Some who have studied the Bible have pointed out that there are three words for life in Greek: (1) bios, (2) psuche, and (3) zoe. Although all three words denote life, the life which they denote is different. Bios refers to the physical life. When the Lord Jesus said that the widow had cast in all the "living" that she had, He was using this word (Luke 21:4). Zoe is the highest life, the spiritual life. Whenever the Bible mentions "eternal life," the word zoe is used for "life." Psuche is the life which makes a man living; it is man’s natural life, that is, the life of the soul. When the Bible speaks of man’s life, it uses this word.
What we want to pay attention to now are the words "soul" and "soul-life." In the original language, they are the same word. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek. In the Old Testament, both "soul" and "soul-life" are nephesh. In the New Testament, both "soul" and "soul-life" are psuche. Hence, we see that the soul is one of the three elements of man and is man’s life, the very natural life.
In many translations, the word soul is translated as "life." Here we will give only a few examples:
"But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat" (Gen. 9:4).
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11).
"For those who seek the life of the child" (Matt. 2:20).
"Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?" (Luke 6:9).
"Men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:26).
"But I consider my life of no account as if precious to myself" (Acts 20:24).
"To give His life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28).
"The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11, 15, 17).
In the above passages, the word life is "soul" in the original language. But we cannot translate it as soul, for that would not make sense. The reason there is this kind of usage is that the soul is man’s life.
We have said that the soul is one of the three elements of man. The soul-life is man’s natural life, the life which enables a person to exist, to be organic, and to live. It is the life which gives man the power to live as a man. Since the Bible has nephesh and psuche to denote both the soul as well as man’s own life, we can readily see that these two things, though distinguishable, are inseparable. They are distinguishable because in some places psuche can be considered the soul or the life, but not vice versa. For example, the same word is used many times in Luke 12:19-23 and Mark 3:4, but it cannot be translated into the same word in English. If we do, it will not make sense. On the other hand, the soul and man’s own life are inseparable because the two things are fully integrated within man. Without man’s soul, there is no more life. The Bible never tells us that a fleshly person has any life apart from the soul. Man’s life is the soul that has permeated the body. When the soul is joined to the body, the soul becomes man’s life. Life is but an expression of the soul. Since our present physical life is the life of the soul, the Bible calls our present body "a soulish body" (1 Cor. 15:44).
This point about the soul being our human life is the most crucial point. This has much to do with our being a spiritual Christian or a soulish Christian. We will speak more concerning this later.
We have seen many verses that prove that the soul contains the faculties of the mind, the emotion, and the will. We know that man’s thoughts, imaginations, judgments, feelings, emotions, stimulations, and desires all come from the soul. Hence, man’s life is nothing but a life that is joined to the mind, the emotion, and the will. Man’s life is but an expression of the mind, emotion, and will. All the things in the natural realm that are included in man’s personality are the various faculties of the soul. The soul-life is man’s natural life in the flesh. The various activities mentioned above in the Scripture, such as love, hatred, knowledge, counsel, vexation, rejoicing, and decisions, are all functions of the soul-life.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 3, by Watchman Nee)