What is our 'spirit'? What does it mean to have a 'spirit'?

(SeanO) #1

This question was generated from a discussion on @Tim_Ramey 's Romans 8 thread with @joyce_yung.

Please post any thoughts that may be helpful. This is a question that I have had for a long time and is very interesting to me.

What is our spirit? I am going to offer some opening thoughts to get the discussion started.

The first result on Google is “the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul”. So we have our body and then a non-material part of us called the ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’. Some people believe the ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ are separate things, but let’s not get too deep into the weeds on that one.

A few Biblical examples that clarify this relationship between the spirit and the body.

After Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8 it says:

They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.

Her ‘spirit’ had apparently been somewhere else and then returned to her body. They are separate things.

Another verse that has always been interesting to me when thinking about the ‘spirit’ is from Ezekiel’s vision, where it says the following:

Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

Again - the spirit is what animates the physical object.

I hope those thoughts spark some discussion.

Joyce had asked whether we are a trinity in any sense like God. I think the answer to that is no. God is three Persons. We are one Person, though we have a physical and non-physical part. We are made in God’s image of course - but we are not triune in nature.

There are lots of rabbit trails in this question - but please focus on ‘What is our ‘spirit’’?

All thoughts, books, articles appreciated.

The Soul
The soul vs biology
(Tim Ramey) #2

@Sean_Oesch Sean, I had addressed the memorization team and mentioned to @joyce_yung that I was going to post something asking virtually the same things that you did. I’m sure glad that I held off as there would have been 2 posts dealing with virtually the same things. See what you got started Joyce!

I do feel that the question does beg us to go deep into the woods because I feel that the soul and spirit are two different parts of everyone. As a trichotomist (body, soul and spirit) as opposed to a dichotomist (body and soul/spirit), I do feel that Joyce has a point regarding being a “trinity.” It’s not me, myself and I as she basically asked. However, we were created in the image of God that would have that component to it - three making one.

Based on I Thess 5:23, we are body, soul and spirit. I think that you wanted to hang a right when you got to this subject because the woods are thick with many finding verses for both positions. I like the idea of the concentric circle explanation. For those not familiar with what I am referring to is the idea is that the body is the outer circle with the circle of the soul to be within that one and the spirit within the circle of the soul. The body speaks for itself. The point of contention is the soul and spirit. Both terms have different words and meanings in the Greek and Hebrew, which is one reason I separate the two parts.

My thought is the soul cannot exist without the body. It is where the emotions, thoughts and will spring from. As they are impacted, they then go out through the body determining how it will act or what it will do. The spirit, however, seems to be where the Spirit of God breathes His Life or conversely, where we allow evil to reign. The spirit could bring conviction to the mind or cause our wills to do something that doesn’t make “sense” as it may cause us to be killed but we sense this is of God. For example, this may include those who refuse to deny Jesus though it results in mockery or even death. Or the spirit could convince us the it is OK to murder or injure someone we don’t like. The spirit impacts the soul, which impacts the body.

This is a bit simply put. So Sean, I apologize if I seemingly ignored your wishes and created a free-for-all, but I have difficulty explaining the spirit without bringing up the soul, though you and others most likely wouldn’t agree with my thoughts. I don’t wish to get us off of the subject of what the spirit is so if you have thoughts what it is, it’d be great to hear from you.

(SeanO) #3

@Tim_Ramey Those are good thoughts. I think it is a very complicated topic, so each person has to wrestle with it and come to their own conclusions. No worries about getting into the weeds - it is RZIM after all. Hopefully we as believers can think together here if anywhere.

I enjoy the depth of the discussion of soul, spirit & body vs soul/spirit + body, but it can make things harder to understand. The one thing the Bible is very clear about is that there is a part of us that is immaterial.

However, since we’re going to discuss soul vs spirit, here are my thoughts on the subject:

The spirit is what animates / moves us – exerts an influence over the will (Ezekiel’s creatures and the wheels). The soul is the seat of our emotions (even God’s soul can abhor). If God is spirit, and yet is said to possess a soul, then soul in this sense must be an abstract reference to the seat of the emotions rather than a reference to the basic substance of the thing itself. Soul can also refer, it seems, to the creature as a whole or to the inner being.

Regarding soul requiring the body to exist, I have made the following observation from Genesis that I think agrees with that assessment:

God breathed spirit (breath) into a body, which then became a soul (nephesh) (living creature)

  • when Genesis says ‘living creature’ the word is ‘nephesh’
  • it would seem a ‘soul’ consists of a body animated by God’s breath (spirit)
  • the God-breath (spirit) is what God testifies with by His Spirit

So even though I am not a committed trichotomist, I do agree that the soul requires both the spirit and the body - or so it would seem.

In fact, the Bible almost suggest in Genesis the following equation (since I am an engineer by trade, I like these):

spirit + body = soul (living creature)

But the linguist in me says that soul / spirit have definitions in Hebrew culture that sometimes overlap - and there is no clear distinction at times.

Look forward to more great discussion on this complex topic!

(A S FLINT) #4

I believe the spirit is who we really are and goes back to GOD who made us. God is the Father of all spirits. “God-breath (spirit) is what God testifies with by His Spirit”. (breath).

The soul I believe is the mind, will and emotions, which is a “bridge or connection” between the spirit of man and the body. I believe everything we learn through our five physical senses (out side of us), and from within through thoughts, and imaginations (given by the Spirit of GOD, Eph 6:12 kingdom or man’s own spirit) and is imprinted onto the soul a possible “bridge” to the spirit of man .

As I can see the soul takes information and processes it and is permanently interfaced to our spirit,. so we will be known as we were known.

I agree with Tim; “My thought is the soul cannot exist without the body.” And on this point pf Tim’ " The spirit, however, seems to be where the Spirit of God breathes His Life or conversely, where we allow evil to reign".

Many feel that evil cannot be where God’s Spirit exists. Yet I see in the Word that GOD is everywhere all the time. The Holy Spirit is on this planet and so is evil.

Jesus also said for from within out of the heart (spirit/soul) of man proceeds evil thoughts…

1Th 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
All three areas are commanded to be wholly (completely) preserved blameless to become whole. (it does not say sinless but blameless)

2Co 7:1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

I would think spirit communicates with spirit at the level of its existence. Meaning the Holy Spirit communicates with mans spirit as Spirit. And another malevolent spirit would also communicate at the level of spirit. If the soul is a “bridge” it then would be effected by either spirit realm.

The body is the house for both the spirit and soul.

Interesting discussion.

(SeanO) #5

@Flint Interesting perspective

When you say the soul is the “mind, will and emotions”, I am curious - do you think the soul is immaterial or a description of the functions of our mind/heart?

(Jimmy Sellers) #6

This morning our preacher spoke on Mr Peas funeral, he said," Peas not here, this is his pod. Peas has shedd his pod and gone on to be with the Father.":grinning:

(SeanO) #7

@Jimmy_Sellers :grinning: I’m going to have to use that illustration sometime - that is hilarious

(joyce yung) #8

As someone said. I was confused before but after this lengthy discussion, I am still confuse but just at a higher level.

When I talk to myself, I wonder which or who part of me is talking to who.

Have a blessed Sunday.

(SeanO) #10

@joyce_yung Please read the following articles to hopefully provide some clarity on the different positions. The ones by Sam Storms are particularly clear and in depth. Get out a Bible and a notebook and do some prayerful reflection on each of the articles and I pray that the Holy Spirit will provide clarity and a deeper knowledge of God and yourself!

I hope the one thing you can take away is that there is a part of us that is not material :slight_smile:





(SeanO) #11

@Tim_Ramey I get the sense that we would need to talk for a few hours over a cup of coffee and I would need to do a lot of listening to clarify one another’s views at a deep level. I appreciate your commitment to truth brother :slight_smile:

(joyce yung) #12


That is a powerful illustration. Thank you. When I am talking to myself, my soul is arguing with my spirit constantly :hugs::hugs::hugs:


(joyce yung) #13

Thank you will do.


(joyce yung) #14

I am just wondering. My understanding from the Bible is that the main different between us and all the others living creature on the planet is that we have the spirit in us. Now with all these discussion, I just wonder, does all the others living creature has soul and body? One sec, it is obvious that they have body. so they have a soul? Just speaking out loud. thanks
Joyce Yung

(SeanO) #15

The clearest answer I was able to find is in the following article by John Piper:

His main line of thought seems to be that while the Bible uses the Hebrew word “nephesh” (often translated soul) to describe anything with breath and blood (in contrast to plants or rocks), the Bible is clear that animals lack a personal will or ability to go against their instincts (Psalms 32:9) and are always said to perish rather than having an afterlife (Psalms 42:12/Ecclesiastes 3:19).

So, I think they answer is “no” if by soul you mean an immaterial part of them that departs at death.

(A S FLINT) #16

Hi Sean,

As I begin to think and write about your question… I guess I tend more to believe that description of the functions of our mind/heart effects our psychology and our our biology. Because I believe the spirit and soul can think independently of one another in the seat of our emotions, our psyche and even involves our neurology. I saw it more a way of processing :a bridge" through our thoughts externally through our five physical senses and internally through the spirit realm through GOD, self or through temptation from the Eph 6: 12 kingdom.

As pondered your question and read some scriptures I also saw some possible connection to immaterial but that was not my first thought.

Scripture specifically states Revelation 18:13 specifically lists the souls of man as a commodity that was bought and sold, i believe that the soul is, in fact, some tangible ‘thing’ that is able to be separated from the spirit.

Rev 18:12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,

Rev 18:13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

Rev 18:14 And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.

I wonder if in this case the soul of man is the entire being?

So the question is still on the table, for me.

(SeanO) #17

@Flint Thank you for clarifying. It is certainly an open question as to which parts of our perceived self are physical and which are spiritual. Neither the neurologists nor the meta-physicians have been able to get to the bottom of it. Some people theorize that quantum interactions in the brain create the perception of self-consciousness, but that conclusion is not based on any actual evidence.

Fun to think about. I think the articles I posted by Sam Storms are a pretty clear discussion of the Biblical view, which at the very least makes it clear that when our bodies perish our spirit lives on.

(Rebekah McMullen) #18

This is not an answer to anyone’s question, but just that I am interested in this topic as I see the further we understand about the human brain, the more people will need to know answers to questions of the soul or mind. And we are certainly in an age these past few years of neurological discoveries.

(SeanO) #19

@Rebekah_McMullen That is a good point. My Machine Learning professor specializes in bioinspired computing - so modeling how the brain functions. According to him, we still have a long ways to go to understand how the brain really works.

One really fun point he made - the communication between neurons is slower than the communication on a computer chip. So computers are technically faster in a way. But neurons each have many connections and therefore are capable of doing tasks computers struggle with - like pattern recognition. God truly is an amazing designer!

It will be exciting to see what new discoveries come along in the next decade.

(Rebekah McMullen) #20

I too find it amazing how God created the brain. I find your thoughts interesting, as I have learned by reading about metalearning that “slow learning”–the kind that introduces challenges, uncertainty, and complexity into any lesson–creates stronger recall in the brain long term. Which I know experientially from my college days of cramming. :slight_smile:

I am interested in the intersection of neurobiology, functional medicine, and the soul. Functional neurologists like Dale Bredesen are finding out how Alzheimer’s can be prevented and treated, if caught early enough. This is interesting because a lot of people in healthcare are seeing the gut-brain connection. I bring this up because people are finding that this is likely giving them clarity on their chronic health issues.

What does this have to do with apologetics? I suppose I see that people may see their world as more material.

(SeanO) #21

Improvements in medicine are certainly laudable. It would be great for people to be able to spend more time with their loved ones in a socially capable state.

Addressing materialism is certainly a branch of apologetics.