The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1


IV. Ruach and Neshamah Have a Variety of Meanings


The Hebrew word ruach occurs some 380 times in the Old Testament. In the majority of cases (some 360 occurrences) it is translated by three English words—“wind,” “breath,” and “spirit.” Thus the same word is used to carry several different meanings, and the context must indicate the English word that best translates the Hebrew meaning. CFF1 152.5

In the case of the translation “spirit,” the word has several different applications. It is used 76 times in the sense of vitality, courage, temper, or anger. It is used to describe the living principle in man and animals 25 times; as the seat of the emotions 3 times, mind 9 times; as will, volition, or heart, 3 times; and as moral character 16 times. As applied to God, ruach, “spirit,“ is used some 90 times. 6 The word is also used of angels, both good and bad. Since God and the angels are usually invisible to human sight, they may be considered spirit beings, spirits, and are so spoken of in the Bible. CFF1 152.6

Since breath, wind, moral character, vitality, principle of life, and spirit beings are all invisible, the underlying idea of ruach seems to suggest an invisible force, power, or being, which acts to produce visible results. CFF1 153.1

We are dealing with man and his nature, and we may therefore properly ignore all the uses of ruach (spirit) that refer to God and angels. We are interested in breath as evidence of life, and in the principle of life with which God has endowed man. CFF1 153.2


In Hebrew there is an approximating synonym for ruach in the word neshamah. In fact, it is this word that is used in the record of the creation of man. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [neshamah] of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Neshamah is not a common word, for it appears only 24 times in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. It is translated 17 times as breath; 3 times blast; 2 times spirit; once souls; and once inspiration. It is used with ruach in two compound expressions: CFF1 153.3

“breath [neshamah] of the spirit [ruach] of life” (Genesis 7:22, margin). CFF1 153.4

“blast [neshamah] of the breath [ruach] of his nostrils” (2 Samuel 22:16; Psalm 18:15, with “thy” in place of “his”). CFF1 153.5

Neshamah and ruach are also used in poetic parallelism in a number of verses: CFF1 153.6

“By the blast [neshamah] of God they perish, and by the breath [ruach] of his nostrils are they consumed” (Job 4:9). CFF1 153.7

“All the while my breath [neshamah] is in me, and the spirit [ruach] of God is in my nostrils” (Job 27:3). CFF1 153.8

“But there is a spirit [ruach] in man: and the inspiration [neshamah ] of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” R.S.V. CFF1 153.9

“The spirit of God [ruach] hath made me, and the breath [neshamah] of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4). CFF1 154.1

“If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit [ruach] and his breath [neshamah]; all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again into dust” (Job 34:14, 15). CFF1 154.2

“He ... giveth breath [neshamah] unto the people upon it, and spirit [ruach] to them that walk therein” (Isaiah 42:5). CFF1 154.3


Consider Job 33:4, before cited, for a moment. The “spirit of God” is obviously identical with the “breath of the Almighty.” And “the breath of the Almighty” is the source of the “breath of life” (or “breath [that is] life”)—as in Genesis 2:7—which God “breathed” into man’s “nostrils,” thereby causing the inanimate Adam to become a “living soul [being].” CFF1 154.4

When neshamah and/or ruach are used in this sense they refer to the life principle which God imparts to each new individual on this earth. It is equally clear that the same life principle is given to the animals also. In the announcement of the Flood to Noah, God said, “Behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven” (Genesis 6:17). In the description of the flood catastrophe, in fulfillment of this threat, it is recorded, “And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died” (Genesis 7:21, 22). CFF1 154.5

Parenthetically we should say right here that the “breath of life” common to all breathing creatures does not degrade man to the level of a beast or elevate a beast to the level of a man. God has organized the various creatures of His hand with different qualities and natures. Just as the breath of life does not make a lion like a rabbit, neither does it make a man like a beast. Man made in the image of God is far removed from even the most intelligent animal. CFF1 154.6


There is nothing in the Old Testament that even hints that ruach as the life principle has a separate conscious existence, that it is the man himself as distinct from the body. It is given to man when he comes into existence, and is withdrawn, or surrendered, when he dies. It is a gift from God, and in one sense always belongs to Him, though man may call it his own while he lives. The preacher in Ecclesiastes 8:8 depicts the helplessness of man when God withdraws the principle of life—his breath: “There is no man that hath power over the spirit [ruach] to retain the spirit [ruach]; neither hath he power in the day of death.” CFF1 155.1

No, man does not have an undying spirit that continues in conscious existence in another sphere. CFF1 155.2

There is one more text in which ruach appears, translated “spirits,” which may trouble some. It is Numbers 16:22, with the same expression occurring again in Numbers 27:16. It reads: “And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits [ruach] of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?” The new Jewish Publication Society Torah renders this as “O God, Source of the breath of all flesh.” This would appear to be a better English rendering of the Hebrew meaning, and clears up any difficulty the text might seem to present. CFF1 155.3