Spirit, Soul and Body
Pr. Emmanuel P. G.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1Thessalonians 5:23).
Is there a thing called ‘spirit’ in humans other than the visible body with life, and
a functioning mind with emotions, desires, will and passions?
Do humans specially possess a spirit which is eternal?
Are humans capable of fellowshipping with God?
Is there a life after life/death for them?
These are some of the strategic questions religious people ask. These thoughts have greatly impacted most cultures, human worldviews and lifestyles and led to different beliefs, superstitions, customs and practices. There are widespread exploitations too of the simple-hearted over these beliefs. Selling of indulgences, cheatings by false prophets and diviners etc are some of the fakes in the Christian church. There are differences of opinion even among Bible believers. Some continue praying for the departed spirits; some teach indulgence for the spirit of the forefathers. We need to see what the Bible teaches about the human spirit.
Materialism and Atheism do not uphold any such spiritual aspect in humans. ‘Eat drink and enjoy, tomorrow we die’ there is nothing beyond- is their philosophy. The Bible tells that this is a morally destructive philosophy (1 Cor. 15:32f; Eccl. 11:9; 12:13, 14). Biologically humans are just like other creatures another species: Homo sapiens, with a developed brain. None of these acknowledge humans as possessors of a spirit factor.
Human soma and psuke (body and mind) are well discussed in psychology, but where in the mind is the seat of the spirit (pneuma) and how they are related and differentiated between each other are difficult topics to define.
Theologically, the Bible has not given any clear picture regarding how the mind/soul and spirit are related, as they are inseparably connected. Since soul and spirit reflect the immaterial being in humans they are often used interchangeably in the Bible, as in many other literatures, past and present.
The term soul in the Bible is used to mean the mind (reason) the heart (emotions) life, vitality etc. The term soul has been used sometimes to mean also the spirit since the concepts were not specifically defined in the language used at the time of writing. Since such interchangeability appears even in the use of spirit it is the duty of the theologian to define it based on the dominant teaching of the Bible. The soul is the seat of passions, desires, will, imaginations, and affections.
The spirit of man is the image of God in humans (God is spirit) – this is also the sphere of activity of the Holy Spirit, and evil spirit too. The spirit is like the super ego that takes the driver’s seat in the person and controls the id and ego. Some people are of an excellent spirit, guided by the Holy Spirit, bearing the fruit of the spirit; some others are guided by the evil spirit (Saul, Judah, demoniacs), and yet others are guided by the body and desires of the flesh. The Bible specifically teaches about the importance of being born anew in the spirit and growing strong in the spirit, and the eternity of that spirit because they are born of the imperishable seed-1 Pet.1:23; I John 3:9.
The fallen human is dead in the spirit and is short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death, both spiritual and eternal (Rev. 20:12-14); and the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Rom.3:23; 6: 23). All those who do not heed the gospel call to life in the spirit are spiritual ghosts and dead stars, destined for eternal destruction (2 Pet. 2, Jude). No resurrection for them, and are kept for punishment, because their spirits have no life (2 Pt. 2:10). Every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ is from God is from God. They are children of God and they overcome sin and the world. This we know by the advance spirit given to us, and all such do not die at physical death but wait for the glorious revelation of the sons of God (Romans 8, Col.3, I John 3, 4). Those who do not have this life in Jesus Christ do not live after death.
A few Bible verses to make the point clear
John 3:3-8, 16. One must be born again to be heir of the Kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the spirit is spirit. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ shall not perish, but will have eternal life.
John 6:48ff. Jesus said ”Ì am the living bread”. "Whoever eats of me will not die, but will live forever. I will raise him up on the last day".
Rom 8:16. The Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God. We reap what we also sow… those who sow in the spirit reaps eternal life in the spirit (Gal. 6:8,9).
Hebrews 12:9,10 Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For … He chastens us for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
1 Peter 2:11 Abstain from fleshly instincts which war against the soul.
Genesis 6:3 (NKJV) And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
Luke 1:46, 47 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
Mark 12:26, 27 -Jesus answered the Sadducees When God said I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, he is not said as the God of the dead but God of the living. You, therefore do greatly err.
Heb. 12:23 - We have come - to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.
1Peter 4:6 - For this is why the Gospel was preached even to those who were dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
The Parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, and the after-death experience depicted tells how the dead continue to exist in the spirit. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. Abraham too was dead years before but they are all presented as living personalities even after death. On the transfiguration mount Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus Christ (Matt.17).
Revelation 1:10 (NKJV) I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day…Paul was taken up to the third heavens.
2 Pet.1:21- Prophecy did not occur by the will of humans, but men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
All spiritual experiences and mighty works recorded in the Bible happened by the power of the spirit. The mind and human will has no authority over this. When the spirit of God rushed upon Saul he was turned into a different personality and started prophesying (1 Samuel 10), Samson became very powerful and, Elijah ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot. Elisha and Gehazi see angelic forces which others could not see.
What is communicated by God to the human spirit is received by faith. This assurance in the spirit is based on a higher reason beyond the rational mind. All true believers are, thus, guided by the spirit, and enjoy the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. This is the life in abundance (John 10:10).
Proof from Word Study
The term body (Soma) is the physical and material body of each person.
The soul (Hebrew- Nephesh, Greek –Psuche) is mainly used for bodily life, animosity, passions, and body. In New Testament it indicates ‘heart, mind, life, person etc.
For the term life, there are three different Greek words used which has different meanings - bios, psuche and Zoë, but each has a different meaning.
Examples: 1. Bios, in Luke 8:14: “…anxieties and riches and pleasures of this life. It refers to the life of the physical body.
2. Psuche, in Matt. 16:25: “For whoever wants to save his soul-(life) shall lose it.”It refers to the psychological life of the human soul, that is, the mind, emotion, and will.
3. Zoë, in John 1:4: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Here the Greek word refers to the uncreated eternal life of God - the divine life uniquely possessed by God. This life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ that one experiences in the spirit, through spiritual rebirth. Not from flesh or blood, but from God (John 1; 12, 13; 3:16, 6:48ff; Rom. 7:24, 8:1; I John1:1ff. etc.)
Use of the word spirit (pneuma)
In the Old Testament there are quite a few interchangeable usages for this word with soul and life, but for more than 400 times this is specifically used to refer to the spirit in man. In the New Testament, of the 384 times it is used all are directly referring to human spirit, Spirit, Holy Ghost, and spiritual gifts etc. Only once it is used to mean life and another time the term is used to mean wind.
So, we conclude that the term spirit is different from the soul as per Bible usage. We come to this conclusion based on the dominant teaching of the whole Bible so that we will not be misguided. “Man’s spirit is his inward organ for him to contact God, receive God, contain God, and assimilate God into His entire being as his life and his everything.”
Spirit in earthen vessels
It is difficult to map the constitution of humans into watertight compartments like the body, soul, and spirit. One cannot mark out the spheres between the physical life, the rational life, the emotional life, the relational life, the ego/self, the true self etc. Bible teaches us to overcome the obsessions to the flesh, sex, the world, and sin by the power of the Spirit and for the salvation of our spirits, because they are in enmity with each other. So, spirit is different from our body and mind/soul, but it is not operating in humans outside of the mind. God is not a God of confusion, but of order, peace and discernment (1 Cor.14:33). Every spiritual experience recorded in the Bible is processed by the mind and is committed to memory, and given to us in earthen vessels (1 Cor.5). The saints who are given the spirit are eagerly hoping to put off the mortal body and to put on the immortal and glorious life.
Spirit: witness of the soul, cultures and religions
As the deer longs for the water so my soul longs after you. You alone are my real joy giver and the apple of my eye (Song, psalm 42). This universal longing of spirit/soul is caused by the spirit in humans. One cannot thirst for something that is not part of one’s making. Neither can one imagine or understand things one’s mind is not capable of. So, spiritual life is God’s offer to humans. Jews believed humans got the spirit from God’s breath; but this spirit is not God’s essence but God’s creation. They believed in the eternity of the spirit (Wis.12:1; Eccl. 12:14; Dan.12:1,2. Enoch 39:4).
Most religions have this as their locus of operation. Except Buddhism that teaches anatta – i.e. the soul ceases to exist at death, most other religions discuss the immaterial spirit that is in humans which continues after death. In spite of the sinful nature and pleasures of the body and the world, the spirit seeks for its perfection, realization (sakshatkara) and salvation or ultimate deliverance (Mokshaa). The Book of the Dead of the ancient Egyptians, posthumous rituals and customs of most tribes groups and cultures tell that such beliefs are universal to human thought. The presence of vocabularies like spirit, spiritual thirst/hunger, spiritual eye, spiritual power, eternity, heaven, hell etc. too point to the fact that such thoughts are common to the human cultures, and therefore, there must be some truth behind these universal phenomena.
The belief in purgatory, prayer for the dead, baptism for the dead (1 Cor.15), construction and preservation of cemeteries by the Jews, Christians, and Muslims were all different expressions of this belief during the Bible times.
Spirits after Death
Jesus said to the thief on the cross, 'Today you will be with me in paradise.' Do not be ignorant and grieve about those who are asleep, as others who have no hope do (1 Thes. 4:13; cf. Acts 2:27). They are with individual personality and are resting from their work; and are eagerly waiting for the Lord’s Day (Rev. 6:9, 10; 14:13). They are not present in the church but at the altar in heaven. The parable of Lazarus also says the same. Jesus and Stephen died saying ‘Father receive my spirit’ (Luke 23:46, Acts 7:58). Resurrection life is only for those who have received the eternal life in Christ while they live. On them God the Father has set His seal (John 6:27). There is nothing more that we can do now for the dead. Do not marvel at this, all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out – the righteous to the resurrection of life, and the wicked to the resurrection of Judgment (John 5:24-29; Dan. 12:1,2; Lk.14:14). Revelations 20:4, 5 tell about the first resurrection, and there is no second resurrection mentioned. The second is for the dead who have no spiritual life and it is called the judgment and the second death (Rev. 20:14).
So, understand “nothing good dwells in [us], that is, in [our] flesh” (Rom. 7:18). Follow the Spirit’s direction, die to our flesh. All we are dying is to death by choosing the abundant life; that kind of dying is worth dying every day (1 Cor. 15:31). The gifts, the fruit, the mighty deeds and the joy in the spirit give a Kingdom of God experience on earth, which is totally different from ‘food and drink’. No Body negation and no Mind negation in this Spirit Affirmation. Here, life becomes a balanced and integrated whole. Body feeds on nutrition, mind feeds on learning, and spirit feeds on the word of God, prayers, fasting, and exercise of spiritual gifts. Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might-Eph. 6:10. Our whole Spirit, Soul and Body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.