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Man As Body, Soul, And Spirit

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Generally, in Scripture the nature of man is expressed as body and soul, or body and spirit, with soul and spirit used as synonyms. A couple of times we read of man as body, soul, and spirit.  When some passages refer to man as a “soul” and others refer to man as “spirit,” is there a difference?
Soul as Life, Spirit as Unseen or Invisible Reality. “God is a Spirit,” and by its nature “a spirit hath not flesh and bones” such as Jesus had while on earth (
Jn. 4:24; Lk. 24:39). Genesis 1:27 records man’s creation in these words, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” It is clear that man is made in God’s image in terms of our spiritual nature not our fleshly nature.  This uniquely separates man from the animal world. 

The spirit or soul of man like God can never pass out of existence – it is immaterial, incorporeal, and immortal. The spirit departs from the body at death, as Solomon said, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” The spirit will return to the resurrected body on the great resurrection day (
Jn. 5:28-29).  Therefore, when God creates the soul or spirit of a man, it will never cease to exist.

In a basic or simple manner, “soul” represents something which is living as opposed to non-living, animate as opposed to inanimate. “Spirit” refers to an invisible or unseen being or reality such as the wind, breathe, God, or man’s invisible nature made in God’s image. Since the spirit of man is animate, he may properly be called a soul where soul is intended to be a synonym for spirit.  Since the body of man is animate, he may properly be called a soul where the intended idea is that man is a living creature on earth. 

Therefore, soul may be used in some passages to refer to man simply as a living creature in common with other living creatures on earth.  “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (
Gen. 2:7). Soul may be used in other passages as a synonym for spirit because man as a “spirit” being survives the death of the body. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). When soul is used as a synonym for the spirit in passages such as Matthew 10:28, it means man is a living creature whose life will continue to exist after the death of the body. 

In some manner soul and spirit can be distinguished when used together in such passages as
Hebrews 4:12, which mentions separating the two: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Here “soul” refers to man as a living creature while “spirit” refers to his existence as an invisible immortal being.

When soul is used with spirit in a passage such as
1 Thessalonians 5:23, it may refer to man as animate, living. “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.” In this passage Paul prays for man as a tripartite being:

1. As a body: a physical instrument we use in God’s service.
2. As a soul: a living creature, stressing the gift of life which should be dedicated to God and used in His service while we live on this earth (
Gen 2:7).
3. As a spirit: an invisible being with consciousness, intelligence, moral capacity, and volition who will never die.

Yes, man’s nature may be expressed as body, soul, and spirit, with some slight distinction between soul and spirit, but often soul and spirit are used simply as synonyms. (To be continued)


Ron Halbrook

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