I have always heard and read about man having a soul and man having a spirit? What is the difference between the two?
The soul and the spirit are the two primary immaterial parts 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 2:11; Hebrews 4:12; James 2:26), while unbelievers are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1–5; Colossians 2:13). In Paul’s writing, the spiritual is pivotal to the life of the believer (1 Corinthians 2:14; 3:1; Ephesians 1:3; 5:19; Colossians 1:9; 3:16). The spirit is the element in humanity that 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 havinga 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 in relation to humanity’s eagerness to sin (Luke 12:26). Human beings have a sinful nature, and our souls are tainted with sin. The soul, as the life essence of the body, 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). The word soul can refer to the whole person, whether alive on earth 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 immaterial part of humanity that connects with God.
Here is another great answer by Lehman Strauss:
The Christian doctrine of immortality cannot be understood apart from the right conception of the tripartite nature of men. Many think that man is a physical being only. There is a great danger of any man thinking thus of himself. In his desire to satisfy the needs of the body there is the tendency on man’s part to lose sight of the fact that he is immortal. There have been persons who have lived all of their lives either in ignorance or willful neglect of a life after death, but upon their death-bed they suddenly realized that they were more than physical beings.
There is an idea also that prevails largely today that man consists of only two component parts: namely, body and spirit. In the thinking of the writer this view appears to be one that might create confusion in the minds of any Christians. While soul and spirit are so closely related that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish accurately between them, there seems to be only one logical conclusion: namely, that “soul” and “spirit” are not the same. The Bible does make a distinction.
Man is a triune being because he is created in the image of God. “God said, Let us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:26). We know that God is a Trinity. The Holy Trinity is clearly set forth in the Apostle Paul’s benediction that closed his Second Corinthian Epistle: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Our Lord Himself said, in what we call “The Great Commission”: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). Created in the image of God, man is likewise a trinity. He has a spiritual nature that is separate and distinct from the body in which it dwells.
The two following passages from the Bible clearly establish the fact that man is a triune being composed of spirit, soul, and body:
I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow (body), and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
In spite of the erroneous teaching of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and of other false sects that “no man has a soul,” the Bible states emphatically that man was created a trinity of spirit, soul, and body even as the eternal God is Himself a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The trinity of man is an essential part of the image relationship between him and God. Life is not ultimately physical and the body is not the whole man. And we might add that neither the body in itself, nor the soul in itself, nor the spirit in itself makes up the whole man, but he is “spirit and soul and body.” This must be seriously considered and definitely agreed to before we can comprehend with any accuracy the subject of life after death. In this opening chapter we shall confine our material to the spirit and the soul inasmuch as the body will be considered in succeeding chapters on the resurrection.
The word “spirit” when used in the Scriptures has several meanings. Whenever the word “Spirit” appears used with a capital letter, it has but one meaning. It is the name of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God. The word “spirit” spelled with a small letter may have one of several different meanings. It can have direct reference to the spirit of man which is as much a part of the tripartite nature of man as the Spirit of the living God is a Person of the Holy Trinity. Or it can indicate an evil spirit such as any agent of the Devil. We will confine ourselves here to the Biblical usage of the word only as it relates to the spirit of man, one of the three constituent parts of his being.
The threefold nature of man might be illustrated in several ways. Dr. Clarence Larkin uses three circles (Rightly Dividing The Word, page 86). The outer circle stands for the body of man, the middle circle for the soul, and the inner for the spirit. At this point it will be well to quote a portion from Dr. Larkin’s book:
In the outer circle the ‘Body’ is shown as touching the Material world through the five senses of ‘Sight,’ ‘Smell,’ ‘Hearing,’ ‘Taste’ and ‘Touch.’
The Gates to the ‘Soul’ are ‘Imagination,’ ‘Conscience,’ ‘Memory,’ ‘Reason’ and the ‘Affections.’
The “Spirit” receives impressions of outward and material things through the soul. The spiritual faculties of the ‘Spirit’ are ‘Faith,’ ‘Hope,’ ‘Reverence,’ ‘Prayer’ and ‘Worship.’
In his unfallen state the ‘Spirit’ of man was illuminated from Heaven, but when the human race fell in Adam, sin closed the window of the Spirit, pulled down the curtain, and the chamber of the spirit became a death chamber and remains so in every unregenerate heart, until the Life and Light giving power of the Holy Spirit floods that chamber with the Life and Light giving power of the new life in Christ Jesus.
It develops then that the spirit of man, being the sphere of God-consciousness, is the inner or private office of man where the work of regeneration takes place. Dr. James R. Graham says that the main theatre of the Holy Spirit’s activity in man, and the part of man’s nature with which He has peculiar affinity, is the spirit of man. The Apostle Paul gives us the Word of God on this, a passage that is sadly neglected. Quoting from the sixty-fourth chapter of the book of the Prophet Isaiah, Paul wrote:
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.
A great many people stop here, content to remain in ignorance. However, Paul continues:
But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-11).
Man in his unregenerate state comes to know the things of man by the operator of “the spirit of man” which is in him. If I have a will to know certain scientific facts, by my human spirit I am enabled to investigate, think, and weigh evidence. If I set myself to the task, I may become a scientist of world-renown and of great accomplishments. However, my human spirit is “limited to the things of man.” If I want to know about the things of God, my dead and dormant spirit is not able to know them.
The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The human spirit requires “the spark of regeneration” before there is an understanding of the things of God. Man’s spiritual nature must be renewed before there is a true conception of Godliness. Only one thing stands as a guard at the door of man’s spirit, and that is his own will. When the will is surrendered, the Holy Spirit takes up His abode in the spirit of man. And when that transaction takes place we will know it, for, says Paul:
The Spirit Himself (meaning the Holy Spirit) beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God (Romans 8:16 R.V.).
Many people confess that they get nothing out of the Bible even though they attend church and read their Bibles regularly. Perhaps they do not know that they are not regenerated and that they need to yield their will to the Spirit of God so that He can renew their human spirits. The deep things of God never will be understood by the world outside of Jesus Christ. Our Lord warned His disciples,
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).
The spirit of the unregenerate man has no more capacity to appreciate the things of God than a dog has to appreciate holy things, or a hog a genuine pearl necklace. We read that “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22). This they did because the dog was a dog and the sow was a sow. No amount of religion or church activity can change the spirit of the unregenerate man. “Remember,” says Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, “if out of false charity or pity you allow men of material ideals and worldly wisdom to touch holy things, to handle the pearls of the Kingdom, presently they will turn and rend you. This is the whole history of Christendom’s ruin, in the measure in which Christendom is ruined. We gave holy things to dogs. We cast the pearls of the Kingdom before swine.” The ministry of Christ’s Church dare not be entrusted to any man who has not been born again, for “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
The Bible says; “There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). Here we are told that it is the spirit of man that is given understanding. The materialist tells us that the spirit of man is the air that he breathes, and that man’s body is all there is to his personality. Such is not the case. The spirit of man is his personality and it is that which differentiates him from the lower animal creation. If “spirit” meant merely “breath,” God certainly would not deal with it as a personality. He is called “The God of the spirits of all flesh” (Numbers 16:22), and “the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9). It is by his spirit that the Christian both serves and worships God. Paul testified: “For God is my witness, Whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel” (Romans 1:9). Jesus said: “God is a spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Man not only has a living soul but he is a living soul. The Bible says: “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” (Genesis 2:7). We must be careful not to confound that which is truly spiritual and that which is merely soulish or psychical. We have seen that the spirit of man is the sphere of activity where the Holy Spirit operates in regeneration. Just so is the soul the sphere of activity where Satan operates making his appeal to the affections and emotions of man.
Satan knows full well that he dominates the psychical or the soulish man. Therefore he does not care if a man goes to a church where the Spirit of God is not in evidence. He knows that his victim is a creature of emotions, and it matters not if the emotions are stirred to sentimentalism or even to tears, just so long as man’s spirit does not come in contact with God’s Holy Spirit. Personally, I believe that Satan would rather have man go to a modernistic church where there is false worship than he would have him go to a house of prostitution. The soul is the seat of the passions, the feelings, and the desires of man; and Satan is satisfied if he can master these. F. W. Grant has said that the soul is the seat of the affections, right or wrong, of love, hate, lusts, and even the appetites of the body.
Hamor said to Jacob, “The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter” (Genesis 34:8). Of David and Jonathan it is written: “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). These passages show the soul to be the seat of the affections. But as the soul loves, so it also hates. We read of those “that are hated of David’s soul” (2 Samuel 5:8).
It is in the soul where fleshly lusts, desires, and appetites arise:
Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul (Peter 2:11).
As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country (Proverbs 25:25).
It shall be even as when a hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty; or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite (Isaiah 29:8).
The soul of man, that is, his affections and desires, are never directed Godward until after the spirit has become regenerated. Man can never love God nor the things of God until he is born from above. He may have a troubled conscience or be so stirred emotionally that he may weep bitterly, and still remain dead in trespasses and in sins. We do not feel that we are guilty of judging men when we state that some who have answered an altar call and shed tears never were born again. Man’s desires and affections are turned toward God when he realizes his sinful condition and God’s grace in salvation. When the Spirit of God illuminates the spirit of a man with divine light and life, that man begins to yield his affections and faculties to God.
The Virgin Mary said; “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46, 47). She could not extol the Lord in her soul until she had recognized God in her spirit as her Saviour. The initial triumph is in the spirit when Jesus Christ is acknowledged as personal Saviour.
In that immortal classic of the Psalms, David says: “He restoreth my soul” (Psalm 23:3). The Hebrew word translated “restoreth” is said to mean quite literally “turneth back.” At no time had David lost his salvation, but there were times when his affections and desires were turned from the Lord, as in the case of his sin with Bathsheba. Having become one of the Divine Shepherd’s flock, he testified: “The Lord turneth back my soul.” The Christian who is enjoying unbroken communion with his Lord will then be able to say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1).
Lehman Strauss taught Old Testament history for eight years at Philadelphia Bible Institute, and served as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, Bristol, Pennsylvania, from 1939 to 1957.He was pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church (Highland Park, Michigan) until the end of 1963 when he resigned to devote full time to an itinerant Bible conference and evangelistic ministry both in the States and abroad. Dr. Strauss was residing in Florida and writing his 19th book at age 86 when the Lord called him home in June 1997.