What is the definition of spirit?


(Note: This is a follow-up to a question about the nature of a soul. To
save the reader time, I am pasting my response to that question to the
bottom of this answer)

It is easier to define soul than spirit for the simple reason that the
word soul in the Bible almost always refers to a human soul, while the
word spirit (pneuma in Greek) has reference to the spirit of a person and
to the Spirit of God and spirit in a metaphorical sense as spirit can mean
essence in a more general connotation.

First, there is the passage in Hebrews 4:12 which says the Word of God is
so sharp that it can even separate soul from spirit. This implies two
things. First, they are definitely different, and second, it is very
difficult to completely separate the two by mere definition.

Second, I do not believe that spirit is a physical thing in any sense of
the word. I cannot prove the existence of spirit by any conceivable
experiment, at least I assume it cannot be done, the work of ghost busters
not withstanding. My belief in and definition of spirit is based on the
inspiration and authority of the Bible alone. I believe that the
existence of a spiritual reality is obvious outside of scripture, but my
definition is to be found solely in scripture, not my opinion, based on my
own religious/spiritual experiences.

1. My first definition of spirit is that part of human beings which is
made “in the image of God.” Obviously, if we are made in the image of
God, it certainly is not defined by our bodies. Any implication that God
has physical features is clearly ridiculous. All such references (God?s
hand supported me and so forth) are clearly intentional anthropomorphisms.
It is in our spiritual nature that we are like God. John 4:24 God is
spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.

2. A spirit is identified as somehow associated with a person, but not all
spirits are human. The Bible often calls a person a spirit. In that
sense, the spirit of a person is the essence of that person. 1 Sam 16:23
and the evil spirit left him? 1 Kings 22:21 Finally, a spirit came
forward? Mk 9:20 When the spirit saw Jesus, it? 1 Peter 3:19 preached
to the spirits in prison who disobeyed God.

3. While a human being is alive, their spirit is somehow constrained or
localized (in a way I am powerless to define) to a body, but the spirit
lives on after the body dies. At that time, the spirit is no longer tied
to the body. 1 Peter 3:19 again. I assume that these are human spirits
who are no longer physically embodied. Ecc 12:7 the spirit returns to
the God who gave it. Acts 7:59 “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Luke
8:55 Her spirit returned.

4. From God?s perspective, a human body without its spirit is dead James
2:26. I will admit that I do not fully understand the implications of
this statement.

5. One?s spirit is effected by emotions (but it is not the emotions
themselves, unlike the soul) John 13:21 Jesus was troubled in spirit.
John 11:33 he was deeply moved in spirit. Daniel 7:15 I, Daniel, was
troubled in spirit. Psalm 51:12,17 a willing spirit? a broken spirit?

6. The human spirit is in some ways similar to and responds to the Holy
Spirit and to God in general (because God is spirit). Romans 8:16 The
Spirit himself testifies with our spirit?

7. The human spirit is eternal. Unlike God, the human spirit was
created, but like God, it is eternal. I will admit that the meaning of
the Greek word for eternal (aeon, I believe) can be debated, so the exact
meaning of this claim is not as obvious as some might think.
Nevertheless, the spirit is eternal. Zech 12:1 ?who forms the spirit of
man within him?

I could say more, but that is a pretty good start. You will see that the
biblical definition of spirit is more vague than the definition of the
soul. I can speculate and give you my opinion about what a spirit is. I
certainly have some ideas of my own, but I will spare you my speculative

John Oakes, PhD

What are the properties of a soul?


As a scientist I cannot define the word soul. As far as I know, the soul
has no physical reality. Rather, it has a spiritual reality; not subject
to experiment. It is ontolological, metaphysical. I will freely admit
that my belief in a soul rests principally (though not totally) on the
authority of the Bible, so I will answer your question by quoting the

1. It is something with which we can love God and our neighbor.
(Deuteronomy 4:29, 10:12, Mark 12:30, etc.)

2. It is a center of human emotion (1 Sam 1:10 Job 3:10 bitterness, Job
30:25 grief, Psalms 35:9 joy, Isaiah 29:6 yearning

3. It is the seat of human affection (1 Sam 14:7,

4. It is a part of us which takes part in worship (Psalms 23:4 of an idol,
Psalms 42:2 of God,

5. It can be “lost” or “saved.” In other words, it is in some sense
eternal, although it was created. (Psalm 49:15, Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:37,
Prov 23:14, Psalm 86:13, Proverbs 11:30, 1Peter 1:9,

6. It can be blamed for the wrong it motivates us to do (1 Thessalonians
5:23, Ezekiel 18:20, Micah 6:7

7. It can be healthy or sick, at least in some sense (3 John 2,

8. It belongs to God (Ezekiel 18:4

I left these lists as open parenthesis, as I could have cited several more
verses under each category. To summarize, the human soul is created. It
is “eternal” (but the exact meaning of this word is not absolutely clear).
It is the seat of desire and emotion. God will hold our soul responsible
for the actions which its desires caused us to do or to not do. I could
say more, but I think that is a reasonable starting point.

John O.

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