"And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know ... For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Cor. 8:2, 13:9)

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Spirit, soul and body in the Bible

Synopsis: the concepts of spirit, soul and body refer to various aspects of human personality in the Bible. In particular, the spirit describes our consciousness in the element of understanding, disposition and will (thus the reflective part of our psyche). The body, in addition to the material aspect of our existence, also describes the human subconscious with its built-in patterns of behavior (therefore our character). The concept of the soul defines personality as a result of the cooperation of spirit and body. The lecture discusses definitions of the spirit, soul and body, refers to the relationship between them and illustrates their meanings with the help of relevant parts of the Bible.

The purpose of the lecture is to discuss the concepts of spirit, soul and body in relation to man as they appear in the Bible. Although these terms are similar, they are not identical, an excellent example of which is provided by the apostle Paul in 1 Thess. 5:23, where spirit, soul and body were listed in parallel as to be preserved "blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (OGIB). Distinction of these concepts is certainly a matter of precision with which we understand Bible teaching, but sometimes also avoiding serious doctrinal errors that will affect both the theory and practice of our Christian life. The Bible in its two parts uses different Hebrew and Greek words to describe the spirit, soul and body. In Hebrew the spirit is ruach [H7307], the soul is nephesh [H5315]. In Greek, the spirit is rendered as pneuma [G4151], the soul - as psyche [G5590]. The body in Greek is rendered by two words: soma [G4983] or sarks [G4561]. In addition, the New Testament uses the word man - anthropos [G444] in a different way than we do today, which is also worth mentioning.

All of the above-mentioned concepts are related to human personality. This is most clearly seen in the case of the Greek psyche, from which the English psyche comes from, as well as the names of the sciences: psychology and psychiatry. Although Biblical terminology is not a scientific terminology in the present sense of the word, in its basic structure it describes the same relationships between different spheres of personality. In other words, the concepts of soul, spirit and body are more or less the same as modern concepts of personality, consciousness and subconsciousness. Human personality consists of consciousness and subconsciousness. Similarly, the soul contains the spirit and the body. The difficulty lies in the precise definition. The Bible does not have a definition like "the spirit is ..." In fact, everything we can infer about meanings as they are used in the Bible comes from the context and the way the Old and New Testament writers used them.

Paradoxically, it is not much easier with modern concepts. To my knowledge, science has not yet developed a single, coherent definition of consciousness. For the purposes of this lecture, I provide a non-scientific definition (although taking into account the features indicated in professional publications): consciousness is the ability to use concepts to create models of the world that we do not directly perceive with the senses: what is currently happening in the second hemisphere; what I could have done differently yesterday; what I will be doing tomorrow; what exists outside material reality. Consciousness reflects on the data in order to develop ways of acting in the world, reacting in various situations. Reflection, however, costs time and energy, which is why man also needs a more economical system that will save us unnecessary effort in repetitive situations: a specific type of stimulus 'fires' a specific response automatically without undue thought (i.e. without unnecessary investment of time and energy). This is how the subconscious works.

Human personality consists of these two systems. Consciousness is what we need above all in new situations for which we do not have a beaten track. Then we need analysis, inference, creation and testing (in consciousness - not in the real world) of hypotheses and theoretical models of reality. More often, however, we encounter repetitive situations that we have already processed many times. In contact with such circumstances, our subconscious simply runs a ready algorithm: action - reaction; a biological algorithm embedded in man since birth, or an algorithm developed in the course of acquiring experience based on the action of consciousness. In each case, we are dealing with a mechanism literally embedded in our body - in the structure of our cells. Therefore, the subconscious in the Bible is called the body (of course, in addition to the fact that the concept of the body also has its completely physical dimension). Speaking of spirit, the Bible is primarily about consciousness. The soul covers the whole of a person's personality - one's body (subconscious) and spirit (consciousness). In the rest of the lecture I will give relevant Bible contexts which I hope will satisfactorily confirm the above understanding.


The above understanding of the spirit relates strictly to the topic of the lecture, i.e. discussion of the title terms in relation to man. The concept of spirit is, however, much broader and also occurs in contexts not directly related to man. The earliest example of this is Gen. 1:2, where we read about the spirit hovering over the waters of the created earth. The concordance of Hebrew and Aramaic words that I use lists different meanings of ruach over 17 lines of text. While it is not uncommon for one word to be translated in another language in several different ways, usually these different variants or meanings have a common root. In the case of the word spirit, this common semantic element is the ability to animate and shape matter (Ps. 104:29,30). That is why in Gen. 1:2 the spirit rises above the waters - because the spirit is God's tool for creating the earth. In Gen. 6:17 and 7:15 ruach is the breath that gives life; in 90 cases in the Old Testament in the Gdansk Bible translation it was translated as wind.

In the case of the spirit understood as consciousness, this basic meaning also applies. Consciousness has the power to shape the subconscious. Scientifically, this phenomenon is called neuroplasticity, i.e. the brain has the ability to reorganize its network of neuron connections in response to the learning process - to the action of consciousness. In other words, our thoughts have the power to change the structure of our brain - our body. Just as the spirit of God has shaped the matter of the earth, the spirit of man shapes the matter of the body. In this context, the words of Jesus recorded in Lk. 17:6 take on a completely new meaning - "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you" (OGIB). Having the faith we have, we can influence the material world of our body. If we had sufficient faith, we might be able to change the world around us in a completely physical sense.

Because in relation to man, the spirit is associated with consciousness, the Bible uses this term to describe understanding, disposition or will. Below are examples for each meaning:

Spirit as understanding: "And thou shalt speak unto all [that are] wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments ... And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship" (Ex. 28:3, 31:3 OHIB); "And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD ... and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath (spirit - teaching) of his lips shall he slay the wicked" (Is. 11:2,4 OHIB); "They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine" (Is. 29:24 OHIB); "And the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and said unto me, Speak; Thus saith the LORD; Thus have ye said, O house of Israel: for I know the things that come into your mind [ruach], [every one of] them" (Ezek. 11:5 OHIB); "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:22-24 OGIB); "Beloved, believe not every spirit [doctrine], but try the spirits [doctrines] whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 Jn. 4:1 OGIB).

Spirit as disposition: "And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled" (Num. 5:14 OHIB); "Better [is] the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: [and] the patient in spirit [is] better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools" (Ecc. 7:8,9 OHIB); "I dwell in the high and holy [place], with him also [that is] of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Is. 57:15 OHIB); "So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit" (Ezek. 3:14 OHIB); "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7 OGIB); "Whose adorning let it not be that outward [adorning] of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But [let it be] the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, [even the ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Pet. 3:3,4 OGIB).

Spirit as will: "And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol" (Judg. 13:25 OHIB); "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit" (Ps. 51:12 OHIB); "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken" (Prov. 15:13 OHIB); "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all [is] vanity and vexation of spirit" (Ecc. 1:14 OHIB); "And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof" (Is. 19:3 OHIB); "With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early" (Is. 26:9 OHIB); "Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither [was their] spirit to go" (Ezek. 1:20 OHIB); "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God" (Ezek. 11:19,20 OHIB); "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God..." (Heb. 9:14 OGIB).


The concept of the body in its most basic sense refers to the material aspect of our existence. However, as I pointed out at the beginning of the lecture, the body also refers to the subconscious - algorithms pre-programmed in the human nervous system that are automatically launched in response to specific stimuli. It is these automatic reactions that are largely responsible for the way others see us, and therefore also determine our character. In this part of the lecture I would like to focus on the New Testament use of the concept of the body. There are two words in Greek that we translate as the body in English: soma and sarks. Both can refer to our material shell. However, as far as the character is concerned, sarks refers to the form of our subconscious mind not affected by God's spirit (spirit of knowledge, sacrifice and humility before God); soma is first and foremost character in the justification process, i.e. one that is reshaped by obedience to God and knowledge of the truth.

From the point of view of justification, getting rid of sarks while developing soma is the right direction. The tool necessary to achieve this effect is the spirit in the sense described under the previous heading: the spirit of understanding of the truth, the spirit of humble disposition before God, and the spirit of will to perform our sacrifice. From this point of view, the Bible speaks of the seal of the spirit (Eph. 1:13,14; ). Just as the seal embosses a specific sign in the plastic material, the spirit embosses a new pattern of behavior in our neuroplastic brain that will be in accordance with the principles of God's justice. In this sense, too, the apostle Paul writes in Eph. 4:20-24 about the old man (Greek anthropos) who is to be renewed with the 'spirit of thought' and transformed in this way into a 'new man' - a new character shaped according to the action of the spirit. The same thought lies, among others, in Rom. 6:6, where we read about 'crucifixion of the old man', and in Eph. 3:16-19, where Paul, in turn, talks about the [new] "inner man" and how we strengthen him in Christ (2 Cor. 12:2).

The biblical term which clearly refers to the meaning of the body is the concept of the Body of Christ. There are basically two ways of thinking about our participation in the Body of Christ. The first is the description of the Body as consisting of many members, as is the case of 1 Cor. 12:12-27. The other is found in Col. 1:27, which states that Christ is in believers - not we in Christ, but Christ in us. From the point of view of the current topic, it will be appropriate to underline the information given in the letter to the Colossians because in this verse the apostle Paul describes precisely this element, which in his other letters he called sealing. Believers in Christ, of course, are not to be sealed with whichever spirit, but with the spirit of Christ - they must develop in their spirit (consciousness) understanding of the Gospel in order to be able to shape their body (subconscious mind) according to the image of Jesus Christ. If this happens - we develop in every element of personality along the lines of the Lord - then we can say that we share in his fullness (Phil. 1:9-11).

Paul emphasizes in Eph. 3:19 that Christ's love surpasses knowledge precisely because the model of obedience to God that Jesus showed is not only about knowledge but also about shaping deep layers of personality accordingly. We also show this when we eat the Body of Christ during the Lord's Supper. We accept unleavened bread in remembrance of the fact that our Lord's character was flawless and we who believe in him shape our character (body) in the image of his body (). In the same sense, Paul writes to the Romans that believers in Christ were freed from the Law of Moses through the Body of Christ (Rom. 7:4). Because the Law led what the Bible calls the "old man," his death by repentance frees believers from the letter, "that we may serve God in a new spirit" (Rom. 7:6). The new man is not shaped by the letter of the Law, but by Christ's spirit of truth and obedience, which, like a seal, is embossed in our body - our character.

The following are additional Bible contexts illustrating how the body is used in the Bible to describe character outside justification and in the process of justification (subjected to spiritual sealing):

Body as character outside justification: "[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded [is] death; but to be spiritually minded [is] life and peace. Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:1-9 OGIB).

Body as character in justification: "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great [is] that darkness!" (Mt. 6:22,23 OGIB); "And if Christ [be] in you, the body [is] dead because of sin; but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you" (Rom. 8:10,11 OGIB); "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?" (1 Cor. 6:15 OGIB); "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus'sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:10,11 OGIB).


In the light of what has been said so far in the lecture, the easiest way to define the soul is by using the quasi-mathematical formula: soul = spirit + body. Because the body has two different meanings, the soul also appears in the Bible in a dual sense. First, if the body is literally understood as our material shell, then the concept of the soul will refer to the whole of the person, and even in a broader sense to the whole of the being (also animal). Below are some examples from the Old and New Testaments:

Soul as creature: "And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature [nephesh - soul] after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so" (Gen. 1:24 OHIB); "And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7 OHIB); "And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls" (Ex. 1:5 OHIB); "When the LORD thy God shall enlarge thy border, as he hath promised thee, and thou shalt say, I will eat flesh, because thy soul longeth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after" (Deut. 12:20 OHIB); "And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls" (Acts 27:37 OGIB); "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water" (1 Pet. 3:20 OGIB); "And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead [man]: and every living soul died in the sea" (Rev. 16:3 OGIB).

The other meaning of the body, referred to under the previous heading, concerns the character programmed in our body - in our nervous system - in the form of ready-made algorithms of behavior. In this sense, the concept of the soul refers to the totality of human personality - to our psyche - both in the element of consciousness and the subconscious. Therefore, in the Christian tradition, the soul is an intangible entity - because personality is immaterial; it can be experienced or manifested, but it cannot be touched. Below are some examples:

Soul as personality: "And she [was] in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore" (1 Sam. 1:10 OHIB); "My soul is also sore vexed" (Ps. 6:3 OHIB); "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, [having] sorrow in my heart daily?" (Ps. 13:2 OHIB); "And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation" (Ps. 35:9 OHIB); "O God, thou [art] my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee" (Ps. 63:1 OHIB); "When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee" (Prov. 2:10,11 OHIB); "The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes" (Prov. 21:10 OHIB); "Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Mt. 26:38 OGIB); "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord" (Lk. 1:46 OGIB); "And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles" (Acts 2:43 OGIB); "Confirming the souls of the disciples, [and] exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22 OGIB).

The meaning of the soul derived from the above, but relatively often appearing in the Bible, is the soul as life, life force. Below are some examples:

Soul as life (life force): "But flesh with the life [nephesh - soul] thereof, [which is] the blood thereof, shall ye not eat" (Gen. 9:4 OHIB); "And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life [nephesh - soul] is preserved" (Gen. 32:30 OHIB); "For we must needs die, and [are] as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect [any] person [nephesh - soul]" (2 Sam. 14:14 OHIB); "Hereby perceive we the love [of God], because he laid down his life [psyche - soul] for us: and we ought to lay down [our] lives [psyche - soul] for the brethren" (1 Jn. 3:16 OGIB); "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives [psyche - soul] unto the death" (Rev. 12:11 OGIB).


In the summary of the lecture, I would like to return to the words of the apostle Paul which I recalled in the introduction, written in 1 Thess. 5:23 - "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and [I pray God] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (OGIB). All the elements listed there - spirit, soul and body - are to be impeccable for the Lord's coming because the whole personality of believers is to be impeccable - our understanding of the Word of God, will to obey God, humble disposition, character developed in the image of Jesus Christ. The whole spiritual structure of man is to be shaped in the image of the Lord Jesus; we are to be filled with his fullness (Eph. 3:19) in every corner of our soul because it is a condition for receiving our reward on Lord's Day. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:48 OGIB).

Keywords: spirit, soul, body
Bible translations used in the lecture:
OHIB - Online Hebrew Interlinear Bible
OGIB - Online Greek Interlinear Bible