What does scripture say about the body, soul, and spirit? (Hermeneutics assignment)

Posted: November 15, 2011 in Theology

(I used NIV for all the scripture references)


The Bible speaks a lot on the body, soul, and spirit of a human for it being the words of the living God. God didn’t hide our nature from us; He makes it very clear with His words what we are. In Hebrews 4:12 it says “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Which shows just how specific God was in choosing His words, and that if used correctly we can even divide the difference between the soul and spirit using them. But this poses the question, what exactly does the Bible say about the body, soul, and spirit?

Let’s start by taking a look at where the nature of our human body is mentioned in Scripture. In Matthew 10:28 Christ, giving the twelve their marching orders, says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Showing that our body is mortal and that our soul is not naturally mortal but can be destroyed. Again in 1 Corinthians 15:42-43 Paul, talking about the different bodies and splendors God has given to different things, he talks about our mortality and our resurrection into glorified bodies “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” From this we can take that our bodies are all temporary shells for something more permanent, and eventually we will be transformed or clothed into something immortal, as verse 52 in the same chapter states, “- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

What then, does our body contain? In Deuteronomy 6:5 there was a command given, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” So we can assume that we have a heart and a soul, things that cannot be seen physically but still part of us. This command is in the Bible in several other places as well, sometimes without “strength” as in Joshua 22:5, “But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” And similar to this is Deuteronomy 30:6, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” However, this command is never given without mention of both heart and soul, even in the New Testament. In Matthew 22:37 it says “Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

So then, since we know we must have a soul and a heart, what are they? Let’s start by exploring the soul. In Psalms the author wrote about his soul having desires and emotions, such as having joy, boasting and praising God. It is almost as if it were a means of relating what is in your spirit through your body to the world. In Psalms 34:2 he says “My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.” As well as in Psalm 103:1 which says “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” And Psalms 42:1 “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” In Psalms 63:8 it says “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” And Psalms 94:19 says “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”

What is the heart? In Psalms, again, the author wrote quite a bit about his heart. In Psalms 34:18 he writes “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” In Psalms 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” And later in verse 17 of the same chapter, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” In Isaiah 57:15-16 it says “For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me – the breath of man that I have created.” We find in Ezekiel 11:19-20 the same message, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” And the exact same thing again in Ezekiel 36:26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” In each of these verses it is clear that the heart and spirit are similar things, if not the one and the same, and that the Lord will be close to those who are brokenhearted or broken spirited and will revive or renew them. Not only this, but we find a definition for the spirit or heart of a man as the very breath that God created in us that it talks about in Genesis 2:7, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  It is the very center of life in a man, who we are at our very core.

In 2 Corinthians 7:1 it says “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” This can help us to relate what we can see to what we don’t, our spirit, just like our body, can be affected by our surroundings. In 1 Corinthians 5:3 (“Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit.”), Philippians 2:2 (“then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”), 1 Peter 3:4 (“Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”), and Luke 1:80 (“And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.”) the authors write about the state of their spirit or of other’s spirits rather than what the spirit is. This shows that it is an active part of who we are, not just a life-source, but something at the very core of who we are. In 2 Kings 2:9 Elisha asks Elijah for a double portion of his spirit, “When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’ ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ Elisha replied.” And he was granted this later when he saw Elijah leave, showing that the very core of who we are can be changed and influenced by other people and by God.

In conclusion, I will give an analogy to explain what I find that scripture says about the body, soul, and spirit. Our spirit and soul is one thing, but two distinct parts that can only really be correctly divided by the Word of God and by God himself. I like to think of it as if they were parts of an atom, our spirit is our protons and our heart is our neutrons, the very core of who we are and what we are made of. Although it can be changed and made into something completely different, this will rarely happen and will make a significant impact on what we are when it does. Our soul is our electrons, the emotions that constantly move about and connect us with other people and with God as well as our thoughts and desires. Our soul is one with our spirit, though they are two different things, and cannot be separated from one another. As our spirit is renewed so our soul will be as well, and as our soul changes and moves our spirit also will shift and grow. Our body right now is but a shell, the empty space surrounding the atom, and though it may change or die our spirit and soul remain intact and unchanged. The things that make us so different from one another are important to nature, with just one of us removed something great would be missing. We need to stay true to the purpose God has called us uniquely to as well as the mission God has called all of us to as His people. I find it appropriate to end this as Paul ended his epistle in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”


EDIT: Just to clarify the first paragraph because I worded it weird… God’s Word talks about our nature more than it has to, and I found that surprising. Hebrews 4:12 – Not that we can divide soul and spirit (because they are essentially one thing) 😛 But that it can if used correctly pierce the soul and spirit to the point where it separates just as the parallel given says ” it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”… WE cannot divide them, the Word of God can however look into the very nature of man and give us clarity.


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