It is written:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
While the words “soul” and “spirit” may sometimes be used interchangeably in Scripture, they are not completely synonymous.
Paul (in 1 Thessalonians 5:23) shows that there is a distinction between between the body, soul, and spirit. In the Book of Hebrews, he writes:
Hebrews 4:12-For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Paul’s point in this passage is to demonstrate that the Word of God is able to pierce to the smallest divisions imaginable, and therefore demonstrates that the soul and the spirit are closely united together in meaning.
We begin to get a more definite understand of the difference between “soul” and “spirit” from looking at what Paul wrote elsewhere. While discussing the difference between the human body we now possess and the resurrection body that Christ has promised when He returns, the Apostle writes:
1 Corinthians 15:44-It is sown a natural (psuchikos) body, it is raised a spiritual (pneumatikos) body. There is a natural (psuchikos) body, and there is a spiritual (pneumatikos) body.
Notice that the natural “body” we now have is referred to as “psuchikos” (the root being psuche (soul). This is contrasted with “pneumatikos” or “spirit.” Paul is not teaching that our resurrected bodies will be some kind of ghost or phantom; rather, the meaning lies in understanding the nuances of spirit versus soul. In Paul’s writings, the word “soul”often had reference to that part of man which is opposed to God and is focused on the world. Notice what Paul writes earlier:
1 Corinthians 2:14-15-But the natural (psuchikos) man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual (pneumakitos) judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.
1 Corinthians 3:1-And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual (pneumatikos) people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.
Look at how the “spiritual” is used here. The idea is that Paul wanted to write to these Christians about matters that pertained to God, but he couldn’t because they were in the “carnal”mindset.
Speaking of the differences between pneumatikos (spiritual) and psychikos (soulish),
“The contrast is not between physical and nonphysical. The Greek word pneumatikos does not mean “composed of nonmaterial spirit.” Paul uses the adjective in this epistle to denote that which reflects or instances the presence, power, and transforming activity of the Holy Spirit. The raised body is characterized by the uninterrupted, transforming power of the Holy Spirit of God. It stands in contrast with the ordinary human body that has been open to the influence of the Holy Spirit, but in partial ways, still marred by human failure, fallibility, and self-interest. interest. The perfect openness to the Holy Spirit characteristic of the resurrection mode of being therefore brings together decay’s reversal, splendor or “glory,” power, and a mode of being constituted by the Spirit (vv. 42b-44a). Thus, similarly in v. 44b, such a “body” or mode of being is one designed for the realm or sphere of the presence and resurrection action of the Holy Spirit, not merely for the realm of nonmaterial “spirit.” Throughout this section and chapter body (Greek soma) includes the physical body when the body in question exists within the universe of space and time as it is now. But Paul has already extended the meaning of flesh in v. 39 to include the body substance of fish and birds, and extended the meaning of body in v. 40 to include planets and stars. In the resurrection mode of being the body will be a transphysical counterpart to what we term “body” on earth, namely, a means of personalexpression, identity, appreciation, communication, and interaction action with God, with others, and with the environment of the resurrection world. While Paul speaks of the resurrection body of Jesus Christ as the firstfruits or anticipatory model of the resurrection of the dead, it should not be forgotten that in the Gospels Jesus appeared to his disciples within the conditions of the space-time universe. These passages do not therefore indicate the full character of the resurrection mode of being within a set of conditions outside the present world order. The resurrection body is capable of assuming various forms in accordance with its immediate environment; in this respect it is more than “physical,” but not less.” (Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary, 3951-3964 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
Scholar N.T. Wright likewise writes:
“This leads Paul to the fundamental contrast between two different types of people, a contrast which points all the way ahead to the central contrast between the two different types of ‘body’ in chapter 15: the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘soulish’, the pneumatikos and the psychikos. (I translate psychikos as ‘soulish’ because it is derived from psyche, ‘soul’, and though both the noun and the adjective became technical terms of hellenistic anthropology they retained a close link.)…The ‘soulish’ person, it seems, is one whose life is determined by the ‘present age’, animated merely by the ordinary ‘soul’ (psyche) that everyone has….The ‘spiritual’ person is the one in whose heart and mind the living god has worked by the Spirit so that he or she understands the strange new truths of the strange new age, and can see into the mystery, the wisdom, which Paul longs to impart….Rather, by psyche here Paul basically means what the Hebrew nephesh regularly meant: the whole human being seen from the point of view of one’s inner life, that mixture of feeling, understanding, imagination, thought and emotion which are in fact bound up with the life of the body and mind but which are neither in themselves obviously physical effects nor necessarily the result, or the cause, of mental processes. Just as, for Paul, soma is the whole person seen in terms of public, space-time presence, and sarx is the whole person seen in terms of corruptibility and perhaps rebellion, so psyche is the whole person seen in terms of, and from the perspective of, what we loosely call the ‘inner’ life. And Paul’s point is that this person, this psychikos, ‘soulish’, person, still belongs in the present age, deaf to the music of the age to come. Here (2: 11) and elsewhere Paul can use the word pneuma to refer to the human ‘spirit’, by which he seems to mean almost what he sometimes means by kardia, ‘heart’, the very centre of the personality and the point where one stands on the threshhold of encounter with the true god. But when he describes someone as ‘spiritual’ (pneumatikos) he does not simply mean that they are more in touch with their own ‘spirit’ than the ‘soulish’ person is, but that the Spirit of the living god has opened their hearts and minds to receive, and be changed by, truth and power from the age to come.” (N.T. Wright, Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins And The Question Of God, 282-283 (Kindle Edition); Fortress Press Ebook); www.fortresspress.com)
So, in Paul’s writings (and as understood by the early Christians), the word “soul” sometimes denoted the carnal part of mankind. This did not necessarily mean the carnal part of unsaved mankind, since Paul said that some Christians who had been born again manifested this attitude and mindset (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; 3:1-3; cf. Romans 8:1-13). In contrast, the “spirit”often had reference to the mindset of mankind to seek the things of God.
The body of man will logically follow whichever mindset we therefore choose to indulge.
“Paul: You misunderstand what I meant by the term natural. The New Revised Standard Version and its predecessor the Revised Standard Version are the only translations to use the word physical. Virtually every other translation renders the word natural.[ 12] Those who translate the word as physical are mistaken, and it is easy to demonstrate this. The Greek word we are talking about is psychikos.[ 13] Would you like to know how many times in the Bible, including the intertestamental writings, this word means physical or material, as the New Revised Standard Version suggests? Zero! It is never used that way.[ 14] The Greek word we are talking about for spiritual is pneumatikos.[ 15] Would you like to know how many times this word means immaterial as the New Revised Standard Version suggests? Zero![ 16] To see what I meant by these words, you only need to look a few chapters earlier in my same first letter to the Corinthian church…I’m saying here that the natural man who is controlled by his fleshly and sinful desires does not accept the truths of God because they can only be understood by those who are controlled by desires that are centered on the true God—in other words, spiritual people. Thus, in chapter 15, verse 44, I’m saying that our bodies are buried with all of their fleshly and sinful appetites. But they are raised with only holy appetites that are focused on God. There is no reason whatsoever for translating what I wrote to mean that we are buried with physical bodies but will be raised with immaterial ones, leaving the old body in the ground.” (Michael R. Licona, Paul Meets Muhammad: A Christian-Muslim Debate On The resurrection, 1590-1602 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
The Bible teaches that there is a non-physical part of mankind which compromises the mind and emotions of an individual. This part of man clearly survives death.
In our next study, we will learn some of the ways that science has confirmed these facts of Scritpure.