In the wilderness of Judah David experiences thirst and hunger that go far beyond any physical need for drink and food. His is a thirsting of the soul, a hunger of the body for God, “to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary” (Ps. 63:1-2). As a seasoned warrior, David can do without food and drink if need be. Deprived of access to God’s house, however, he cries out in his isolation and emptiness.
David uses the terms soul and flesh to describe his whole being. Paul uses similar terms: “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). In both cases the idea is that the human constitution has two aspects, the visible “outward man” of flesh and blood, and the “inward man” or “soul” or, as Peter says, “the hidden man of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4).
The Hebrew word nephesh is used hundreds of times in the Old Testament, where it is most often translated “soul” (428 times). However, depending on context, the translators render it as “life” (119 times), “person” (30 times), “heart” (15 times), and “mind” (15 times). In the New Testament the Greek word psuche is translated “soul” (58 times), “life” (40 times), “mind” (3 times), and “heart” (1 time). With such a wide range of meanings, it is unwise to define the word too narrowly or precisely.
Scripture teaches that the human body was a special creation of God, formed from the dust of the earth and brought to life when God breathed “the breath of life” into it: “Man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). The human soul is immaterial and immortal, the seat of knowledge and understanding, memory and meditation, conscience and consciousness, will and emotion. It is the unique identity of each person or “self.” Each human soul is a gift from the hand of God (Eccl. 12:7).
Interaction between soul and body is so seamless that it is often impossible to distinguish whether a given effect is produced by one or the other. Certainly the soul gives life to the body, and what happens in the soul registers in the body. David records the physical effects of his guilty silence: “My bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long” (Ps. 32:3).
Death is the rending asunder of soul and body. The body succumbs to corruption. The souls of the righteous are made perfect in holiness and received into the highest heavens, to behold the face of God in light and glory, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. The souls of the wicked are cast into hell, to remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved for judgment at the last day. Scripture does not support such erroneous beliefs as “soul sleep,” a second chance to receive Christ and be saved after death, salvation through suffering in purgatory, reincarnation, or annihilation of the souls of the wicked.
Some have proposed a distinction between “soul” and “spirit” based on Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 5:13: “And I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless.” Any distinction between “soul” and “spirit” fails because the words are used interchangeably elsewhere (see Luke 1:46-47), and they denote the same thing, namely, the “inward man.” Paul is using a periphrasis or circumlocution to emphasize the totality of preservation he desires for his readers.
Scripture does not denigrate the human body, since it is the creation of God, although its original beauty and perfection have been greatly marred by sin. However, Christ teaches us to put the needs of the soul above the claims of the body: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26). Paul says the same thing, in positive terms: “Bodily exercise profiteth for a little time: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
Extracted from: Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible Notes