Soulbook: Soul = Spirit?
You are alive. Your body lives and has breath and can be used by you to do everything from procreate to kill. But, what makes you alive? What gives you the perambulatory reflexes to do certain things and the very ability to move air into and out of your lungs? There is a spark of something within people that scientists and physicians don’t completely understand. When this life force ceases to remain in contact with your body, the body immediately begins to decay. The lack of blood flow prevents oxygen from nurturing your cells which causes the carbon dioxide and other poisons to your cells to cause cellular and, ultimately, tissue breakdown. This can be prevented by putting the body on a respiratory device of human design, but that doesn’t mean that the person continues to live. Once that spark is gone, the body cannot live on its own and therefore, by definition, is dead.
It’s important to recognize that human beings are made up of the corporeal and incorporeal (body and soul), however, it is just as important to recognize that our nature does not end there and that there is a difference between the Soul and the Spirit of people. During his tenure as associate editor of the Gospel Advocate, Guy N. Woods wrote the following:
“Though it is characteristic of most people today to use these terms interchangeably, the scriptures very definitely differentiate them. ‘For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ (Hebrews 4:12.) Since the sacred writers provided for ‘the dividing of soul and spirit,”’in those instances where they differ, so ought we and so we must if we are to entertain Biblical concepts of these words.
The word ‘spirit,’ when denoting the human entity (from the Greek word ‘pneuma’), is a specific term and designates that part of us which is not susceptible to death and which survives the dissolution of the body. (Acts 7:59.) It is infused in us directly from God and is not a product of human generation. (Hebrews 12:9.) ‘Soul,’ from the Greek word ‘psuche’, however, is a generic word and its meaning must be determined, in any given instance, from the context in which it appears.”
Therefore, we see that the Spirit and Soul are two different parts of people, apparently dividing the person into three, distinct parts of one whole. I use this illustration (Figure 1, God’s Image) to describe to the sixth grade Bible class I teach each year how God can be three, but one. As image bearers of God, we also possess three parts of a whole, (1 Thessalonians 5:23). This similarity agrees completely with the fact that we are created in God’s image. If God is three-in-one, then as beings who are modeled after Him, we should maintain the same properties. That is not to give the false impression that we are divine in any way, but to simply draw a parallel between the nature of human beings and a God who desired to make His pinnacle of Creation like Himself.
How is Spirit defined in the Bible? Spirit in Hebrew (ruach) means “to breathe” and may refer to the Holy Spirit, which is the most likely part of God after whom our own spiritual components would be modeled. So, what are some properties of the Holy Spirit? In John 15:26, He is referred to as the “Comforter”. This refers to One Who brings comfort through communion with and protection by God. Likewise, our own spirits provide us eternal comfort, in that they are the part of us that has assurance and communion with God. In some versions, the Spirit is called the “Advocate”, meaning someone who speaks to God on our behalf. Our own spirits provide an advocacy role here on Earth by placing a spiritual connection between body and Soul and us and God. I Corinthians 2:11 makes this connection well, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Our spirits are made in the Holy Spirit’s image.
Spirit can also refer to angels, both good and evil. This is a simultaneously comforting and frightening concept. God’s angels are, generally, sent as ministers to us much as they were in the Old Testament or to Christ after His fast and temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:13). However, the evil spirits also roamed the Earth in those days, taking up residence in the bodies of humans and causing them to do others and themselves great harm. Our own spirits can minister or cause great harm as well, even while we are in this corporeal state. If our spirit is at peace, we will spread peace, but if our spirit is steeped in sin, then there is no end to the evil that can be wrought by it.
The life principle found within both man and animals is another definition of spirit. This goes back to the example we discussed at the beginning of the chapter. When the life force is present within us, we are alive and can think and do and experience. However, when our spirit has left our bodies, physical death begins at that precise moment. Animals are the same way. Their spirits of life allow them to eat, sleep, procreate, etc. while that principle of life is there, but when it is gone, the animal dead. The primary difference, here, is that the animal dies forever, while the human lives on forever.
A good example of the spirit living on after death is that of disembodied spirits. While there is much debate as to whether disembodied spirits exist today or not, in Old Testament times, there is at least one clear example of one of these spirits being consulted. In I Samuel chapter 28, Saul, the first king of Israel, consults a medium who successfully summons the disembodied spirit of Samuel. When Samuel is disturbed, he’s not too happy about it either. “Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” I Sam 28:15. Samuel goes on to give Saul a great deal of very bad news and leaves Saul almost catatonic. Any one of us would probably react the same way if we were visited by a ghost. But, mostly, Samuel was upset because Saul had disturbed his rest. We can only assume that, after their conversation, Samuel returned to that rest and remains there today. This interesting story gives us some insight into our own rest and how we will perceive life in spirit form after death.
Spirit can also mean “breath”, or “wind”. “Breath”, as we discussed before, indicates the breath of life. “Wind” is closely related to breath, but also carries the connotation of a power that blows from one place to the other and may inhabit or be felt without being seen. We all have been exposed to that, since we cannot see our own spirits, but we certainly feel them and feel with them. This fact relates closely to another definition of spirit which deals with our disposition or attitude, or the core of our emotions. In Scripture, when someone is described as experiencing an emotion, the spirit of that person is sometimes described as the place from which that emotion originates. The spirit is the part of us that feels and hurts and desires. This is an important thing to remember, since these feelings are only manifested physically, but begin somewhere else.
Finally, the spirit is defined as the core of mind and will. As with emotions, the spirit of an individual guides and affects the whole person. That is not to say that the physical being, with all of its permutations and imperfections, cannot affect the spirit. Of course it can, and will. Consider, for instance, how you experience life when you are injured or sick. Are you always in the best spirit? I know I’m not. Most of the time, we just want to take pity on ourselves and can’t wait to recover and get life back to normal. Once our strength returns, life takes on a whole new shine and we’re in better spirits. The mind and will of a person can, accordingly, affect other areas of your life. When you have been educated and provided a sharpened intellect, your spirit can use this improved intellect to enhance the mind of which it is a part. When you strengthen your will through patience or denial, your spirit can use this to its advantage, as well. Thus, the spirit guides and strengthens, helps and comforts, and thinks and wonders.
As you can see, the words “nephesh”, and “ruach” in the OT, and the words “psuche” and “pneuma” in the NT all basically mean “to breathe”. So, what’s the difference? The confusion is cleared up by Scripture, ultimately. Consider the following from J.I. Marais: “In the NT “psuche” appears under more or less similar conditions as in the OT. The contrast here is as carefully maintained as there. It is used where “pneuma” would be out of place; and, yet, it seems at times to be employed where “pneuma” might have been substituted. Thus, in Jn. 19:30, we read: “Jesus gave up His pneuma to the Father,” and, in the same Gospel (Jn. 10:15), “Jesus gave up His psuche for the sheep,” and in Mt. 20:28 He gave His psuche (not His pneuma) as a ransom…” So, upon further examination, it becomes clear that a person’s Spirit is his individual possession, which returns to God after death, whereas his Soul is the part of him that makes him who he is. So, when Jesus died, His Spirit (pneuma) returned to God, whereas His Soul (psuche-all of who he is) was given for us.
As seen in Scripture, the spirit (pneuma) of Jesus that had vacated the body was alive and well in Paradise, (Greek paradeisos, Luke 23:43). Paul addressed this principle when he said that Christ’s disciples always should be “of good courage, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord”, (2 Corinthians 5:8; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:14). This also points to the fact that the spirit of a person cannot die. It either lives on in Heaven or in Hell. What an amazing thought! We can be “at home with the Lord” and not be afraid of anything, including death. As saved people, we can live life fearlessly and with purpose like no one else on the planet. That should be a spirit-filling thought all by itself.