Many will teach that our soul is our mind, will and emotions. But that is far too limiting a definition.
There is a principle in interpreting the Hebrew testament called the First Use Principle: The first time a word is used in the Hebrew Bible determines its basic meaning derived from the context in which it is used.
So, let’s look at the first time “soul” is used in the Bible: Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord God formed the man (Adam) from the dust of the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man (Adam) became a living soul.”
The Hebrew word for soul is Nephesh:
The meaning of the three Hebrew letters for Nephesh are as follows:
Noon — a fish darting through the water, life, new life, action;
Pey — mouth, to speak / command, a word, the beginning;
Shin — shape of one’s two front teeth, consume, devour.
The meaning of Nephesh derived from these Hebrew letters: “The Lord God breathed into Adam’s lifeless body the breath of life, and the word of His mouth permeated Adam’s entire body / consumed his entire body bringing animated life.”
When God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground, that body had all the component parts our bodies have: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, legs, lungs, stomach, brain, etc. But as yet, they were all lifeless components. This body could not see, hear, smell, taste or feel. Nor could it walk, digest food, breathe or speak.
Then the Lord God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and he became a living being — a soul. That is, his soul, which God imparted to him by the breath / command of His mouth, animated his body enabling it to see, hear, smell, walk, breathe, eat and speak. It now became the tent of the tabernacle Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 5:1 that Adam, the spirit being God created in His image and likeness in Genesis chapter 1:26-27, could now live in.
Our soul animates our body’s brain producing a mind that is capable of storing memory. It also animates our body’s nervous system which includes our brain yielding the capacity for emotions. From Samuel’s response to Saul in I Samuel 28:14-19, it is clear that Samuel as a spirit being also possessed a mind, will and emotions.
But what about a separate will for our soul? Paul might be indicating in Romans 7:14-24 that our flesh has a separate will we are powerless to disobey. If that were so, however, we would not be accountable for our own choices.
There is another explanation. Our nervous system hardwires our body and soul to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Initially, the soul of an infant will cry or express some other signs of displeasure when it encounters pain or discomfort. This propensity can be at odds with virtually any form of discipline.
Such discipline recognizes that more long-term goals reaping larger pleasurable benefits must be weighted against short-term pain or discomfort. Any athlete will attest to this analysis.
So, our soul will resist discipline until it experiences the benefits of discipline. This does not mean our soul has a will of its own. It just means it has a natural tendency to focus on more immediate gratification — what it experiences through our senses, bodily appetites and memories.
That is why the knowledge of good and evil is so crippling. Instead of just taking this input at face value, our knowledge of good and evil is such a pervasive, instinctual mental activity that our spirit being can easily choose our soul’s perception of reality. This decision will seems right to us in the moment until discipline gives our soul a larger perspective.
2 Corinthians 5:7 says “We walk by faith and not by what we perceive.” The Lord is the only One Who can see the outcome of our current perception of reality. So, Jesus says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself” — refrain from choosing the way that seems right in the moment; “take up his cross daily” — be willing to face the pain or displeasure we perceive by taking the disciplined path the Lord asks us to take; “and follow me” — as He leads us.
Jesus is our model:
Matthew 26:39 “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,..”
Our Father’s goal is to bring us to complete salvation, spirit, soul and body. By denying our self, taking up our cross and following Jesus, our soul and body will also be transformed into Christ’s image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)