Spirit, soul, and body: what is the difference?

There are a few places in the Bible where spirit, soul and body are all three mentioned:

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Meaning of the spirit, soul and body

But what exactly is meant by body, soul and spirit? It seems not too difficult to distinguish the body from the soul and spirit. The body is physical and with the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch) it connects and interacts with the outer world. The soul and spirit are much more difficult to separate from each other. Many Christians hold to the opinion that the soul is the part of us that covers our will, affections and thoughts. The soul is the part of us that connects with our fellow human beings. The spirit is the part that connects to God and covers matters like faith, trust, worship and so on. The spirit is seen as the innermost part of our being. It is enveloped by our soul, which in turn is enveloped by our body. The spirit then is the part that needs regeneration in the person who does not know God.

Not easy to pinpoint

However, a closer look to the way in which the words soul and spirit are used in the Scriptures, reveals that it is not easy to pinpoint their exact meaning. Sometimes the word ‘soul’ refers to the part of the human being that will live on in eternity as in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. And in the Great Commandment, we are taught to love God with all of our soul” (Matthew 22:37). The word spirit is not mentioned in these verses; yet they address our relationship to God, not to fellow men.

Not important?

It seems that God did not find it important to give us a clear definition of the two words. Even though a distinction is made between spirit in soul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12, it does not become exactly clear what the distinction implies. The most important thing we need to remember is that the part of us which is referred to as soul or spirit, needs regeneration by God’s Spirit. Without the Spirit’s work in us, we are dead and unable to know God and unable to understand his word.

How does this Bible passage speak to you? Please share your thoughts below!

Also read Why does God communicate to us through the Bible and not through our souls?

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Esther Visser

Esther Visser

Esther Visser (1972) was raised in Waddinxveen. She did a 2-year masters degree at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Badhoevedorp, to prepare for the mission field. In 2000 her husband and she were sent to Thailand as church planters, in cooperation with OMF and GZB. They lived and worked there for 15 years, together with their two children. At this time Esther is editor-in-chief for De Waarheidsvriend, the house magazine of the Gereformeerde Bond. She is also active in church life, as a youth worker, and as an artist.

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