Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Soul and Spirit in the Hebrew



This is a brief overview analysis of the associated use of the words ‘Roo' ach’ and ‘nephesh’ in the Hebrew Bible. This was carried out using Strong’s Hebrew concordance in order to illuminate the Hebrew concepts in relation to what they contribute to human existence; moreover whether they are separate or distinct concepts from the physical body. ‘Spirit’ is usually the default translation for the Hebrew word ‘Roo’-akh’ – which can also mean ‘breath’, ‘wind’, and ‘mind’ (as in Gen 26:35). – (Jesus’ likening a person born of the spirit to the wind comes to mind here). Strong's concordance has a notation that the use of ‘spirit’ is applied only to a rational being*, however you will find that there are few exceptions to this where the word is rendered 'breath', for instance Gen 7:15. The concept rendered 'spirit' can also be used to describe an evil spirit – usually action-oriented and wilful (e.g. 1 Kings 22:22). A ‘spirit’ is perceived as something proceeding from God; for example, the spirit of wisdom, prophecy, jealousy (e.g. Judges 6:34 – on Gideon). The word is also used to describe spiritual states, such as grief, contrition, brokenness, and vexation.

The word ‘soul’ is usually the default translation of the Hebrew ‘nephesh’ – the undisputed use encompassing ‘soul’, ‘living being’ (a living body by implication) /’creature’ (including animals), ‘life’, ‘person’, (and less commonly rendered as ‘appetite’, ‘desire’, ‘emotion’, and ‘passion’) (Strong’s concordance). Note that ‘nephesh’ can be used to denote a whole creature. A visible distinction is also observed here in the application of ‘nephesh’ to living creatures in general not just man.

It should however be noted that ‘nephesh’ and ‘roo-akh’ are closely related in Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages such as Arabic – both for instance denote the concepts of wind and breath. 
Note however, that in Genesis 2, into man's nostrils alone does God breathe the breath of life 'neshama' (Gen 2:7)**. The term is also used in Job 33:4 "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath 'neshama' of the Almighty hath given me life" In Job 32:8, Elihu points out "But there is a spirit 'neshama' in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty gives them understanding. Again, proverbs 20:27 reads "The spirit 'neshama' of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly."


*The exception is found in Ecclesiastes 3:21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?’ – given the varying views on how to appraise this verse, caution is warranted in taking it as a doctrinal statement.

* *Reymond (1998) outlines "the one context where some expositors contend that the nesh a¯måh, is identified with animals as well is Genesis 7:21–22, but a careful reading of the text will disclose that the nes a¯måh, of 7:22 has for its referent mankind at the very end of 7:21, but a careful reading of the text will disclose that the nes a¯måh, of 7:22 has for its referent mankind at the very end of 7:21, that is to say that the verses should be read "and all mankind - all on dry land [which excludes the occupants of the ark] in whose nostrils was the nes a¯måh, of life died"

Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998)

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