I’ve posted prelimianry notes on both ruach and nephesh in the previous two posts. Now it’s time to merge those files and observations.  It’s pretty interesting that the terms are used so often in the same ways and to describe the same things. Here’s a list:

1. The term describes that which animates a living thing; many times equated with breath of the act of breathing (but sometimes blood) — and both humans and animals are said to possess this “life”:

ruach: Gen 6:17; Gen 7:15; Gen 7:22; Gen 45:27; Zech 12:1; Psa 135:17; Job 7:7; indeed “breath” (Hebrew: nishmat) and ruach are interchanged in a few passages (note the parallelism): Isa 42:5; Isa 57:16.

nephesh: Gen 1:20-21; Gen 1:24; Gen 1:30; Gen 9:4-5; Gen 12:13; Gen 19:19; Gen 35:18; Exod 4:19; Job 11:20; Job 33:22; Job 33:28; Job 33:30

2. The term is used to describe one’s “inner life”

A. The seat / source of emotions.

ruach: Numb 5:14; 5:30; Eccl 10:4; 2 Chron 18:22; Isa 54:6; Isa 57:15; Prov 14:29

nephesh: Lev 26:15; Lev 26:30, Lev 26:43; Jer 13:17; Jer 14:19; Lam 3:17; Gen 34:3, 8; Gen 42:21; Exod 15:19; 23:19; Num 21:4; 1 Sam 1:10, 15; 2 Sam 5:8; 17:8; 2 Kings 4:27; Job 14:22; Psa 6:3; 13:2; Psa 23:3; Psa 35:25; Psa 42:1-2

B. Enthusiasm / volitional will / decision-making capacity / attitudes / inner disposition / self awareness

ruach: Isa 19:3; Isa 57:15; Isa 61:3; Jer 51:11; Hagg 1:14; Psa 76:13; Job 32:18; Prov 18:14; Ezra 1:1; Exod 6:9; Num 14:24; Josh 2:11; Josh 5:1; Isa 29:24; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; Ezek 21:12; 36:26; Psa 34:19; 51:19; Prov 15:13; Prov 16:19; Prov 17:22; Prov 17:27; Prov 29:23; Eccl 7:8; Jer 10:14; 51:17 (idols lack this; contrasted with stupidity; see also Hab 2:19); Dan 5:12; 6:4; 1 Chron 28:12

nephesh: Lev 26:16; Judges 16:16; 1 Sam 2:33; Psa 42:6; Psa 107:26; Deut 14.26; Deut 21:14; Deut 23:24; 1 Sam 23:20; Prov 19:2; Deut 4:29; Deut 6:5; Deut 10:12; Deut 11:13; Deut 11:18

Now for some differences.  I would suggest that nephesh is the more “comprehensive” term.  That is, while nephesh can refer to the animation of life and the inner life, it can also refer to the WHOLE person, body / flesh + inner, immaterial life. Here are some examples where nephesh is basically equal to “whole person” (including the word being equivalent to personal pronouns like “I”; “me”; “them”):

Gen 12:5; Gen 46:18, Gen 46:22, Gen 46:25-26; Lev 2:1; Lev 4:2, Lev 4:27; Lev 5:1; Num 31:35, Num 31:40, Num 31:46; Ezek 18:4; Lev 11:43-44; Gen 27:19

But why, then, can nephesh refer to only the body (a corpse)? Examples:

Lev 21:1; Lev 21:11; Lev 22:4; Num 5:2; Num 6:6, Num 6:11; Num 9:6-7, Num 9:10; Num 19:13

The answer is because it is a natural human inclination to equate a person with their body (we live in the corporeal realm). Think about it. If you came home and saw your wife or husband lying on the floor, would you pick up the phone and call 911 and say “There’s an unconscious body on my floor!” or “My wife’s unconscious body is on the floor!”  No. You’d say “my wife is laying on the floor unconscious!” It’s really not odd.  When people are at a funeral, they frequently still refer to the corpse as the deceased by name, retaining its *personal* identity. Our lives are lived in the realm of embodiment; we can’t help but think this way.

So, it looks like we have a dichotomous view of humankind from the OT evidence: humans are material and immaterial, body and soul. There are some passages that have “body and soul (nephesh) together (Psa 31:9; Isa 10:18). Nephesh can encompass the totality; ruach cannot — it can just refer to the inner life and all its capacities, and it is not distinct from nephesh since nephesh also often refers to the inner life.

But we’re not done yet. Now we have to test this notion.  Here are some questions and passages that need close attention:

1. When nephesh is described as being in sheol, does the term refer to only the inner part, the body, or the totality? It seems that if Sheol refers to the grave, the answer would be “totality.”  See Psa 16:10; 30:3; Psa 56:13.

2. But then what about passages that have the ruach apparently disembodied?  See Eccl 3:21; Eccl 12:7 (it appears the ruach “goes” somewhere after death; it leaves the body).

3. What about passages where ruach and nephesh both occur?  Are they distinguished or are they “parallel” to each other?  Here’s the list of the ones that matter (i.e., ruling out clear references to wind or God’s spirit):

Job 7:11; 12:10; 1 Sam 1:15; Isa 26:9

Let’s hear what you think.