What is a soul anyway? Do we really have souls? Why? There are lots of great questions that can be asked about the nature of the human soul. The soul is an interesting subject, and the eternal nature of our souls is equally as fascinating.
While the Bible does not go into details about the exact nature or function of the soul, it does mention it several times.
1. What exactly is the soul’s function? What does it do? Why do you think we have one?
The Bible doesn’t go into detail about the functionality of a human soul. A soul doesn’t have a function, but rather is the sum of our collective consciousness. It doesn’t “do” anything any more than our “names” do anything. It just represents our entire element of existence. We have one because we exist.
A quote can nicely sum up the essence of a soul:
You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
-Walter M. Miller, Jr.
2. What does a soul look like and where in the body is it placed?
A soul is made up of the spirit (intangible) and material (tangible). It is the fabric that represents us. It does not have a location in the body, but is the entire body plus our spiritual elements. Man became a living soul when God created us in His image. Further, while our souls may also include material parts of ourselves (such as our body), our soul is not limited to our body, and it can depart from it.
In the Bible, Rachel’s soul was departing from her body when she died after giving birth to Benjamin:
It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
Interestingly, the Bible speaks of both “spirits” and “souls” in many different contexts, and many people interchange the terms. The Bible also tells us that God Himself is spirit (John 4:24).
3. Why is it that people who get their brain severely damaged change their entire personalities and become complete vegetables, if the soul, not the brain, is the essence of who we are as human beings?
The brain is our powerhouse for our physical function, critical thinking, memories, and more. When the brain is damaged, we cannot properly function, just like when our arm is cut off, we cannot use our arm anymore. However, this does not mean we do not have souls, or that our souls are limited by our brain or physical existence.
Just like our arms can be cut off, and yet our souls are still intact, so can our brains be damaged and our souls cannot work through the framework of the brain any longer.
God does not judge us or resurrect us based on our brains, for our brains quickly decay and decompose after death. God resurrects us from his memory. See: How does God resurrect us?
4. If we have a soul, when exactly do we get it, and how exactly is it transferred? (When the semen meets the egg? After 12 weeks of pregnancy? After half a year of pregnancy? When the baby is born?)
We have a soul at the moment of conception, but God knew us even before we became living souls. At the moment of sperm and egg joining, the complete “code” becomes set in stone, and your entire blueprint is created. All that happens after that is your cells carrying out the work to make your physical body. You are spiritually created at the moment the code is generated for you. Just like an architect can make the blueprints, and the building exists, and the only thing left is the actual construction process.
God’s word says Adam became a living soul when the breath of life was breathed into his nostrils from God:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
5. What would a human being be like if it had no soul? What would be the differences?
A human without a soul can never exist, since by definition (Biblically speaking), all humans have souls. That question is like asking what would a circle be like without the roundness, or what would a square be like without corners. It is an illogical question.
6. If I traded souls with say, my sister, but we kept our brains, what would that lead to? Would there be a difference? (Hypothetically speaking, of course..)
Hypothetically, that really doesn’t make sense. Souls can’t be traded. A soul is your entire essence.
7. Do other animals have souls? Like cats, dogs and cows, for instance. Where is the limit, and how exactly is it determined?
The Bible does not specifically state whether or not animals have souls. The main verse people reference in the Bible is the one below:
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
It is important to note that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes from an earthly perspective. He is looking at life as if no God existed. In the scripture above, he states that man is no different from beasts in that they both meet an earthly death. This passage should not be taken to reference eternity, but rather, a comparison of earthly similarities in death.
The Bible never states whether animals have immortal souls or spirits. The Bible’s clearly state that God created man in His own image, and part of that image includes some attributes of God (such as a spirit).
The fact that the Bible does not mention salvation for animals, but instead references it only for humans, seems to indicate they cannot sin and do not need to be saved like humans. The Bible makes clear that the only way to salvation is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Animals clearly cannot understand the gospel in this way, so it seems unlikely they have an immortal soul.
Nevertheless, we shouldn’t speculate too much about the nature of an animal, since the Bible makes no plain teaching on the subject.