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Biblical Principles and Ensoulment

Biblical Principles and Ensoulment

            For questions so significant as those dealing with the human soul, there is only one place for accurate answers to be obtained—the Bible.  Since the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant Word, men need to address themselves to that body of information for divine insight on all questions that pertain to the human soul.  Hence, we address ourselves to that text looking for the answer to the question: When does a human body receive a soul?  The importance of the answer to this question can not be overstated. Because certain crucial implications will naturally come from its answer, men and women everywhere need to know the Bible’s answer to this thought-provoking query.

            You will notice that, even though it is completely possible to, no effort will be made in this article to prove that human beings even have eternal souls.  The erroneous doctrine which teaches that humans do not possess eternal souls is known as materialism, and is taught by such religious sects as the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Seventh Day Adventists and Christadelphians (Woods, 102).

Defining the Soul/Spirit

            Quite frequently we hear the words “soul” and “spirit” being used synonymously, but they are not always used as equivalent terms in Scripture.  The Hebrews writer cleared this up when he wrote, “...the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and...” ( Hebrews 4:12, emp. added).  So inspired writers noted at least some difference in the two terms (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23). 

            The term translated “soul” is from the Hebrew word “Nephesh,” and the Greek word “Psuche” (Thompson, 6), and has at least four uses in the Bible.  “Soul” may be used to refer to: a) a person (cf. Acts 2:41; 1 Peter 3:20); b) the life principle that humans share in common with the rest of God’s creatures (cf. Psalm 78:50; Genesis 19:20); c) the intellectual, emotional or inner-thinking part of man (cf. Acts 4:32; Deuteronomy 13:3); or d) that portion of man which survives the death of the body, and is thus everlasting (cf. Genesis 35:18; 1 Kings 17:21) (Woods, 102; and Thompson, 7-10).

            The word translated “spirit” is from the Hebrew word “Ruach,” and the Greek word “Pneuma,” (Deaver, 451-2), and has many uses in the Bible.  “Spirit” may be used to refer to: a) the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38); b) the wind/air (cf. John 3:8a); c) disembodied spirits (cf. Hebrews 12:23); d) an attitude/disposition (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7); or e) that which gives life to the body (cf. James 2:26) (Deaver, 451-2; and Thompson, 12-14).

            For smoothness of reading in this article, though, “spirit” and “soul” will be used interchangeably to refer to that part of man which is eternal, non-material and survives the death of the body.  Verses in which it is easily seen that spirit and soul are used synonymously include: Luke 8:55/Genesis 35:18 and 1 Kings 17:21/Acts 7:59.

When Does A Fetus Get A Soul?

            While contemplating the question concerning when a fetus gets a soul, one verse of Scripture kept coming to mind—James 2:26.  This verse is not primarily intended to be a discussion of when a body receives a spirit.  Rather, verse 26 is an illustration that James uses during his discussion of the relationship between faith and works.

            The point that James is making in James 2:26verses 14-26 is that a faith that is alive, and pleasing to God, is a faith that is accompanied by works of righteousness.  That is, if you would please God with your faith, it must not be sentiment alone—it must have works of righteousness to go along with the sentiment.  And as sort of a last word on the issue, James gives this illustration: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26).  This shows the certainty of the point he was making; for just as sure as a body without a spirit is dead, and can accomplish nothing, so is a faith without works unable to accomplish anything either.

            Our argument takes the form of some hypothetical syllogisms (Ruby, 273-4). They are stated thus:

Premise One: If it is the case that every body without a spirit is dead, then every body with


                    a spirit is alive

Premise Two: It is the case that every body without a spirit is dead (cf. James 2:26).

Conclusion: Therefore, every body with a spirit is alive.

            A further syllogism needed for our case to be proven is:

Premise One: If it is the case that every body with a spirit is alive, then a spirit must be

                    present from the very beginning of every body’s life.

Premise Two: It is the case that every body with a spirit is alive (see above).

Conclusion: Therefore, a spirit must be present from the very beginning of every body’s


            A final syllogism needed for our case to be proven is:

Premise One: If a spirit must be present from the beginning of every body’s life, and if a

                    fetus’ body is alive from the moment of conception, then a fetus receives a

                    soul at the moment of conception.

Premise Two: A spirit must be present from the beginning of every body’s life (see above).

Premise Three: A fetus’ body is alive from the moment of conception (this is obvious; if it

                      were not alive, it could not grow.).

Conclusion: Therefore, a fetus receives a soul at the moment of conception. 

            This argument is very straightforward and easy to understand.  These syllogisms simply set forth in logical terminology the basic truth that is being presented in this article, specifically, that a fetus receives a soul at conception—when sperm and ovum unite.

            A few examples in Scripture will surely help one to see the fact that the spirit is present in a fetus even while inside the womb.  First, as God is calling the prophet Jeremiah to his privileged position of service, He speaks these powerful words, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you...” (Jeremiah 1:5).  Did you notice the personal pronouns He used?  God said, “Before I formed YOU; before YOU were born,” indicating personhood.  2. While the great sage of Uz lamented his plight, he uttered these words, “Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11; cf. 3:13-16).  Surely the word “I” in these verses means nothing less than that Job was a person, hence possessed a soul, inside his mother’s womb (Thompson, 25-26).  See also Luke 1:15 & Galatians 1:15.

Answering the Opposition

            As with virtually every position that one may affirm, there will always be those who affirm something different.  Let us notice some of the varying viewpoints that some have offered concerning ensoulment to see if they will stand the test of Bible scrutiny.

            First, some say ensoulment happens when the fertilized egg implants itself into the uterus of the mother (“Ensoulment”).  This view, however, does not account for the fact that the fertilized egg is alive (hence, has a soul) from the moment of conception. From conception until implantation can take up to 1 week to occur.  If this position is true, then from conception until implantation the embryo is not alive, since a body without a spirit is dead.  Who can believe this?!?

            Second, some say that ensoulment happens when the brain or nervous system are completely formed (“Ensoulment”).  Again, this view does not account for the fact that the fetus is alive (hence, has a soul) from the moment of conception. 

            Third, some have supposed that instances of identical twins or conjoined twins pose a problem for the position I have affirmed (that the soul is present at fertilization) in this article (“Ensoulment”).  They argue, since two separate individuals are present in one body (with conjoined twins) or two separate individuals have come from 1 fertilized egg (with identical twins), the soul could not be given at conception.  Such situations, though, do not militate against the position advanced at all.  When we consider that life is not simply a natural phenomenon that has no direction or guidance outside the realm of nature, but that it is directed and guided by God, there is no problem at all.  God is the one who gives the spirit (Ecclesiastes 12:7), and He knows how many to give and when to give.


            In this life, some people are satisfied with simply what the Bible teaches, while others think science or doctors have something more to offer than God’s Word.  There may be some instances where science can shed light on what the Bible teaches; but ensoulment is not one of those issues. The Bible believer knows when they received their soul—James 2:26.


Deaver, Roy C.  “The Nature of Man,” Whatever Happened to Heaven and Hell?  Ed.

Terry M. Hightower, Annual Shenandoah Lectures, Shenandoah Church of Christ.

Pensacola: Austin McGary and Company, 1993.

“Ensoulment.”  Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia Online. 15 Nov. 2008


Jackson, Wayne.  Bible Words and Theological Terms Made Easy. Stockton: Courier

Publications, 2002.

Jackson, Wayne.  Biblical Ethics and Modern Science.  Stockton: Courier Publications,


Ruby, Lionel.  Logic: An Introduction.  Cresskill: The Paper Tiger, Inc., 2000.

Thompson, Bert.  The Origin, Nature, and Destiny of the Soul.  Montgomery:

Apologetics Press, 2001.

Woods, Guy N.  Questions and Answers: Vol. II.  Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company,