Spirit and Soul

Spirit and Soul

The Hebrew words for soul and spirit are nephesh and ruach, respectively, while the Greek equivalents are psuche and pneuma. It should be a simple matter to look up these words in a lexicon to learn what they mean. The problem is these words have multiple meanings and appear in hundreds of verses in a variety of contexts making it easy to difficult to nail down precise definitions.

Consider nephesh, the Hebrew word commonly translated as soul. This word literally means a breathing creature, but in the Bible it is translated dozens of different ways. Depending on the context, nephesh can denote a heart, a mind, a man, an animal, a desire, an appetite, and many other things.

Or consider the Greek words for soul and spirit. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the Greek word pneuma, which means spirit, can also mean soul, while the word psuche, which means soul, can also mean spirit.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary is more thorough but not much more helpful. W.E. Vines presents a dozen or so vague definitions of soul before adding that soul is the opposite of soulless. Which is like saying light is the opposite of darkness. The situation is little improved when it comes to defining spirit. Here Vines provides nearly two dozen definitions, but since many of these are also used to define soul they are next to useless. According to Mr. Vines, the spirit is “the immaterial, invisible part of man” but so is soul. One definition; two words. As Mr. Vines acknowledges, it is “extremely difficult” to distinguish between them. With these caveats in mind, here are some rough definitions.

What is the soul?

The soul is you. Your soul is that part of you that contains your personality, memories, and intentions. Metaphorically, it is your heart and mind. The Greek word for soul, psuche, is related to the word psychology, which has to do with the mind. We might say the soul resides in your mind – or perhaps your mind resides in your soul – and it is that part of you that thinks, feels, and remembers.

Your body and soul are separate (see Matt. 10:28). You are your soul but you are not your body. You are a soul inhabiting a body or earthsuit. Just as astronauts wear spacesuits when working in space, we wear earthsuits while living on earth. You have a very intimate connection with your body, but if you lose a finger or a limb in an accident, your personality does not diminish. You are still you.

Your body is exquisitely designed to sense things in the physical world. Through your ears, eyes, nose, skin, etc., you are able to receive countless visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile stimuli. But these external stimuli mean nothing until they are processed in your inner soul. For example, when your nose detects the smell of a delicious meal, your mind may recall a happy memory, activate an emotional response, and trigger a desire to eat. Your body does not have emotions, memories, and desires; these are stored and experienced in your soul.

Some might say that your soul is the chooser (the will), the thinker (the mind), and the feeler (the heart). Through your body, you and your soul interact with the physical world around you. It would be very hard for you (your soul) to enjoy a tasty meal without your mouth, taste buds, and digestive system (your body). That is obvious. But what you may not appreciate is how your soul also receives signals from the spiritual world via your spirit.

What is the spirit?

Your spirit is that part of you that makes you spiritually aware or God-conscious. For want of a better analogy, your spirit is like an antenna. Just as our physical bodies connect us to the physical realm, our spirits connect us to the spiritual realm. Just as we have natural senses (sight, smell, hearing, etc.), we have spiritual senses (e.g., intuition).

Put it altogether and you will see that the soul is connected to two realms, the physical and the spiritual. Just as a television can detect signals from both terrestrial transmitters and heavenly satellites, our souls can sense physical things via our bodies and spiritual things via our spirits.

We have said that your body is not you, but your spirit is very much you. Your body is your outer person while your spirit and soul are your inner person (2 Cor. 4:16). Your life is in the soul (Ps. 33:19, Acts 20:10, Jas. 5:20) and it is in the spirit (Luke 23:46, Jas. 2:26).

To recap:

  • Your soul is you (your personality, memories, and intentions)

  • Your body is that external part of you that connects you to the physical world

  • Your spirit is that inner part of you that connects you to the spiritual world

Source: Paul Ellis (2023), Spirit, Soul & Body: How to Walk in the Spirit

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