In “Elihu on the soul at death” Jefferson Vann looks at what an Old Testament character says about the soul, and shows that he did not believe it an immortal entity that survives death.
Job 33:14-22 (KJV)
 For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;  Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction,  That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.  He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.  He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain:  So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat.  His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen stick out.  Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers.
Those New Testament theologians who are so confident about the immortality of the soul, and its going to heaven or hell at death, should take another look at what Elihu said to Job here.
Elihu treats the word nefesh (soul) as a synonym for life itself. Rather than having it survive death, Elihu has a person’s nefesh go to the pit with the body. It goes to the grave, and joins his flesh and bones in the decay of death. What gives, Elihu? Haven’t you read up on your systematic theology?
The nefesh is the throat. It sometimes is used metaphorically of the life inside the body, but never in a way that assumes it is impervious to death. In fact, we have a clue in the words of Elihu here that he has that original meaning of throat in mind. He says in verse 20 “So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat.” What kind of soul eats meat?
I hear you talking, though. You’re saying, where is the New Testament witness to that translation of yours?
Glad you asked.
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25 KJV).
Take a guess what the word translated life is in Greek. That’s right, it’s psuche, the New Testament equivalent for nefesh. So, Jesus agreed with Elihu that the soul was a part of the body, specifically the part that eats.
A month ago, I reviewed an article in the New York Times about a Jewish translator who has made the same change. He rejected what he called “Christian connotations of an incorporeal and immortal being” and “dualism.” He translates nefesh as “throat” and finds that it fits the context much better that “soul”.
See that article here: Alter on ‘nefesh’
What makes us special is not an immortal entity that survives death. What makes us special is that we have an immortal God who loves us, and will not allow our deaths to be permanent.
I think Elihu would agree to that.
For more on the soul as revealed in the Bible, see: