Soul vs. spirit – is there a difference between the soul and the spirit? According to God’s Word, they are different things.
The body is composed of three different, but distinct parts as described in 1 Thessalonians 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.” (KJV)
The body is our physical dwelling that houses both our soul and our spirit. Our body interacts mainly with the physical world, through our five senses: smell, taste, touch, hearing and vision.
The intimate relationship of the three parts of a human is succinctly summed up by Job:
“Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. -Job 7:11 (KJV).
While we are very familiar with our physical bodies, the definition of our soul and our spirit are more mysterious. The soul and the spirit compose the immaterial part of a human being and perform different functions in the human experience.
The Soul of Man
The human soul is the very essence of a person, the soul is the “real you” which includes appetites, desires, and emotions.
Many times in the Bible, the word “soul” may refer to an individual. The first mention of the soul is at the creation of man in Genesis 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 a living soul.” (KJV).
The New Testament also gives us a definition of the word “soul,” in Matthew 16:26.
“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (KJV).
Luke, in his Gospel, writes this verse differently, saying,
“For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” Luke 9:25 (KJV).
By comparing these two verses, the writers explain man’s soul is his real self.
At death, the soul departs the body, such as in Genesis 35:18 —
“Her [Rachel’s] soul was in departing, (for she died).” (KJV).
l was in departing, (for she died).” (KJV).
The word “departing” indicates there is a specific destination for the soul to go once it leaves the physical body.
Jesus Christ said that He came to give eternal life. Since many, many people have physically died since Jesus was on the Earth this leaves us with the conclusion that the life He came to give was referring primarily to the soul and that of spiritual life.
At death, the soul departs, so there must be a destination for the soul to go. Jesus gives us the answer in mentioning two specific places in Luke chapter 16, and of two dead, but very much alive souls — those of Lazarus and the rich man.
More detail is given of the rich man’s soul than that of Lazarus. The rich man found himself — his soul — the real “him” — in the torments of hell.
In this account, the rich man’s soul, and by extrapolation, every soul, can see, speak, suffer pain, remember, reason, and desire physical comfort. In contrast, the soul of Lazarus was in “Abraham’s bosom,” another name for Paradise, the very epitome of comfort and joy.
Just as you are a real physical entity, so is your soul. My personal thought is that this body, and even this present, physical world is but a shadow of a truer reality that cannot be experienced except in the spiritual realm after the soul has shed its bodily covering in death.
It is my desire that, unlike the rich man in Luke 16, every person reading this article will eventually find themselves enjoying all of the joys and pleasures hinted at in the promise of Psalm 16:11:
“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (KJV).
The Spirit of Man
A person’s spirit is our God consciousness. It is our God consciousness because it is the spirit of life from God. The human spirit, which is also called the “life energy”, “life force”, just “life”; in the East, many refer to it as “prana”.
The first mention of a man’s spirit referring to the life energy, or life force from God, is found in Genesis 41:8:
“And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled” (KJV).
Pharaoh’s spirit, his life, was troubled.
Pharaoh’s spirit, his life, was troubled. Other Bible examples using the word “spirit” when referring to physical life, show how, during times of intense difficult times, affect the spirit of life.
Genesis 45:27 – “The spirit of Jacob their father revived” (KJV) – Jacob had been depressed for years mourning the supposed death of his beloved son. During these years of grief, his life energy was sapped.
Judges 15:19 – “When he [Samson] had drunk, his spirit came again” (KJV). Samson was physically weak; his energy, his life, was dimmed. Had he not had liquid nourishment he would have died. His life force would have been extinguished.
1 Samuel 1:15 – “And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit.” (KJV). Hannah, grieving her infertility, was depressed, her life, and her energy was dimmed, even though she was alive and functioning.
The Spirit of Life Is Connected with The Holy Spirit
Pharaoh recognized Joseph as, “A man in whom the Spirit of God is” – Genesis 41:38 (KJV).
While Joseph had both the spirit of life, in these verses, with the word spirit capitalized, it is showing that Joseph also had God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit upon him at this time when he spoke with Pharaoh.
This is similar to Daniel, of whom it was said, “An excellent spirit was in him.” – Daniel 6:3 (KJV).
Not only did Daniel have an excellent healthy mental and physical life energy, but his spirit of life was enhanced by God’s Spirit as well.
When Elisha requested of his friend and mentor Elijah he be given “a double portion of Elijah’s spirit” in 2 Kings 2:9 (KJV).
Elisha, whether he knew it or not, was requesting a double portion of God’s Spirit Who was working in his friend. God graciously granted his request immediately and openly according to 2 Kings 2:15,
“And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha.” (KJV).
The Spirit of Life in the New Testament – The Holy Spirit
In the New Testament, the spirit of life and the Holy Spirit are further explained. In Romans 8:16
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (KJV).
This verse explains the two spirits. The spirit of life, our life energy, our life from God, our God consciousness, is, upon the moment of salvation, when we become a new creature in Christ, “connected” with both our soul and the Holy Spirit.
Our spirit which we have from God joyfully accepts the Holy Spirit, since in a sense, they are from the same source – God Himself.
Twice in the Bible is the exact phrase “spirit of life. The first time Paul mentions this in Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (KJV).
The apostle John in recorded his heavenly and prophetic vision mentioned the Spirit of life when he saw the two dead witnesses come back to life in Revelation 11:11:
“And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet” (KJV).
Since the word “Spirit” is capitalized in this verse, this is referring to the Holy Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit gives both physical life, as well as spiritual and eternal life.
What Happens to the Spirit At Death?
But just because all living things have the spirit of God, does not mean that at death all are welcomed into heaven. God also gave man a free will to either accept His salvation or not.
The Holy Spirit is sealed within the soul of every believer. When a Christian dies, their soul is absent from their dead body, but their soul is alive with God according to 2 Corinthians 5:8:
“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (KJV).
At the death of a believer, their body is dead and their soul is with God. The spirit of life, the Holy Spirit, Who at the moment of salvation was sealed to their soul, returned with their soul to God.
This “sealing” is referred to in Ephesians 1:13 “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (KJV).
The Holy Spirit binds together the soul and the spirit of life while He lives in the heart of believers. Then when the spirit of life returns to God, the soul also, with the Holy Spirit goes as well.
There was no sealing of the Holy Spirit before the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ since no one could enter heaven before He offered His blood there. Therefore in Old Testament times, the soul of believers went to Paradise, while the spirit of life returned back to God.
The death of an unbeliever is slightly different. When their body dies, the spirit of life which God gave them, their life energy, or life force, returns back to God Who lent it to them.
Their soul, which was not sealed to their spirit, with God’s Holy Spirit, departs to hell.
Unclean Spirits or Familiar Spirits
The Bible also refers to unclean spirits, or “devils” in the New Testament. The most commonly recorded miracle of Jesus Christ while He was on earth was the casting out of these unclean supernatural beings.
The word “spirits” in this context is a reference to spiritual beings, fallen angels, who many times seek to inhabit human bodies. These evil entities are commonly referred to as “demons” or “demonic spirits.”
In the Old Testament there are references to familiar spirits which is another way to describe evil spiritual entities.
A rare glimpse into the spirit realm is recorded in 2 Chronicles 18:21:
“And he [an unclean spirit] said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets” (KJV).
The next verse, 2 Chronicles 18:22, shows that God also is in control of these fallen entities and actually utilizes them to accomplish His purposes.
“Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets.” (KJV).
The soul and the spirit are different parts of a whole person, hard to mentally separate and explain. Perhaps in eternity, we may understand this far better, and then may even see the difference between them is as great as the difference between the physical body and its spiritual aspect.
A related article is Did Jesus Go to Hell? While Jesus’ body was in the grave, where did His soul go? What did He do?