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Nephesh (נֶפֶש) is a Biblical Hebrew word which occurs in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament). The Hebrew terms נפש nephesh literal is "living being". Although it is commonly rendered as soul in English translations, the word refers to the tangible aspects of life, and human beings and higher animals are both described as having a nephesh.[1]

When referring to animals nephesh is associated with social animals, that also can bond with humans.[2] [3] These tangible aspects are the characteristics found in birds and mammals:[4]

  • Personality
  • Will, as in to make choices.
  • Make bonds with others, including humans (specially if the bond is started at a young age).

Some birds and mammals show strong nephesh activities like: bonding for life and mourning.

While humans are nephesh, the Bible also states that humans have the characteristics of spirituality, that is created in God’s image.[5] Spirit in Hebrew is ruach or ruah, that is capable of prayer, worship and other spiritual activities.[6][7][8]

Nephesh is found in Strong's Lexicon as # H5315. The first 4 times nephesh is use in the Bible it exclusively is used to description animals: Gen. 1:20: (sea life), Gen. 1:21 (sea life), Gen. 1:24: (land creatures) Gen. 1:30 (birds and land creatures). Gen. 2:7 nephesh is used as description of man.

The Bible puts life is three groups:

  • Body only, as in insects, fish, reptiles and other lower animals.(physical life)
  • Body and soul (nephesh), as in birds and mammals (nephesh or soulish life)
  • Body, soul (nephesh) and spirit, as in humans. (soulish and spirit life)[9]

The Greek the word psuche, ψυχή psūchê, is the closest equivalent to the Hebrew nephesh. The Hebrew term, nephesh chayyah is often translated "living soul". Chayyah alone often translated living thing or animal, chayyah is Strong's Lexicon #2421b. The Hebrew word tsi is translated wild animal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hoffman, Joel M. And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning, Chapter 4.
  2. ^ "Social animal". Babylon. Retrieved October 1, 2013. 
  3. ^ Job 38 and Job 39
  4. ^, Birds and mammals share a common brain circuit for learning, May 19, 2010, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  5. ^ Gen 1:27
  6. ^ Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (2000). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (electronic ed.) (659). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems. (N.B. Corresponds closely to printed editions.)
  7. ^ John Teske (2000), "The Social Construction of the Human Spirit", The human person in science and theology, ISBN 978-0-567-08692-1 
  8. ^ Zechariah 12:1-3
  9. ^ 1 Thes 5:23
  10. ^ a b Numbers come from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Zondervan’s Exhaustive NIV Concordance.
  • Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament