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Simply put, I'm interested in knowing if there is any difference at all (in a fundamental sense) between two uses of the word "spirit":

Context 1: "spirit" in the context of the spirit of a human being ("breath of life")

7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. [Genesis 2:7 ESV]

14 If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, 15 all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust. [Job 34:14-15 ESV]

5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:5-6 ESV]

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. [James 2:26 ESV]

Context 2: "spirit" in the context of a disembodied (evil) spirit

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” [Luke 24:39 ESV]

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” [Matthew 12:43-45 ESV]

Question

Is there any fundamental difference at all (in terms of their essence or nature) between the "spirit" of a human being ("breath of life") and the "spirit" of a disembodied (evil) spirit?

Are disembodied (evil) spirits essentially "breaths of life" without a physical body?


Relevant related questions:

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  • I'm struggling to see how this question is on-topic. It looks like a theological synthesis question to me.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 15 at 6:49

3 Answers 3

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It true that in both Hebrew (רוּחַ ruach) and Greek (πνεῦμα pneuma) is used for all of the following:

  • the Holy Spirit
  • the Spirit of God
  • the spirit of man (ie, the air itself)
  • the spirit of animals (ie, the air itself)
  • the breath of life
  • the breath of man
  • evil spirits or devils
  • mental attitudes (eg, the spirit of selfishness)
  • "God is Spirit"
  • angels are spirits
  • wind
  • the life of breathing creatures, including humans

This does not make all these things the same or even equivalent. It simply exposes the limitations of human language to express ideas somewhat beyond our ability to understand.

Therefore, because the same word is used for distinct concepts does not make such disparate concepts the same. Such would be simplistic and unwarranted reductionism. Each concept, despite its similar verbal/linguistic labels should be treated individually.

Frustratingly, the Bible makes no attempt to define or explain any of these ideas, presumably because such would be both beyond human language to express and because it would be fruitless anyway.

Each of the entities above might be the subject of an individual essay or an answer to a question in this forum. Suffice to say here that these are clearly not all the same thing, as is obvious. That is, the Holy Spirit is not the same as devils, which are not the same as the breath of an animal, etc.

The main difference sought is as follows:

  • Spirit beings, such a God, the demons, angels are just that - they are spirits. See 2 Cor 3:18, Luke 4:33, 8:2, 1 Tim 4:1, Heb 1:7, etc.
  • humans and animals contain the breath of life, Gen 2:7 - "Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being [lit. "soul"]." That is, without the breath of life, humans and animals do not live. See also Gen 1:30, 6:17, 7:15, 22, Job 12:10, 33:4, etc.

The Bible has no mention of disembodied spirits of the dead.

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“*Is there any fundamental difference at all between the "spirit" of a human being ("breath of life") and the "spirit" of a disembodied (evil) spirit?

Yes. But as is often the case with your questions, the answer needs a foundation. And there are many different foundations, and mine is not necessarily the ‘traditional’ one - but I provide it for consideration.

JOHN 6:63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

The spirit gives life. And God breathed his spirit into ‘man’ (Adam) in Genesis 2:7, which you quoted. But when Adam ‘ate’, his spirit was separated from God, that is, he lost his ‘source’ for/of life - his body didn’t, but ‘he’ did. Just as God said, he died the day he ate.

Adam passed on that now ‘separated spirit’ via his ‘seed’. Seed - singular, that is, there is only one ‘spirit’. A ‘spirit’ must have a ‘source’ - and ‘man’s’ source is Adam. We are all of his ‘seed’ - (unless reborn!). So a ‘human’ spirit has Adam as its source - where as an evil spirit has a totally different ‘source’.

Evil spirits only came onto the scene post flood. The result of the daughters of men via the sons of God. Angels. I appreciate that now I’m on ‘ground’ that many don’t stand on. (Different foundation!). But the ‘source’ of ‘spirit’ in the Nephilim is not fallen man (not Adam), but instead fallen (separated.)angel. Therefore not the same.

However if you don’t subscribe to the Genesis 6 ‘view’, hopefully you will receive other responses to consider.

Finally, to tie up a lose end I unthreaded, ‘spirits’ are all eternal. All spirits - However for ‘life’, a spirit needs to be ‘(re)united back to it’s source.

That is, there is a difference between ‘eternal’ and ‘eternal life’.

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  • Are you suggesting that there are sources of life other than God in these Nephilim? Even Angels are created beings who owe their existence to God.
    – Dottard
    Jan 15 at 11:08
  • I think he's suggesting that other spirits who may have originally come from God the father - after receiving spirit can then pass this onto other physical beings. That's what happened with the Nephilim. These fallen angels however had "corrupted" and "defiled" spirits. So rather then giving "life" as God's spirit does it brought corruption.
    – Marshall
    Jan 15 at 12:21
  • @Dottard No! There is no other source! As I said, they (the fallen angelic beings), like Adam, their spirit is separated from God - the result of unrighteousness. What I am saying is that evil (Nephilim) ‘spirits’ are not the same as ‘man’s’ (human) spirit.
    – Dave
    Jan 15 at 18:20
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The Bible does not indicate what spirits are made of.

Some words age poorly

Oxygen wasn't discovered until approx. 1604 (you'd think someone would have noticed it before then =) ). In the ancient world, there was no need to distinguish between the material in the air that is processed by our lungs and the entity that God supplied to make inanimate clay alive. One word (ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek) was adequate to cover "that which gives life".

Lest we be tempted to think the ancients were silly for having only one word to cover this subject matter, it may be helpful to recall that the word "atom" literally means something that cannot be divided. This was a helpful way to refer to them 120 years ago, but it turns out it is possible to split atoms (I don't recommend trying this at home). What is meant by the word had to be changed over time as hitherto unknown details were discovered.

Nature vs. Composition

If the question of fundamental difference is one of nature, the answer is clearly yes. Cain & Abel were made of the same materials, but in nature they were of a very different bent. The differences in their nature are demonstrated by their choices.

If the question of fundamental difference is one of composition (what is it made of), the answer could be no. This is probably inextricable from theology though - if demons, mortals, angels, etc. are all human (not going to try to argue for that here, just acknowledging this is an interpretation that exists), then all of them have a human spirit, but not all of them have a physical body.

Conclusion

The fact that this is an area of disagreement in Biblical interpretation underscores the fact that the various usages of "spirit" are not explicitly defined.

The Bible does not articulate a difference between the spirit of a human being and the spirit of a disembodied evil spirit. This is logically compatible with either of these possibilities:

a) They are different but the Bible doesn't talk about this

b) They are fundamentally the same (in composition)


My own views are described here

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