Very fitting it is for the Christian that occasionally his attention is called to terms found in the Scriptures which are more or less difficult for him to define and understand. Undoubtedly the term “soul” as it appears in Holy Writ is one which frequently causes some difficulty.
To determine the meaning of the term “soul” as it is found in the New Testament, we turn to the original Greek, and find that there the word pseuceh is generally employed to express what in English is called “soul”. The word means “to breathe, blow”, and refers in some instances to the “breath of life”, (cf. Acts 20:10). Generally, the Greek word for soul is not translated by “life”, but by “sour. The context must determine which of the two should be used.
The next question we must answer is: What does the term soul in the New Testament refer to according to different contexts wherein the term is employed?
It may refer to the life of man. So in Luke 12:19 the rich fool addresses his soul to eat, drink, and be merry. Then again the term may refer to the seat of the life and emotions of the rational-moral creature. So Jesus, in Matt. 10:28 warns against fearing those who are unable to kill the soul, but emphasizes one should fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Again, the term may refer to both the soul and the body. An interesting and note-worthy fact of the use of this meaning of the term is that Scripture then always employs a numeral with the term. So, for instance, in Acts 2:14 we read that three thousand souls were added to the church; that with Paul on the ship were two hundred seventy six souls; and that in the ark, few, that is eight souls were saved by water.
Generally, it may be said however that the term “Soul” in the New Testament refers to the inner seat of the life of the rational-moral creature. That reference to the soul which identifies it as a spiritual, invisible, mortal substance, gifted with volition and understanding. The soul is closely connected with what is called “the spirit” (neuma) and usually exists in connection with the body.
What, now, can we say of that soul? We defined it as a substance. This is true from what we said about the soul that it possessed understanding and volition. The soul can love and hate, may be glad and rejoice, but may also be cast down with grief. The basis for this conjecture is found in Matt. 26:39, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Mary says in Luke 1:46: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” There we notice too that the spirit is closely connected with the soul, since Mary adds, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”
That the soul is a substance we may conclude secondly, from the fact that after separation of soul and body, the soul either rejoices in heaven or is cast down in the despair of hell.
There are those who maintain that man has more than one soul. Fact is however, that upon the basis of Scripture (of Matt. 16:26, and I Cor. 6:20), man has but one soul, and that one soul being in the one body, determines the life of that body: (Acts 20:10; James 2:26). Were it true that man had more than one soul, we would necessarily have to maintain that also Christ, who became like unto us in all things except sin, had more than one soul also.
Now this one soul, given to our individual bodies, was created, or given existence by God. We notice from the account of God placing the breath of life in Adam, that where Adam as to His human frame was created out of the dust of the earth, God gave him his soul by breathing the breath of life into him. Immediately God formed Adam’s soul.
It is not necessary here to discuss the origin of the individual soul of men at length. Let it suffice that we mention the spirit in a newborn babe comes not from the parents, but from God, to Whom it shall also again return.
In our discussion of the soul, especially as it is found in the New Testament, we must needs touch upon the question if or not the soul is immortal.
The question of the immortality of the soul is one frequently discussed and often answered incorrectly. We maintain that the soul is not immortal, but very mortal indeed. We are aware of the fact that the spirit, or soul does return to God who made it, after physical death. Also it is true that Christ through the Holy Spirit went to preach the fact of His resurrection to the spirits in prison (I Pet. 3:19). But, this does not imply that the soul is immortal in so far as it continues to live on. Do not the Scriptures teach that to live apart from God is death? Is not death separation from God? Does not Christ warn us to fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell? Indeed, the soul does continue to exist, even in hell; but is that soul, and that presently “spiritual” body of the wicked not in hell under the touch of the wrath and condemnation of the living God who is a consuming fire? That is death, death also for the soul of the wicked. Thus, we firmly maintain, rightly understood, the soul is mortal.
So much in general about the soul. Our subject, however, calls for a more particular explanation of the term “soul” in the New Testament.
We gather from the Old Testament, but also in an ever increasing measure from the New, that the soul is subject to dangers, subject to fear; (Acts 2:43) that the soul must be preserved (I Thess. 5:23), that it experiences opposition and is engaged in warfare and combat (I Pet. 2:11), that the soul is subject to destruction and can and must be saved (Heb. 10:39), since the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
The difference then, between the idea of the soul proper, in the Old and in the New Testament is this: The Old Testament saint, in consideration of his soul that it was subject to death, looked forward to the realization of the promise, that God would not leave his soul in hell, nor suffer His Holy One to see corruption. He looked forward to the Christ, who is centrally the subject of this confession of victory over hell and the grave. The New Testament Scriptures, however, glance backward, and with greater and fuller joy glory in Christ Jesus of whom Luke testifies in Acts 2:31 that His soul was not left in hell (Hades), neither did (His flesh see corruption. Fulfilled was the promise of victory in the resurrection of Jesus.
But Jesus was not the victor over the grave as an individual. We know that when Jesus arose, we were raised with Him. We are not of them that shrink back unto perdition; but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul. Through Him we have the victory as to our soul and body.
Thus, our saved soul may have hope, may fight the good fight of faith, and we may rejoice in God our Savior as did Mary of old. This is the beauty of the Scriptures, for while the Old Testament always pointed forward, by its types and shadows looking for better things to come; the New Testament assures us of the realization of all the promises of God. All things center around the Christ, Who is the Son of God and the first-born of every creature,
Since then, we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, having the whole of the revelation of God in the Scriptures, and the Spirit of the risen Lord within our hearts, let us believe too, that our sorry souls are saved from death and destruction in and through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!