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Question and Answer

Are we body, soul and spirit?

Question:

Can you explain why the Bible refers to body, soul and spirit; yet a pastor will say we are only body and spirit?

Answer:

The way we understand the references in the Bible regarding "soul" and "spirit" is that they are synonymous terms. There are times when the author uses "soul" and times he uses "spirit," but the words are intended to communicate the same reality: that aspect of man's nature which is non-corporeal.

This is seen, for example, if you compare Genesis 2:7 and Ecclesiastes 12:7.

Genesis 2:7 (KJV), "then the LORD God formed the man of dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul."

Ecclesiastes 12:7, "and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."

In the former passage it says that God breathed into man "the breath of life" but then it goes on to say that the man become a living soul. The latter passage calls this soul in man a "spirit" which will return to God when he dies. The word spirit is often used to describe this aspect of man's being (such as in Ps. 32:2). Another place where soul and spirit are used synonymously is 1 Samuel 1:15, "But Hannah answered, 'No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.'"

Also Job 7:11, "Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul."

This is an instance of a poetical form called parallelism. This second part of the verse parallels in meaning what you read in the third and last part. Job's anguish of spirit is the same reality as his bitterness of soul. Soul and spirit, then, are not two different entities within man, but two words describing one and the same entity.


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"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

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