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 Vol. 8, No. 11 

November 2006

~ Page 13 ~

Image Soul and Spirit

By T. Pierce Brown

We tend to agree with our esteemed brother, David Lipscomb, when he said, "You have a pretty tough and gristly piece of meat for a babe to masticate and digest if you undertake to define the difference between soul and spirit." However, every sincere Bible student surely wants to know whatever the Bible does teach on this and every other subject. Most of us are accustomed to picking up expressions like "the immortality of the soul" and assuming that most everyone understands what we mean by them. We presume that the average person means that after the resurrection each of us will exist somewhere. But the average person might think it would make good sense to ask, "Does the soul (psyche) of man die?" but could see no sense in the question, "Does the life (psyche) of man die?"

Thayer says on page 520, with regard to the spirit: "the vital principle by which the body is animated." We presume he means, "That which gives the body its life (psyche)." He also says, "…for the most part the words pneuma and psyche are used indiscriminately." It is true that the words are used interchangeably in this sense: If we should say, "Remove all the furniture from this room," then say in another context, "We said to remove all the chairs from the room," and in another context, "We said to remove all the desks from the room," we are using the words "chairs," "desks" and "furniture" indiscriminately. That is, they may be practically synonymous in some contexts. That does not mean that the word "chair" and the word "furniture" are synonymous.

So the word "soul" and "spirit" may seem to be used synonymously when they, in a general way, refer to the immaterial part of man--whatever is not his body--but they are not synonymous. A case in point is Genesis 35:18, "And it came to pass, as her soul was departing (for she died)." Since we know that the body without the spirit is dead (James 2:26) and her soul was departing, the usual reasoning is, "The spirit left the body, and the soul left the body, so they are the same thing." That does not follow. Let us suppose we said about a lamp, "The light was going out (for the oil was giving out)." Does that mean the oil and light are synonymous? Of course when the spirit leaves the life is gone! But that does not mean that the word "spirit" and "life" mean the same thing. It only establishes the fact that there is a certain relationship between them.

It is often said that Vine gives at least 10 different meanings to the term "soul" and at least 18 different meanings of the term "spirit." It is our opinion that it would be more linguistically and philologically accurate to say that he is giving different referents rather than that he is giving different meanings. If we use the word "soul" as in Acts 27:37 to refer to persons, that does not mean that the word "soul" means "persons." It only means that it refers to a person. Every term has a basic, or primary meaning. Any derived, or secondary, contextual or metaphorical meaning will never contradict its basic or primary meaning. For example, the basic meaning of "baptize" is "dip, plunge, immerse, overwhelm. It does not matter that Young's Concordance says, "To consecrate by pouring out on or putting into."  This is not the Bible meaning. That cannot be proven by simply arraying one "authority" against another. It can be proven by checking every reference in the Bible and finding a common meeting place for all of them. "Bapto" might refer to "dyeing of a garment" but that is not its meaning, and in no case was it ever found to be done without dipping the garment. It might refer to "drawing water," but in no case was the drawing done without dipping a vessel into the water. It might be translated "wash," but that is not its meaning, and in no case was that washing done without the object being dipped. Wiping the face with a wash cloth or taking a shower would require another word. This is not because Thayer said so, but because that is the way the words are used.

Now let us try to condense hundreds of hours of research into a few paragraphs and give you our conclusions. The Hebrew word, "nephesh," translated "soul" occurs about 754 times in the Old Testament. It is translated the following ways: soul-471; life-119; person-30; heart-15; mind-14; creature-10; and 27 other ways.

The Hebrew word translated "spirit" is "ruach." It occurs 374 times, and is translated the following ways in the majority of them: breath-28; spirit-232; wind-90. The Greek word translated "soul" is psyche. It is found 105 times in the New Testament and is translated in the following seven different ways: soul-58; life-40; mind-3; heart-1; you-1; heartily-1; us-1. The Greek word translated "spirit" is pneuma.  It is translated "spirit" 151 times; wind-1; ghost or spirit, with holy-226.

A consideration of every passage in which these terms are used leads us to the conclusion that the term "soul" is a term that was applied in the Bible to every being that normally has sensory capacities (life), whether they have that capacity when the term is applied to them. For example, one might see a body of a dead person and say, "That poor soul is dead." The Bible uses the term that way, even as we do, and it has nothing at all to do with the immortality or mortality of the soul. It simply means that the person who had life--soul-sensory capacity--is dead. The spirit has gone from the body, so the body is dead. It has no life (soul--psyche). When God breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living soul, he simply became a living being with sensory capacity. As Vine puts it, "The spirit may be recognized as the life principle bestowed on man by God, the soul as the resulting life constituted in the individual."

A reasonable illustration of this might be a light bulb. Think of the principle of energy in the universe. Let the light bulb represent our body. The energy in the form of electricity represents the spirit; the resultant light and heat represent the soul. Note the similarity to biblical language: "Then the man turned electricity into the bulb and it became a shining light." If some reader wants to ponder the profound question, "Is the bulb a light, or does it have light?" he may be joined by his counterpart who asks,  "Is man a soul, or does he have a soul?"  He may also raise such questions as, "Where does the light go when it goes out?" Or, "Can a light go out, for if it does, is it still a light?" He may also be joined by the man who asks, "Does the life (soul-psyche) of man die?" If these questions make any sense to you, feel free to discuss them, but it seems to me that part of our problem of "fuzzy thinking" about the soul is that we have assumed that since the Word says we shall be preserved "body, soul, and spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:23) that the soul and spirit must be two similar entities that reside in the same body. That does not follow, and is not so. That simply means that if and when you get to heaven, you will be there with a body (a glorified one), a spirit (the eternal entity which determines your personality and defines what and who you are--a person made in the image of God), and a soul (sensory abilities--life) that will enable you to remember and enjoy throughout eternity. Jesus gave his life (psyche-soul) a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He did not give his spirit for that. He said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). So his life (psyche-soul) was laid down (John 10:17), but his spirit, which was the basis of that life, returned to God who gave it. Leviticus 17:14 says, "The life (psyche-nephesh-soul) of all flesh is in the blood." Where did you think it was? Would you affirm that the soul is in the blood? That is what the Bible says! He had just said, "No soul (psyche) of you shall eat blood" (verse 12). He did not mean that there was some immortal, undying part of man that might have eaten blood if he had not forbidden it. He simply meant, "No person (a living human being with sensory capacity) shall eat blood."

If a man's body and soul are cast into hell (Matthew 10:28) that means that his body, with its sensory capacity--the ability to feel, think, remember, suffer--will be separated from God and suffer forever.

"To Canaan's land I'm on my way where the soul of man never dies" makes about as much sense, but no more than, "where the body of man never dies," for we will have new bodies that will last forever! But the meter would not come out right if we used "body" in the song! How about, "Where the life of man never dies"?

Let us synthesize and summarize. The spirit is the life-principle (God-breath or energy) in man. The soul is the life created in man by the entrance of that life principle or God-breathing. That is the basic meaning of the term. But it applied metaphorically to any being that normally possesses these qualities of life.

When this article was published in the Gospel Advocate of June 14, 1979, brother Woods added the following editorial note:

We are glad to publish brother Brown's thought-provoking article. The soul, as it relates to man is a generic term; the spirit, a specific one. In such a frame of reference it is easy to define the spirit. It is the immortal nature infused directly from God (Hebrews 12:8-9). The soul, being generic, relies on the context to indicate its meaning, and is used in the following four ways in the scriptures: (1) the whole person (Acts 2:41; 1 Peter 3:20); (2) the physical life which man possesses in common with the lower creation (Psalm 78:50); (3) the intellectual nature, as opposed to the lower physical nature and the higher spiritual nature (1 Corinthians 2:14, the "natural man" here is literally the soulish man, see ASV margin) and (4) synonymously with the spirit (Acts 2:27).Image

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