A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Nature of Man (Body, Soul & Spirit?) Part 3


In the last post in this series I wrote about the sure reality of an immaterial, supernatural part of man that continues on after the death of the body. Those who argue that soul is merely life-force that dies with the flesh do so against the Scriptures. However, I really haven’t touched on the differences (if any) between soul and spirit, except to give definitions of the words. Hopefully you will remember that “soul” has lower and higher meanings, but that “spirit” only has the higher meaning (see Part 2 in this series, below). In its lower meanings, soul is an individual, life, heart/mind, dreams, etc. In its higher meaning it is identical in meaning to spirit, i.e. the invisible part of man that “lives” on after death. So, in one sense the words refer to different things, but in another they are interchangeable. But, what does that mean? Does man have a twofold or threefold nature?

Think about this: if we were to consider every aspect of a man and his mind spoken of in Scripture, we might conclude that man has a sevenfold nature! Off the top of my head I can think of seven words used to describe different parts of human nature: heart, soul, mind, strength, spirit, will, and bowels (See KJV or GNT, Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12, etc.) (not to mention body). The truth is each of these words is a way to describe one of the many ways we experience our nature. Each can, in various instances, be said to reflect either the fleshly or spiritual nature. I don’t think any of them are intended to be perceived as indicating a third distinct part of us, or fourth, or fifth, and so on. Not, at least, in the sense of being able to be broken down into “stand-alone” parts. I think the better way to understand our human nature has been given us in the incarnation of Christ. He is fully God and fully Man. He has the two natures intertwined permanently and inseparably into one. As I understand it, we also have two aspects of our nature, the flesh and the spirit. In this age, the two are often at odds with each other (Mark 14:38; Galatians 5:16-17).

This being so, why do some passages clearly use the terms: “body, soul, and spirit, together?” Well, I don’t think it’s Biblical redundancy. Having already made a pretty clear case about the body, let’s look at a couple of passages that speak of both soul and spirit and come to a conclusion about this.

The first passage we’ll consider is 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” (ESV).

Paul prays that God will completely sanctify (make holy) the Thessalonian Christians when Jesus reappears. According to Paul, complete sanctification, and blamelessness is holistic. The passage is about the salvation of “whole” people, and the focus shouldn’t be upon the parts, but on the fact that they make up a whole person who isn’t complete without all of them. Ok, well there’s definitely a distinction made between soul and spirit here. As such, spirit refers to the invisible part of man that continues on after the death of the body. But, soul, what is soul here? It isn’t another kind of spirit. It is the dreams, desires, feelings and hopes of man. In this sense, soul is an expression of both body and spirit, and isn’t truly a separate entity from either one. It refers to the mind of, sense of, and hunger for life that taps into the natures of both body and spirit. Paul wants the brethren to be sanctified in their bodies, spirits, and the soul or life that exists when both are joined together. That makes sense to me. I won’t be dogmatic, but I think that’s right.

The second passage we’ll consider is Hebrews 4:12: “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” (ESV).

Joints and marrow are parts of a whole. They are nothing and have no use or purpose apart from the rest of a bone. That is precisely the point (no pun intended) of the passage. Just as fine and detailed a distinction as one must make to separate the parts of a bone (which was even more difficult in the First Century than it is now) is the division the word of God is able to make between one’s soul and spirit. Obviously these are two different things here. That doesn’t mean that soul refers to a different kind of spirit, as if there were body, and then two types of supernatural nature. On the contrary, soul here has one of its lesser meanings, perhaps all of them combined, and I think the idea is that the word (which might well ought to be Word –John 1:1) is able to separate the spirit from the rest of a person.

In conclusion, one might say that there are many parts to a person. We have a body (which is itself made up of many parts); a spirit in God’s image (and returns to him when the body dies –Ecclesiastes 12:7); a soul, which is a way to describe the whole functioning of the inner man (or even the whole man), a mind (which could also be called heart, bowels, soul, will, etc.). However, the bottom line is that there are really only two parts of a man that may be separated from one another: flesh and spirit. We are dual-natured beings. We have a body and a spirit, and the breath of life, or soul, breathed into us to make us alive.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Nature of Man (Body, soul & Spirit), Part 2


In the introductory post for this series, I merely introduced the subject. This time I want to begin to develop some of the fruits of my labors as I have studied this subject.

We all want to know who we are. We want to know ourselves inside and out. The better we understand who we are as “man,” the more completely we'll be able to fulfill our purposes (or at least know what they are).

As I wrote before, there are two words in the Bible that describe that inner part of man. There are actually more than two if we consider words like heart, mind, etc. However, our focus is on the differences between soul and spirit, and if the differences are distinct enough to say that we (humans) are beings with a dual nature (body and spirit), or three-fold nature (body, soul and spirit). Whichever is the case we also want to know the “so what?” What does it mean, and why does it matter?

In this second post in the series, I want to begin to lay out a basic case for what I understand to be right. Some of this is a rearrangement of some old notes I found that I put together years ago to help me study with “Jehovah's Witnesses.” If any are reading (you know who you are) I hope you'll consider what I'm about to say with an open mind.

The word “soul” is the translation of the Hebrew word “nephesh,” and the corresponding Greek word “psuche.” I have made a worthy effort to come to the conclusion that nephesh is almost always translated by psuche in the LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament). It is never (that I have found) translated as “pneuma.” It can have a variety of meanings. For my purposes I categorize these into lesser meanings, including breath (as in breath of life or life-force), life, heart, feelings, person, wants or needs, and greater meaning, which is spirit. I have an extensive (though not exhaustive) list of its uses in a number of passages.

The word “spirit” is the translation of the Hebrew word “ruach,” and the Greek word “pneuma.” I have not found a single instance in which the two words are not parallel and always translated into the English, “spirit.” Spirit only refers to a being with a (normally) invisible (to mortal eye at least) nature that is supernatural, or to the part of human beings that fits that description. God is spirit. The word is also used of angels and demons, and man, but never to animals. When soul is used in its higher meaning in the Bible, its meaning is identical to spirit. Thus the two words are partially interchangeable. On the other hand, spirit is not used for the lesser meanings of soul; so a fine distinction of meaning is intended when the two words are used together (we'll look more closely at such passages in part 3).

I don't think many of us have too much confusion about “body.” We can probably all agree that we have a body, and thus have a physical side to our human nature. However, some believe that the “soul” of man (and they would see the spirit as the same thing here) is merely the life-force, and therefore they think that when a man dies he ceases to exist until God sends the soul back into him (JWs). There is no doubt that “life,” or “life-force” is a valid meaning of soul. It isn't the only meaning, but a valid one in some passages. Context determines which meaning is in view. However, that there is something to the inner or invisible nature of man that is not just flesh and animating life-force the Bible proves in the very first chapter. Genesis 1:26 says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26 ESV).

A quick glance at John 4:24 and 24:39 proves that God is spirit, and that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. Therefore in whatever way man is made in God's likeness, it isn't his flesh. It cannot merely be life-force either, because all animals have that, and only man is made in God's image. Therefore Genesis 1 must be speaking of man's spirit, as distinct from mere life-force, as that part made like God. We see here that there is a difference between at least one valid meaning of soul and the only meaning of spirit. To study further the obvious distinction between the flesh of man and his spirit (which is more than mere life-force), study Genesis 3:19 with 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, and Zechariah 12:1 with Ecclesiastes 12:7 (also Acts 17:29-32, James 2:26).

We'll sum up this second post in the series by concluding that man is at least a dual-natured being. We have a body and a spirit that continues on after the death of the body. In the next post we'll examine a few passages that use both soul and spirit, examine the distinctions between the terms, and decide if man has a three-fold nature.

Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome.
---JLP