations translating נֶפֶשׁ as soul. Why is that a problem? Because it gives the impression that נֶפֶשׁ means soul, i.e. that נֶפֶשׁ is the immaterial, conscious part of a person. This is unsurprising. When you translate a word from one language to a word from another language, you do so because the words mean the same thing. Hello in English is translated as hola in Spanish, because both words refer to an expression of greetings; they mean the same thing! Thus, by translating נֶפֶשׁ as soul, one would be implying that they mean the same thing. This is a significant mistake. They do not mean the same thing, and they never mean the same thing. This is why I propose that Bible translators stop translating נֶפֶשׁ as soul entirely(as in, to never translate נֶפֶשׁ as soul), and I am not the only to propose this(many scholars have). I realize that is a tremendous proposition, thus I will make my case. Fortunately, a lot of Bible translations have translated נֶפֶשׁ as something other than "soul" in places where it was usually translated as "soul"(but none of stopped translating נֶפֶשׁ as soul entirely). For example, how לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה(nephesh chayyah) is translated "living being/person/creature" instead of "living soul";

Genesis 2:7 "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul[לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה]." (KJV)

Genesis 2:7 "Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being[לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה]." (BSB)

Genesis 2:7 "Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living person[לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה]." (NASB)

Genesis 2:7 "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature[לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה]." (ESV)

The translations of the BSB, NASB, and ESV are all more accurate than the translation of the KJV for the very reason that נֶפֶשׁ does not mean "soul"(i.e. an immaterial, conscious part of you that lives on after death), but is closer to meaning "person", "being", "creature", "totality", or "life", depending on the context. נֶפֶשׁ can even mean one's desire, hunger, appetite, feelings, corpse, throat, or thirst. One thing it never means, however, is an immortal, conscious part of you, which is the definition of "soul". And no, it does not mean that in either Genesis 35:18 or 1 Kings 17:22. We will see why soon.

What Is a Nephesh?

Let me show you a few of the 683 times where נֶפֶשׁ is found in the Hebrew Bible. In the places where נֶפֶשׁ is translated as "soul" in most Bibles, I will translate it as something different, and you will see that it fits perfectly(I will also justify why I did so afterward).

  • Genesis 1:21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature[נֶפֶשׁ] that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

  • Genesis 1:24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures[נֶפֶשׁ] according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.

  • Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being[נֶפֶשׁ].

  • Genesis 9:4-5 But flesh with its life[נֶפֶשׁ], its blood, you shall not eat. I will surely require your blood of your lives[נֶפֶשׁ]. At the hand of every animal I will require it. At the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, I will require the life[נֶפֶשׁ] of man.

  • Genesis 12:5 Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons[נֶפֶשׁ] which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.

  • Genesis 14:21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people[נֶפֶשׁ] to me and take the goods for yourself.”

  • Genesis 19:17-20 When they had brought them outside one said “Escape for your life[נֶפֶשׁ]! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.” “Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life[נֶפֶשׁ]; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there—is it not small?—that my life[נֶפֶשׁ] may be saved.”

  • Genesis 23:8 And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish[נֶפֶשׁ] for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me,...

  • Genesis 27:4 ...and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that I[נֶפֶשׁ] may bless you before I die.”

  • Genesis 34:8 But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “With his whole being[נֶפֶשׁ] my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage.

  • Genesis 35:18 It came about as she[נֶפֶשׁ] was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.

  • Exodus 1:5 All the persons[נֶפֶשׁ] who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number[נֶפֶשׁ], but Joseph was already in Egypt.

  • Exodus 15:9 “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire[נֶפֶשׁ] shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand will destroy them.’

  • Exodus 23:9 “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings[נֶפֶשׁ] of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.

  • Leviticus 17:14 “For as for the life[נֶפֶשׁ] of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life[נֶפֶשׁ]. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life[נֶפֶשׁ] of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’

  • Leviticus 22:4 ‘No man of the descendants of Aaron, who is a leper or who has a discharge, may eat of the holy gifts until he is clean. And if one touches anything made unclean by a dead person/corpse[נֶפֶשׁ] or if a man has a seminal emission,

  • Numbers 11:6 but now our throat/strength/appetite[נֶפֶשׁ] is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”

  • Numbers 23:10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me[נֶפֶשׁ] die the death of the righteous, And let my last end be like his!

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart/intellect/will and with every fibre of your being[נֶפֶשׁ] and with every ounce of your might/power.

  • Joshua 2:13 and spare my father and my mother, and my brothers and my sisters, and all who belong to them, and save our lives[נֶפֶשׁ] from death.”

  • Judges 5:18 Zebulun is a people who risked their lives[נֶפֶשׁ] to the death; Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field.

  • Judges 16:30 And Samson said, “Let me[נֶפֶשׁ] die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.

  • 1 Kings 17:21-22 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child’s life[נֶפֶשׁ] return to him.” The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life[נֶפֶשׁ] of the child returned to him and he revived.

  • 1 Kings 20:31-32 And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life[נֶפֶשׁ].” So they tied sackcloth around their waists and put ropes on their heads and went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please, spare my life[נֶפֶשׁ].’” And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.”

  • Psalm 42:1-2 For the choirmaster. A Maskil of the sons of Korah. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my whole being[נֶפֶשׁ] pants after You, O God. With every fibre of my being I[נֶפֶשׁ] thirst for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

  • Psalm 105:18 His feet were hurt with fetters; his throat/neck[נֶפֶשׁ] was put in a collar of iron;

  • Psalm 119:175 Let me[נֶפֶשׁ] live that I may praise you[lit. let my nephesh live that it may praise you], and may your laws sustain me.

  • Ecclesiastes 4:8 There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself[נֶפֶשׁ] of pleasure?” This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.

  • Ecclesiastes 6:9 All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite[נֶפֶשׁ] is not satisfied.

  • Isaiah 5:14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its throat[נֶפֶשׁ] and opened its mouth without measure; And Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it.

  • Isaiah 29:8 It will be as when a hungry man dreams—And behold, he is eating; But when he awakens, his hunger[נֶפֶשׁ] is not satisfied, Or as when a thirsty man dreams—And behold, he is drinking, But when he awakens, behold, he is faint And his thirst[נֶפֶשׁ] is not quenched. Thus the multitude of all the nations will be Who wage war against Mount Zion.

  • Isaiah 53:11-12 As a result of the anguish of His being[נֶפֶשׁ], He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge, the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself[נֶפֶשׁ] to death And was numbered with the transgressors, Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

  • Isaiah 56:11 And the dogs are greedy[נֶפֶשׁ], they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; They have all turned to their own way, Each one to his unjust gain, to the last one.

  • Ezekiel 7:19 ‘They will fling their silver into the streets and their gold will become an abhorrent thing; their silver and their gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their appetite[נֶפֶשׁ] nor can they fill their stomachs, for their iniquity has become an occasion of stumbling.

  • Ezekiel 13:18-19 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Woe to the women who sew magic bands on all wrists and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature to hunt down lives[נֶפֶשׁ]! Will you hunt down the lives[נֶפֶשׁ] of My people, but preserve the lives of others for yourselves[נֶפֶשׁ]? “For handfuls of barley and fragments of bread, you have profaned Me to My people to put to death some persons[נֶפֶשׁ] who should not die and to keep other persons[נֶפֶשׁ] alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies.”’”

  • Ezekiel 14:20 even though Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves[נֶפֶשׁ] by their righteousness.”

  • Ezekiel 16:27 “Behold now, I have stretched out My hand against you and diminished your rations. And I delivered you up to the desire[נֶפֶשׁ] of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who are ashamed of your lewd conduct.

  • Ezekiel 18:4 “Behold, all beings[נֶפֶשׁ] are Mine; the totality[נֶפֶשׁ] of the father as well as the totality[נֶפֶשׁ] of the son is Mine. The person[נֶפֶשׁ] who sins will die.

  • Ezekiel 18:20 “The person[נֶפֶשׁ] who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.

  • Ezekiel 18:27 “Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life[נֶפֶשׁ].

  • Hosea 4:8 They feed on the sin of My people And direct their desire[נֶפֶשׁ] toward their iniquity.

  • Amos 6:8 The Lord God has sworn by Himself[נֶפֶשׁ], the Lord God of hosts has declared: “I loathe the arrogance of Jacob, And detest his citadels; Therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.”

  • Habakkuk 2:5 “Furthermore wine betrays the haughty man, So that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite[נֶפֶשׁ] like Sheol, And he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations And collects to himself all peoples.

  • Habakkuk 2:10 “You have devised a shameful thing for your house by cutting off many peoples; So you are sinning against yourself[נֶפֶשׁ]

  • Haggai 2:13 Then Haggai said “If one who is unclean from a dead person/corpse[נֶפֶשׁ] touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?” And the priests answered, “It will become unclean.”

I hope that you are fully convinced that the nature of the word נֶפֶשׁ is one that is incredibly versatile. Despite this, נֶפֶשׁ cannot ever be translated as soul. That is, if by soul we mean immortal, conscious part of us that lives on after death. Nowhere in the entire Bible is נֶפֶשׁ said to be immortal or conscious after death(I've personally checked). In fact, several times it is said to be able to die or to have died. Lot wanted to save his נֶפֶשׁ. Save it from what? Well, death of course! In Genesis 27:4, Isaac literally said, "bring it to me that I may eat, so that my נֶפֶשׁ may bless you before it dies." Both Leviticus 22:4 and Haggai 2:13 talk about "dead persons" or "corpses", and the word נֶפֶשׁ is used! Joshua 2:13 says "save our נֶפֶשׁ from death." Ben-hadad pleaded with Ahab to spare his נֶפֶשׁ; spare it from what? Obviously, death. Perhaps most unambiguously, Samson plainly stated that he wanted his nephesh to die. The nephesh does not seem immortal whatsoever, does it? If something dies, by definition it is mortal, which indisputably means that it is not immortal(mortality and immortality are opposites). And mind you, נֶפֶשׁ is the only word in the entire Hebrew Bible that is ever translated as "soul", and yet it doesn't even mean soul! And now I am going to justify my translations.

Of all the verses listed, the only ones that I translated myself are Genesis 34:8, Genesis 35:18, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Psalm 42:2, Isaiah 53:11, and Ezekiel 18:4(no, I did not translate Ezekiel 18:20 or 1 Kings 17:21-22; both are NASB translations). Are they valid? Yes.

On multiple occasions, נֶפֶשׁ is described as the entire being of a person; of being the person themselves. For example, Genesis 12:5 says that Abram "acquired" נֶפֶשׁ; what does that mean? Does it mean he acquired immortal, conscious souls? Or does it mean he acquired people? Indisputably the latter. נֶפֶשׁ referred to the people themselves. Ezekiel 14:20 says "they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness", but the word used for "themselves" there is נֶפֶשׁ. Habakkuk 2:10 says "you are sinning against yourself", but the word used there for "yourself" is נֶפֶשׁ. Finally, Amos 6:8 says that the LORD swears by Himself, but the word for "Himself" there is, you guessed it, נֶפֶשׁ! It's clear that נֶפֶשׁ can refer to the entire person or whole being(even of God Himself). Thus, my translations at Genesis 34:8, Genesis 35:18, Isaiah 53:11, and Ezekiel 18:4 are valid. What about Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Psalm 42:2?

As I pointed out in my previous paragraph, נֶפֶשׁ can refer to the whole person themselves. It even refers to the whole being of God, who Himself is not a person(Isaiah 53:11)! But is every fibre of being valid? Yes. This can be seen in the metaphor Psalm 42:1 employs; "as the deer pants for streams of water". Thirst is something you literally experience on a physical level. Say for example when you are working in scorching heat, your whole body longs for but a sip of cool water to refresh it! And this can become a metaphor for how you "thirst" for God; how you long with your entire being to get to know personally the Living God(cf. John 17:3)! In Deuteronomy 6:5, the phrase וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ֖ is used, which means the "complete whole of your soul/being", i.e. your entirety/totality. Deuteronomy 6:5 calls us to devote our entire being, our totality, to loving God, i.e. to love God with every fibre of our being.

Does Genesis 35:18 Support the Immortal Soul Doctrine?

By now, you should be convinced that the only word ever translated as "soul" in the Hebrew Bible, נֶפֶשׁ, does not mean an immortal, conscious part of you that connected to your body while alive and departs from your body at death. But most likely not, because of Genesis 35:18 and 1 Kings 17:21-22. So, let's examine both texts.

Genesis 35:18 וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת נַפְשָׁהּ, כִּי מֵתָה, וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, בֶּן-אוֹנִי; וְאָבִיו, קָרָא-לוֹ בִנְיָמִין

Translated to English, it would be something like this; "And so it was, her nephesh departed (for she died); she called him Ben-Oni, but his father called him Benjamin." Can we conclude from this that Rachel's immortal, conscious soul was departing from her body? That is absolutely unjustified conclusion to reach from the text for three primary reasons.

(1) This is the only time in the entire Hebrew Bible where a נֶפֶשׁ is said to "depart". We don't know much about the situation recorded in Genesis 35:18 because nowhere else is such a situation described.

(2) Nowhere is Rachel's נֶפֶשׁ said to be alive or conscious.

(3) Rachel's body is not mentioned anywhere in the entire text; certainly, her נֶפֶשׁ is not said to depart from her body. In fact, the text doesn't even say from what Rachel's נֶפֶשׁ is departing from. It doesn't even say where Rachel's נֶפֶשׁ is going to!

Hence, Genesis 35:18 does not support the notion of an immaterial, eternal soul that is "joined" with the body during life and "separated" from the body at death. But, I still have to support my translation of Genesis 35:18; "It came about as she was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin." And so, I will do that.

What Does Genesis 35:18 Really Mean?

Genesis 35:18 "And so it was, her nephesh departed (for she died); she called him Ben-Oni, but his father called him Benjamin."

Notice how it says that her nephesh departed, for she died. It seems that her death was the cause of her nephesh departing. But where would it go upon death? Sheol(שְׁאוֹל), of course! How so? Sheol is the place of the dead/dead nephesh.

  • Genesis 37:35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No I shall go down to Sheol[שְׁאוֹל] to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

  • Numbers 16:30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol[שְׁאוֹל], then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”

  • 1 Samuel 2:6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol[שְׁאוֹל] and raises up.

  • Job 14:13 Oh, that you would hide me in Sheol[שְׁאוֹל], that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

  • Psalm 18:5 the cords of Sheol[שְׁאוֹל] entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.

  • Psalm 16:10 For you will not abandon my nephesh[נֶפֶשׁ] to Sheol[שְׁאוֹל], or let your holy one see corruption.

  • Psalm 30:3 O Lord, you have brought up my nephesh[נֶפֶשׁ] from Sheol[שְׁאוֹל]; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

  • Psalm 49:15 But God will ransom my nephesh[נֶפֶשׁ] from the power of Sheol[שְׁאוֹל], for he will receive me. Selah

  • Psalm 89:48 What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his nephesh[נֶפֶשׁ] from the power of Sheol[שְׁאוֹל]? Selah

  • Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol[שְׁאוֹל], to which you are going.

  • Hosea 13:14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol[שְׁאוֹל]? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Take vital note of how, in Genesis 37:35, Jacob says that he will go down into Sheol to his son; he does not say that his nephesh will go down to Sheol to the nephesh of his son. Numbers 16:30 speaks about the "men" going down to Sheol. 1 Samuel 2:6 shows how God killing is synonymous with God "bringing down to Sheol", as well as how God bringing to life is synonymous with "raising up" from Sheol. In Job 14:13, Job says that God hides him in Sheol; that God has an appointed time for him(i.e. a set time to resurrect Job, according to verse 14). Psalm 18:5 says that the cords of Sheol entangle the person. Ecclesiastes 9:10 tells us that WE are going to Sheol. All this, and yet, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 30:3, Psalm 49:15, and Psalm 89:48 ALL talk about the nephesh(נֶפֶשׁ) in Sheol(Psalm 30:3 even shows how bringing a nephesh up from Sheol is synonymous with restoring a person to life). So which is it? Do we go to Sheol, or do our nephesh go to Sheol? Yes, exactly! We are our nephesh. We do not have a nephesh, we are a nephesh. We just say that we have a nephesh for the same reason we say "myself". By saying "myself", do I indicate that I have a self? No, I am myself! My nephesh is synonymous with myself; it IS me. I am a person, and so my nephesh(נֶפֶשׁ) is a person. This is unquestionably seen in the scriptures(i.e. Genesis 12:5, Genesis 14:21, Genesis 27:4, Exodus 1:5, Judges 16:30, Psalm 119:175, Ecclesiastes 4:8, Isaiah 53:11-12, Ezekiel 13:18-19, Amos 6:8, Habakkuk 2:10, etc.).

Thus, in Genesis 35:18, when Rachel's nephesh was "departing", she was departing; she was going to Sheol(cf. Genesis 37:35, Job 14:13, Ecclesiastes 9:10). Hence, my translation of Genesis 35:18 can be supported.

Genesis 35:18 "It came about as she was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin."

And finally, we will discuss 1 Kings 17:21-22.

Does 1 Kings 17:22 Support the Immortal Soul Doctrine?

1 Kings 17:21-22 "Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child’s nephesh[נֶפֶשׁ] return to him.” The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the nephesh[נֶפֶשׁ] of the child returned to him and he revived."

So far, we have seen how the Hebrew word נֶפֶשׁ, the only word that is ever translated as "soul" in the Hebrew Bible, falls short of being just that. A soul is an immaterial essence that lives consciously on after death. נֶפֶשׁ just seems to represent people and animals. The animals are called נֶפֶשׁ(e.g. Genesis 1:20-21, Genesis 1:24, Genesis 2:19, Genesis 9:10, Genesis 9:16). People/human beings are called נֶפֶשׁ(e.g. Genesis 2:7, Genesis 12:5, Genesis 14:21, Genesis 36:6, Genesis 46:15-27). נֶפֶשׁ seems to be anything but an immaterial, eternal soul. But would 1 Kings 17:21-22 work if we put "animal" or "person" in place of נֶפֶשׁ?

1 Kings 17:21-22 "Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child’s person return to him.” The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the person of the child returned to him and he revived."

No, that definitely does not work. Are we forced to say that the child's immaterial, eternal soul was returning to him? No. Why not? Because there is another primary translation of נֶפֶשׁ; LIFE! All we need to do is take a look at 3 passages to verify this;

Genesis 9:4-5 But flesh with its life[נֶפֶשׁ], its blood, you shall not eat. I will surely require your blood of your lives[נֶפֶשׁ]. At the hand of every animal I will require it. At the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, I will require the life[נֶפֶשׁ] of man.

Genesis 19:17-20 When they had brought them outside one said “Escape for your life[נֶפֶשׁ]! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.” “Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life[נֶפֶשׁ]; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there—is it not small?—that my life[נֶפֶשׁ] may be saved.”

Leviticus 17:14 “For as for the life[נֶפֶשׁ] of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life[נֶפֶשׁ]. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life[נֶפֶשׁ] of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’

In a single verse(Leviticus 17:14) נֶפֶשׁ is translated as "life" three times! Clearly, נֶפֶשׁ can be translated as life. Does that work with 1 Kings 17:21-22? Yes, and pretty nicely I might add. The following is not my own translation; it is the translation of the NASB(one of the most accurate Bible translations in the world).

1 Kings 17:21-22 "Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child’s life[נֶפֶשׁ] return to him.” The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life[נֶפֶשׁ] of the child returned to him and he revived." (NASB)

As you can see, it works perfectly. But in case you are still not convinced, so at to drive the nail into the coffin, I will show you a counterpart to the situation in 1 Kings 17:21-22.

Acts 20:9-10 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life[ψυχή] is in him.”

Eutychus fell from the third story and died. But when Paul embraced him, miraculously his life was restored! This is very similar to the story in 1 Kings 17:21-22.

(1) Both Paul and Elijah put themselves on the dead ones somehow(Elijah stretched himself over the child, and Paul embraced Eutychus in his arms).

(2) Both the Hebrew word for soul(נֶפֶשׁ) and the Greek word for soul(ψυχή) were used to describe what happened to those who were restored to life(ψυχή is the Greek counterpart of the Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ). The life(נֶפֶשׁ) of the child was returned to him and made him revived, just as the life(ψυχή) of Eutychus was found in him.

Now I know some do not believe that Eutychus actually died, and thus Paul did not restore him to life when he "took him in his arms." But if it's true that Luke wrote Acts(and there is a lot of evidence that Luke did write Acts), then he, being a physician, would have most likely known if Eutychus was actually dead or not. Luke wrote that Eutychus was "picked up dead", so it's highly probable that Luke thought Eutychus was dead, and thus probable that Eutychus was actually dead. Notwithstanding the apparent similarities between what happened at 1 Kings 17:21-22(which was 100% a resurrection) and what happened at Acts 20:10, i.e. both Elijah and Paul put themselves on the people(in some manner), and both the Hebrew and Greek words for life/soul(נֶפֶשׁ and ψυχή respectively) are used to describe the situation.

Either way, it is 100% valid to translate נֶפֶשׁ in 1 Kings 17:22 as "life" instead of "soul"(implying his immaterial, immortal essence returned to him). Thus, all 1 Kings 17:22 is saying is that the child's life was restored to him, i.e. that he was resurrected. This fits perfectly within what we know happened(that he was "revived"), and is an entirely valid possibility(נֶפֶשׁ is translated as "life" in the Hebrew Bible way more times than I can count). In conclusion, 1 Kings 17:22 does not support the immortal soul doctrine.

Hope this helps! If you have any questions just leave a comment! :)

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Yes: this verse is best viewed as additional evidence that according to the Bible (and not just some philosophy and theology), the soul is separable from the body. But this requires some explanation, because there is some confusion and difficulty associated with the concept of נֶפֶשׁ or nephesh (here, soul).

The last significant text in the Bible that specifically shed light on the doctrine of the soul was way back in Gen 2:7. There, we saw that the breath (נְשָׁמָה or neshamah) of God gave life to Adam, i.e., made a “living soul” (לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה or nephesh chayyah, soul or being that is living) of him, as the KJV has it. So now we read of the departure of Rachel’s “soul” (nephesh again at 35:18). What are we to make of this?

Nephesh has rich semantics and is glossed not just "soul" but also "living being, life, self, person, desire, passion, appetite, emotion”. Now, one theory has it that in places like Gen 2:7 and 35:18, the word refers to the "whole package" of body and spirit (a word used elsewhere, in Hebrew ruach). The difficulty with this view is that the nephesh is said to depart, as here, but also to come back in resurrection, as in “And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul [nephesh] of the child came into him again, and he revived [more literally, lived: חָיָה or chayah, “to live”].” (1 Kings 17:22)

Another problem with the view that nephesh means body and spirit taken together is that the nephesh also seems to be the seat of the intellect and emotions, as when Job says, "was not my soul (nephesh) grieved for the poor?" (Job 30:25). Naturally, grief is attributed only to an affective, purely mental element of a person, not to a body.

From these and many other texts we can see that the soul (nephesh) is something imparted by the breath or spirit (neshamah) of God, that it departs upon death and, in resurrection, returns and gives renewed life again. In Gen 2:7's phrase "living soul" (nephesh chayyah), the suggestion is not that the soul was previously unliving, but the flesh molded by God; the suggestion, instead, is that when the breath of God created Adam's soul, his body lived. "Soul" is indeed sometimes used, but only in a derivative way, for any living being with a soul. If we say that nephesh itself meant "living soul," then the whole phrase nephesh chayyah means "living living soul"—a strange redundancy.

In conclusion, the Biblical view is that there is something about a person, which indeed we call the soul, that is said to live on after death. But, clearly, when we say that item "lives on," we mean "lives" in a sense quite different from when we say a person's body "lives." There is a tremendous amount of other evidence in both testaments (similar things are said about psyche in the NT) that is perfectly consistent with, if it does not directly support, these doctrines. While these Biblical doctrines need not entail any complex philosophical theories such as Cartesian substance dualism, they do, again, imply that the nephesh is a mobile entity, which can separate from and rejoin the body, the presence of which confers life, and the absence of which removes it. Insofar as the nephesh is thus wholly independent of the body, it is at least to that extent immaterial. These texts also arguably entail that the soul is eternal, but that would require further argument.

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