What are the Spirit and Soul?

This question has been asked and answered many times and many ways. I’ve looked into this a fair bit, but ultimately haven’t found conclusive answers. My hope is that someone here has insight they can share.

We live in a material world, and thus the easiest thing for us to recognize is our body. I can see with my eyes, move with my muscles, feel with my nerves, etc. Easiest to grasp. However, I can’t observe what functions the soul and spirit are doing, nor which functions are done by which. As such, my only concept of a soul or spirit are from the ideas of the metaphysical, and chiefly the Bible.

The Bible is translated into English, and thus the words it uses may not be 1-to-1 synonyms with the original Hebrew/Greek. Luckily, we have some degree of record of what was written (my favorite example being Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”, as the Greek word used was “praus” (πραεῖς) was used to describe trained warhorses. They were not “humble” or “timid”, but rather fierce, courageous, and powerful, but likewise disciplined, and submissive to/dependent on their masters). According to what I’ve found, the Hebrew and Greek words used most often for “soul” were nephesh and psuche respectively, the latter of which is where we derive “psyche, psychology”, etc. Alternatively, the Hebrew and Greek words used most often for “spirit” were ruach and pneuma respectively, the latter of which is where we derive “pneumonia, pneumatics”, etc. Both words, however, in their original meaning (at least for Greek [and Latin, interestingly]) had association with air, breathe, and life. This could be because both air and metaphysical things were unable to be seen, and parallels were drawn, or perhaps there was metaphorical significance. Afterall, in Genesis 2:7 it is noted that God formed man from the dust of the ground, and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” However, the words being used don’t seem entirely definitive on what exactly the distinction is, nor exactly what each entails. One site (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/526-soul-and-spirit-whats-the-difference) indicates “soul” was used for a person, life, and the mind (intellect and emotion), while “spirit” was used for air, non-physical being, a person, a synonym of soul, and a mental state/disposition.

One thing I’ve heard that hasn’t fully settled with me is the explanation that “we are a spirit, we have a soul, and we’re in a body”, specifying that the spirit is “what we are” and allows us to connect to God, while the soul is our intellect, will, and emotions. This just seems bizarre to me, particularly when considering God. God (I assume the Father) many times is denoted as feeling emotions, including but not limited to anger at the Israelite with the golden calf (Exodus 32:10). However, emotions are to my findings most heavily associated with the Holy Spirit, including but not limited to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). I furthermore found a site that goes into depth on emotions and the Holy Spirit (https://bible.org/seriespage/holy-spirit-and-our-emotions). While this site seems to do fairly well at separating soul and spirit and defining them somewhat distinctively, there seems to at times be overlap, and it clashes with “conventional” ideas on the two aspects (or at least many other “answers” I’ve found. And animals are furthermore an interesting inclusion, as they have more animacy and sentience than plants or the like, but are not sapient like people. Is their sentience strictly physical, and if so is ours as well? Or do they indeed have souls, awarding them various metaphysical traits such as sentience, while not quite having sapience? I would not think they would have spirits, if only because animals were not said to have been made in God’s image (this opens an interesting tangent, but I’ll save that for another question).

I’m interested in understanding what exactly the soul and spirit each do, especially in contrast and tandem with the body. Personally, I’m not of the mind that the parts of us are separate, but rather than they can all affect each other. I believe “mind over body” or otherwise willing to get better (when sick or otherwise) helps your body to actually do so whereas having little will to get better often results in deterioration. Likewise, treating your body well can benefit your soul/spirit, and treating your body poorly (especially in sexual matters) can cause your soul/spirit distress.

Are the ruminations or understanding of senses (sight, hearing, etc.) strictly physical, belonging to metaphysical, or is there overlap? Are emotions from the spirit or soul, or are there different aspects of emotions that reside in each? What about intellect, regarding reason, or abstract thought? Is willpower (the ability to determine or otherwise make a choice beyond strictly chemical reactions to stimuli) a trait of the spirit or soul? While the body could be considered to be understood rather well, perhaps some mental functions that could seem strictly physical are in fact metaphysical.

Simply: what defines the body, spirit, and soul, specifically individually, but also where they compliment each other.

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@Archmage Great question :slight_smile: 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.

Brother @Archmage , this is a very important question. I’ve learnt this in my walk with the Lord. Hebrews 4:12 says- word of God pierces as far as the division of soul and the spirit. So according to the word of God they are different. I would like to point the differences between living from the soul and living from the spirit so that we can understand their differences.

Soul consists of Mind, Will & emotions. Spirit-led living is a total surrender to Gods will, in this state, God’s command becomes our duty and our will is totally aligned to God’s, we see the goodness in His perfect will & enforce it perfectly in our lives. Jesus was totally and perfectly spiritual, even Paul wasn’t(totally/Perfectly) because he confesses that there are things that he did that ought not have been done-Rom 7:15.

To distinguish and understand the difference between soulish and spiritual christian, let me present you the case of Abraham. When he started of at God’s call, he was a soulish christian. When God specifically told him to come alone, he didn’t obey His word in letter and spirit & later also we see that he conducted himself as a soulish christian.
God perfected his faith and made him spiritual, we witness this on the mount Moriah where he was ready to offer Issac as a living sacrifice (sign of total surrenderence to God)

So the differences are in (1)will (Man VS God)- sometimes our decision may seem good according to our wisdom at the moment, but because God is the standard of goodness, it may not be in reality. (2)Humanism is not Spirituality- sometimes we feel emotional towards a particular cause or a particular person and try to help, but this also may not be Gods will(may be God wants him to be in that situation to chastise him). Also Bible clearly says there are 2 kinds of (3)wisdom( one which appeals to the intellect & The other which is from above in James). The wisdom which appeals to the intellect is seen in eastern Vedantic literature & western humanistic, enlightenment movement.
(4) And most importantly God dwells in our Spirit not in our soul- He dwells in the Most Holy place not the Holy place (Tabernacle)

I sincerely hope this helps, I deliberately avoided giving a soulish(which appeals to the intellect) answer to make you understand the difference & also I assumed that you know about the body. God bless!

Hello RZIM family. Hello Sean. I am beginning to like you more an more. I can see in you the inquisitive nefesh. I am also like you very much an explorer of reality today.

Perhaps you can explore this issue, in today’s reality, applying today’s rationality.

Because I am not that much capable like you to do it.

We will enjoy to learn from you that, The Biblical expressions we use, were directed to an old civilization, today we are capable to understand so much more, but we seem to keep repeating, what was addressed to an audience of that time.