Meaning of "Breath" and "Soul"

In 1 Kings 17:17, 22, we find the expressions, "There was no breath left in him," and "The soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." Kindly give an effectual explanation for believers in immortality, and also give the Hebrew meaning of "breath" and "soul." Are they identical words?

T. M. French, Washington, D.C.

In 1 Kings 17:17, 22, we find the expressions, "There was no breath left in him," and "The soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." Kindly give an effectual explanation for believers in immortality, and also give the Hebrew meaning of "breath" and "soul." Are they identical words?

The word "breath" used in this text is trans­lated from the Hebrew word neshamah. Its primary meaning is breath, as we understand it in English.

Soul is translated from nephesh, which is used in various senses. It is only once em­ployed for breath. "His breath kindleth coals." Job 41:21. In the Old Testament nephesh is commonly translated "life." And this is evi­dently the meaning of the word in the text under consideration. A correct translation of the passage would be: "The life of the child came into him again, and he revived." While the fact that the child's breath went from him was an indication that he was dead, yet when he was restored to life something more than simply breath was necessary. The prophet no doubt had in mind the full restoration of life to the child, praying, "Let this child's life come into him again."

For examples of the use of nephesh we quote the following:

"It came to pass, when they [the angels] had brought them [Lot and his family] forth abroad, that he [one of the angels] said, Es­cape for thy life." Gen. 19:17.

"Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." Gen. 32:30.

"The Lord said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life." Ex. 4:19.

"Let not thy voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows run upon thee, and thou lose thy life, with the lives of thy household." Judges 18:25.

These are a few instances of many in which nephesh is correctly translated life. It is diffi­cult to see how the word soul, in these in­stances, could be used, with any degree of sense, in the place of life.

That soul and life are translated from the same Hebrew word is clearly seen by the marginal reading of Genesis 1:30, A.V. Life is employed in the text; soul is used for the same word in the margin.

Moreover, the Scriptures do not teach that man has a soul which departs from the body and exists as a separate, conscious entity, as is popularly believed. Of man's death, the psalmist says: "His breath goeth forth, he re­turneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." Ps. 146:4.

If we maintain Scriptural teaching concern­ing death, there is only one way for us logically to translate the text under consideration and that is, "The life of the child came into him again, and he revived."                  

T. M. French

Washington, D.C.

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T. M. French, Washington, D.C.

April 1937

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