Soul sounds like Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. Tastes like collards and cornbread. Feels like Easter morning at grandma’s church when the preacher resounded with the words, “He got up!” It’s hard to define soul, partly because it’s difficult to parse or split the soul from our thoughts, feelings, and motivations. When we describe something as soulful, we’re straining to define a feeling that is both mysterious yet tactile. We feel it.
That’s by design. Nephesh, the Hebrew word for soul, has a complex and wide range of meaning. The simplest definition for nephesh is “life”—that part of the body that causes animation and awareness; soul is the beingness of a person. Nephesh also can be defined as the “self,” the personality.
The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible explains the soul as “man in his varied emotions and inner powers.” In the Old Testament, we see the soul—translated as “soul,” “will,” and “knowledge,” in the following scriptures—described as the seat of our memories (Job 30:16), our passions (Psalm 27:12), and our understanding (Psalm 139:14).
Jesus said in Mark 8:36–37, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” A soul that’s right with God is priceless—we know this because when God saw fit to ransom us from sin, He did so through the precious sacrifice of the Son, Jesus Christ.
Think about that: your soul is so valuable in the eyes of God that nothing in this world compares. Nothing.