Man as a trinity – Spirit, Soul and Body… What’s the difference (Q-Box Question)

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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. 

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