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Nephesh (נֶ֫פֶשׁnép̄eš) is a Biblical Hebrew word which occurs in the Hebrew Bible. The word refers to the aspects of sentience, and human beings and other animals are both described as being nephesh.[1][2] Bugs and plants, as examples of live organisms, are not referred in the Bible as being nephesh. The primary meaning of the term נפש‎ is 'the breath of life' instinct in the nostrils of all living beings, and by extension 'life', 'person' or 'very self'. There is no term in English corresponding to nephesh, and the (Christian) 'soul', which has quite different connotations is nonetheless customarily used to translate it. [3] One view is that nephesh relates to sentient being without the idea of life and that, rather than having a nephesh, a sentient creation of God is a nephesh. In Genesis 2:7, the text is not that Adam was given a nephesh but that Adam "became a living nephesh." Nephesh when put with another word can detail aspects related to the concept of nephesh; with רוּחַ‎ rûach (“breath”, “wind,” or "spirit") it describes a part of mankind that is immaterial, like one's mind, emotions, will, intellect, personality, and conscience, as in Job 7:11.[4][5]

Biblical use[edit]

The word nephesh occurs 754 times in the Hebrew Bible. The first four times nephesh is used in the Bible, it is used exclusively to describe animals: Gen 1:20 (sea life), Gen 1:21 (great sea life), Gen 1:24 (land creatures), Gen 1:30 (birds and land creatures). At Gen 2:7 nephesh is used as description of man.

Job 12:7–10 parallels the words רוח (ruah) and נפׁש (nephesh): “In His hand is the life (nephesh) of every living thing and the spirit (ruah) of every human being.”

The Hebrew term nephesh chayyah is often translated "living soul".[6] Chayyah alone is often translated living thing or animal.[7]

Often nephesh is used in the context of saving your life, nephesh then is referring to an entire person's life as in Joshua 2:13; Isaiah 44:20; 1 Samuel 19:11; Psalm 6:5; 49:15; 72:13.

In Greek, the word ψυχή (psyche) is the closest equivalent to the Hebrew nephesh.[8] In its turn, the Latin word for ψυχή is anima, etymon of the word animal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ biblehub.com, Nephesh
  2. ^ ecclesia.org, Nephesh
  3. ^ Robert Alter, Genesis, W. W. Norton & CO, 1996 PP.XXIX-XXX
  4. ^ studylight.org, nephesh
  5. ^ blueletterbible.org, Lexicon: Strong's H5315 - nephesh
  6. ^ biblehub.com, Living Creature
  7. ^ biblehub.com Strong's Lexicon #2421b
  8. ^ Compare Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:27; Also, SDA Bible Commentary (Review and Herald; Washington DC, 1960), Vol.8, Bible Dictionary, p.1037 notes "The usage of the Greek word psuche in the NT is similar to that of nephesh in the OT."
  9. ^ a b Numbers come from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Zondervan’s Exhaustive NIV Concordance.


  • Horst Balz (ed.), Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (3 Volume Set), 1993
  • A.B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1904/25, p.200-201