What is the difference in soul and spirit? Any scripture that gives clarity to this or can anyone give me a definition/explanation of these terms?
@Sgpage Great question The spirit and soul are not necessarily separate things. Some Christians believe that we have an immaterial part of us (the spirit/soul) and a body. In ancient Hebrew thought the word “soul” actually refers to our whole being rather than to just the immaterial part of us. Check out Bible Project video below for more on that point.
I’ve also included some resources on this topic below for further study.
Trichotomy vs Dichotomy
Biblically, there are at least two distinct aspects of a human being—spiritual (spirit/soul) and physical (body). Some interpreters hold that the “soul” and “spirit” are distinct parts of a human being, and therefore that we are composed of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. This view is called “trichotomy.” However, the vast majority of evangelical scholars today hold that “spirit” and “soul” are basically synonymous and are two different ways of talking about the immaterial aspect of our being, “soul” pointing to our personal selves as responsible individuals and “spirit” pointing to those same selves as created by and dependent on God. This view is called “dichotomy” (see note on 1 Thess. 5:23–28). It is important to see that there is a fundamental unity between the physical and spiritual within humans. While a distinction is made in the Bible between the material and immaterial parts of the human being, the emphasis is on the necessary connection between body and soul. Regeneration and sanctification for the Christian is a spiritual experience intended to be expressed in the physical body in and through which we have been made to live. The separation of body and soul caused at death is an unnatural tragedy, which will be remedied when the body is resurrected, allowing humans to exist as they were intended to do.
J. P. Moreland
Here are some resources from J. P. Moreland on the nature of the soul.
thank you! I was thinking the same thing (that soul and spirit are not necessarily different) but someone was talking about these at my church as two separate things and did not completely understand their take on it
@Sgpage Yes, some people do hold to a trichotomous position, where the soul and spirit are separate things, but I would argue the Biblical evidence leans against that view.
As one who holds a trichotomous view, I would suggest that the Bible potentially supports either view.
Take, for example, Paul’s lament in Romans 7. He makes a point of distinguishing between the mind which desires to do God’s Will, and the “flesh” that desires to violate God’s Will. But when Jesus talks about entertaining adulterous thoughts, He clearly puts the sin not in the realm of the body but in the realm of the mind. In another place, James talks about a “double minded man” being unstable in all his ways.
I would argue, then, that the conflict between our desire to sin and our desire to obey God is in itself evidence of “soul” and “spirit” being distinct rather than synonymous. Rather, I lean toward the soul being the whole person (as has been expressed elsewhere), and both the spirit and the body being separate parts of the whole – vehicles for the soul, as it were.
@nashdude Yes, an argument for trichotomy can be sustained Biblically. So when you say the soul is the whole person, do you mean that the soul consists of both spirit and body together? Or do you still think the soul is a separate entity?
This is a topic that is particularly interesting to me so I am glad someone brought it up!
I have actually done my fair share of looking into these things in my own private study in the Bible.
I want to point out that, yes, having the perspective of a dichotomy is completely compatible with the Bible even so far to say that most scholars these days - for the past 100 years or so - subscribe to this point of view. And has been brought up, a trichotomy is completely Biblical as well.
However, I personally subscribe to a view of man that is that we actually have 5 “parts”! In this way, I take from both Apostle Paul and what is known about man in today’s world. I will lay them out to see if you can see what I am talking about. Further, I personally believe there are deeper and shallower “parts” to man.
The first part of man is what I see of behaviours. This can be thought about any action we do that is for or against a commandment of God. Jesus started his ministry with this word:
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”
John 2:5 TLV
This Greek word “do” is virtually the same word that we find in Genesis in the creation story where God “made” His fist action of separating the waters from the land found here:
So God made the expanse and it separated the water that was below the expanse from the water that was over the expanse. And it happened so.
Genesis 1:7 TLV
This word means to make or to do and it has a connotation of being a command of God. Virtually the same word in the Hebrew and the Greek.
The next “part” or “level” of man is the flesh. Given how popular this topic is, I don’t think I need to go into too much detail here, but it’s basically the word for our bodies. I’ll just say all creatures have a body.
The next level should be familiar to us as well. That is considered the will or heart of a person. The heart in ancient Israel was thought of what we think of today as what we consider the mind. In ancient Israel, organs had a purpose beyond just their function, but also almost an ideology associated with them as well.
The next level is the soul. The way I like to think about the soul is like the drawing to or rejection of God. It’s like a deep longing for or against God like our emotions such as deep joy, or deep angst. IMO, this is why people say the soul goes to heaven or hell - because that is what these emotions represent.
Finally, the Spirit is the deepest part of us. It is what makes us alive or dead. In Genesis in the patriarchy, it often says, “The spirit left them and they breathed their last.” The word Spirit in ancient Israel was thought of as wind or breath. It is, quite literally, what gives life. That is why Jesus said, “I am the breath of life”.
Bonus level! I have not researched this one as thoroughly, but the tongue seems to fit in here somewhere as well.
That is a little bit of the research I have done in anthropology. I hope the idea intrigues you.
I want to point out that the above is just my opinion and I try not to be dogmatic about it.
As far as the difference between soul and spirit is concerned, consider this verse:
“And so I–I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will give vent in the bitterness of my soul.”
Job is speaking here. He is speaking about speaking about his horrible situation. One way he says this is with his breath or life. The other way is by venting. Notice how Job here uses speak for spirit. He should be using speak for soul, but he doesn’t - he uses vent for soul, which should be vent for his breath. He has it backwards! He is doing this because of his torment, either intentionally or unintentionally. Perhaps, just perhaps this is what it is speaking about in Hebrews 4:12:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword—piercing right through to a separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 TLV
Why do I bring this verse up? 3 reasons:
- There are very few verses that have both the word soul and spirit in the same verse.
- They both allude to the soul and spirit being different things.
- It would be totally natural for the author of Hebrews to bring up the book of Job.
It’s for this reason I think the soul and the spirit are different things.
First: you’ve got some interesting thoughts. (I mean that in a good way) and you’ve sort of put a bug in my mind that’s got me thinking about some things you’ve mentioned. (maybe I’ll comment more after I let it incubate for a few days or weeks…)
Second: I wanted to reach out and say Hi. I’ve seen a bit of your content on this forum and on youtube and you seem like a very interesting person. I’d like to talk more with you in the future.
Third: It seems like if someone really wanted to they could break down the human makeup into any number of multi-chotomy’s since ultimately we are each, one whole, single person; and the different aspects of our makeup are all very integrated. Maybe it could be comparable to one group of people saying there are only 3 dimensions (height, width, and depth) and then another group that says “no, there’s actually 4 dimensions” (because time is a dimension). … But that doesn’t account for “M” theory which would say there are 11 dimensions. String theory would detail 10 dimensions and others would account for many more. I think the reason we have for breaking aspects down differently is the usefulness in giving ourselves a framework to interpret things to sort stuff out and make decisions accordingly. Categorizing gives us a handy “box” to think inside of and it allows us a way to communicate with others who share the same assumptions. The only problem is when the realities outside our “box” begin to disturb the walls of our “box”. If our faith is just inside a “box”, or if our thinking cannot think outside the box we’ve either got to get someone to give us a new box or else dare to think outside the box a bit for ourselves. It’s neat to see you doing that as you search the scriptures.
… Looking forward to talking with you again.
I would say man can almost come up with any definition(s) of man, but not entirely. Why? Because man is made in the image of God. It is for this reason that we can’t rightly say man is like an octopi or that man is like a platipi. Man has distinct “manness” about him. We are created in the image of God. That means we have parts of us like God has parts to Him. Think of the trinity for a moment. 3 distinct parts of God yet all One yet 3, yet unity.
It is that it is possible to conceive of God in different ways that we can see man in different ways. It is not a matter of Supirior or inferior, for just as men and women have different roles, so too the personhood of man has different roles. For we know the flesh corrupts and we know our spirit can be reborn. The question is if we can see man in a similar image of God. If we can, then that is all that matters. For as Paul says:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. But now these three remain— faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13 TLV
But though this is what we see, this is not all there is. There is a vast wealth of things yet to be discovered. For if time continues going on, then different observations can be made. As Jesus said,
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
The Revelation 22:13 TLV
We cannot rightly doubt Jesus. He is saying here he is the totality of what is man, not lesser because he is also God, but greater still!
As it is written,
These are a foreshadowing of things to come, but the reality is Messiah.
Colossians 2:17 TLV
So we too will be made whole when Jesus returns and God gives us our heavenly bodies seen here:
But God gives it a body just as He planned, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of humans, another flesh of animals, another of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing while the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption! Sown in dishonor, raised in glory! Sown in weakness, raised in power! Sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body! If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is of the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. Like the one made of dust, so also are those made of dust; and like the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. And just as we have borne the image of the one made from dust, so also shall we bear the image of the One from heaven. Now I say this, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and what decays cannot inherit what does not decay. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last shofar . For the shofar will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:38-52 TLV
So rejoice that we can see man differently now as we are in a sense rejoicing in how God made us so when the time comes for our spiritual bodies to live eternal, we will all the more be identified as the Imago dei.
I thought about your last comment and here’s my thoughts:
Seems like you’re wanting to clarify that the purpose of defining the aspects of man and his makeup needs to find its corelative with God and his makeup, because the aspects of man’s makeup (whether there are 2 or 3 or 5 or 7 main aspects) need to be modeled after God’s image since we understand by scripture that we are made in the image of God.
So, If I understand what you’re saying: I think you’re pointing out that it would be a fictional presumption to think we could start naming core aspects of man by human fiat that are not precisely and obviously in line with the image of God and in line with his word and therefore there would seem to be a limit to how far one could go, in multi-chotomizing these things for various purposes.
So… If that’s what you’re saying I do agree. That’s ultimately quite true.
But there are a couple other things that are true, that we have to account for: The first of these might be the considerations we utilize as we learn from formal studies of the mind. Psychology for example brings in a slew of frameworks and definitions for which we do not have a ready reference to correlate with scripture and may not immediately see correlatives with the image of God. Science asserts that we have a conscious mind and an unconscious mind (different aspects for sure). Instead of thinking I should try to fully reconcile psychology’s terms and truth-claims with biblical terms and definitions I consider each of the frameworks (biblical and non-biblical) on their own merits. And I am cautious to correlate what is not blatantly obvious. Psychology is man’s attempt to put labels and categories on things, and to apply his best wisdom by a mixture of experimentation, collaboration, deduction, (and sometimes corrupt politics). It has value. But it’s still under development. The bible gives its own insights and its own terms to show us a deeper explanation of our makeup. But let’s not fool ourselves, it doesn’t fill in all the blanks in our understanding either. Both of these involve navigating unknowns and having to deal with unknowns. The bible calls these mysteries, And I think psychology (and other studies concerning mental and spiritual things) would do well to admit the same more often.
So, getting back to the topic of recognizing the make up of man, and what the bible or any other leading thoughts detail. Be it dichotomy, trichotomy, or any other chotomy… I think it’s possible that each of them may have a certain level of utility to be able to discuss the issues and sort things out. Therefore, to consider various frameworks and explanations for the purpose of conveying our thoughts, purposes, beliefs and intentions I think it’s helpful to reckon that we haven’t got it all figured out, and that it’s insightful to see how different people slice and dice the issues differently, and how the bible comes at this stuff with a bit less detailed explanation than our curious & hungry minds might hope for.
For what it’s worth, I see the utility in keeping both dichotomy and trichotomy thinking alive on two separate burners on the same “stovetop” and maybe even mixing them together at times. I think a solid case can be made to explain how that is not a contradiction.
As for the other burners on the “stovetop” of of this topic I like what you pointed out about one of the core aspects of God being his creativity as a “Maker” and a “Do-er”. Maybe it would also be fair to call that God’s “Will” or His volition . You detail (in your “bonus level” “The tongue”. That’s an interesting thing too:our human capacity to Respond and communicate is like nothing of the animals and extremely correlative to the image of God (the Word). So: interesting thoughts… I think it’d be worth continuing to develop these thoughts to be more concise and elegant through time, but for a “crummy-first-draft” I think you’ve laid out some pretty interesting things to consider. It reminds me of something kind of like the “entanglement” between Authority, Responsibility, and Creativity: where each of these three things belongs with the others.
The number for man is 6. The number for God is 7. This is kinda what I am trying to tease out a bit.
What does God have that we do not have? I would assume it would be part of His essence that we can’t rightly put our finger on. We are made Imago Dei, but what on earth does that even mean? Honestly, I have barely scratched the surface and I have poured hours into this. What is it that we share with God? What is it that God has that we do not? My natural insticts is that it has something to do with Jesus Resurrection. When Jesus comes back, He is going to come back with His now glorious and Holy body - and he will then make us in His image. Jesus has to travel a very long distance to get to the Father from the material world. That is what I believe. Because as it’s written, this world is just a shadow of the real reality.
We can talk about the different parts of man. We can analyze His Word to get clues and hints, but I don’t think we will be able to understand His Holiness until He returns. So what we can do is attempt to get to know ourselves while we are here such a short time. Even me, I have probably already lived at least 1/3 of my life. And what do I have to show for it? Not much. It’s not like we can take anything with us to heaven. It’s not like our knowledge before our resurrection is even close. Still, we do this for fruit. We do it for future glory. We should not put so much pride in ourselves that we think we can figure it all out. We can’t and when we die, it’s like we haven’t done a thing - mostly because we haven’t - God does it for us. We can’t even think on our own. We are even dependent on God for our thoughts.
The 6 parts of man that you see that I have come up with has already gone through quite a bit of revision. I’ve read a good chunk of material on anthropology of the OT and I’ve looked at what Paul has to say about man. I’ve also simplified different things from different parts to a more streamlined interpretation.
As far as our will being the same as our behaviours, this doesn’t feel right. Will is more akin to intent and behaviors or “following or rebelling against God’s commands”, is the fruition of that will, but it is not the will itself. Why? Because your will might have consequences in the material world or might not, but behaviors definitely do. The behaviors is what is the most material part of us because they are the fruition of our flesh. The flesh is the fruition of the mind. The mind is the fruition of the soul. The soul is the fruition of the spirit. That is how I see it at least.
In my mind, man has 6 parts. I can get those 6 parts right or wrong. I will likely not even know if I have got it good or good enough, but I will keep working on it. As God has 7 parts, the 7th part God has has to do with His Holiness. Beyond that, I do not know.
Thanks for your interest.