What Is The Difference Between The Soul and The Spirit? A Bible Study

What is the difference between a person’s soul and their spirit?   Are they the same or are the completely different?   What does the Bible say about it?

What the Bible says About the Soul

Genesis 2:7 “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Some translations say that the “man became a living being” but the literal Hebrew word in this verse for soul is “chay” which means “living, alive.”  Let’s look at what the New Testament Greek word for soul, “psyche” means.   This word sounds much like the human mind which we call the psyche.  The word psyche in the Greek means “breath” or “the breath of life” so this same word in Greek and in Hebrew seem to be saying that the soul is the living, breathing life and is alive.  In Matthew 10:28 Jesus uses the word soul and has the same Greek word” psyche” in it.

Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Here is the same precise word but the body and the soul appear to be different.  Jesus said to not fear those who can kill the body (the physical life) but rather fear Him, God, Who can destroy both body (the physical life) and soul (the psyche) in hell. If we take these together we see that the soul cannot be destroyed by physical death and lives on beyond the grave so the soul cannot die when the body dies because Jesus said that they are “unable to kill the soul.”  Next, look at Hebrews 4:12 to see that the soul and spirit are separate things.

Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

There is obviously a division between the soul and the spirit.  God’s Word can literally divide the two but there is a tie between the two because the “two-edged sword” which is the Word of God, pierces or penetrates them and enters between the soul and the spirit.  Finally let’s look at what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul refers to the spirit and the soul as different as we would expect but then he adds another “and” by saying “and the body.”  The soul then could be thought of as the psyche or intellect and is not the body but the mind.  The soul cannot be destroyed by death but the body can (Matt 10:28) so it lives on beyond the grave.  Job suffered greatly and he wrote in Job 14:14

“If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come.”

Job knew that a man will live again. His question was a rhetorical one.  Yes, the body will live again because he says he would wait “till my renewal should come.”  The word for “live” in Hebrew in Job 14:14 is close to the word “chay” in Hebrew.  Job’s “live” was the Hebrew word “chayah” in which one of the meanings of this word is “quicken” or to “make alive.”    Ezekiel wrote “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezk 18:20a) but we see a different word here in the Hebrew which is “nephesh” and is closely related to a physical being as it means “creature, living being (with life in the blood),” and “the man himself, person.”  Thusly, we need to look at the original words and Ezekiel uses the soul as a living, breathing, life-in-the-blood, being.

In conclusion then about the soul, the soul is the physical intellect or the psyche and is where decisions are made and will and emotions reside.  The soul can die, all die (1 Cor 15:22) but Job knew that he would see his Redeemer again as he wrote in Job 19:25-26 “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

What the Bible says about the Spirit

James wrote about the soul of the human in James 2:26:

“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

If the body is apart from or separated from the spirit it is dead.  That seems to be what James is saying.  Just as if faith is not joined to works it means it’s dead, so too if the body is not joined to the spirit, it’s dead.  Paul wrote about the spirit of man and the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:16.

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

The Spirit, you might notice is capitalized so we know this is a proper noun and is actually the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit bears witness, which in a court of law, we know what a witness does;  A witness gives tangible, quantifiable evidence that is admissible to our spirit, the human spirit, that we are children of God.  After Jesus was resurrected into a physical body He could pass through walls and appear suddenly, because spirit is like the wind and goes wherever it pleases (John 3:8).  You cannot see the spirit but Jesus was more than spirit.  He said in Luke 24:39:

“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Clearly the spirit is not physical.  He told the Samaritan woman at the well that we should worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  Jesus may have said this because in the spirit of man is the sphere of God-consciousness.  The human spirit is enlightened by the Holy Spirit to be able to comprehend spiritual truths;  truths like we need a Savior because of our sinful, fallen nature; we know that Savior is Jesus when the Spirit of God reveals this to us by the Father’s effectual call (John 6:44).   Paul said as much when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:11:

“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.”

Here the human equation is that a person can know their own thoughts only by “the spirit of that person.”   A final Scripture helps us to clarify the human spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:12-16:

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”

Notice that there is the spirit of the world.  The natural person’s spirit cannot comprehend the things of God because they are only know by the Holy Spirit as they are spiritually discerned.  Indeed, the human spirit that does not have the Holy Spirit cannot understand God or His Word.

Conclusion

Mankind is actually composed of what I have heard called a trinity of body, soul, and spirit.  The three are not the same.  The body has the blood pumping, skin sweating, and is purely physical and will die someday. The soul is the set of emotions, intellect, and will and will live again, in one place or another (heaven or hell).  The spirit is the natural, carnal mind in an unconverted person.  When the human spirit is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they can know at least parts of the mind or will of God.  The soul lives on beyond the grave and will retain all prior knowledge of their life in the body but the Holy Spirit can reveal how to live beyond the grave.  Everyone will die someday.  It’s only a matter of time.  If you have not repented then you cannot understand your need for the Savior.  If you never have trusted Christ, then take Jesus’ somber warning to heart, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Guest

    I like to know about the trichotomy

    this is a very interesting topic.

    To these two conclusions I had also wounded

    1 – psyche – soul = psychological

    2 – that the soul and emotions are inletecto. And perhaps missed say that the soul is the same biblical concept of heart, Jesus said that when you think evil in your hearts (Mark 2:8)

    Until now I only had about it graphic of Clarence Larking – The Trheefoldnature of man.

    • Jack Wellman

      Thanks my friend….I appreciate learning just now from what you said.

  • Flavio Silva

    I like to know about the trichotomy

    this is a very interesting topic.

    To these two conclusions I had also obtained

    1 – psyche – soul = psychological

    2 – that the soul and emotions are inletecto. And perhaps missed say that the soul is the same biblical concept of heart, Jesus said that when you think evil in your hearts (Mark 2:8)

    Until now I only had about it graphic of Clarence Larking – The Trheefoldnature of man.

  • Flavio Silva

    And as the consciousness of the soul after death, so the same conclusion, and all live for God can not kill the soul

  • john8

    I can see the possibility of distinction between body and soul in the 2 verses. However Hebrews 4:12 goes on to mention the heart as something still yet distinct, in the very same verse. So we have body, soul, spirit and heart? If the heart isn’t something different why didn’t he use ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ again? Again in Luke 10:27 Jesus mentions all 4 in one sentence. So unless you are saying we must take that to mean man has 4 parts, then you must be saying that the purpose of these Scriptures is not to make distinctions between them.

    So I see the ‘piercing to the division of soul and spirit’ not meant to teach us that there is a distinction that would should be looking for and trying to define and then base beliefs off of that definition. Rather the point is that God is holy and His Word pierces deeper than any man or ideas of man can even fathom. (as in Prov 20:27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, Searching all the innermost parts of his being) A similar reading to the list of 4 parts of a human in Luke 10 which is meant to repeat and reinforce ‘all of you, everything, completely’. It is a literary device not a commentary on how to divide the inner man like pieces of a pie.

    Besides leaving out the ‘heart’ completely, the teasing out of the differences between soul and spirit have very little, if any, Scriptural support but seem to be man trying to come up with the definitions. So my conclusion is man is bipartite and the terms ‘heart’ ‘soul’ ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’ are various ways to refer to the inner man (as Paul refers to it in 2 Cor and Eph). but if there is a distinction between soul and spirit only God knows I’m not capable of figuring it out, and really don’t think I’m meant to. I certainly don’t ‘feel’ or experience any distinction it’s just ‘me’ with my thoughts and feelings and desires and fears et al mixed together as one. At most I think each term may accentuate a different aspect of the inner man, but it can’t be divided based on a few Scriptures that aren’t meant to directly address that question in their context.

    • Jack Wellman

      John8, this is outstanding. I think you have a great blog in this writing alone sir. Well said. Thank you.

  • Cord LaFond

    I am trying to piece together the trichotomy of man. From your perspective where does the intellect (mind) come into play?

  • Pete Wilson

    God is not a Trinity. Man is not a trinity. From Taylor’s book:

    According to the Word of God, God formed Man’s body from the dust of the ground, breathed God’s breath of life (spirit) into Man’s body, and Man came alive, became a living soul; that is, Body + Spirit = Soul. Genesis 2:7 shows that The Trinity is a false doctrine. The Trinity, or any trinity, has 3 equal parts. This equation accurately reflects Genesis 2:7, and it demonstrates that body, spirit, and soul are not 3 equal parts. This equation says that body and spirit are two parts each by itself, but the soul is not a part by itself, for the soul is dependent on the other two parts, body + spirit. Can a body exist by itself? Yes. Can a spirit exist by itself? Yes. Can a soul exist by itself? No. A soul needs both body and spirit in order to come into existence, as this verse explicitly says.

    Copyright © 2016-2017 Arthur Rain Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
    Body, Spirit, Soul – An Exposition of Genesis 2:7
    ISBN-10:0-9985753-1-3; ISBN-13:978-0-9985753-1-5
    20-pages essay, $2.99 at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, etc.
    .

    • Jay Smith

      The Trinity:

      God’s name is YHWH. YHWH is One God. This One God exists as three Persons: Father,
      Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit. These three Persons are Equal in Nature,
      Distinct in Person, and Subordinate in Duties.

      – Equal in Nature – The Father is no more “God” than
      Jesus is (divine nature), just as your father is no more “human” than
      you are (human nature).

      – Distinct in Person – The Father is not the Son, the Son is not
      the Holy Spirit, etc. (thus Jesus praying to the Father or referring to the
      Father as God is not at all problematic).

      – Subordinate in Duties – The Son always perfectly obeys the will of
      the Father. The Father sent the Son, the
      Son sends the Holy Spirit. (In light of
      this, “the Father is greater than I” is not problematic but
      consistent).

      • Well, Jesus didn’t know the day nor the hour when he would return but only the Father knew. So if God is omniscient, then how can Jesus be God? So how can there be a Trinity?

        If Jesus had two natures (Godhood and manhood), then as God he knew the day when he would return but as a human he didn’t know the day nor the hour. But then how could he be one person? Isn’t this all Trinity gobbledegook? Does the text of the bible say that he both knew the day and didn’t know the day at the same time? Of course not! Theology is bunk!

        • Jay Smith

          Again, Not at all problematic… Jesus not knowing something during His human life on earth doesn’t negate Him from being fully God. The Bible teaches unapologetically that during Jesus’ life on earth He limited Himself… Phil 2:5-7 perfectly explains that “Jesus was in the form of God, (Divine Nature) but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Human Nature).

          John 1:14 says, “He took on flesh and dwelt among us”. Jesus limited himself during His life on earth and He only did and spoke what the Father commanded (John 12:49).

          Jesus took on a human nature from infancy and He grew and learned (Luke 2:52). This is what the incarnation means… He was 100% human and grew like one because He was one. He learned, He slept, He hurt, He ate, etc.

          However, Jesus was also fully God and during His life in Earth He displayed evidence of that too. He forgave sins (Luke 7:47-49), He claimed eternality (John 8:5 – “Before Abraham was born, I AM”,
          He was repeatedly worshipped (i.e. Luke 24:52, Matt. 2:2, Matt. 14:33)

          Also, many times, Jesus displayed evidence of His omniscience:
          -John 2:24-25—Jesus knew all men…knew what was in man.
          -John 18:4 — Jesus, knowing all things that should come upon Him.
          -John 21:17— Lord, You know all things
          -John 6:64— For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that
          would betray Him
          -John 4:29— Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done

          Again Jesus limited Himself as He grew, learned, and gave glory to the Father as supreme… He obeyed Him perfectly. Jesus didn’t know the time of His 2nd coming during His life on earth as a man… nevertheless He does now and Jesus is still a man ( 1 Tim. 2:5).

          • Isn’t this bible Fundamentalism? Of course, the bible god is said to have commanded the murder of little children and babies. Is this the Word of God?

          • Jay Smith

            It’s fundamental biblical doctrine… absolute truth doesn’t change 😉

            It appears you’ve surrendered and abandoned the topic of Jesus Christ’s deity. From the Bible alone it is impossible to negate the deity of Jesus Christ.

            It appears you’ve decided to flee the topic and run to a average typical go-to atheistic argument that has already been answered repeatedly about the death of children.
            Even though you most likely support abortion and are hypocritical in demanding these answers, you can find explanations here:
            https://carm.org/bible-difficulties/genesis-deuteronomy/why-would-god-order-destruction-women-and-children

            https://carm.org/why-did-israelites-destroy-cities-and-kill-all-people-inside

          • Did the big, invisible guy in the sky tell you so? The bible is a lot of nonsense!

          • Jay Smith

            Lol, now you’ve abandoned all topics and resorted to opinion. This is a common result of a critical, cynical, angry atheist. The one thing that doesn’t exist is an atheist. btw, your bitterness and anger are evidence of God’s existence.

          • I apologise. I am not angry. This is just an assumption you are making. I am not bitter, but if I was angry and/or bitter how would that be evidence for God’s existence. A person can be angry or bitter, whether God exists or not.

          • Jay Smith

            Anger and bitterness toward something or someone that you claim absolutely doesn’t exist is evidence that it does exists. For example, atheists are not upset, frustrated with or mentally consumed with the evil fictional character Darth Vader. Nor do you spend effort tearing down the existence of Santa Clause, Dracula, big foot, or the Lockness monster, etc. You don’t even spend much aggression and bitterness toward Hitler, Stalin, or Nero that way they do the Bible. You have no anger or bitterness toward anything else that you claim to not believe in. Only when it comes to Jesus Christ does your blood begin to boil. The energy spent toward God, who you claim doesn’t exist, is actually evidence that you believe He exists. You simply just don’t like Him.

          • Well, I don’t believe in your Fundamentalist God because there is little evidence for his existence. Actually, many Liberal Christians agree with me. Although they believe in a god, he/she or it is a different god from what you believe in. Some Liberal Christians don’t believe in any god although they may use god talk.

          • Jack Wellman

            If “liberal Christians” do not believe in any God…guess what, they are not Christians. How can they claim to be “Christians” (little Christ’s) if they don’t believe in Him? Amazing.

          • Jay Smith

            I agree completely…

          • Well, they are not Christians by your Conservative Evangelical theological perspective.

          • Jay Smith

            Not simply my opinion, according to the plain reading of the gospel they are not believers. Nevertheless, I am not out to defend someone else’s belief… only my own.

          • Jay Smith

            Therefore, I conclude my premise that there is no such thing as an Atheist… all atheists are in reality Agnostics.

          • Either God exists or he doesn’t? If you believe that the probability of his existence is very low, then you are an atheist. But hey, you can call me an agnostic, if you like. but on the balance of probability am I a believer in God or an atheist?

            On your reasoning, do you believe for certain that God exists? If not, how do you call yourself a Theist? By assuming that unless you are 100% certain that God does not exist, you cannot be an atheist, you have assumed away atheism. No atheist, not even Richard Dawkins, would allow you to dictate the terms of what an atheist is by choosing a definition that rules out atheists. Webster’s dictionary doesn’t define the terms. Go to what atheists actually say.

          • Jay Smith

            I was simply asserting that according to Webster’s definition you are not an Atheist… no one is. You do not know that God does not exist, you cannot know because 94% of the universe could reveal God or evidence to persuade you. Therefore you are an agnostic, you are only uncertain of it. This is precisely why there is a difference between the two terms. Richard Dawkins is not the judge of what atheism is… if you want to deny the universally accepted definition of atheism in order to justify your belief than you’re welcome to live in that false reality and continue bending facts to comfort yourself. Every unbeliever is an agnostic in spite of what you want to believe.

            I am certainly 100% sure that God exists because I know Him. (1 John 4:7).

          • Subjective certainty is not objective evidence. How do you know that what is going on in your mind and heart is from an external being or whether it is something that you experience internally, whether such an external being exists or not?

          • Jay Smith

            We are made in the image of God, that is, we have intellect, emotion, will, self-perception, self-direction, etc… We have personality as He does. Knowing God is being called into a relationship with Him by the power of His gospel, and this comes with His indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit living within me enables believers to live in a way that glorifies God, to fight against sin, to love others, to be sacrificial, to be fed by the living and active word of God in the scriptures. I know that I know God because He is a person protecting, guiding, influencing, and speaking into my life. Questioning how I know God is similar to questioning how I know anyone else in my life.

          • You keep asserting things that I do not believe in. I don’t support what Hitler, Stalin and Nero did. There are varieties of atheists. Atheism means that you believe that the probability of god’s existence is very low. So there is a high probability (on the evidence that we currently have) that God does not exist. If the evidence changes or you can really provide it, I would change my mind.

            I am a humanist. Humanists value human life.

          • Jay Smith

            Interesting, so you don’t believe in God’s absolute nonexistence. You only believe the probability of His existence is low… but could actually exist. You’re unsure of His existence. You’ve described an Agnostic. Atheists know there is no God (even tho 96 percent of the universe is unexplored), Agnostics are unsure if there is a God. By definition you are an Agnostic. See the definitions below from Webster’s Dictionary:

            Atheism : a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods
            Agnosticism : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable.

          • “The one thing that doesn’t exist is an atheist…”

            Really! Tell me how you arrived at this conclusion. By what evidence do you make your claim? Or have you just resorted to an opinion?

          • Jay Smith

            This isn’t simply my opinion, this is a logical conclusion. Atheism is the belief that there is no God. However, certainly you would admit that we have only explored and discovered a small percentage of the universe. Most experts say we can only see and study about 4 percent of it. That means that there is 96 percent of the universe that is unknown. In that remaining 96 percent there perhaps could be the God that you do not believe in. This would mean that no one can absolutely believe that there is no God. Therefore, there is no such thing as an Atheist… at best you are an agnostic… you’re simply unsure if there is a God or not.

          • What evidence do you have for your Fundamentalist god’s existence? You assert the existence of this particular god. So what evidence do you have for your god’s existence and why do you reject the existence of all other gods? You reject the non existence of some invisible beings e.g. fairies. Why? Your god is also an invisible being, so why accept him?

          • Jay Smith

            I cannot prove God’s existence but i believe there is
            evidence for God such as the complexity of creation. Everything was
            created extremely complex and appears to have design. Even a simple cell
            organism is complex. I believe the human eye could have never randomly
            developed… light sensitive, auto focus, self-maintaining… If every painting
            has a painter than creation demands a Creator. The God of the Bible
            separates Himself from every other “god” because it is the only faith
            that cannot be attained by good works. It is God who comes to earth and
            meet the impossible requirements the He demands of us. Also, no man would
            have written the Bible… no one would write a book that is self-condemning.
            Instead, man would write a book that allows him to live according to his
            wishes… war, sex, automatic salvation…etc… This is what is seen in Islam,
            and other religions.

            You said that God is invisible… of course He is. I don’t need to see
            God to have faith and trust in Him. You also live by faith in things you
            cannot see… You climb into elevators faithfully trusting them to carry you
            safely to the top of a building even though you cannot see the mechanics of
            it. You sit in every chair in good faith that it will sustain your
            weight. You trust that you have a brain and a liver even though you’ve
            never seen or examined them yourself. You, by faith, trust aircraft to
            transport you hundreds of mph at thousands of feet in good faith that there was
            an experienced and educated mechanic that examined your aircraft and
            caught every potential problem that could plummet you to death. You trust
            that gravity will hold you to the earth even though gravity has no color… you
            can only see the effects of it. You believe in wind gusts even though they are
            invisible because you can see the effects of that wind. You are a
            faithful man, just not a faithful man of the living God. I believe in God
            not because i can see Him, but because I repeated see His work in my life since
            my youth. He is unfathomable (Isa 40:28) and because God is so difficult
            to explain I believe He isn’t man-made. If i could explain and comprehend
            100% of God than He would be no greater than I am. The Trinity is
            impossible to fully comprehend.

          • it is not just atheists who are troubled by genocide alleged to be commanded by god, such some Christians are deeply troubled by the violence of god in many parts of the OT. For example, Derek Flood’s books “Disarming Scripture” and “Healing the Gospel”. See his blog ‘The Rebel God’.

          • Jay Smith

            The OT depicts God bringing Israel into the land that he had promised… in order to bring the Messiah Jesus through the linage of David. At the same time, God brought just judgement upon the wicked nations that occupied the land. The nation were savages who were carrying out child sacrifices, rape, and murder. God allowed these nations to do so for centuries until He used Israel to punish them. As opposed to your view, God is not just command random murder of innocent nations. Don’t forget your own view of Abortion… it is the murder of countless unspoken children 😉

          • (1) I don’t have the view of abortion that you charge me with having.

            (2) The little children and babies were not guilty of these practices, so why murder them?

          • Jay Smith

            1. Glad to hear it!

            2. Judgement upon the entire people group. Again, God’s decision to wipe out these people groups doesn’t negate God’s existence… it only proves you don’t like this particular God. Do you declare nonexistence on others that you don’t like?