Soul and Spirit

List of Studies

1. Introduction

Mainstream Christianity teaches that mankind have an immortal soul that never dies - they survive death to live on another plane of existence.

Others however, teach that mankind is not immortal - death is a sleep (see study: ‘Death and the state of the dead’,6) until the resurrection of all mankind (see study: ‘Resurrection’).  It is important, therefore, to understand what scripture teaches about ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’.

2. The Soul

2.1 Old Testament 

Nephesh  (Strong’s H5315, a breathing creature, vitality)                                    

Ge 2:7  And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became [Strong's H1961, 'haya', to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass] a living soul

NB. Man (Adam) became a living soul only after his body had been brought into existence and he had received life (breath) from God. Thus a soul is not something a person has, it is something a person IS.  Furthermore, as all mankind are Adam’s progeny, no human soul exists before the body comes into existence.  

Ge 1:20  And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. 

2Sa 14:14  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: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him. 

The mind of God: 1Sa 2:35  And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind .... 

The mind of a man: 1Ch 28:9  And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind ….

Pr 23:7  For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. 

Ge 2:19  And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 

Note. Every creature that Adam named was the same as himself - see section 3.1.

Every translation of ‘nephesh’ refers to aspects of a person, not to some amorphous spirit. Even when it is translated ‘mind’ or ‘heart’, it means ‘intention’ or ‘purpose’, either of God or of a man. 

2.2 New Testament   

Psuche (Strong’s G5590, breath)

1Co 15:45  And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul ….

Mk 8:36  For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul

Mt 6:25  Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 

Php 1:27  Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;   

1Co 15:45 above confirms that ‘soul’ in the New Testament conveys the same fundamental meaning as ‘soul’ in the Old Testament (section 2.1).  None of the translations of ‘psuche’ convey anything other than the life ‘breathed’ into Adam at his creation, and its aspects.

2.3 Is the soul immortal?

Eze 18:4,20  Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul [Strong’s H5315, nephesh] that sinneth, it shall die. 

20  The soul [Strong’s H5315, nephesh] that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. 

Note.  That the soul dies is repeated, indicating the importance of the teaching.

Furthermore, all have sinned (Ec 7:20; Ro 3:23); thus all souls die.

Mt 10:28  And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 

The soul can die. The soul can be destroyed. Therefore, the soul cannot be immortal.

Note.  The concept of immortality is pursued in Section 4.

3. The Spirit

3.1 Old Testament 

Ruach (Strong’s H7307, wind, breath)

Ge 7:15  And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.

1Ki 19:11  And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 

Holy ‘Spirit’ of God:

Ge 1:2  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 

Ps 51:11  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  

‘Spirit’ of man:

Pro 18:14  The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear? 

Conclusion: with the exception of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead (see study: ‘The Triune God’,6), ‘spirit’ is used in the sense of ‘persona’, ‘character’.  Adam was created with an adult body and a character fully formed, both of which he surrendered at death.

Ec 12:7  Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. 

Because this verse does not distinguish between the redeemed dead and the lost dead, it is contrary to the common belief that the spirit is an immortal soul which, at death, goes either to Heaven or to Hell - every spirit returns to God.  

Ec 3:19  For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 

Ec 3:19 confirms that the ‘spirit’ is the life that God gave all creatures (mankind and beast) - it is not, as is commonly believed, an immortal soul that returns to God at death.

The ‘spirit’ is the breath (life) that all creatures receive from God, and which they surrender at death.  Likewise, ‘spirit’ in the sense of mankind's ‘persona’ acquired with the breath of life, ceases to exist at death. 

3.2 New Testament   

Pneuma (Strong’s G4151, breath, breeze)

Holy ‘Spirit’ of God: 

Mt 3:16  And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

Lk 11:13  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? 

‘Spirit’ of man: 

Lk 1:80  And the child  [John the Baptist] grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel. 

Ro 12:11  Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; 

In these examples, ‘pneuma’ is inflected (modified) to form the phrase ‘in spirit’.

Lk 4:1  And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 

As in the Old Testament, when ‘spirit’ is used of a man, it refers to strength of character.

3.3 Spirit (Pneuma), soul (Psuche), and body

1Th 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. 

Conclusion: the breath, the character, and the body, together constitute a complete person.   The Lord granted perfect bodies and perfect characters to those He created to have dominion over this world.  Through sin, mankind has temporarily lost dominion over the Earth, but in Christ, will regain it. 

4. Immortality

Nowhere does the Bible say that man(kind) has an immortal soul.

Immortality must be sought:

Ro 2:7  To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: 

Immortality must be ‘put on’ (Strong’s G1746, clothe with):

1Co 15:53  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 

Immortality, therefore, is not something mankind possesses naturally.

4.1 Only God is immortal

1Ti 6:15,16  Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 

16  Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

4.2 There are two types of immortality

1. Natural immortality, where there is no beginning and no end, and which belongs only to God.

2. Bestowed immortality, where there is a beginning, but no end, which is God’s gift to all unfallen created beings, and which will be bestowed anew upon the redeemed from amongst mankind.

Immortality is natural only to God.  He is both the Originator and the Sustainer of life, even for those who die the temporal death because of sin - He sustains them while they live.  

Eventually, in Christ, the redeemed from mankind will rejoin God’s sinless universe, and be bestowed anew with immortality.

5. Absent from the body, present with the Lord

The following passage is used by many to teach the immortality of the soul:

 2Co 5:6-8  Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home [Strong’s G1736, to be among one’s own people, in one’s own land] in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 

7  (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 

8  We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 

They believe that Paul is saying he is willing to die so that his soul would be immediately with the Lord (in Heaven), thus proving that when we die the soul continues to live. 

This interpretation is one of the most widely held beliefs in Christianity, despite the fact that scripture states clearly that the soul dies (as shown in section 2.3).  We need, therefore, to understand what Paul is teaching here - we must examine his discourse in the chapter.

Early in the chapter, Paul teaches that while we are in the earthly body we groan (because of the burden of sin).  Our mortal bodies perish but we long for a heavenly body that will not perish, of which the Holy Spirit gives us assurance.  

Thus, when we come to the passage in question (above), Paul is teaching that whilst we are comfortable in the body (i.e. at home in this world), we cannot be right with God (if we are not with Christ we are against Him, Mt 12:30; Lk 11:23).  

Consequently, Paul says he would prefer to be absent from the body (i.e. forsaking the world) so that he would be right with God, walking by faith (present with the Lord) rather than by sight (confined to the mortal body by believing only what he can see).  

Paul is confirming he is willing to renounce the world, preferring to look to the Heaven to come.

To understand this passage further, we must also take into account what the Bible teaches about the dead.

In study: “Death and the state of the dead”,5, we see that the dead know nothing, feel nothing, and do not praise God.

Again we see in study: “Death and the state of the dead”, 4.2, that death is a sleep (i.e. a state of unconsciousness) - in particular we see that King David is still in the tomb (asleep), he is not ascended to Heaven.  If anyone would go straight to Heaven upon death it would surely be David, a man after God’s own heart (1Sa 13:14; Ac 13:22).

Thus Scripture flatly contradicts the position that upon death the dead enter another state of life.

To complete our understanding of this passage, we must understand when the redeemed will be actually present with the Lord.

Paul, in his teaching on the Second Advent of Christ (see study: ‘The Second Advent of Christ’,5) teaches plainly that the redeemed will not be actually present with the Lord until Christ comes.  

At that momentous event the living redeemed will be translated, and the redeemed who are asleep in the grave will be resurrected - together they will be with the Lord for ever (from that time, not before).

6. Summary

At creation, man(kind) was endowed with the ‘breath’ of life and became a living soul, having a fully formed ‘character’ (a spirit).  At death, man(kind) loses both the breath of life and the character, ceasing to be a living soul - the body returns to the dust from which it was created.

The Hebrew and Greek words that are translated ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ are used in a variety of contexts, but never to denote that mankind is immortal. 

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is a tradition imported from paganism.

None of the redeemed who are in the grave are with the Lord now - they are sleeping until the resurrection at Christ’s Second Advent.

List of Studies