Body, Soul and Spirit

Body, Soul and Spirit

Question

My pastor speaks about only the body and spirit, but the Bible refers to body, soul and spirit. Should I say something to him about this?

Answer

Thanks for your question. I’m sure your pastor would be more than willing to explain why he uses the terms as he does. I suspect he may explain something to the extent that the words "soul" and "spirit" are synonymous. Below are a couple of scriptural examples to compare the two words.

Genesis 2:7 (KJV): 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.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 (KJV): Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

In Genesis 2:7 Moses wrote that God breathed into man "the breath of life" and concluded that "man became a living soul." However, Ecclesiastes 12:7 calls this same "soul" in man a "spirit" which returns to God after he dies. 1 Samuel 1:15 does something similar with Hannah replying to God, "No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit [Heb. ruach]. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul [Heb. nephesh] before the Lord." Again "soul" and "spirit" are synonymous terms meaning the same thing.

Let's consider Job 7:11:

Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit [Heb. ruach];
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul [Heb. nephesh].”

This is Hebrew poetry, so notice the way the second line of Job 7:11 parallels in meaning to the third line. Here "soul" and "spirit" are describing the same thing.

Understanding how different biblical genres work helps us avoid misinterpretation when we study the Bible. Job 7:11 is using a form of poetry called synonymous parallelism, which is essentially saying the same thing in different ways in order to communicate and emphasize a specific point. There are two other major types of parallelism in Hebrew poetry: (1) antithetic parallelism and (2) synthetic parallelism. Antithetic parallelism simply uses a contrast between two or more lines of poetry, such as the way Proverbs 10:1 compares the behaviors of wise and foolish sons. Synthetic parallelism uses two or more poetic lines to build upon and intensify the first line as in Proverbs 6:16-19.

I hope this is helpful.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).