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What is the human soul, according to the Bible?

Over and over again in Scripture, people are referred to as "souls" (Exodus 31:14; Proverbs 11:30). The human soul is that part of a person that is eternal—the part that lives on after the body dies and decays. Jesus said we were not to fear men, who can only kill the body, but not the soul (Matthew 10:28).

There is some confusion as to whether the human spirit and the human soul are the same thing, or different in some way. The Bible is not entirely clear on this point, but there is evidence of at least some subtle differences. The spirit is described more in terms of force (Numbers 14:24), while the soul seems to be a static entity. Again, there is very little in the Bible to tell us what differences exist between the two. However, there is indication that they are separate entities (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12).

Jesus Christ, because he was fully man as well as being fully God, also had a human soul. His soul experienced anguish at Gethsemane while He prayed before going to the cross. He said "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death" (Matthew 26:36-46). The Messianic psalm also speaks of the soul of the Messiah, saying that his soul will not be abandoned to Sheol, nor his body to corruption, or decay (Psalm 16:9-10; Acts 13:35-37).

The human soul can be strong or weak (2 Peter 2:14), saved or lost (James 1:21; Ezekiel 18:4). It was created by God (Jeremiah 38:16). The human soul needs the protection, purification, and atonement of God (Leviticus 17:11; 1 Peter 1:22). The human soul is imperishable, and every human soul will be somewhere for eternity (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46). This is a sobering thought—every person you have ever met is a soul, living in a body, and that soul will last forever. Some will reject the love of God and as a result they will have to pay for their own sins with death (Romans 6:23), and since the soul is eternal, it will be an eternal death. Those who accept the free gift of forgiveness and Christ's atoning sacrifice will experience the opposite—eternal life and peace, in heaven (Psalm 23:2).

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