Nephesh, Ruach, and Pneuma

Remember Genesis 2:7. You do not have a soul; on the contrary, you are one. You are a nephesh in Hebrew. You do have a spirit, however. That is a ruach in Hebrew. You do have good humor, Patrick. Oh, I forgot to mention that ruach in Greek is pneuma. A dead soul (nephesh) can be translated in the Hebrew Bible a dead body or dead being. A ruach (spirit) never ceases to live and will be reunited to the dead body at the Second Coming. This view is not trichotomy; on the contrary, it is a type of dichotomy since the soul is another name for being or body.


My wife purchased for me a Hebrew Dictionary in the Roman alphabet. Since we are both linguists, I just thought you would like to know that. A Jewish Rabbi and scholar transliterated it. Miller to Miller

Anyone who has attended seminary or read extensively on these topics knows what a long controversy Christians have had in trying to define and distinguish soul and spirit along with the correct exegesis of the Hebrew words RUACH and NEPHESH and the Greek word PNEUMA.

And systematic theology courses spend significant class time on reviewing dichotomous (soul/spirit vs body) versus trichotomous (soul vs spirit vs body) concepts of what it means to be human.

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I will share what little light I have been given on the subject via this except from my book

"A soul is the result of the unification of a spirit and a body. The urges of the spirit and the desires of the flesh are mediated by the soul. It arises from, and develops from, their interactions. The soul becomes shaped as it mediates the harmony or disharmony of spirit and body.

Unlike the spirit, the soul is not necessarily immortal. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us that on physical death “the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Woe to the soul which is not taken as well. At that point the unsaved soul is as close to God as it will ever be. From that point forward, it will have no more spirit pulling it towards heaven. It will still have whatever sinful appetites that it clung to in life. These are described in scripture as “their worm”.

A worm is all appetite and no intellect. Without the spirit present as a countervailing force, the soul can move in only one direction- its ultimate total consumption by the appetites which it chose in life to love more than God. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Eze. 18:20), but it won’t be God who is doing the killing. Those souls will be consumed by their own sins.

Genesis 2:7 says that when God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, Adam became a living soul. I have already shown how the breath of life is a reference to the Holy Spirit. I have already demonstrated how scripture uses the terms “living” and “dead” in a different and more absolute sense than we do in everyday usage. Again, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die”, but Adam became a living soul in that he was connected to God via the Spirit."


I must say that you are right and so I am. We should remember that in the Hebrew Bible, the word translated soul (nephesh) does not have the same meaning that the English word sometimes carries through the influence of Greek, and especially Platonic philosophy. It is also important to recognize that the Greek notion of the immortality of the soul was virtually unknown to the authors of the Hebrew Bible. Miller to Miller

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Throughout my career something I have had to keep reminding students and general audiences is that translation is not like mathematical equivalence. People can get stuck on simple vocabulary flashcards which appear to make word X in language Alpha and word Y in language Gamma “equal”. Even far too many Biblical scholars who lack solid linguistics backgrounds forget about the importance of semantic domain analysis. In the classroom, I like to use Venn Diagrams to get these ideas across.

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When you mention that when the spirit leaves, that means death for the soul. I believe we are saying the same thing. There can be a dead nephesh ( body ) when the spirit leaves our dead souls. My parents’ spirits are in paradise with Jesus; however, their souls (bodies) are in the grave. The New International Version in the book of Isaiah in chapter 14 mentions the King of Babylon in death and mentions both the king’s spirit being confronted by the other spirits of dead rulers; however, it also seems to mention the soul (body) dead in the grave. Worms and other decay are taking his body. That is why the NIV calls Sheol the grave; however, it seems to equate it to the Greek Hades too.

@AllenWitmerMiller @anon46279830

I have enjoyed talking with both of you today. After church, I hope we get to talk again. God bless you both.
Brother Miller, I have been both a Southern Baptist and a United Methodist. In which part of our Lord’s church do you belong? When I was an exchange student in Germany and in France in 1974, I attended both the Catholic Church and the Baptists.

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I am a sojourner. LCMS is the closest to what I am that I have found.

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I used to be LCMS too. I was an assistant to the pastor.

I grew up attending a one-room rural church with no plumbing where a student or faculty preacher from a nearby seminary came on Sunday mornings to speak. It was an independent community church, the kind people today would call a “Bible church”. Over the years I attended a variety of evangelical types of churches, ranging from large unaffiliated Bible churches to Orthodox Presbyterian to LCMS to Baptist. Most of my preaching as been in typical Bible Northern Bible Belt and Southern Bible Belt evangelical churches. (Many people are not aware that there are two American Bible belts but occasionally I will seem them distinguished on maps on the Internet.)

P.S. My attendance at a LCMS church was during a geographical transition and so I never become a member. I had much more interaction over the years with LCMS academics than individual pastors.

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This is sort of a “casual thread” so I am going to ask @Charles_Miller (and anyone else who might wish to reply) more about your training in linguistics in general. I know you summarized some of your background but I’d also be interested in your coursework, areas of special interest, and any theses/dissertations/monographs along the way. (Sometimes I like to know what I missed!)

I’m sure your linguistics background is much different than mine as I went about it in various untraditional ways. (Long story.)

I’m just always interested in how people have prepared for their exegetical tackling of the Biblical text.

Most of my Jewish friends call me a mensch (in Yiddish)

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The history of Yiddish is a fascinating story on its own!

And Yiddish absolutely flourished in places like New York City. Many Americans are unaware of just how vibrant was the Yiddish-speaking community and culture. And the famous play and movie, Fiddler on the Roof originated as a Yiddish book, I believe, and was eventually adapted for the Yiddish theater.

The investors who took the play “mainstream” and to Broadway were taking a huge gamble because so many had doubted that the non-Yiddish world (and especially a nation with many anti-Semites) would ever identify with the Jewish characters and the long history of pogroms. They were shocked at their own success as the hit exceeded all predictions.

(That’s another linguistics anecdote as a free bonus—only here at Peaceful Science!)

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That’s a good thing; I’ll take being a mensch over being a meshugga, any day!

As you probably know, Yiddish comes from Middle High German. Mensch in Modern German means simply a person or human being; however, the Jews who settled in Germany slightly changed German. They added Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic words to German which evolved into Yiddish. The name of this language means Jewish; however, it is called by the modified form “Yiddish.” Now as for Mensch in Yiddish, the meaning has changed somewhat. Hitler would not be a Mensch. A Mensch in Yiddish is a kind humanitarian. Albert Einstein would be a Mensch. Billy Graham would be a Mensch. I can understand some Yiddish but I speak what is called Hochdeutsch. This is the standard German based off of the Luther Bible. Some Yiddish has drifted into High German (Hochdeutsch). I will give an example. Meschugge means crazy and through Yiddish comes from Hebrew, meaning mad, crazy. I am sure this will help. Your Jewish friends think you are a good person.

Charles, I saw a fascinating study a while back where an expert spent time with various Amish communities in the American Midwest and found far more significant language differences than I had expected. I had always been most familiar with the West Central German variety but his article described the Low Alemannic Alsatian dialect settlements which had a different migration history. If I recall correctly, he said that the Low Alemannic Alsatian dialect speakers in America could probably probably converse just fine in downtown Berne, Switzerland despite their long isolation from that region.

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Yiddish is very much part of the culture here in New Jersey. Many people say Yiddish words without knowing the meaning nor the origin of the words. Here are some that every person around here says:

Bissel (bisl)— A little bit, as in “I just want to eat a bissel right now.”

Bubbe (bubby) — Grandmother

Chutzpah —Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption, confidence, as in “It took real chutzpah for him to ask for a raise when he kept showing up late for every appointment.”

Daven — To pray

Klutz — A clumsy person

Kvell — To experience pride in someone else, typically one’s children, as in “David decided to go into oncology, and I’m just kvelling.”

Kvetch — To complain, whine or fret, as in “He likes to kvetch at me when we serve kasha varniskes, because he doesn’t like it.”

Mensch (mentsch)— Literally “man,” an honorable, decent, stand-up person, as in, “I don’t care who you marry, as long as he’s a mensch.”

Meshuggeneh — Crazy, ridiculous, insane, as in, “He must be meshuggeneh to think he can wear that getup to a funeral.” (A related word is mishegoss, or craziness.)

Mishpocheh (mishpokhe, mishpucha)— Family, or someone who is “like family”

Nosh — To eat or nibble, as in “I’d like something to nosh on before dinner.” Can also be used as a noun to mean any kind of food.

Oy vey—An expression of woe, as in “Oy vey, we left the gefilte fish at the grocery store!”

Putz —A jerk, or a self-made fool, but this word literally means penis.

Schlep — To carry or travel with difficulty, as in “We shlepped here all the way from New Jersey.”

Schmooze (shmooze)— Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular.

Schmuck (shmuck)—A jerk, or a self-made fool, but this word literally means penis.

Shande (shanda, shonda) — A scandal, embarrassment.

Shmatte — A rag or old garment.

Tachlis —Nuts and bolts, practical, concrete matters.

Tchotchke (tchatchke)— Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or giftware.

Tuches (tuchis) — Butt, behind, sometimes shortened to tush or tushy.

Zayde (zaide)— Grandfather

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As you know, some of those terms have become ubiquitous in standard American English throughout much of the country. I have never investigated but I assume that that would be explained by the fact that so many Jewish comedians, comedy writers, playwrights, vaudevillians, radio celebrities, and early TV personalities brought their vocabulary into general culture. (Who in America doesn’t know the word klutz?)


I lived for a while in Strassburg, (Strassbourg) France, which was once part of Germany. The Amish could understand their German too. As you know, French is spoken there also. I like your statement, Brother Miller.