The words “soul” and “spirit” are often confused as being the same thing and are used interchangeably, but according to the Bible, they are two distinct things. Here are the differences according to Scripture.
“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.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (bold emphasis added)
The above and following verse demonstrates that Scripture views the spirit, soul, and body as three distinct entities.
“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.”
– Hebrews 4:12 (bold emphasis added)
Let’s look at how the Bible defines both spirit and soul.
The Christian concept of the Trinity declares that God is a triune entity, being one composed of three parts: The Father (God), the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Each part is distinct, yet comprises a single whole. The Holy Spirit is defined as a divine force that acts as an agent of communication or divine action.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
– John 4:23-24
Human beings have a spirit but are not spirits, according to gotquestions.org.
With the understanding that the Holy Spirit is an agent of communication, biblical scholar Ellicott states: “The link between human nature and the divine is in the human spirit, which is the shrine of the Holy Spirit. All true approach to God must therefore be in spirit.”
The pulpit commentary at Bible hub states: “But ‘spirit’ here does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but to the spirit of man – that part of man’s constitution through which he most especially bears the image of God, and with which the Divine Spirit deals, and in which he dwells.”
In summary, the spirit is the dwelling place within human beings for the Holy Spirit, and the mechanism through which we communicate with God. Although the spirit is not a bodily organ, like an organ, its function is to facilitate our connection to the divine.
As shown in the verses above, the soul is different from the spirit and the two can be divided.
While a clear definition of the soul is not detailed in a single passage in the Bible, it is through many references within Scripture that allow us to derive a conclusion.
One thing the Bible makes clear is that the soul is the essence of our being. We are not our body – we are a soul. It is the most important thing we possess – more important than anything to be found in life on earth. Jesus said:
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
– Matthew 16:26
The Bible also communicates that the soul is different from the body or any parts within the body, such as the heart and mind.
The Bible tells us the soul continues to live after physical death. The soul is immortal, created by God, and after physical death on earth, Jesus Christ will judge whether a sinful soul will be forgiven and receive eternal life or be condemned to eternal punishment.