Hebrew N'shamah - breath, wind, air
This Hebrew word appears 25 times in the OT (see The
Englishman's Hebrew Concordance) and is number 5397 in Strong's
Concordance. It first occurs in Genesis 2:7 where we read that
God, "...breathed into his nostrils the BREATH of life." In the
KJV it is rendered as "breath" "breathed" most of the time,
with a few times with such words as "blast" "spirit" and once
as "inspiration" and once even as "the souls." Its first and
primary meaning is "breath" - the wind or air that we breath in
each day as human beings. It corresponds, but only in part to
the Hebrew word RUAGH, which can also mean "breath" but which is
used in much broader ways also, as we shall see later when
we look at that specific word.
A study of all 25 places where N'SHAMAH is used will show
that it has no connection with any inherent IMMORTALITY within
the word itself (Keith Hunt).
Here is what Basil Atkinson has written on this word
n'shamah (all capital lettering is mine throughout this entire
" If we turn again to Ge.2: 7, we shall see that '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.' We
have already seem what it means to become a living soul. This
great verse shows us the process. First, we have MAN made of the
dust of the ground. We notice in the texts of our Bibles that the
word 'of' on the first occasion on which it occurs in the verse
is in italics. This means of course that it is absent from the
original. Our margins confirm this. They say, 'formed man dust of
the ground.' Man is not some composition made of dust. He
actually CONSISTS of dust, and we are reminded of this humble
position of this, several times in the Bible (see Gen.3: 19; 18:
27; Ps. 103: 14; 104: 29; Job 34: 15; Ecc. 3: 20; 12: 7).
We notice there is no hint of the 'soul' being the REAL man,
and the 'body' being a temporary habitation for him. The man is
there before ever he becomes a soul by the inbreathing into his
nostrils of the breath of life.
The BREATH of life in Gen. 2: 7 represents the Hebrew
n'shamah, which is a life principle issuing from the Lord God.
The word occurs twenty-five times in the OT. In one instance (Job
37: 10) it is said to produce FROST and ICE, and in four it is
used of the BLAST of the wrath of God. In the remaining 20 it is
used of the life principle breathed into man by God.
We notice that it was breathed into his NOSTRILS, and such
passages as Deut.20: 16; Josh. 10: 40; 11: 11, 14 show that it
relates to his actual PHYSICAL BREATHING by the inhalation of
AIR. We remember that man's soul is in his BLOOD and indeed his
blood is his soul. Thus he is kept in being as a LIVING SOUL by
the inhalation of OXYGEN out of the AIR, and medical science
today knows of course a great deal about the connection between
this intake of oxygen and the blood.
In TWO of the passages in which n'shamah is referred to, we
find the ANIMALS included as well as man (Gen. 7: 22; Ps. 150:
6). This agrees with the fact that, as we have seen, they are
souls just as man is a soul. "
The Breath of the Spirit
This word n'shamah is sometimes used WITH and as a PARALLEL
with the Hebrew word ruagh, a kind of a repeat to give emphasis.
This is often done in the Hebrew language, and we in English may
do the same, using slightly different words in two phrases to say
the same thing such as, "What he told me BLEW me away, I mean
it just BASTED my mind-set, it was so revealing" (Keith Hunt).
Continuing with the words of Atkinson:
" If we look in our margins at Gen.7: 22, we shall see that
for 'the breath of life' the Hebrew says, 'the breath of the
spirit of life.' While we know that the Holy Spirit to be the
Divine Spirit of life, it is probable that this passage here does
not refer to Him, but to the PRINCIPLE of life, which is the SAME
as n'shamah, but on a wider scale. The word for 'spirit' is ruagh
and we shall shortly be dealing with it. This passage then
teaches that the n'shamah is the SAME THING as the ruagh of life,
but derives from it as a limited portion of it.
The probability that this is the meaning of this passage
arises from the fact that there are FIVE passages in which
n'shamah and ruagh appear as PARALLELS.....Isaiah 42: 5, 'he
giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that
walk therein; Job 27: 3, 'All the while my breath is in me, and
the spirit of God is in my nostrils'.....Job 33: 4, 'The Spirit
of God has given me life.' In spite of the capital letter in our
version it remains probable that the 'spirit' here is again the
principle of life PARALLEL with n'shamah....."
So there may be times when both Hebrew words (n'shamah and
ruagh) are used as a double emphasis or a repeat to say the same
thing, but with different words that carry within themselves the
same meaning when used under certain contexts (Keith Hunt).
Now we move to the great Hebrew word RUAGH and what Basil
Atkinson writes concerning it with its various meanings and
usages in the OT Scriptures.
The Spirit of God
" There is one more great word that we need to study in
order to grasp all that the Bible reveals to us about the nature
of man. This is the word RUAGH, usually translated 'spirit' and
its NT equivalent PNEUMA, which we will leave until we reach the
NT as in the case of nephesh and psychee.
This word has a GREATER VARIETY of meaning than does
nephesh, but it is not dissimilar to it in its range.
There are a LARGE number of occurrences of ruagh in the
sense of 'wind,' which is probably its elementary meaning. There
are about a HUNDRED AND NINETEEN of these, including TWO Aramaic
occurrences in the book of Daniel. There are also a large
number of cases in which the word is used to describe a PERSON
There are about EIGHTY-TWO references to the SPIRIT (Ruagh)
or HOLY SPIRIT of God......There are about SEVENTEEN references
to created PERSONAL BEINGS described as ruagh, either good or
evil It is important to notice that no HUMAN being is among them.
A human being is NEVER called a spirit in the Bible. He possesses
a spirit, but he IS not a spirit. As we have seen, he is a
nephesh or soul.
Ruagh as Life Principle
We are not concerned with the two senses of the word ruagh
which have just been mentioned, as they do not touch our argument
or effect the subject we are treating.
We next find ruagh used WIDELY in the sense of LIFE
PRINCIPLE, and here it concerns us deeply. In Gen.2:7 we saw that
man was made of the dust and that he became a LIVING SOUL by the
inbreathing into his NOSTRILS of the n'shamah of life.
In Gen.7: 22 we find this n'shamah referred to (margin) as
the breath of the spirit (ruagh) of life. The n'shamah seems to
be a property or PORTION of the ruagh and to be concerned with
what we today should call the PHYSICAL life. The ruagh which is
also a principle of life is much WIDER. It produces and sustains
the INNER as well as the OUTER life in man, his intellect,
abstract thoughts, emotions and desires as well as covering the
whole action of the n'shamah on the physical life.
We find ruagh occurring in this sense IN PLACE OF n'shamah
FIRST in Gen.6: 17, 'to destroy all flesh, wherein is the BREATH
(ruagh) of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in
the earth shall die.' This applies to BOTH men and animals, so
that the latter share this ruagh or life principle with man.
Though attempts have been made to show that animals do NOT have
ruagh but only n'shamah, they fail in the face of this passage
and of Gen. 7: 15 and 22 or Ecc. 3: 21, which plainly state that
animals posses the ruagh of life.
There are FORTY-NINE passages in the OT in which ruagh
refers to the life principle.....we will not take up space by
listing them all, but will select a few illustrative
Numbers 16: 22, 'O God, the God of the spirits of all
flesh.' Here and in the parallel passage in Num. 27: 16 the word
ruagh seems to include its sense of spirit as a disposition of
the MIND as well as the principle of life. Judges 15: 19, 'and
when he had drunk, his spirit came again and he revived.' This
revival is not from death, but from EXHAUSTION, the use of ruagh
here being exactly PARALLEL to that of n'shamah in Daniel 10: 17.
We find exactly the same use in 1 Samuel 30: 12. In Isaiah 38:
16 we find Hezekiah saying, 'in all these things (that is, in
the mercies of God) is the life of my spirit.' Hezekiah is
probably referring to the recovery of his HEALTH and his
deliverance from DEATH....Then in Jeremiah 10: 4 we find, 'for
his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath (spirit) in
them.' This means that the image, though a god to the
idolator, is not ALIVE.
In Lamentations 4: 20 we have an interesting and
intelligible figure of speech, 'The breath (ruagh) of our
nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits.' The
reference is to King Zedekiah, who is thought of as the nations
In Ezekiel we have TEN instances of ruagh as life principle
(1: 20, 21; 10: 17; 37: 5, 6, 8, 9, 10), ONE relating to
exhaustion (21: 7) in the same sense as Judges 15: 9 and
1 Samuel 30: 12. In the book of the same prophet we find ruagh
used THREE times for the NEW REGENERATE principle of life which
is put within the believer when he is converted....(11: 19; 18:
31 and 36: 26).
In Habakkuk 2: 19 there is another statement that the IDOL
has no ruagh, that is to say, is not alive.
A very interesting examples occurs in Malachi 2: 15. The
prophet is arguing for faithfulness in marriage and reminds his
readers that God created only one woman at the beginning, though
He could have created as many as He wished. 'And did He not make
one? Yet He had the residue of the spirit.' God had at His
disposal as much spirit as He wished to breathe life into as many
women as He wished.
In Psalm 31: 5 we have in prophecy the words of the Lord
Jesus on the cross as He was dying, 'Into thine hand I commit my
spirit.' He entrusted to God the human spirit....He possessed as
a man, so it could be restored to Him in resurrection."
(We shall study that special part of that special spirit of
the human that God the Father can keep and restore in
resurrection later, at the end of this second part, after we
have given more from Basil Atkinson - Keith Hunt)
Back to the words of Atkinson:
" Death again is the theme of Ps.76: 12, 'He shall cut off
the spirit of princes,' that is, take away their lives.
Death and creation are the theme in Ps.104: 29, 30, 'You
take away their breath (ruagh), they die, and return to the dust.
You send forth your spirit (ruagh), they are created.'.....
In Ps.146: 4 we have an important passage dealing with
death.....'His (that is man's) breath (ruagh) goes forth, he
returns to the earth.' Man's spirit, the principle that makes
him a living soul and keeps him alive, is taken from him at
There are SEVEN references in the book of Job. Job.6: 4,
'For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison thereof
drinks up my spirit.' The arrows are a poetical figure for the
wrath and chastisement of the Almighty. To drink up his spirit
(ruagh) means to drain his life. Job. 9: 18, to take his breath
(ruagh) probably means simply to live. Job 10: 12, the spirit
(ruagh) is the principle that keeps him alive. Job 12: 10,
breath here is ruagh. The text teaches that the Lord's hand
controls and maintains every man's life. Job 17: 1, My breath
(ruagh) is corrupt.' See the margin, 'My spirit is spent.' Job
thinks his life is failing. Job 27: 3, the spirit (ruagh) of God
is the spirit of life breathed into man at his creation. Job 34:
14, 15, Elihu speaks here of the power of God to destroy man by
taking back the spirit (ruagh) which He gave him.
There are SIX important references in Ecclesiastes. As they
all deal with death.....Ecc. 3: 19, 21 (twice); 8: 8 (twice);
12: 7. On each occasion the Hebrew word is ruagh......"
(Those important passages Basil Atkinson treats fully and
in-depth later - Keith Hunt)
Ruagh as the Disposition and Seat of Emotions
Mr. Basil Atkinson continues:
" As well as having the sense of the life principle in man
the word ruagh can also mean a man's INNER DISPOSITION as the
seat of his THOUGHTS and EMOTIONS. This is similar to the sense
of nephesh when it refers to the INNER man as well as to the
WHOLE man as a person or living being.....We shall NOT FIND a
single reference that would lead us to look upon man's ruagh as
CONSCIOUSLY surviving his death.....
There are about TWENTY-SEVEN instances where the spirit
(ruagh) is the seat of GRIEF, generally referred to in Hebrew as
'bitterness of spirit.' Examples are Gen. 26: 35, 'Which were a
grief of mind (ruagh) unto Isaac and Rebekah.' Exodus 6: 9, 'but
they harkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit (ruagh) and
for cruel bondage.' 1 Samuel 1: 15, 'I am a woman of a sorrowful
spirit (ruagh)'.....Nine times in Ecclesiastes we find the words
'vanity and vexation of spirit (ruagh)'.
An Aramaic instance in Daniel 7: 15 is, 'I Daniel was
grieved in my spirit (ruagh) in the midst of my body.' This
passage is interesting because it speaks of the relationship
between 'ruagh' and 'body.' The word translated 'body' means
'sheath' in Aramaic. Thus what we should call the physical body
is regarded in this passage as the sheath or covering of the
inner man or spirit. The MIND or PERSONALITY is WITHIN but there
is nothing here or elsewhere from which we may infer that the
ruagh CONSCIOUSLY survives the breaking of the sheath. The most
we can say is that the passage is consistent with such an idea IF
we were able to find it revealed anywhere in Scripture.
There are about NINE passages in which WISDOM is spoken of
in connection with the ruagh. Thus we have in Exodus 28: 3, 'And
you shall speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have
filled with the spirit (ruagh) of wisdom.'....Deuteronomy 34: 9,
'And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit (ruagh) of
wisdom.'......we find FIVE times in the book of Daniel the
heathen kings declaring that in Daniel was 'the spirit (ruagh) of
the gods'....by this they mean a spirit of wisdom.....
There are TWO instances in which we find the ruagh governing
the WILL, 'every one whom his spirit (ruagh) made willing' (Ex.
35: 21) and in an opposite sense, 'for the Lord your God hardened
his spirit (ruagh)' (Deut. 2: 30).
In Numbers 5 we find THREE times 'the spirit (ruagh) of
JEALOUSY' (verse 14 (twice) and 30), where we can possibly
understand this to be a feeling or disposition that temporarily
came upon a man.
The spirit is the seat of COURAGE , as we find in Joshua 2:
11 (where ruagh is translated 'courage'); Joshua 5: 1; 1 Kings
10: 5; Isaiah 19: 3; 29: 10; Jeremiah 51: 11; Haggai 1: 4
(three times); Proverbs 18: 14 and 2 Chronicles 9: 4.
There are SIX passages in which ruagh appears as the seat of
ANGER. They are Judges 8: 3, where ruagh is translated 'anger' ;
Ezekiel 3: 14; Proverbs 14: 29; 16: 32; Ecclesiastes 7: 9 and
It is interesting to find about FOURTEEN passages in which
the ruagh is the seat of PERVERSENESS, EVIL or REBELLION. Thus we
find Isaiah 19: 14, 'a perverse ruagh,' - Hosea 4: 12 and 5: 4,
'the ruagh of whoredoms,' - Zechariah 13: 2, 'the unclean
ruagh.' This seems to be a national spirit.
Malachi 2: 15, 16 shows us TREACHERY or UNFAITHFULNESS in
In Psalm 32: 2 we see the possibility of 'GUILE' or DECEIT
in the ruagh.
Psalm 78: 8 speaks of 'a generation....whose spirit (ruagh)
was not steadfast with God.' Proverbs 15: 4 tells us that
PERVERSENESS in the TONGUE is a breach or wound in the ruagh.
Proverbs 25: 28 we find the man who cannot control his own ruagh.
In Job 15: 13 we find the charge, 'you turn your spirit
against God.' Ecclesiastes 7: 8 speaks of 'the proud in spirit
(ruagh).' Finally we have in the Aramaic passage Daniel 5: 20
the statement that King Nebuchadnezzar's mind (ruagh) was
hardened in pride.
There are TWO interesting passages which show the ruagh
seeking and searching after God. They are Isaiah 26: 9 and Psalm
77: 6. As the speaker in each case is a godly man, the reference
may perhaps be to the regenerate spirit.....
In about SEVEN passages the ruagh is seen as the seat of
CONTRITION or HUMILITY, Thus we have the famous and beautiful
passage in Isaiah 57: 15, 'I dwell in the high and holy place,
with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive
the spirit of the humble.' Again in Isaiah 66: 2, 'but to this
man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite
In Proverbs 11: 3 there is a reference to a 'FAITHFUL
spirit' (ruagh). This shows the ruagh as a disposition or the
fount of character.
In addition to these there are about FIFTEEN references to
ruagh in a more GENERAL sense.......
There are about TEN passages in which the word ruagh is
specially connected with PROPHECY. In the seven passages Numbers
11: 17, 25 (twice), 26, 29; 2 Kings 2: 9, 15 it might be
possible to interpret the word of the Holy Spirit of God. In any
case it is a special gift of inspiration and not the normal human
spirit. In three cases the ruagh is a false or lying one (Ezek.
13: 3; Hosea 9: 7; Micah 2: 11). However we interpret these
passages our argument is not affected. "
The passage in Ecclesiastes 12: 7 that talks about the
spirit returning to God at death, as well as the passages of 1
Corinthians 2: 11 and Hebrews 12: 23, I shall give special
attention to shortly, after we have seen what Mr. Atkinson says
about the corresponding Greek word for ruagh. There is a special
spirit within the human that is not a part of any animal in the
sense and for the reason that it is in man, which makes him
unique in all of God's physical creation (Keith Hunt).
Spirit in the New Testament
We continue with the words of Basil Atkinson:
" We saw that the Greek word psychee corresponded in the NT
to Hebrew nephesh. In the same way the corresponding word to
Hebrew ruagh is pneuma. This word has not so long a known history
in the Greek language as has psychee. It does not occur in the
Homeric poems. In literature it first appears in the historian
Herodotus. Its meaning is 'wind' or 'breath' breathed in or out.
Thence it came to mean life principle and occasionally a living
person, rather in the sense of psychee. Thus it had a few of the
senses of ruagh, but it does not seem to have carried others till
it came to represent it in the NT.
Pneuma as a Person
There are about TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FOUR instances in the
NT of the use of pneuma with or without the adjective hagion,
'holy' - to denote the HOLY SPIRIT of God......The references in
some of these is a matter of judgment owing to the well-known
difficulty of distinguishing in some cases whether a given
reference is to the Holy Spirit or to the new nature in
In addition to the references to the Holy Spirit there are
some FIFTY-SIX passages in which pneuma denotes a PERSON. Most of
these are references to evil spirits and most occur in the
synoptic Gospels and Acts. We need not dwell on them, but there
are TWO instances which we ought to look at.
Speaking to the Samaritan woman in John 4: 24 the Lord Jesus
said, 'God is a Spirit (Pneuma)'.......Then again in 1 Cor. 15:
45, a text we have already touched on when dealing with psychee,
the apostle says, 'The first man Adam was made a living soul; the
last Adam was made a quickening spirit.' This is, as all agree,
a reference to the risen Christ.....Father in John 4: 24, the Son
in 1 cor. 15: 45....This bears sufficiently on our theme by
showing that God as Spirit is the source of all life. "
Let me say here that what these above verses are clearly
showing and what they are teaching us is that God the Father and
Jesus the Son, in their glorified state are composed of Spirit
not physical matter. They live in a different world than us
humans live in. Their realm, is a spirit world not a physical
matter world. And the spirit world is un-seen by the human eye,
unless God chooses to manifest that spirit world to the human
eye, or in the minds-eye through visions. The Bible also clearly
shows that God and/or an angel of the Lord can manifest
themselves in the form of flesh and bone if it is the will
of God to do so. Jesus was able, after His resurrection, to
appear to His disciples as flesh and bone, so they could touch
Him, then vanish before their eyes. I have covered that
truth in another study. God created this whole physical universe
it is written, out of NOTHING, turning spirit into physical
matter, what we would say as creating matter out of nothing, so
it is very easy for the Lord who is then Spirit, to manifest
Himself as matter if He should so wish to do so, in order that
mankind could talk, walk, have a meal with, even touch and
handle, as did take place a number of times since the creation of
mankind (Keith Hunt).
Pneuma as Wind
Continuing with the words of Atkinson:
" Pneuma only ONCE means 'wind' or 'blast' in the NT. We
shall find the occurrence in 2 Thessalonians 2: 8 in a quotation
from Isaiah 11: 4 and Job 4: 9, 'And then shall that Wicked be
revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His
Pneuma as Life Principle
There are NINE instances in the NT in which pneuma means
'life principle' just as does ruagh in the OT.....In Luke 8: 55
the spirit (pneuma) returns to the dead child, daughter of
Jairus. We ought not to suppose that what returned was CONSCIOUS
in itself APART FROM the body. The usages of ruagh in the OT show
that this means that God gave back to the child the life
principle which He had taken at death......James 2: 26 gives us
a very clear view of the relationship of spirit (pneuma) and
body. revelation 11:11 shows us the spirit (pneuma) of life
entering into the dead bodies of the witnesses, so that they
revived and stood up. In Revelation 13: 15 we find the false
prophet empowered to give pneuma to the image of the beast, so
that it could speak like a living person....we have the
significant word, 'For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of
prophecy' (Rev.19:10). The vital principle of prophecy, that
which gives it meaning and life, is its testimony of Jesus. This
is a figurative use of pneuma on the analogy of its literal use
in connection with human life. "
The verses in the Gospels where Jesus released His spirit to
the Father at His death, will come under the last section I will
cover when I explain the "spirit of man that is in him" - that
which is unique to mankind (Keith Hunt).
TO BE CONTINUED