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What is the human soul?

Evidence of God’s creation (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18-20), the events and miracles recorded in the Bible (John 5:33-40), scientific evidence of design, and the reality of logic all point to the existence of a spiritual world—and human beings have a part in that world too in the form of souls. While the Bible is not super clear as to the full nature of the human soul, we can learn a lot from the way God's Word speaks of the human soul.

Throughout the Bible, humans are continually referred to as "souls." (See Exodus 31:14; Proverbs 11:30; Psalm 16:9-10; Ezekiel 18:4; Acts 2:41; Revelation 18:13 (ESV).) We know that the soul is distinct from the physical body. The soul is our "spiritual" self or the non-physical part of us that lives forever. At the moment of death, the soul leaves the body and moves to an eternal space. In Genesis 35:18, Rachel’s soul is said to be “departing” from her dying physical body, yet her soul continues to exist.

George MacDonald, a Scottish author and poet, once said, "You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." I love this! Being a person is based on having a soul—not a body. Our personhood is not dependent upon a body, but we do need a soul.

Your Soul: The 2 Most Important Things to Know

The two most important things to know about the human soul are: 1. Souls are immortal, and 2. We get to choose where our souls end up after our time in the physical body is over. How?

The answer to #2 is completely up to each individual. Those who place faith and trust in Jesus Christ will live forever in paradise with God (Luke 23:43; John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 2:9). Those who reject Christ will live forever in eternal punishment for their sins (Matthew 25:46; Matthew 10:28; Romans 6:23).

God wants all human souls to receive salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who is the atonement for our sins (2 Peter 3:9; Leviticus 17:11). We can only do that by accepting His free gift of salvation and forgiveness (John 3:16; Acts 2:37-41).

What the Bible Says about the Human Soul

  • The human soul is created by God (Jeremiah 38:16).
  • The human soul is separate from the human spirit (Hebrews 4:12).
  • The human soul is separate from the heart (Deuteronomy 26:16).
  • The human soul is separate from the mind (Mark 12:30).
  • The human soul can be strong or weak (2 Peter 2:14).
  • The human soul is either saved or not (James 1:21).
  • Saved human souls are purified, sealed, and kept safe by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:22).

Jesus is the Great Shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). The Bible says that Jesus takes care of us—body and soul (Matthew 6:25-34). Jesus says He gives rest to our weary souls: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).

Jesus Himself, as the Incarnate Word, has a soul too (Psalm 16:9-10; Acts 13:35-37). Because Jesus' soul was in a body at one time, He knows the pain our souls can feel (Hebrews 4:15-16). He wants us to come to Him and find rest for our troubled souls (1 John 2:1).

Human Soul vs. Human Spirit

The human soul should not be confused with the human spirit. The Bible does use the terms "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably sometimes, but they are subtly different in different contexts. Hebrews 4:12 makes the distinction between soul and spirit: "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." How can the Word of God divide the soul and spirit if they're the same thing? So this means that humans are souls with a spirit and a body.

While there's no direct "scientific" evidence of a soul, that doesn't mean that souls cannot exist. Just because there's no direct "visual" evidence of magnetic fields, that doesn't mean magnetic fields don't exist. There are many aspects of who we are—things like emotion, love, beauty, art, morality, personality, etc.—which cannot be explained by physical evidence. Evidence for God's existence and the existence of a spiritual realm suggests that human beings are more than "just" moving bodies of flesh and bone.

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TL;DR

The human soul is the spiritual, non-physical part of human beings. The Bible doesn't directly define the soul, but we do know many things about the human soul based on how it is described. The human soul is created by God, immortal, and either saved from punishment or not (James 1:21). Saved human souls are purified, sealed, and kept safe by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:22). Every human soul's decision to accept Christ or reject Him will determine the place their soul will go once the body has died (2 Peter 3:9; Leviticus 17:11). Followers of Christ ought to do everything possible to share Jesus, the Shepherd of our souls, with every lost soul (1 Peter 2:25).

By: Vivian Bricker

Vivian loves learning, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She is dedicated to helping people learn more about Jesus and is ready to help in any way she can. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, cooking, drawing, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, you can find her soaking up the sunshine or going on an adventure.

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