Category: Humanity

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).

Human nature is that which makes us distinctly human. Our nature is distinct from that of the animals and the rest of creation in that we can think and feel. One of the chief distinctions between human beings and the rest of creation is our ability to reason. No other creature has this ability, and there’s no question that this is a unique gift bestowed by God. Our reason enables us to reflect on our own nature and the nature of God and to derive knowledge of God’s will for His creation. No other part of God’s creation has a nature capable of reason.

The Bible teaches that God created human beings in His image. This means that He enables us to have some understanding of Him and of His vast and complex design. Our human nature reflects some of God’s attributes, although in a limited way. We love because we are made in the image of the God who is love (1 John 4:16). Because we are created in His image, we can be compassionate, faithful, truthful, kind, patient, and just. In us, these attributes are distorted by sin, which also resides in our nature.

Originally, human nature was perfect by virtue of having been created so by God. The Bible teaches that human beings were created “very good” by a loving God (Genesis 1:31), but that goodness was marred by the sin of Adam and Eve. Subsequently, the entire human race fell victim to the sin nature. The good news is that at the moment a person trusts in Christ, he receives a new nature. Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Sanctification is the process by which God develops our new nature, enabling us to grow into more holiness through time. This is a continuous process with many victories and defeats as the new nature battles with the “tent” (2 Corinthians 5:4) in which it resides—the old man, the old nature, the flesh. Not until we are glorified in heaven will our new nature be set free to live for eternity in the presence of the God in whose image we are created.

 Genesis  1:26-27 indicates that there is something that makes humanity distinct from  all the other creations. Human beings were intended to have a relationship with  God, and as such, God created us with both material and immaterial parts. The  material is obviously that which is tangible: the physical body, bones, organs,  etc., and exists as long as the person is alive. The immaterial aspects are  those which are intangible: soul, spirit, intellect, will, conscience, etc.  These exist beyond the physical lifespan of the individual.

All human  beings possess both material and immaterial characteristics. It is clear that  all mankind has a body containing flesh, blood, bones, organs, and cells.  However, it is the intangible qualities of mankind that are often debated. What  does Scripture say about these? Genesis 2:7 states that man was created as a living soul. Numbers  16:22 names God as the “God of the spirits” that are possessed by all  mankind. Proverbs  4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring  of life,” indicating that the heart is central to man’s will and emotions. Acts 23:1 says, “Paul looked  straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to  God in all good conscience to this day.’” Here Paul refers to the conscience,  that part of the mind that convicts us of right and wrong. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer to the  pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” These  verses, and numerous others, refer to the various aspects of the immaterial part  of humanity. We all share both material and immaterial qualities.

So,  Scripture outlines far more than just soul and spirit. Somehow, the soul,  spirit, heart, conscience, and mind are connected and interrelated. The soul and  spirit, though, definitely are the primary immaterial aspects of humanity. They  likely comprise the other aspects. With this is mind, is humanity dichotomous  (cut in two, body/soul-spirit), or trichotomous (cut in three,  body/soul/spirit). It is impossible to be dogmatic. There are good arguments for  both views. A key verse is Hebrews  4:12: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any  double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and  marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This verse tells us  at least two things about this debate. The soul and spirit can be divided, and  the division of soul and spirit is something that only God can discern. Rather  than focusing on something we cannot know for sure, it is better to focus on the  Creator, who has made us “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14).

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.

On the last day of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our  likeness” (Genesis  1:26). Thus, He finished His work with a “personal touch.” God formed man  from the dust and gave him life by sharing His own breath (Genesis 2:7). Accordingly, man is unique among all God’s  creations, having both a material body and an immaterial soul/spirit.

Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means, in the simplest terms, that we  were made to resemble God. Adam did not resemble God in the sense of God’s  having flesh and blood. Scripture says that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and therefore exists without a body. However,  Adam’s body did mirror the life of God insofar as it was created in perfect  health and was not subject to death.

The image of God refers to the  immaterial part of man. It sets man apart from the animal world, fits him for  the dominion God intended him to have over the earth (Genesis 1:28), and enables  him to commune with his Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and  socially.

Mentally, man was created as a rational, volitional agent. In  other words, man can reason and man can choose. This is a reflection of God’s  intellect and freedom. Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints  a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is  proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Morally, man was  created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness.  God saw all He had made (mankind included) and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our  conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state. Whenever  someone writes a law, recoils from evil, praises good behavior, or feels guilty,  he is confirming the fact that we are made in God’s own image.

Socially,  man was created for fellowship. This reflects God’s triune nature and His love.  In Eden, man’s primary relationship was with God (Genesis 3:8 implies fellowship with God), and God made the first woman because “it is not  good for the man to be alone” (Genesis  2:18). Every time someone marries, makes a friend, hugs a child, or attends  church, he is demonstrating the fact that we are made in the likeness of  God.

Part of being made in God’s image is that Adam had the capacity to  make free choices. Although he was given a righteous nature, Adam made an evil  choice to rebel against his Creator. In so doing, Adam marred the image of God  within himself, and he passed that damaged likeness on to all his descendants  (Romans 5:12). Today, we  still bear the image of God (James 3:9),  but we also bear the scars of sin. Mentally, morally, socially, and physically,  we show the effects of sin.

The good news is that when God redeems an  individual, He begins to restore the original image of God, creating a “new  self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). That  redemption is only available by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our  Savior from the sin that separates us from God (Ephesians  2:8-9). Through Christ, we are made new creations in the likeness of God (2  Corinthians 5:17).