THE NT CORRESPONDING WORD FOR NEPHESH
We here continue with the words and study of Basil Atkinson
from his book called "Life and Immortality."
" The Greek word used in the NT which corresponds to the
Hebrew nephesh and is found representing it in quotations from
the OT is PSYCHEE.
This was the appropriate word to represent nephesh, as it
had an ancient history in the Greek language with much the same
overtones as nephesh. It was common since the HOMERIC poems, the
great epics dating perhaps from the eighth or seventh century
B.C., which were taught in the Greek schools and on which all
educated Greeks were brought up. It had like nephesh the meaning
of the life, of the whole man and of the seat of the desires and
thoughts. Occasionally it was used in the weak sense with a
proper name as an expression for the man himself, but apparently
never with a personal pronoun.
In the Homeric poems the PSYCHEE was consistently
represented as SURVIVING AFTER DEATH as a GHOST in a shadowy
world and in the thought of the fifth and fourth centuries,
culminating in the great PLATO, we find the idea of the
IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL elaborated.
This last idea, connected sometimes, but by no means
generally in Greek MYTHOLOGY and PHILOSOPHY with the word
PSYCHEE, is never found belonging to the Hebrew nephesh as we
have seen. The association of psychee with it in heathenism
however, provided an opportunity for its introduction by
semi-converted heathen into Christian thought, about the turn of
the second and third centuries A.D. and for read the idea BACK
INTO the word psychee as it occurred in the NT.
When dealing with important Greek words in the NT,
especially the great THEOLOGICAL TERMS, we need always to bear in
mind that the Greek words do not bear the particular meanings
which they may have had in HEATHENISM, but always those of their
ORIGINAL HEBREW equivalents in the OT, where the ideas
originated. The link between the Hebrew of the OT and the Greek
of the NT is the great SEPTUAGINT version of the OT made at
Alexandria in the third century B.C. The translation was made by
Jews, who of course understood the meaning of the Hebrew words
and intended the Greek that they used to answer to it. Thus the
Septuagint follows the Hebrew and the NT follows the Septuagint.
The Septuagint version was not inspired, but in the providence of
God it provided a valuable LINGUISTIC LINK between the Old and
Psychee and Animals
The Greek word psychee as used in the Nt follows the Hebrew
nephesh in all FIVE of its senses. It has ONE additional sense
also, which occurs only TWICE and which we shall see to be of
great interest. There is ONE occurrence where psychee is used (in
the plural) of animals: fish, whales and sea-monsters in fact. It
will be found in Rev.8: 9, 'And the third part of the creatures
which were in the sea, and had life died.' The Greek says, 'and
had souls.' 'Life' is the proper English translation, but few
will suppose that the life or souls of the fish are IMMORTAL.
This is enough to show that the word psychee does NOT essentially
carry the conception of IMMORTALITY.
Psychee and Man
There are FOURTEEN occurrences in the NT of the word psychee
meaning a human being, exactly in the same sense as the Hebrew
nephesh, FOUR of which are in quotations from the OT.
The first TWO, which appear in the same verse, are the most
important and require special examination. In Matthew 10: 28 we
read, 'And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to
kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both
soul and body in hell.' In this text we find the contrast
between soul and body which sometimes occurs in the NT, though
very seldom in the Old under the form of soul and flesh. Our text
here, taken in ISOLATION is easily capable of implying the
SURVIVAL of the soul AFTER the death of the body. And our friends
who believe that the soul survives, normally take it in this
sense. If there were any word either Old or New Testament to
connect survival or IMMORTALITY with the soul, they would
undoubtedly be right. But a careful study of the meaning of the
word 'soul' in the original language of the OT, and also as we
shall see of the New, shows that it is always connected with a
human being who is alive on earth and that ir dies or is
destroyed when death comes to him in the way that is so
familiar with our experience.
When we bear this in mind, the meaning of the Lord's words
here becomes clear.
To kill the body here means to take the present on earth.
But this does NOT KILL the soul or PERSON HIMSELF. It only PUT
HIM TO SLEEP. He is finally destroyed in the SECOND DEATH, when
his person or self is killed for ever.
All will agree that destruction in hell is the SECOND
DEATH......Parallel to this verse is the Lord's declaration that
Jairus' daughter was not DEAD but ASLEEP (Mat.9: 24). She was
ACTUALLY dead ( 'kill the body' ), but as she was going to wake
up (in a resurrection - K. Hunt) she could rightly be said to be
asleep. In the same way all the dead will rise on the day of
judgment, so that as they now lie in their graves their souls,
that is to say, they themselves, may rightly be said not to have
been FINALLY killed or destroyed. The death which we all know is
(as we have seen) the death of the soul, but it is NOT FINAL."
Jesus was talking to His disciples, then and for those down
through the centuries to follow. He was telling them that being a
Christian, having the Spirit of God and eternal life within them,
living and following His ways, would mean for some, at times,
that other humans would kill them, put them to death in the
flesh. Yet the Spirit of eternal life in them would mean they
themselves as Christian persons could not be harmed or put to
death or destroyed by any human being. They as persons would
live again, rise again, in a glorious resurrection that the whole
Bible spoke about, and that was a common theological believe
among all Jews in Jesus' day that took read their Bibles and
believed in the literal teachings that it contained. Jesus
pointed them to the one they really needed to have fearful
respect towards, the one who could raise to life and then finally
destroy the physical body and any hope of living for all
eternity, in the fires of hell, the second death spoken about in
the book of Revelation, chapter 20. You will notice Jesus said
that One could DESTROY (not keep it living) BOTH the body and the
soul. Whatever people may want to argue over as to any natural
immortality of either the body or the soul, it is clear here that
there is One who can DESTROY both the body and soul in hell.
Continuing with Basil Atkinson's study:
"Further examples of psychee meaning 'person' are to be
found in Acts 2: 41, in Acts 3: 23 and 7: 14, both in quotations
from the OT, in 1 Peter 3: 20; 2 Peter 2: 14; Romans 2: 9; 13:
1; 1 Corinthians 15: 45 in a quotation from Genesis 2: 7;
Revelation 18: 3 in a quotation from Ezekiel 27: 13, and
The remaining case is Revelation 6: 9, which needs special
The souls spoken of here are often thought of as DISEMBODIED
spirits of the martyrs. A difficulty lies in their STRANGE
POSITION UNDERNEATH the Altar......These verse are all symbolic,
in keeping with the whole of the Apocalypse. The key to their
meaning lies in Leviticus 17: 14, where the SOUL is identified
with the BLOOD. The passage is a PARALLEL with Genesis 4: 10,
'the voice of thy brother's BLOOD CRIES unto me from the GROUND.'
The souls are the DEAD PERSONS of the martyrs (see Numbers
5: 2 and other passages in Numbers). The souls in Revelation 20:
4 have also been occasionally taken to be DISEMBODIED spirits,
but the word emphasises the opposite. The souls of the martyrs
and the righteous are themselves restored in resurrection FROM
THE DUST OF DEATH...."
Yes, the verse in Genesis 4: 10 is a key to much of this
study. Figures of speech and personification is used extensively
throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. many times
material things are made to appear as if human. We find this in
the first chapters of the book of Proverbs and how "wisdom" is
personified as a human woman. In Ge.4: 10 the blood of Abel (as
it was spilt on the ground by his brother Cain when he slew him)
is made to appear to be human and having a voice that cries out
to God for revenge. Hence so the lives of the Christian martyrs
that had already been slain as a sacrifice to God (so the altar
is mentioned) for truth and righteousness, are made to appear as
if still alive and with one voice are crying out to the Lord for
justice and revenge to be poured out on their enemies, the
unrighteous who would kill the righteous children of God (Keith
Continuing with Atkinson:
Psychee meaning Self
"There are in the NT TWENTY-FOUR examples of the word
psychee used in the WEAK sense, seven of which are found in
quotations from the OT.
They are: Mat.11: 29; 12: 18; 26: 38; Mark 14: 34; Luke
1: 46; 2: 35; 12: 19 (twice); 14: 26; John 12: 27; Acts 2:
27; 31; ! Peter 1: 22; 2: 25; 4: 19; 2 Peter 2: 8; 3 John 2;
Romans 16: 4; 2 Cor. 1: 23; 1 Thes. 2: 8; Heb. 6: 19; 10: 38;
12: 4 and 13: 17.
In Mat. 12: 18 and Heb.10: 38, both quotations, the word
psychee (' my soul ') is used of God in the sense of 'I.' In 3
John 2 the health of the soul is often taken in the spiritual
sense as opposed to the health of the body, which is supposed to
be first spoken of in contrast. But we cannot force this alien
sense upon the word psychee. The verse is a prayer that the
prosperity and health which Gaius was enjoying at the moment
Psychee as the Seat of Emotions
There are TWELVE occurrences of the use of psychee in this
sense in the NT. The first four are in the Gospels and are all
quotations from the OT, the soul being combined and contrasted
with the heart. They are: Mat.22: 37; Mark 12: 30, 33; Luke 10:
37. The remaining occurrences are as follows: Acts 4: 32; 14: 2,
22; 15: 24; Eph. 6: 6; Phil. 1: 27; Col. 3: 23; Rev. 18: 14.
The last instance is interesting. It refers to Babylon the
Great under the figure of a woman.
Just as with nephesh in the OT, though psychee in these
instances does not represent the WHOLE man but the INNER part of
him, there is no hint ANYWHERE that the psychee ALONE carries the
PERSONALITY and CONSCIOUSNESS, or that it SURVIVES the body, or
that it is IMMORTAL. It is inseparably connected with the BLOOD
(Lev.17: 14). If man possed a psychee that is IMMORTAL, the fact
is of such tremendous importance that it is INCONCEIVABLE that we
should not find it stated DIRECTLY either in the description of
the creation of man or from time to time during references to
Psychee in the Sense of Life
This is the most frequent sense of the word in the NT, there
being about FORTY-SIX occurrences. It will be necessary to look
at most of them, but to save space we will not quote the words of
the text, but ask the reader to turn to their Bibles. In these
references the word psychee is sometimes translated 'life' and
sometimes 'soul,' the basic meaning in each case being the person
or the self. The list of references follows:
1. Mat. 2: 20. This is quite straightforward. We notice
that, as in the OT, the soul (psychee) is put to death when the
2 and 3. Mat. 6: 25. Here we see that the soul (psychee)
is associated with food and drink, as with the blood (Lev.17:
14), shows that it does not survive the body.
4 and 5. Mat.10: 39. Here we understand the meaning of the
word psychee (life) best if we translate it ' self .' The
contrast is between the man who lives for the pleasures of this
life and the man who lives for Christ and eternity.
Incidentally, this verse tells us that in spite of the total
change of nature at the resurrection a man still remains a PERSON
or psychee in the glory to come.
6 to 9. Mat. 16: 25, 26. The same applies here as in
numbers 4 and 5.
10. Mat. 20: 28. The same applies here.
11. Mark 3: 4. 'Life' is here quite a correct English
translation. By altering it to 'person' we shall see the
12 to 15. Mark 8: 35-37. The same applies as in numbers 4
16. Mark 10: 45. The same applies here.
17. Luke 6: 9. The same applies here as in numbers 11.
18 and 19. Luke 9: 24. The same applies here as in numbers
4 and 5. In the following verse we find the actual substitution
both in Greek and English of 'himself' for 'his soul' or 'his
20. Luke 9: 56. Here 'men's lives' can be simply rendered
21. Luke 12: 20. 'Life' is the correct translation. We
notice again that at death the man does not leave his body, but
his soul (psychee) leaves the man.
22 and 23. Luke 12: 22 and 23. This is identical with
numbers 2 and 3.
24. Luke 17: 33. The same applies here as in number 4.
25. Luke 21: 19. The meaning of this verse is, 'By your
endurance you will acquire possession of your souls' (psychee),
that is, of your lives or of yourselves. The verse is parallel
with Mat.24: 13.
26. John 10: 11. To lay down one's life is the same as to
27. John 10: 15. The same applies here.
28. John 10:17. The same applies here.
29 and 30. John 12: 25. The same applies here as in
numbers 4 and 5.
31 and 32. John 13: 37 and 38. this is parallel with
numbers 26 to 28.
33. John 15: 13. The same applies here.
34. Acts 15: 26. This is the same as numbers 26 to 28.
35. Acts 20: 10. This is exactly parallel with the use of
nephesh in 1 Kings 17: 21, 22.
36. Acts 20: 24. Here psychee is properly translated
'life.' The underlying meaning is 'self.'
37. Acts 27: 10. The same applies here.
38. Acts 27: 22. The meaning of psychee here is 'person.'
Notice that 'loss of life' in the ordinary sense means the loss
of the soul.
39. James 1: 21. 'Your soul's' mean 'you.' We may well
conclude that the salvation here spoken of is eternal salvation
from the second death.
40. James 5: 20. 'A soul' here means 'a person.' Again
the salvation is clearly eternal salvation from the second death.
41. 1 Peter 1: 9. Exactly the same applies here.
42. 1 Peter 2: 11. The soul here means the life or the
43. Romans 11: 3. In this quotation from 1 Kings 19: 10,
where psychee represents nephesh, to seek my life means to seek
to kill me.
44. Philippians 2: 30. 'Life' here means 'self.'
45. Hebrews 10: 39. The same applies here. The issue here
is eternal salvation.
46. Revelation 12: 11. 'Their lives' again means
Soul and Spirit
There are two important NT passages in which the word
psychee bears a SIXTH shade of meaning which does not appear in
the case of nephesh in the OT.
It appears in ! Thessalonians 5: 23 and Hebrews 4: 12 in
contrast to pneuma, spirit. In the former of these verses we
read, 'I pray God your whole spirit and soul (psychee) and body
be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.'
.....The key to this verse lies in the fact that it was addressed
to believing Christians, who, while they are still in the flesh
in this world, possess two natures, the original Adamic nature
with which they were born and the new spiritual nature created in
them by regeneration. The former of these is called 'soul' and
stands for all that the nephesh stands for in the OT and for all
that psychee stands for in the NT. The body is of course the
outward visible 'flesh,' as the Hebrew of the OT would express
I do not find that Mr.Atkinson's explanation here to be very
helpful nor clearly expressed. The Christian certainly has a
physical body like all other physical humans. That physical body
can be misused in relation to the ways, laws, and commandments of
the Eternal God. A good example of that would be Paul's
instructions to the Corinthians regarding the use of their
physical bodies in wrong sexual practices, such as being joined
in sexual union with a prostitute or harlot (1 Cor. 6: 15-20) as
well as incest (1 Cor. 5: 1-6). The Christian is to keep himself
sanctified from such suns in his body. The soul or life of the
Christian is also to be sanctified. soul being understood as we
have seen, meaning 'life' - the life, how a Christian lives as a
way of life, actions, deeds, practices, and all that people think
about when using the expression "his/her life style." The
christian is to have a life style that is sanctified or set apart
for the living by every word of God as Jesus taught (Mat. 4: 4).
Then the Christian has a part of themselves that the none
-Christian does not have. They have the Spirit of God within and
united to their minds (Romans 8), thus a regenerated heart and
mind, that thinks and reasons in a different way than those
without the Spirit of God.
The Christian as a "spiritual mind and aspect" within them
that truly does make them a three dimension person. A whole
person if you will, of a Holy Spirit mind-set, a life (soul) and
way of living according to every word of God, and a physical body
that is the Temple of God to avoid sins with that body. All
three aspects of the Christian are to be wholly sanctified or set
apart for the glory of God, to be under the grace of God, and
hence to be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus
Christ. This would be a very natural thing for Paul to desire in
every Christian. We shall study the words in Hebrew and Greek
for "spirit" in part two of this subject, especially with regards
to "the spirit in man" that is unique and different from any
other creature that the Lord God created, and which some knowing
that it is not the soul of man that is immortal, claim it is the
"spirit of man" that goes on living in a walking, talking,
thinking, consciousness manner after he dies (Keith Hunt).
Back to Atkinson:
"The second text in which the same contrast is found is
Hebrews 4: 12, 'The word of God is quick and powerful and
sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing
asunder of soul and spirit.'......"
Again, I do not think Mr. Atkinson really explains the basic
truth of this verse as he proceeds to try to explain it. I will
leave what he says out and address it fully myself.
It is clear from the very context that Paul is using the
human body as his example "joints and marrow" and "thoughts and
intents of the heart." We must therefore I believe find the
truth of the phrase "soul and spirit" from the same context of
the human body. And indeed we so can.
Paul is saying that the word of God is so powerful and so
sharp it can cut asunder things that we as human would find in
some cases, very impossible. How do we as humans discern the
very thoughts and intents of another person's mind? So what in
the human body is the "soul and spirit"? We have seen that the
soul is the "life" of mankind, which is in the BLOOD of every
human. We shall later, in part two of this study, see that the
Hebrew and Greek words for "spirit" can also mean (and are often
translated) the "breath" of man, the "air" of man that is also a
part of him for him to be a living creation of the Lord. Without
air, wind, breath, coming into out bodies we would also die, just
as without blood circulating through our bodies we also would
die. The TWO go hand in hand. You must have BOTH! One without the
other is not good enough. BOTH air and blood are needed for human
being to live. The two MIX together so we have LIFE!
How do we as ordinary humans (without some pretty fancy
scientific equipment) see the difference or separate the two -
that is separate the "air" (breath) or "spirit" from the "blood"
or "soul" (life)?
Paul uses this probable impossibility on the human level of
doing these things with the physical body to draw his example
from. That God's living word, in fact He Himself, can divide such
matters. Those things that seem impossible to us are VERY
POSSIBLE to God, so he goes on to say in verse 13, "Neither is
there any creature that is NOT manifest in His sight: but ALL
THINGS are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we
have to do."
The phrase here for "soul and spirit" is better understood
and translated as "life and breath" - life in the blood and the
breath of air mixed with it (Keith Hunt).
And in the words of Basil Atkinson, "Thus we reach the end
of our study of the words NEPHESH and PSYCHEE with their
contribution to our understanding of human nature......."
TO BE CONTINUED
Compiled and written May 2000
All articles and studies by Keith Hunt may be copied, published,
e-mailed, and distributed as led by the Spirit. Mr. Hunt trusts
nothing will be changed (except for spelling and punctuation
errors) without his consent.