what is the difference between spirit and soul

Man as a Trinity – What is the difference between spirit and soul?

In Christianity, we use a lot of words without always knowing what they mean.  For example, we say things like “my soul was saved” or “I feel it in my spirit”… however, do you ever really stop to think, what is my soul?  What is my spirit?  What’s the difference?  Is there a difference? It’s funny to think about how people can feel something in “their spirit” when they may not even be able to define what their spirit is.

When you read through the scriptures, you will find passages like Hebrews 4:12 which says, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.”

There is often a clear distinction between the words “soul” and “spirit”.  Unlike many theologians and commentators, I disagree with the idea that they are solely used interchangeably and mean the same thing.

The word “spirit” is the Greek word “pneuma” which means breath, air, wind… it never refers to a depersonalized force.

The word “soul” is Greek “psuche” which is the seat of affections, will, emotions…

The word “body” is Greek “soma” which refers to something that casts a shadow. It can be used to explain a body of planets, animals, etc.

I see man as a trinity – made in God’s image; unique to all creation in the sense that no other creature shares a triune nature.

The best way I can explain how they work is like this: you ARE a SPIRIT, you HAVE a SOUL, and you LIVE in a BODY.

  • The SPIRIT is what you are.  It is your essence.  There is a spiritual reality, and the way you can relate to the spiritual reality is by your spirit.  You are a SPIRIT.
  • The SOUL is how you are.  It is your mind, will and emotions.  You have a SOUL.
  • The BODY is the vessel that responds to the soul.  Just as there is a spiritual reality, there is also a physical reality, and the way you can relate to the physical reality is by your body.  You live in a BODY.

When you are born, you are born spiritually dead (“and you were dead in your trespasses and sins” Ephesians 2:1), and therefore your soul and flesh were naturally corrupted (“We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also” Ephesians 2:3).

When you repent and put your faith in Christ, you are made spiritually alive.  However, your soul and body have still been tainted by the dead spirit, and therefore need to be renewed by the New (alive) Spirit.  Your soul and body are in a state of renewal, which will be completed upon our glorification.

I believe Scoffield commentates correctly on 1 Thessalonians 5:23:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Man as a trinity. That the human soul and spirit are not identical is proved by the facts that they are divisible, (Heb_4:12), and that soul and spirit are sharply distinguished in the burial and resurrection of the body. It is sown a natural body (Greek, “soma psuchikon” meaning “soul-body”), it is raised a spiritual body (Greek, “soma pneumatikon” meaning “spirit-body”). (1Co_15:44).

To assert, therefore, that there is no difference between soul and spirit is to assert that there is no difference between the mortal body and the resurrection body. In Scripture use, the distinction between spirit and soul may be traced. Briefly, that distinction is that the spirit is that part of man which “knows” (1Co_2:11) his mind; the soul is the seat of the affections, desires, and so of the emotions, and of the active will, the self. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful” (Mat_26:38).

See also; (Mat_11:29); (Joh_12:27).

The word transliterated “soul” in the Old Testament (Hebrew, “nephesh”) is the exact equivalent of the New Testament word for soul (Greek, “psuchē”), and the use of “soul” in the Old Testament is identical with the use of that word in the New Testament (see, for example); (Deu_6:5); (Deu_14:26); (1Sa_18:1); (1Sa_20:4); (1Sa_20:17); (Job_7:11); (Job_7:15); (Job_14:22); (Psa_42:6); (Psa_84:2).

The New Testament word for spirit (Greek, “pneuma”) like the Old Testament (Hebrew, “ruach”), is translated, “air”, “breath”, “wind,” but predominantly “spirit,” whether of God (for example); (Gen_1:2); (Mat_3:16) or of man; (Gen_41:8); (1Co_5:5).

Because man is “spirit”, he is capable of God-consciousness, and of communication with God; (Job_32:8); (Psa_18:28); (Pro_20:27); because he is “soul”, he has self-consciousness; (Psa_13:2); (Psa_42:5); (Psa_42:6); (Psa_42:11); and, because he is “body”, he has, through his senses, world consciousness. 

6 replies
  1. Jim Daniels
    Jim Daniels says:

    GOOD INFORMATION BUT I’VE GOT A MAJOR PROBLEM FIGURING OUT THIS: I know that the soul differs from the spirit. I can get that part. I think I get what the soul is. Where I have a problem is: If my spirit is saved and my soul is lost and maybe goes to Hell, “Exactly what is it that I lose? What exactly is it that goes to Hell? If my soul is intangible, I just don’t understand what I will lose? ” Please don’t circumvent this; I would honestly like a valid answer. Thanks, Jim

    • Sean Tambagahan
      Sean Tambagahan says:

      Hi Jim,
      I’m not sure if I understand the question… maybe you could reiterate? If I understand you correctly, your question is that if the article says your spirit is saved, and your soul is not, then what are you losing when your spirit goes to heaven? Is that a correct reiteration?

      If so, then I would say that the question assumes a wrong understanding of the relationship between spirit and soul. When you are saved, your spirit is made alive (because previously you are dead in your sins). However, your body is still tainted by the sinful nature that you have inherited, and your soul is directly influenced by your sinful nature. When you die physically, your spirit AND soul leave your body, and therefore your soul is no longer tainted by the sinful nature, and is fully influenced only by your spirit which has been made alive and perfect. So when you die physically, your spirit doesn’t separate from the soul – even though they are distinct “entities” (for a lack of better words), they are inseparable. Your soul is no longer corrupt, because it is no longer touched by sin.

      One day, there will be a physical resurrection of all the dead, wherein the dead bodies would be resurrected and reunited with the spirit and soul. For those who are saved, they will be resurrected unto eternal life (with glorified bodies fit for heaven). For the unsaved, they will be resurrected unto eternal destruction, (with a new body specifically suited for hell).

      I don’t know if that answers your specific question or not though.

  2. Enoch
    Enoch says:

    God is not a Trinity. Man is not a trinity. From Taylor’s book:

    According to the Word of God, God formed Man’s body from the dust of the ground, breathed God’s breath of life (spirit) into Man’s body, and Man came alive, became a living soul; that is, Body + Spirit = Soul. Genesis 2:7 shows that The Trinity is a false doctrine. The Trinity, or any trinity, has 3 equal parts. This equation accurately reflects Genesis 2:7, and it demonstrates that body, spirit, and soul are not 3 equal parts. This equation says that body and spirit are two parts each by itself, but the soul is not a part by itself, for the soul is dependent on the other two parts, body + spirit. Can a body exist by itself? Yes. Can a spirit exist by itself? Yes. Can a soul exist by itself? No. A soul needs both body and spirit in order to come into existence, as this verse explicitly says.

    Copyright © 2016-2017 Arthur Rain Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
    Body, Spirit, Soul – An Exposition of Genesis 2:7
    ISBN-10:0-9985753-1-3; ISBN-13:978-0-9985753-1-5
    20-pages essay, $2.99 at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, etc.

    • Sean Tambagahan
      Sean Tambagahan says:

      Enoch, there are a few issues I’d have with your comments.
      1) The Genesis 2:7 equation of body + spirit = soul is not valid. Other translations translate it saying “and the man became a living being”… it’s not the only word for soul. Also, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says “may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. It doesn’t say “may your whole soul, which is your spirit + your body….”

      2) Where are you getting the definition of trinity as having “three equal parts”? How would you even measure “equal parts” of soul to body?

      3) Even if you were to “debunk” man as being a trinity (which I don’t think you can) it doesn’t stop the rest of the dozens of verses referring to the Father as God, the Son as God, and the Spirit as God… and how in Luke you have all three members of the trinity on the scene at Jesus’ baptism.


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