To engage in this question, you need to assume the tripartite nature of man. Arguing against that will be a different question which you are welcome to make by initiating a separate posting. Assuming the tripartite nature of man does not automatically imply that you believe in it.

King James Bible Genesis 2:7 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.

Hebrews 4:12 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.

Apparently spirit and soul can be put together and are distinct. Can a soul exist independently without its associated spirit?

  • 2
    The word of God discerns . . . between the two. It does not separate the two.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 22 '20 at 19:01
  • Good point. I updated.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 22 '20 at 19:09
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    First, you need to define a soul! (biblically) The spirit is the easy bit :) and which/whose spirit?
    – steveowen
    Aug 23 '20 at 4:00
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    What evidence is there that a soul "has" a spirit?
    – Dottard
    Aug 23 '20 at 8:45
  • I did not say that a soul has a spirit or wish to imply that a soul 'has" a spirit but that they form a pair.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 23 '20 at 15:52

Can a soul exist without its spirit?

In short to your question, the answer is NO. Why?

So what do the terms "soul" and spirit really mean?


The belief that something immaterial, intangible or immortal that leaves the body on death is a Platonic philosophical speculation or theological bias, and it is nowhere to be found in scriptures.

The Bible helps us understand what a soul is. It is used 1/ For people, 2/ animals. 3/ the life a person or an animal has. For this question, only in the sense, 1/for people will be considered.

For people

Genesis 2:7 (NASB)

" 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."

Footnotes NASB: Genesis 2:7 Lit "soul"

Genesis 2:7 (KJV)

7 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.

Notice KJV-a living soul, NASB -a living being

People: In Noah's day "In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered safely through water." Here the word souls clearly stands for people, Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives.

1 Peter 3:20 (NET Bible)

20 After they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited[b] in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water.

Thus the explanation of what a human soul is may be reduced to this simple, unmysterious "soul equation"

human soul = body + breath of life from God.

The spirit what is it ?

Many people believe that "spirit” is just another word for "soul. However, that is not the case. The Bible makes clear that "spirit" and "soul" refer to two different things. How do they differ?

The scriptures help us clarify those words, for example, read how Psalms 104:29 is translated by NASB and the NET Bibles below:

Psalm 104:29 (NASB) "You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust."

Psalm 104:29 (NET Bible) " When you ignore them, they panic. When you take away their life’s breath, they die and return to dust."

Also James 2:26 (NASB) states;

26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Clearly then in these verses above the word "spirit" refers to that which gives life to the body.


The soul and the spirit are not the same. The body (the human soul) needs the spirit -- the breath of life that brings our body to life. As the Psalmist said, without the spirit, the body (soul) returns to dust.

Some other verses on the "soul" and notice how various translations render the verses.


Ezekiel 18:4 (NASB)

"Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die."


Leviticus 24:17-18 (YLT)

17 "And when a man smiteth any soul of man, he is certainly put to death.18 `And he who smiteth a beast repayeth it, body for body."

Leviticus 24:17-18 (NASB)

17 ‘If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. 18 The one who [b]takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life.

Acts 3:23 (NASB)

23" And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people."

Acts 2:23 (ERV)

23 "And anyone who refuses to obey that prophet will die, separated from God’s people."


Your soul is who you are individually as a person. It is the man in the unregenerated state. An easy way to understand the difference is -- Soul : human being with their animal instincts. Beastly. To fill the belly, selfish, looking out for themselves, survival instincts

Jude verse 10 NASB 10 But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.

1 Corinthians 2:14-15: “A soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually. But the spiritual man discerns all things, but he himself is discerned by no one.”

Spirit : the power of the holy spirit indwelling you to empower you to overcome your animal instincts and live according to God's will.

A soul is 'dead' without the spirit of God because it is the spirit that quickens you and transfers you from death to Life.

So yes, a soul can live ( in the mortal sense) without a spirit, but you are spiritually dead.

Edited to add- Paul defined what being spiritually dead means : Eph 2:1-3 KJV - 1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

  • +1 That's surprisingly good for a newcomer. Welcome to the scholarly site for Christian Hermeneutics.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 23 '20 at 19:58
  • I would agree with @ Tony Chan. Please could you expand on your last paragraph where you say " So yes, a soul can live ( in a mortal sense) without a spirit, but you are spiritually dead.. Help me understand what you mean by" being spiritually dead" Thank you.
    – Bagpipes
    Aug 23 '20 at 20:33
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    Your Ephesians quote indicates that the those who were previously dead (before being quickened) operated according to the spirit of the prince of the power of the air. Therefore being dead spiritually is not to be devoid of spirit but to be of wrong spirit. Aug 24 '20 at 0:48
  • Galatians 4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. Meaning it's our human sinful will not a spirit of Satan
    – user38152
    Aug 24 '20 at 1:37
  • You have confused the spirit of a man (which is part of human nature) and the indwelling Spirit (who is a divine person). The indwelling Spirit of God is in union with the spirit of a man when he is born anew. A soul that is spiritually 'dead' still has the spirit of a man within it (prior to regeneration).
    – Nigel J
    Aug 24 '20 at 11:23

The Biblical words for "soul" – Hebrew: nephesh (נפש)/Greek: psyche – have a broader sense of meaning that we generally ascribe to them.

In Genesis 1, we find nephesh (נפש) used of fish (Gen. 1:21) or animals (Gen. 1:24) as well as humanity (Gen. 2:7).

In the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT), it is noted that (נפש) refers to the "individuation of life," as well as the "psychic power, abounding personality, energy that exonerates all gloominess." Additionally, the author (Seebass), summarizes that (נפש) is "a whole person, a figure of joy in life and vitality."

Simply put, a human being doesn't have a soul; they are a soul.

Likewise, Wayne G. Rollins, in his book Soul and Psyche, notes that the Greet word psyche (translated “soul” in Heb. 4:12) carries the same broad meaning found in the OT into the New Testament. He writes:

psyche denotes "the total system of conscious and unconscious life in the human personality."

Humanity is “spirit” + “body” = “soul.”

The passage in question - Gen. 2:7 can be used as an example:

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

God formed a "body" from the earth and breathed in a "spirit" thus, in combination, creating a living "soul"

Conversely to Genesis 2:7, Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us:

and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit (רוּחַ) returns to God who gave it.

Finally, James 2:26 tells us that when the spirit separates from the body there is death:

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

The connections of (mind, body, spirit, soul) are so complex and intertwined that only God can determine where one ends and the other begins. The complexity of these connections is such that degradation in them will affect all aspects of our lives.

Since we have a “spirit” - and our spirit exists beyond this physical world - we are by our very nature spiritual beings.

Our spirit communes with God through His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit regenerates our spirit.

Likewise, our spirit can atrophy or be affected by dark spiritual forces. A weak spirit leads to an overall weak soul or being.

If spirit and body are disconnected – it would follow that a "soul" no longer exists.

When Jesus died on the cross, he quoted Psalm 31:5, saying:

"Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit."

Stephen says something similar in the book of Acts:

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

From my experience of doing my own spiritual formation work with a spiritual formation coach, I would divide a human being into “body, mind, spirit.” All of these create a “soul” or “psyche” (in the original/biblical use of the word psyche).

Again, from my own experience, the spirit is the most powerful and directly affects the mind and the body. Hence, so many of Jesus’ miracles are spiritual in nature but heal the physical and mental manifestations.

  • I'd upvote this but really needs more scriptural reference
    – steveowen
    Aug 27 '20 at 3:24
  • Fair enough. I've included more scripture references above.
    – S. Broberg
    Sep 1 '20 at 21:16

Since the "soul" and "spirit" here is used in a parallel, isomorphic pair with "joints" and "marrow", it is not plausible to interpret that this "spirit" is divine uncreated Spirit, but, together with soul, this spirit also should be an aspect of human inner, intangible essence, just like joints and marrow are aspects of the human tangible essence.

And surely, this must be the case, for otherwise it will be an illogicality that God's commandment or word is sharper than Holy Spirit, cutting through in the division of Him (the Spirit) and human soul, but nothing can be sharper than Holy Spirit, who is just as "sharp", if we can metaphorically use this epithet, as the Father and the Logos are.

If so, then the spirit of man must be some higher aspect of the soul, perhaps the rational aspect, or that aspect that tells truth from falsity, a human conscience, that can be enlightened by the divine word, divine unmistakable commandment. While "soul" can be that aspect of inner personality that accounts for emotions, emotional thoughts, love, hatred, while "spirit" discerning the meaning of divine commandments is the rudder of our inner essence, that should establish a correct hierarchy between soul's inclinations and direct emotions to rightful paths. For example, if my "soul", i.e. my emotion of love of glory tells me to win olympics, my "spirit" discerning divine truth of things, tells me not to do this with a help of doping and cheating. Perhaps exactly this is that word/commandment of God divides between soul and spirit, that is to say, shows a difference between them.

But the passage does not mean that soul can be thought as a separate essence from the spirit, they can well form one invisible reality's, human character's or heart's different aspects, although Paul does not make it very clear, I guess.

  • +1 You may want to read biblesnet.com/Watchman%20Nee%20The%20Spiritual%20Man%20I.pdf. It agrees with some of your ideas here.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 25 '20 at 18:54
  • @TonyChan Thank you! Who is the author of the text from the link? Aug 26 '20 at 2:32
  • 倪柝聲 is the author. The original book is in Chinese. His English name is Watchman Nee.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 26 '20 at 16:30
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    that maybe so, without relevant biblical references it is opinion based.
    – steveowen
    Aug 28 '20 at 1:56
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    @user48152 That I haven't asked questions on this site does not mean I do not have them, but when I do have, I try to find on my own in theological literature or ask my own teachers and the experts in the field I know in person, with whom I have constant e-mail contact. As yet, it had worked. But I am very much interested in ideas of others, even when they contradict mine, and am thankful for their comments on my views, which can fall into error, for sure, for I am not a Pope of Rome to be infallible in doctrinal matters :) (joke, of course, for I do not believe in Papal infallibility). Sep 1 '20 at 7:35

It looks like you’ve already read “The Spiritual Man” so I won’t go into any of those details here :). Put simply, I think a soul can exist without a spirit (how animals are assumed to live), but I don’t believe man can exist without a spirit. God’s breath in man imparted His spirit/life in man - though the English translates to “soul” in KJV, what is really meant is “man became a living soul [with the Spirit of God inside].” That’s why it’s not noted that every animal became a living soul, because even though they were indeed living souls, the breath of God was not in them to impart a spirit. While our spirit’s function became dead/cut off from God because of sin, we always had and will have a spirit (and, a perfected soul one day, too, it seems like).

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