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Hebrews 4:12 seems to distinguish between "soul" and "spirit" (or ψυχή and πνεῦμα, respectively) in some manner similar to the difference between "joint" and "marrow."

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

In modern English there doesn't seem to be much difference between these terms. For example, an online dictionary defines "soul" in terms of "the spiritual part of humans."

Would the author and audience of Hebrews have understood there to be much difference between these two terms? And if so, what was the difference between them?

  • Recommend this be moved to Christianity.SE, unless closed. I don't see it being appropriate for Biblical Hermeneutics since the question involves a more generalized investigation of two concepts rather than a direct exegesis of biblical texts. Anyone agree? – user862 Oct 10 '14 at 0:59
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 Agreed, but this one on C.SE already provides a general/systematic investigation of the two words. I'm going to propose a revision that may help it be on topic here... – Susan Oct 10 '14 at 1:07
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    w.kent - Hello, and welcome! This is an interesting question. We're not able to address questions primarily about systematic theology at BH.SE, but we can help figure out what the author meant by these words. You've identified two passages that each use both words, but because they're written by different people at different times, it may be hard to provide a unified answer that isn't systematic. The Hebrews passage is an example of the author drawing a distinction between these two. Would you be willing to narrow it to address the author's intent in that passage only? – Susan Oct 10 '14 at 1:09
  • Sounds like a good plan, Susan. Let's see if @w.kent agrees. – user862 Oct 10 '14 at 1:31
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    @Susan, I respectfully disagree. Identifying a consistent use, throughout all Scripture, brings understanding here--imho. For example, "Spirit" is almost exclusively associated with emotions .. whereas "Heart" is associated with innermost thoughts... in a similar way, "Soul" has a very specific, and consistent use. – elika kohen May 11 '15 at 5:11
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The Idea in Brief

The soul is the very life that all living creatures appear to share. (Thus no cadaver, whether man or animal, possesses the "nephesh.") However, only human beings possess the spirit, which appears to be the "Image of God."

Discussion

The passage of Hebrews 4:12 appears to discriminate between the material and immaterial aspects of the person that are similar (appear in close relation) but are in fact separate and distinct. That is, in this passage the joints and marrow are similar (appear in close relation) but in fact are separate and distinct material parts of the person. The parallels in this context are also the soul and spirit, which are similar (appear in close relation) but are separate and distinct immaterial parts of the person. While the anatomical differences between joints and marrow are easy to understand because they are observable facts, the differences between the soul and spirit are not.

In the Hebrew Bible, the breath of life (sometimes translated as "soul") is the nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ), which all living creatures appear to share (Gen 1:20-30). That is, the Biblical concept of nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ) applies to all living creatures including man (Gen 2:7) irrespective of brain size, brain stem, or whether or not the creatures live on the ground or in the sea. The one difference in the case of man, however, was that in the Genesis account, the nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ) of man was "living."

Genesis 2:7 (NASB)
20 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (literally, "living soul").

In other words, man was different from all living creatures in that he was created in the Image of God. If the Christian New Testament describes God as "spirit" (John 4:24), then this Image of God appears then to be the spirit within man (Image of God) that does not exist in any animal. Thus while all creatures of the animal kingdom would be dichotomous (nephesh + body), only man would be trichotomous (nephesh + body + spirit, which the Genesis account seems to indicate is the Image of God). This Image of God is what distinguishes man to represent God on earth.

Thus in the Garden of Eden man was God's cohost or representative on earth, and this authority was the glory of the Image of God. (Please see Ps 8:5-6 where the glory and authority of God is shared with man in ruling the earth.) But obedience in the Garden of Eden was the condition delineated by God in order for man to fulfil his purpose on earth. In the Christian New Testament, Jesus had compared the Image of God with the stamped impression of Caesar found on Roman coins (Matt 22:21-22). That is, the "stamped" Image of God made man the property of God, but man in obedience must render his obedience to God consistent with the analogy of rendering to Caesar what belonged to Caesar. When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, the Image of God was therefore broken by disobedience.

This disobedience thus resulted in separation from God. God removed man from access to the Tree of Life, which would have provided man indefinite mortal existence (Gen 3:22). In this regard the spirit of Adam had died, i.e., the Image of God was broken -- in other words, man had become spiritually dead. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin made the correct observation that

...although we grant that the image of God was not utterly effaced and destroyed in him [that is, Adam and by extension all mankind as well], it was, however, so corrupted, that any thing which remains is fearful deformity.

The broken Image of God was spiritual death, but this spiritual death did not mean that the Image of God was non-existent in man; it was just broken. According to James 3:9 all men still carry the Image of God notwithstanding that all men are sinners and "fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). What Paul is alluding to in Romans by "fall short of the glory of God" is that the Image of God was broken from what happened in the Garden of Eden.

Thus in the Christian New Testament, the Image of God is restored through eternal life, which becomes the "new self."

Ephesians 4:24 (NASB)
24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Colossians 3:10 (NASB)
10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him

In these passages, the "new self" is the restored Image of God, which occurs through the new birth, which Jesus had described to Nicodemus: that is, one had to be born again through water (eternal life) by means of the Holy Spirit, who "baptized" the believer into this eternal life.

Thus we conclude and see the similarities and differences between Adam and Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:45 (NASB)
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

Both men were the progenitors. That is, the first Adam, who is the father of the human race, broke the Image of God through his disobedience, thus all progeny of Adam experience and remain in spiritual death from the moment of their physical birth. The second Adam (Jesus) was Eternal Life incarnate (John 14:6 and 1 John 1:1-2), whose paternal lineage was not from earth but heaven. He was therefore the "exact representation of the divine nature" (Heb 1:3) and was therefore the Image of God (Col 1:15 and 2 Cor 4:4). Through his own death (on our behalf) he was able to transmit his eternal life to us, so that we would be regenerated (born again), which is the "new self." That is, our Image of God is no longer broken, but restored in Christ. Simply stated: our spirits are no longer dead (through Adam), but alive (through Christ).

Conclusion

Man is not dichotomous like the animal kingdom (nephesh + body), but trichotomous (nephesh + body + spirit). This spirit of man appears to be the Image of God, since God created man as cohost to rule in creation on the earth. This glory (Ps 8:5-6) was broken by disobedience, and thus while the Image of God remains in all men (James 3:9), that glory is only restored through the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASB)
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

The mirror is the Word of God, through which we see ourselves reflected in the "image" of Jesus Christ, by whom we receive our eternal life through the Spirit of God (and thus the "new self"). Jesus Christ is the second Adam, which is why the passage in Ps 8:5-6 is now applied to Jesus Christ in the Christian New Testament in Hebrews 2:7.

  • Jospeh - (1.) Despite the info on "Trichotomy/Trinity", it doesn't appear the distinction between soul/spirit is clearly stated: (i.e., Spirit as the seat of emotions; heart, inward thoughts, etc). (2.) I am not aware of Hebrew translations of "Nefesh" as "Breath of Life", but rather "Khayah", "Ruach" or "Neshama" are used; (3.) The idea that animals don't have spirit is contradicted by Eccl. 3:21; (4.) The idea, that Soul is NOT the human trait is contradicted by Ezekiel 18:4, Rev. 20:4, and all other passages, literally; (5.) Perhaps also "Begs the Question"--but no space left. – elika kohen May 11 '15 at 5:04
  • @e.s.Kohen - The word ר֚וּחַ appears for both men and beast in Eccl. 3:21, -- that is, notwithstanding that both have the ר֚וּחַ (which the context makes clear in Eccl. 3:19-20) -- what happens after death is another discussion, since animals are not made in the divine image. You are correct that these various terms appear almost interchangeably throughout the Bible, and so warrant scrutiny when they appear in their respective contexts. – Joseph May 11 '15 at 13:05
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The terms "soul" and "spirit" are sometimes used ambiguously in the New Testament.

The passage you cite in Hebrews is a case where the two terms are meant to signify something distinct. Another example is 1 Thessalonians 5:23:

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (KJV)

Elsewhere, however, there does not seem to be the same distinction. Paul writes to the Corinthians of the πνεῦμα, for example:

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:20)

and

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1)

but the word seems to convey the same sense that ψυχή does in another passage in Hebrews (10:39):

But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul

Complicating all this is the fact that ψυχή sometimes is used in the quotidian sense of "life". For example:

Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life [ψυχὴν] (Matthew 2:20)

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life [ψυχὴν] for the sheep

When the words are not used ambiguously, the spirit is understood to be the inward part of the soul. This is seen in how its relationship with the soul is analogized with other things: joints and marrow (internal relative to joints), thoughts and intents (internal relative to thoughts).

(A very detailed discussion of the nature and relationship of soul, body, and spirit from the perspective of Scripture and the writings of the eastern Church Fathers can be found in the book, Orthodox Psychotherapy, by Metropolitan Hierotheos Nafpaktos)

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For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Soul and spirit, here, are psuche and pneuma.

In the text, they are likened to joints, harmos, and marrow, muelos.

Harma is a chariot. It is mechanical. It is structural. It is a conveyance. The writer does not just refer to bone, itself, but to the joint, harmos, where bones interact together to form structure and to provide function. The whole skeleton is under consideration, with all its composite parts and processes.

Marrow, muelos, is the living tissue within the bone that produces red blood cells (which are the carriers of oxygen to all the cells in the body) and that causes the bone to be a living thing rather than just a calcified stick.

The skeleton, the functioning structure, is a containment for the living tissue of the marrow. So the distinction is between a mechanical structure that conveys; and a living thing that suffuses the whole structure with life.

Thus the material parts of the body are shown to be counterparts to the immaterial parts of humanity :

  • the soul being a structured thing, with function; albeit that it is non-material and non-substantial, yet it is a conveyance.

  • the spirit being that which pervades and suffuses the entire structure of the soul with life; it is the living being.

The expression 'body, soul and spirit' is actually confusing.

What is more helpful is Paul's order of things in I Thessalonians 5:23 where he puts spirit first, then soul then body; for the living spirit is the primary feature of humanity. That living spirit suffuses the immaterial structure of the soul. And the whole of that immaterial part of humanity is closely integrated with, and strictly localised to, the human body.

The material counterpart to this is :

  • muelos, the marrow : the inner living thing that suffuses all
  • harmos, the joint : mechanical, structural, conveyance
  • melos, the limb (or member) : the living, moving entirety.
  • All the answers are very helpful to me and very appreciated.I struggled with which one to award the bounty to,but i feel that you have clearly stated in your answer the distinction between soul/spirit.Thank you. – Bagpipes Nov 23 '17 at 11:09
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    @Bagpipes Thank you. Glad to be of service. – Nigel J Nov 23 '17 at 11:57
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    Off topic but I want to ask! Which part gets saved? Spirit, soul, or body – Faith Mendel 14 hours ago
  • @FaithMendel The whole person is saved. In this life, spirit and (there is more to say about this one) soul. Then the body is saved in resurrection. This is a simplification, but sufficient to grasp the concept. – Nigel J 13 hours ago
  • I have asked the question on the site. Please elaborately explain. Thanks – Faith Mendel 13 hours ago
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The passage in Hebrews 4 seems to suggest at least two relevant things:

  • ψυχή and πνεῦμα ARE distinct things just as the joint (external function) and marrow (inner life generating property) are different

  • his soporific readers were so mentally out of shape that they would need to exercise their faculties at the gym for about a month before the distinction presented in scripture would get through the fog in their minds

NIV Hebrews 5: 11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

It may be that he's on about the dullness of their consciences rather than their thinking in general but I think it still applies.

Paul also spoke about how important it is to "correctly distinguishing" things in the scriptures and not to let them "melge" into each other:

Darby Bible Translation 2 Tim 2:15 Strive diligently to present thyself approved to God, a workman [in the scriptures] that has not to be ashamed, cutting in a straight line the word of truth.

The author of "To the Hebrews" does an excellent job of being an example of a diligent worker in the scriptures by finely parsing the events of Yom Kippur and other scriptures to derive divine truths about the ministry of the Anointed one. So in following his example we turn to Genesis 2:7 LXX and see that the fabrication of the first Adam involved two "elements":

  • the clay - YHVH formed clay into the external aspect of himself
  • the breath - or "spirit" that was the internal life giving intelligent force

When combined the Adam became a "living being", "soul".

But for his hearers as for many today, even students of scripture, words like "spirit" and "soul" run together in a vague way referring equally to any invisible aspect of a human.

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The verse in question resembles what many scholars have termed pre-literary creeds and hymns (See, e.g. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of A Jewish Preacher from Galilee by Bart Ehrman, HarperCollins, New York, NY, 2014, p. 216).

If this is the case, we can arrange 12b poetically, like so:

...soul and spirit... ...joints and marrow... ...thoughts and intents...

Or, more formally:

(A) soul (B) spirit (A1) joints (B1) marrow (A2) thoughts (B2) intents

This shows that soul (A) corresponds with joints (A1) and thoughts (A2) while spirit (B) corresponds to marrow (B1) and intents (B2).

As such, it's a clear indication of a parallelism, common to Biblical poetry.

So then, how to define or understand "soul" and "spirit"? We can define the two terms in light of their poetic parallels.

A quote from James Kugel as found on p.19 in The Art of Biblical Poetry: Revised and Updated by Robert Alter (Basic Books, Philadelphia, 2011), can shed some light here:

"B [is] connected to A, had something in common with it, but was not expected to be (or regarded as) mere restatement...for it is the dual nature of B both to come after A and thus to add to it, often particularizing, defining, or expanding the meaning, and yet to harken [sic] back to A and in an obvious way connect to it."

What this means is that while spirit is no "mere restatement" of soul, since spirit comes after, it can particularize, define, or expand the meaning, of soul. The same is true, then, for joints and marrow, and for thoughts and intents.

Additionally, since 12b is a poetical tristich in parallel, all the words in both category A and category B help to either particularize, define, or expand the meaning of their cross-category correspondence.

With this in mind, an analysis:

From Kugel and Alter, we can say that:

  • Spirit is a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word soul
  • Marrow is a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word joints
  • Intents is a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word thoughts

And, because 12b appears to be a pre-literary creed or hymn, in poetic parallelism, we can also say:

  • Joints is a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word soul
  • Thoughts is a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word joints
  • Marrow is a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word spirit
  • Intents is a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word marrow

Therefore, we can also conclude:

  • Both joints and thoughts are a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word soul
  • Both marrow and intents are a particularization, definition, or expansion of the word spirit

And finally, we can say:

  • Spirit, marrow, and intents as category B, are a particularization, definition, or expansion of category A: soul, joints, and thoughts

Therefore, to answer the original question, soul can be understood in terms of joints and thoughts, and spirit can be understood in terms of marrow and intents, even as soul in general, can be understood in terms of spirit.

So, what are joints? Thoughts? Marrow? Intents? And how do these inform our understanding of the two terms in question?

A joint is the location where two or more body parts intersect and connect. Thoughts are the ideas, concepts, and images that pass through the human mind on any topic whatsoever at any time whatsoever. Marrow is soft tissue found inside of bones--connected to each other at the joints--where life giving red blood cells, most white blood cells, and platelets, are created by the body. And finally, intents are whatever things the mind purposes to do in order to bring about the realization of every idea, concept, or image as contained in one's thoughts.

Using these simple definitions, we can then say of soul:

In some way, a soul is an intersection and connecting location, where ideas, concepts, and images all come together in the human mind.

In some way, a spirit is where life is given to the human body and mind in order that they may exist to purpose and do whatsoever a human body and mind are capable of purposing and doing.

Additionally, following Kugel and Alter, a soul is also the locus of the human body and mind, the very center of all life's activity, where a human initially engages every idea, concept, or image that comes his or her way.

Would the first readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews have understood all this?

I believe so, yes. Here's why: As Hebrews, Jews specifically, they would have been very familiar with Biblical parallelism. They would have recognized the poetic form, the dichotomous play between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and thoughts and intents.

Having been rather learned in the Old Testament (clearly presupposed by the author of the Epistle), the initial recipients of Hebrews would have already been exposed to the idea of how, in a tristich, as Kugel argues, B would inform one's understanding of A, not as "mere restatement", but as a particularization, definition, or expansion.

For example, from Psalm 120:2,

Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.

The phrase "deceitful tongues" is not just a restatement of "lying lips", but helps particularize, define, and expand on what the phrase "lying lips" means. In this instance, lying lips do not merely represent someone who accidentally passes along false information, but rather, describes the actions of someone who intentionally desires to deceive and trick his or her audience. This speaks to malice and immorality.

This being the case, it's clear the original readers would have had no trouble at all seeing how words like spirit, marrow, and intents, arranged as they were and are, not only undergirded, but also built upon the concepts represented by the words soul, joints, and thoughts.

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1. Question:

What is the difference between "Soul" and "Spirit"?


2. Contextual and Greek Analysis:

The Context is about Judging / Pruning - given Unfaithfulness:

NASB Hebrews - 3:19.) So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. 4.1.) ... let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 4.3.) ... “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’” 4.11.) 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

Analysis of the Text:

Note: To illustrate the close nature between "Spirit" and "Heart", the writer uses "intent, ἐνθύμησις | θυμός". That is - a desire or inclination in the heart - acts as a "joint" and "connects" to specific emotions in the Spirit for motivation.

It is incorrect to say that "thought" and "intent" should correspond to "soul" and "heart" - respectively, (because of traditional translation word-ordering). Those translations are exactly backwards from the Greek, where "Inclination" (which has an element of passion) is listed before `"Thoughts". Though if reversed, as I have here, it becomes consistent with the rest of this answer.


3. Answer:

Where 1.) the "Spirit" of a person is the emotional nature of man, (the "energy" or motivation), and 2.) where the "Heart" and "Mind" of a person is the seat of conscious thought, and where 3.) the "Means" and "Strength" of a person is the physical "material", possessions, and strengths, then 3.) the "Soul" of a person is distinct from all other aspects in that it is analogous to "a Tree" - that nature, identity, and awareness, that either: imparts life, or imparts death and corruption. The "soul" is the nexus, or axis, that connects all other aspects of man's nature - like branches, (the aspects of the spirit / emotions, body / means, heart / mind, etc.).

NASB, Paraphrase, Genesis 2:7 - Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the [essence and nature of life]; and man became a soul for | לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ life (living), (See Interlinear).
Note: Regardless if "לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ" is interpreted as above, or as "and man came to be, for a soul of life, (perhaps for God who pursues life, or for others)" - the implication is the same: mankind came into being to serve, in some sense, "life". The prefix "לְ" usually indicates some "purpose".

NKJV, Revelation 18:14 The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all.

This is incredibly consistent with Genesis' narrative of "The Tree of Life", Jesus' self identification as "The Vine/Branch", (and Isaiah's reference), Jesus' explanation of "Communion" and path to eternal life, and Jesus' parables regarding "fruit".


4. Explanation of the Lexical Method / Research Design:

The way that I arrived at this conclusion, (the work behind this answer), is a bit controversial theologically, but it is very standard linguistically:

  1. Identify every instance, (where possible) of the various forms of "Soul", "Spirit", "Heart", and "Might" - in all Semitic literature, and all Greek Literature, (especially philosophy).
  2. Identify each of those instances that contain "glosses" - explanations and illustrations of those terms in the same context that those terms are used.
  3. Identify each of those instances where "juxtapositions" occur distinguishing one term from the other - what those terms DON'T mean.

Obviously - I cannot provide the results of that huge search - but my findings can be replicated, and are very easily falsified:

  1. Surprisingly, I found that these terms are used very consistently in Scripture, and also in Greek literature, with relatively few exceptions.
  2. Most Importantly: The modern use of "Heart" as "emotion" is exactly opposite from ancient usage, as "Mind", i.e.: "Love the Lord your God with all of your THOUGHTS and MEDITATION." The misinterpretation of "Heart", historically, is the primary reason why there is so much confusion about these terms.

The controversy, theologically, is that although the tree metaphor is used - exclusively throughout Scripture - to describe man's nature, it is still seen as directly contradictory to every theological "model" of "man's being" that I have ever seen.


5. A Very Small Sample of Passages that Clarify:

"Heart", as the seat of Thought:

Genesis 17:17 - Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

"Spirit", as the seat of Emotion:

NASB, 2 Timothy 1:7 - For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

"Soul" as the seat of Identity, Awareness, Memory - distinct from "Heart / Mind / Meditation":

NASB, Deuteronomy 4:9 - “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.

"Soul", distinct from "Spirit":

This is the primary passage that led me to these conclusions - along with Hebrews 12:15 -

NASB, Job 7:11 - “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish [lit. distress / adversity] of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

This incredible passage, I feel, portrays the danger, toxicity, and threat of bitterness - if bitterness really does spread through and poison every aspect of our being - through our soul.

NASB, Hebrews 12:15 - See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;


6. Falsification - Consistency is the Test for Truth:

The burden of proof behind this conclusion is pretty high: a relatively high and consistent use of these terms, in those senses listed above.

On the other hand, the burden of proof to falsify this is much lower - showing a relatively high, and consistent deviation from those definitions, specifically: overlap. I remember finding only one particular passage in Hebrew Scripture that was a significant departure - which I couldn't account for, (I forget which) - but, it was only one exception which was not enough to falsify these conclusions.

Actually, I would love to put my conclusion to the test, so I can be more confident in this answer, or correct it. I will update this answer to respond to any apparent deviations in Scriptural texts - if specifically requested in comments. Anyone is free to add more examples of these uses to this answer - and "Challenges":

Challenges:

tbd.


7. Conclusion:

A Soul is like "Divine DNA", or the "Divine Nature"; rather than take the shape of DNA, it is analogous to a tree: sometimes it bears living fruit, sometimes it is corrupt. But, deep within it's branches, it contain the most inward thoughts and parts, while as a whole it catches, and chooses, which spirits/winds - as birds - rest in its branches. Whether this soul / tree is "good", is contingent on whether this soul is inclined and purposed to impart life, not death - to be wise: and always return life, for death - proven by its fruit, (other trees / souls with abundant life).

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In Hebrews 4:12 what is the difference between ψυχή (“soul”) and πνεῦμα (“spirit”)?

Eph 4:30 (NKJV) "... do not grieve the Holy Spirit (pneuma) of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption".

1 Thess 5:19-23 (NIV) "19 Do not quench the Spirit (pneuma). Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. 23 May your whole spirit (pneuma), soul (psuche) and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ".

The Greek word for soul is 'psuche', and the Greek word for spirit is 'pneuma'. The word 'pneuma' is used in verse 19 for the Holy Spirit, and in verse 23 the same word is used and has to stand for the same thing.

Gen 2:7 (KJ21) "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul".

Gen 7:21,22 (NIV) "Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died".

Man and animals became living souls when God breathed the 'breath of life' into them.

1 Cor 15:45-49 (KJ21) "... it is written: “The first man Adam was made a living soul (psyche).” The last Adam was made a quickening Spirit (pneuma). However that which is spiritual was not first, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second Man is the Lord from Heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly".

Thus, besides an earthy spirit, the soul, some people also have a heavenly spirit, the Holy Spirit.

Rom 8:9 (NIV) "You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you".

1 Cor 2:14 (NIV) "The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit".

Consequently, not all people have the Spirit.

Jude 1:19 (NIV) "These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit".

Num 27:18 (KJV) "And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him".

In conclusion, in a Biblical text the Greek word 'psuche' is translated into the English word 'soul', and refers to an 'earthy spirit'; while the Greek word 'pneuma' is translated into the English word 'spirit/Spirit', and refers to God's Holy Spirit.

  • 1 Cor 15:45 (NIV) So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being [psuche]”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit [pneuma]". – Constantthin Jan 6 at 12:44
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In Hebrews 4:12 what is the difference between ψυχή (“soul”) and πνεῦμα (“spirit”)?

"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

Paul is telling us that word of God has the power to change our lives and make us better a person. And when we understand it (discernment of the thoughts) our actions show what we are inside.

Ψυχή (“soul”)

Bible usage shows in this verse , it refers to persons , that which people see when they look at us.

Some verses below to help clarification.

Acts 2:41 " Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day".(NABRE)

Acts 2:41 " Those then who had accepted his word were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls. (DARBY)

Likewise in the days of Noah eight persons,or people were saved.

1 Peter 3:20 " Who sometime disbelieved, when once the long-suffering of God did wait, in days of Noah -- an ark being preparing -- in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water." (YTL)

1 Peter 3:20 "Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the [a]water."(NASB)

1 Peter 3:20 "To those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water."(NIV)

Πνεῦμα (“spirit”)?

Refers to a person’s individual spirit , the thoughts , feelings and emotions that emanate from a person’s figurative heart, and people cannot see when they look at us.

  Additional verses for clarification.

John 11:33 (NASB)

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,

Luke 1:80 (NASB)

80 "And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel."

John 13:21 (NASB)

21 "When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will [a]betray Me.”

The spirit of the Pharisees was full of dead men's bones and uncleanness.

Matthew 23:27-28 (NASB)

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."

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