Many have grown up to believe that we are made up of body, soul, and spirit. As we will learn there is another more historical view that has a different take on this issue.
What is the difference between the soul and spirit?
The soul is the immaterial part of mankind that contains emotions, thoughts, actions and desires. The will of a person is generally said to be the soul. The spirit is taught to be the part within a person that connects them with God. Scholars have said that the spirit is what activates when an individual is saved and becomes a born again Christian (Ephesians 2:1; 2:5, Colossians 2:130). Ruach is the Hebrew word for spirit, which means breath, wind or spirit. The word ruach is found over 350 times in the old testament. We see in Genesis 1:2 that “The spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The word spirit here is the word wə·rū·aḥ or ruach. In Genesis 6:17 we find that ruach is translated “breath of life.”
When we enter the new testament we see that the word for spirit in Greek is pneuma. Pneuma is generally translated to mean “spirit” unless the context shows otherwise. It is the context that determines which sense is meant. For example whenever we find the word “hagios” which is the Greek for “holy”, we translate this “hagios Pneuma” to “Holy Spirit.” Again, Pneuma is the general translation for “spirit” in the new testament.
Many scholars throughout church history have viewed the soul and spirit as the same immaterial part within a man. This camp of Christians believers is called Dichotomist or the Dichotomy position. They believe that the soul and spirit all throughout the old and new testament are interchangeable. For example, in Genesis 35:18, the bible tells us that Rachel’s soul departed “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.” David would say something similar in a time of praise and distress. In psalm 31 David is praising God for his goodness and he committed his spirit into the hands of God which is parallel to what Jesus would cry at the cross right before his death in the Gospel of Luke “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” Here is only one example of many verses of how the words are interchangeable in the old and new testament. For the Dichotomist the soul and spirit are the same things. One last note that Wayne Grudem makes in his systematic Theology book is that we don’t find any biblical proof that the soul and spirit do different things. The only reason we are left in a dilemma is when we read Hebrews 4:12, 1 Tessaloinasn 5:23 among other verses.
There are great scholars and theologians on both sides. The second group of Christian believers regarding this issue are called Trichotomist. The trichotomy position believes that man is made up of three parts. The body(physical), the soul (emotion, will, heart), and spirit (that which connects you to God). When you look at Hebrews 4:12 it seems to imply that there is a difference between the soul and spirit. The verse reads as follows “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Here we seem what appears to be a division or distinction between the soul and spirit. It is possible that there is a division. In addition, we read 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here again, we can see some sort of distinction but to be dogmatic without more biblical is difficult.
To answer the question what is the difference between the soul and spirit? It really will depend on which side of the spectrum you stand. These issues in Hermeneutics (Science of interpreting the bible) are called secondary issues. The error one can easily conclude is this is how you must see all of the scripture which can lead to heresy or relative truth. The fundamental things in Christianity never change. When you read the bible there are clear directions for life and commands we must follow. It has been said that in essentials unity and non essentials charity or love.
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