Category: (2) What is the difference between the soul and spirit?


Without a doubt the human soul is immortal. This is clearly seen in many Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments: Psalm 22:26; 23:6; 49:7-9; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Daniel 12:2-3; Matthew 25:46; and 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. Daniel 12:2 says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Similarly, Jesus Himself said that the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). With the same Greek word used to refer to both “punishment” and “life,” it is clear that both the wicked and the righteous have an eternal/immortal soul.

The unmistakable teaching of the Bible is that all people, whether they are saved or lost, will exist eternally, in either heaven or hell. True life or spiritual life does not cease when our fleshly bodies pass away in death. Our souls will live forever, either in the presence of God in heaven if we are saved, or in punishment in hell if we reject God’s gift of salvation. In fact, the promise of the Bible is that not only will our souls live forever, but also that our bodies will be resurrected. This hope of a bodily resurrection is at the very heart of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

While all souls are immortal, it is important to remember that we are not eternal in the same way that God is. God is the only truly eternal being in that He alone is without a beginning or end. God has always existed and will always continue to exist. All other sentient creatures, whether they are human or angelic, are finite in that they had a beginning. While our souls will live forever once we come into being, the Bible does not support the concept that our souls have always existed. Our souls are immortal, as that is how God created them, but they did have a beginning; there was a time they did not exist.

There are two biblically plausible views on how the human soul is created. Traducianism is the theory that a soul is generated by the physical parents along with the physical body. Support for Traducianism is as follows: (A) In Genesis 2:7, God breathed the breath of life into Adam, causing Adam to become a “living soul.” Scripture nowhere records God performing this action again. (B) Adam had a son in his own likeness (Genesis 5:3). Adam’s descendants seem to be “living souls” without God breathing into them. (C) Genesis 2:2-3 seems to indicate that God ceased His creative work. (D) Adam’s sin affects all men—both physically and spiritually—this makes sense if the body and soul both come from the parents. The weakness of Traducianism is that it is unclear how an immaterial soul can be generated through an entirely physical process. Traducianism can only be true if the body and soul are inextricably connected.

Creationism is the view that God creates a new soul when a human being is conceived. Creationism was held by many early church fathers and also has scriptural support. First, Scripture differentiates the origin of the soul from the origin of the body (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Isaiah 42:5; Zechariah 12:1; Hebrews 12:9). Second, if God creates each individual soul at the moment it is needed, the separation of soul and body is held firm. The weakness of Creationism is that it has God continually creating new human souls, while Genesis 2:2-3 indicates that God ceased creating. Also, since the entire human existence—body, soul, and spirit—are infected by sin and God creates a new soul for every human being, how is that soul then infected with sin?

A third view, but one that lacks biblical support, is the concept that God created all human souls at the same time, and “attaches” a soul to a human being at the moment of conception. This view holds that there is sort of a “warehouse of souls” in heaven where God stores souls that await a human body to be attached to. Again, this view has no biblical support, and is usually held by those of a “new age” or reincarnation mindset.

Whether the Traducianist view or the Creationist view is correct, both agree that the soul does not exist prior to conception. This seems to be the clear teaching of the Bible. Whether God creates a new human soul at the moment of conception, or whether God designed the human reproductive process to also reproduce a soul, God is ultimately responsible for the creation of each and every human soul.

To be spiritually blind is not to see Christ, and not to see Christ is not to see God (Colossians 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 4:6). Spiritual blindness is a grievous condition experienced by those who do not believe in God, Jesus Christ, and His Word (Romans 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:12). Those who reject Christ are the lost (John 6:68-69). Being spiritually blind, they are perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Revelation 3:17). They choose not to accept the teachings of Christ and His authority in their lives (Matthew 28:18). They are blind to the manifestations of God as revealed throughout His Word and Jesus Christ (John 1:1; Acts 28:26-27). They are described as those who “do not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Peter spoke of such people as “scoffers [who] will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (2 Peter 3:3; Proverbs 21:24; Jude 1:18). Those who reject Christ and His Word are spiritually blind and cannot understand the truth of the Scriptures. The truth sounds foolish to them (Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 37:23). The Bible describes those denying God as fools (Psalm 14:1; Matthew 7:26). Because of their blindness and rejection of God and His Word, they are in a perilous, unsaved condition (John 12:48; Hebrews 2:2-4).

The spiritually blind are simply unable to understand His Word (Matthew 13:13; Deuteronomy 29:4). Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). Paul echoed this when he told the believers in Rome,  “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:8-9). Those outside of Christ are not of God because their lives are steeped in the things of the world with all its passions, their eyes blind to the Spirit of God. The Apostle John said, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” but  that person’s love “is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

The cause of spiritual blindness is made quite clear in the Scriptures:  “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul refers to Satan as the “god of this world.” Extraordinarily evil (John 8:44), Satan destroys the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5), masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and is the cause of all temptations (Luke 4:2; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Corinthians 7:5). He revels in scheming against and trapping the unbelievers (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:26). Satan’s goal is to devour the weak who fall prey to temptation, fear, loneliness, worry, depression, and persecution (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Without God and left to ourselves, we easily succumb to the devil’s schemes. We can become so mired in the affairs of this world and its moral darkness that, in the end, God turns us over to spiritual blindness and eternal condemnation (John 12:40; Romans 1:24-32).

As believers, we have the Spirit of God reigning in our lives to ward off the debilitating effects of Satan’s power and the world’s influence (1 John 4:13). John tells us, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). Satan wars within and without us. His weapons are deceitful and crafty schemes to make us doubt and stumble (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 4:14). Yet God has provided us with powerful weapons ward off his flaming arrows (Ephesians 6:10-18). As believers we can overcome the evil one and remain in the Light and never become spiritually blind. For, in truth, Jesus has given us His wonderful promise: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Death is separation. A physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death, which is of greater significance, is the separation of the soul from God. In Genesis 2:17, God tells Adam that in the day he eats of the forbidden fruit he will “surely die.” Adam does fall, but his physical death does not occur immediately; God must have had another type of death in mind—spiritual death. This separation from God is exactly what we see in Genesis 3:8. When Adam and Eve heard the voice of the Lord, they “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.” The fellowship had been broken. They were spiritually dead.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, He paid the price for us by dying on our behalf. Even though He is God, He still had to suffer the agony of a temporary separation from the Father due to the sin of the world He was carrying on the cross. After three hours of supernatural darkness, He cried, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:33-34). This spiritual separation from the Father was the result of the Son’s taking our sins upon Himself. That’s the impact of sin. Sin is the exact opposite of God, and God had to turn away from His own Son at that point in time.

A man without Christ is spiritually dead. Paul describes it as “being alienated from the life of God” in Ephesians 4:18. (To be separated from life is the same as being dead.) The natural man, like Adam hiding in the garden, is isolated from God. When we are born again, the spiritual death is reversed. Before salvation, we are dead (spiritually), but Jesus gives us life. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,” (Ephesians 2:1 NKJV). “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13).

To illustrate, think of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus in John 11. The physically dead Lazarus could do nothing for himself. He was unresponsive to all stimuli, oblivious to all life around him, beyond all help or hope—except for the help of Christ who is “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). At Christ’s call, Lazarus was filled with life, and he responded accordingly. In the same way, we were spiritually dead, unable to save ourselves, powerless to perceive the life of God—until Jesus called us to Himself. He “quickened” us; “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5).

The book of Revelation speaks of a “second death,” which is a final (and eternal) separation from God. Only those who have never experienced new life in Christ will partake of the second death (Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8).

The human spirit is the incorporeal part of man. The Bible says that the human spirit is the very breath of Almighty God and was breathed into man at the beginning of God’s creation: “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). It is the human spirit that gives us a consciousness of self and other remarkable, though limited, “God-like” qualities. The human spirit includes our intellect, emotions, fears, passions, and creativity. It is this spirit that provides us the unique ability to comprehend and understand (Job 32:8, 18).

The words spirit and breath are translations of the Hebrew word neshamah and the Greek word pneuma. The words mean “strong wind, blast or inspiration.” Neshamah is the source of life that vitalizes humanity (Job 33:4). It is the intangible, unseen human spirit that governs man’s mental and emotional existence. The apostle Paul said, “Who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11). Upon death the “spirit returns back to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7; see also Job 34:14-15; Psalm 104:29-30).

Every human being has a spirit, and it is distinct from the “spirit,” or life, of animals. God made man differently from the animals in that He created us “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Therefore, man is able to think, feel, love, design, create, and enjoy music, humor, and art. And it is because of the human spirit that we have a “free will” that no other creature on earth has.

The human spirit was damaged in the fall. When Adam sinned, his ability to fellowship with God was broken; he did not die physically that day, but he died spiritually. Ever since, the human spirit has borne the effects of the fall. Before salvation, a person is characterized as spiritually “dead” (Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13). A relationship with Christ revitalizes our spirits and renews us day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Interestingly, just as the human spirit was divinely breathed into the first man, so the Holy Spirit was breathed into the first disciples in John 20:22: “And with that [Jesus] breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22; see also Acts 2:38). Adam was made alive by the breath of God, and we, as “new creations” in Christ, are made spiritually alive by the “Breath of God,” the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 3:3; Romans 6:4). Upon our acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit of God joins with our own spirit in ways we cannot comprehend. The apostle John said, “This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13).

When we allow the Spirit of God to lead our lives, the “Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). As children of God, we are no longer led by our own spirit but by God’s Spirit, who leads us to eternal life.

The Bible is not perfectly clear as to the nature of the human soul. But from studying the way the word soul is used in Scripture, we can come to some conclusions. Simply stated, the human soul is the part of a person that is not physical. It is the part of every human being that lasts eternally after the body experiences death. Genesis 35:18 describes the death of Rachel, Jacob’s wife, saying she named her son “as her soul was departing.” From this we know that the soul is different from the body and that it continues to live after physical death.

The human soul is central to the personhood of a human being. As C. S. Lewis said, “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” In other words, personhood is not based on having a body. A soul is what is required. Repeatedly in the Bible, people are referred to as “souls” (Exodus 31:14; Proverbs 11:30), especially in contexts that focus on the value of human life and personhood or on the concept of a “whole being” (Psalm 16:9-10; Ezekiel 18:4; Acts 2:41; Revelation 18:13).

The human soul is distinct from the heart (Deuteronomy 26:16; 30:6) and the spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12) and the mind (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). The human soul is created by God (Jeremiah 38:16). It can be strong or unsteady (2 Peter 2:14); it can be lost or saved (James 1:21; Ezekiel 18:4). We know that the human soul needs atonement (Leviticus 17:11) and is the part of us that is purified and protected by the truth and the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:22). Jesus is the great Shepherd of souls (1 Peter 2:25).

Matthew 11:29 tells us that we can turn to Jesus Christ to find rest for our souls. Psalm 16:9-10 is a Messianic psalm which allows us to see that Jesus also had a soul. David wrote, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” This cannot be speaking of David (as Paul points out in Acts 13:35-37) because David’s body did see corruption and decay when he died. But Jesus Christ’s body never saw corruption (He was resurrected), and His soul was not abandoned to Sheol. Jesus, as the Son of Man, has a soul.

There is often confusion about the human spirit vs. the human soul. In places, Scripture seems to use the terms interchangeably, but there might be a subtle difference. Otherwise, how could the Word of God penetrate “even to dividing soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:12)? When the Bible talks about man’s spirit, it is usually speaking of an inner force which animates a person in one direction or another. It is repeatedly shown as a mover, a dynamic force (e.g., Numbers 14:24).

It has been said that there are only two things that last: the Word of God (Mark 13:31) and the souls of men. This is because, like God’s Word, the soul is an imperishable thing. That thought should be both sobering and awe-inspiring. Every person you meet is an eternal soul. Every human being that has ever lived has had a soul, and all of those souls are still in existence somewhere. The question is, where? The souls that reject God’s love are condemned to pay for their own sin, eternally, in hell (Romans 6:23). But the souls that accept their own sinfulness and God’s gracious gift of forgiveness will live forever beside still waters with their Shepherd, wanting for nothing (Psalm 23:2).

The soul and the spirit are the two primary immaterial aspects that Scripture  ascribes to humanity. It can be confusing to attempt to discern the precise  differences between the two. The word “spirit” refers only to the immaterial  facet of humanity. Human beings have a spirit, but we are not spirits. However,  in Scripture, only believers are said to be spiritually alive (1 Corinthians 2:11Hebrews 4:12; James 2:26), while unbelievers are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13). In  Paul’s writing, the spiritual was pivotal to the life of the believer (1 Corinthians 2:143:1Ephesians  1:3; 5:19; Colossians 1:9; 3:16). The spirit is the  element in humanity which gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship  with God. Whenever the word “spirit” is used, it refers to the immaterial part  of humanity that “connects” with God, who Himself is spirit (John 4:24).

The word “soul” can refer to both the  immaterial and material aspects of humanity. Unlike human beings having a  spirit, human beings are souls. In its most basic sense, the word “soul”  means “life.” However, beyond this essential meaning, the Bible speaks of the  soul in many contexts. One of these is humanity’s eagerness to sin (Luke 12:26). Humanity is naturally evil, and our souls  are tainted as a result. The life principle of the soul is removed at the time  of physical death (Genesis  35:18; Jeremiah  15:2). The soul, as with the spirit, is the center of many spiritual and  emotional experiences (Job 30:25; Psalm 43:5; Jeremiah 13:17). Whenever  the word “soul” is used, it can refer to the whole person, whether alive or in  the afterlife.

The soul and the spirit are connected, but separable (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is  the essence of humanity’s being; it is who we are. The spirit is the aspect of  humanity that connects with God.