The Soul and the Spirit
by Glenn Conjurske
One of the great deficiencies in the theology of the church is the failure to distinguish between the soul and the spirit. Many indeed hold that the two are the same thing. But the Scriptures distinguish between them, and even speak of dividing them asunder. And when once we understand the great diversity between them, to assert that they are the same thing appears as foolish as it would be to assert that the yolk and the white of an egg are the same thing. Such an assertion is based upon nothing other than ignorance. Yet ignorance has prevailed throughout the church on this theme. When we look back at the theology of the centuries, it is not that we find false teaching on the subject, but rather no teaching at all. Many go so far as to maintain that the soul and the spirit are two different things, but there their teaching ends. They do not so much as attempt to explain what the difference is between them. Some in the modern church have ventured to affirm a few things on the subject
—-not because they have more understanding than others, but more self-confidence or temerity. Such a one is Bill Gothard, whose teaching on the subject is nothing better than imagination, with no foundation in Scripture, and so nothing better than confusion. The will he puts into the soul, whereas it certainly belongs to the spirit. He likewise advises men to repent with their emotions, whereas repentance is certainly an act of the will, and so of the spirit, not the soul. The only sound teaching which I have met with on the subject came from the pen of F. W. Grant (Plymouth Brethren, 1834-1902), who produced two books which contain some light on the matter. The first is a very small (and very scarce) work, entitled The Doctrine of the Soul in Life and Death. The second is his large and excellent Facts and Theories as to a Future State, the first part of which is a discussion of “Man As He Is.” These two books, which I read more than two decades ago, gave me to understand that it is possible to understand from the Scriptures the diverse properties of soul and spirit, and set me to thinking in the right direction to find that understanding.
What then is the difference between soul and spirit? Briefly stated, the soul is the self. Man is a soul. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground”
—-this is the body —-“and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” —-the spirit, as “breath” is in the Hebrew —-“and man BECAME a living soul.” Man has a body and a spirit, but he is a soul. The soul is the self. Thus:
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose HIS OWN SOUL?” (Mark 8:36).
“For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose HIMSELF?” (Luke 9:25).
The soul, then, being the self, it is the individuality, or what is called the personality. This being so, the soul is obviously the seat of personal taste, of likes and dislikes, and so of every kind of desire. As it is the seat of longing, it is also the seat of enjoyment, satisfaction, and fulfillment. The emotions belong to the soul. All of this may be plainly seen in the Scriptures, and to those we shall turn shortly.
The spirit is the seat of choice, determination, and action, and so of character. The conscience also belongs to the spirit. The spirit is also the seat of the understanding.
But before I turn to the Scripture proofs of all of this, permit me to affirm that I do not pretend to have a complete understanding of this subject. It is a very complex one, as the soul and spirit are themselves very complex, and very intimately united in their actions, as both of them are also very intimately united with the body. The subject is further complicated by the use of figurative expressions in Scripture to represent parts or functions of man’s being, such as the heart, the flesh, the old man, the new man, the inner man, the mind, the reins, and the bowels. However deep our understanding of these things may be, yet we know in part, and deep and many are the questions which remain unanswered. Nevertheless, there is great reward in any degree of understanding of these matters. They are intimately connected with many of the deepest and most important matters of both theology and experience, and to understand the difference between soul and spirit opens a vast field of understanding in numerous areas. For those who wish that understanding, I proceed to give the scriptures upon which the above remarks are founded. This I will do with a fullness which may seem tedious to some, but I design this article for serious study by those who wish to understand the subject.
As the soul (Heb. vp#n#, Greek v) is the self, or individuality, it is the seat of what we call personality. It is the seat, therefore, of all taste, of all likes and dislikes, of all desires and longings, of emotions generally, and so of enjoyment and satisfaction.
The soul is the seat of desires and longings in general:
II Sam. 3:21. “…that thou mayest reign over all that thine HEART [soul, Heb. vp#n#] desireth.”
Prov. 13:4. “The SOUL of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing.”
Eccl. 6:2. “A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his SOUL of all that he desireth.”
Deut. 12:15. “Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy SOUL lusteth after.” See also verses 20 & 21 of the same chapter.
Deut. 14:26. “And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy SOUL lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy SOUL desireth, and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God.” It plainly appears here that the soul is the seat of taste. One man likes beef, another mutton, and a third likes no meat at all, but eats only vegetables. The fact is, mutton tastes exactly the same to each of them, but some like the taste of mutton, and some dislike it. That like or dislike is in the soul.
Prov. 6:30. “Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his SOUL when he is hungry.”
Is. 29:8. “It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his SOUL is empty; or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold, he drinketh, but he awaketh, and behold, he is faint, and his SOUL hath appetite.”
The soul is the seat of dislikes and aversions:
Numbers 11:6. “But now our SOUL is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.”
Numbers 21:5. “Our SOUL loatheth this light bread.”
Proverbs 27:7. “The full SOUL loatheth an honeycomb, but to the hungry SOUL every bitter thing is sweet.”
Job 33:20. “So that his life abhorreth bread, and his SOUL dainty meat.”
The soul is the seat of love, both romantic and generic love:
Gen. 34:3 & 8. “And his SOUL clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel.” “And Hamor communed with them, saying, The SOUL of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter.”
Song of Sol. 1:7. “Thou whom my SOUL loveth.” The same expression is used four times in Song of Sol. 3:1-4.
I Sam. 18:1. “…the SOUL of Jonathan was knit with the SOUL of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own SOUL.”
The soul is likewise the seat of hate, dislike, and aversion:
Jer. 15:1. “Then said the Lord unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my MIND [soul, Heb. vp#n#] could not be toward this people.”
Ezek. 23:17-18. “And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her SOUL [Heb. vp#n#] was alienated from them. So she discovered her whoredoms, and discovered her nakedness: then my SOUL was alienated from her, like as my SOUL was alientated from her sister.” The same in verse 22.
Ezek. 23:28. “I will deliver thee into the hand of them whom thou hatest, into the hand of them from whom thy SOUL [Heb. vp#n#] is alienated.”
Zech. 11:8. “Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my SOUL lothed them, and their SOUL also abhorred me.”
Prov. 6:16. “These six things doth the Lord hate, yea, seven are an abomination unto him [Heb., unto his SOUL]: a proud look, a lying tongue,” etc.
Heb. 10:38. “But if any man draw back, my SOUL shall have no pleasure in him.”
It will be observed that it is the soul of the Lord which is referred to in a number of these scriptures. This usage may be regarded as figurative, along with references to the eyes, ears, and hands of the Lord. Yet if such things are figurative, they are used precisely because they aptly figure the things spoken of. The things ascribed to the soul of the Lord are true also of the souls of men.
The soul is the seat of spiritual desires:
Psalm 42:1-2. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my SOUL after thee, O God. My SOUL thirsteth for God.”
Psalm 84:2. “My SOUL longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.”
Psalm 119:81. “My SOUL fainteth for thy salvation.”
See also Psalm 130:5, and Psalm 143:6.
Is. 26:8-9. “Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee: the desire of our SOUL is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. With my SOUL have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early.” This scripture is of great interest, as it speaks of both the soul and the spirit, but I shall reserve my comments upon that till later.
The soul is the seat of evil desires:
I Sam. 23:20. “Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of thy SOUL to come down, and our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand.” The desire spoken of is Saul’s desire to kill David.
Psalm 10:3. “The wicked boasteth of his SOUL’S desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth.” (So the Hebrew.)
Prov. 21:10. “The SOUL of the wicked desireth evil.”
Is. 66:3. “Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their SOUL delighteth in their abominations.”
All of the above scriptures abundantly indicate the soul as the seat of all likes and dislikes, and of every kind of desire and longing, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. This being the case it follows that
The soul is therefore the seat of delight, enjoyment, and satisfaction:
Ex. 15:9. “The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust [Hebrew, my SOUL, vp#n#] shall be satisfied upon them.”
Psalm 63:5-6. “My SOUL shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips, when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.”
The preceding two passages indicate that both sinful and spiritual satisfaction reside in the soul.
Psalm 131:2. “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my SOUL is even as a weaned child.” A weaned child is a contented child. Before he is weaned, he is always longing for the breast
—-satisfied while he has it, otherwise not. All of this is in the soul.
Prov. 13:19. “The desire accomplished is sweet to the SOUL.”
Is. 55:2. “Let your SOUL delight itself in fatness.”
I turn now to the spirit (Heb. j^Wr, Greek, ‘ ).
The spirit is the seat of the conscience:
Prov. 20:27. “The SPIRIT OF MAN is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.”
The spirit is the seat of understanding:
Job 32:8. “But there is a SPIRIT in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.”
Daniel 5:12. “Forasmuch as an excellent SPIRIT, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel…”
Mark 2:8. “And immediately when Jesus perceived in his SPIRIT that they so reasoned within themselves…”
Rom. 8:16. “The Spirit itself beareth witness together with our SPIRIT, that we are the children of God.” (Greek.)
I Cor. 2:11. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the SPIRIT of man which is in him?”
The spirit is the seat of character:
Num. 14:24. “But my servant Caleb, because he had another SPIRIT with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land.”
Psalm 32:2. “…and in whose SPIRIT there is no guile.”
Psalm 34:18. “…such as be of a contrite SPIRIT.”
Psalm 51:10 & 17. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right SPIRIT within me.” “The sacrifices of God are a broken SPIRIT: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Prov. 11:13. “A talebearer revealeth secrets, but he that is of a faithful SPIRIT concealeth the matter.”
Prov. 16:2. “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes, but the Lord weigheth the SPIRITS.”
Prov. 16:19. “Better it is to be of an humble SPIRIT with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
Prov. 16:32. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his SPIRIT than he that taketh a city.”
Eccl. 7:8. “…the patient in SPIRIT is better than the proud in SPIRIT.”
Is. 57:15. “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble SPIRIT.”
Matthew 5:3. “Blessed are the poor in SPIRIT.”
Luke 9:55. “But he turned and rebuked them, and said, ye know not what manner of SPIRIT ye are of.”
Acts 18:25. “Being fervent in the SPIRIT, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord.”
I Pet. 3:4. “…a meek and quiet SPIRIT, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
The above scriptures in general concern good character.
The spirit is also the seat of evil character:
Psalm 78:8. “…a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose SPIRIT was not steadfast with God.”
Prov. 14:29. “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding, but he that is hasty of SPIRIT exalteth folly.”
Prov. 16:18. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty SPIRIT before a fall.”
Prov. 25:28. “He that hath no rule over his own SPIRIT is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”
The spirit is the seat of action:
Ezra 1:5. “Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose SPIRIT God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.”
Hag. 1:14. “And the Lord stirred up the SPIRIT of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the SPIRIT of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the SPIRIT of all the remnant of the people, and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts their God.”
See also I Chron. 5:26 and Jer. 51:11. In all of these the Lord is said to stir up or raise up the spirits of men to act. It is plain in all of them that it is in the spirit that action originates. It is never said that the Lord stirs up a man’s soul to act.
Psalm 77:6. “I commune with mine own heart, and my SPIRIT made diligent search.”
Isaiah 26:9. “With my SOUL have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my SPIRIT within me will I seek thee early.” This scripture is of the utmost importance, as it defines the distinctive spheres of both soul and spirit. The soul DESIRES. The spirit ACTS. It is for this reason that character lies in the spirit. Many have desires, even strong desires, but never act upon them. Most desires are involuntary, but action is voluntary, and so praiseworthy or blameworthy.
The spirit is the seat of the will, or power of choice, purpose, and determination:
I grant at the outset that there is little direct proof of this in Scripture. Yet even were there no direct proof at all, it is a thoroughly safe and sound inference, from the facts (abundantly attested) that the spirit is the seat of both action and character, both of which arise directly from the choice or determination of the will. One scripture directly attributes choice or determination to the spirit:
Acts 19:21. “After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit…to go to Jerusalem.”
It is of course grammatically possible to interpret “spirit” here of the Holy Spirit, but this is disallowed by the fact that in Acts 21:4 the Spirit forbids Paul to go to Jerusalem. “And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days, who said to Paul through the Spirit that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” It is not possible that the same Spirit should have determined Paul to go to Jerusalem, and spoken to him through these disciples that he should not go. It is really out of the question to refer “the Spirit” in this text to anything but the Spirit of God. We have, “who [plural] said to Paul through the Spirit [singular].” This can hardly be a reference to the human spirits of the speakers. And “through the Spirit” is a common phrase in Scripture to designate words spoken by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I must take Acts 19:21, then, as direct proof that the power to choose or purpose lies in the spirit.
But having stated all of the above, I wish to reiterate that at this point in time diffidence becomes us all. WE KNOW IN PART. This is a vast field which, to my knowledge, the church of God has never yet explored nor discussed. I am certain that I know in part. I have many unanswered questions. I write to move men to study, as well as to give them information. On some points I see clearly, on others not. But I desire to make a few observations, to give what light I can, and aid others in the pursuit of further light.
In the present article I have done no more than to endeavor to lay a foundation for the proper understanding of this theme. The matter itself is of great importance. It has immense practical bearings, and deep theological bearings. An understanding of the nature of man opens a vast field of understanding concerning the nature of the gospel and of gospel preaching. It gives a clearer understanding of all human emotions and volitions, and so of all vices and virtues. I have often felt the strength and discernment which an understanding of these things contributes when dealing with the souls of men. Yet most of the ramifications of the matter I must reserve for other times. At present I wish only to give a few hints.
The first thing to which I wish to call attention is the paramount importance of the Old Testament Scriptures, which are generally so little regarded in our day. It is to them that we must turn for much of our knowledge of the nature of man (as well as much of our knowledge of the nature of God)
—-and these are two of the most important matters in all sound doctrine. Most of what we may know of the nature of man is implicit in the Old Testament, and these things are neither superceded nor repeated by the New Testament.
Though it appears to me that feeling in general is in the soul, yet Scripture ascribes certain feelings to the spirit
—-especially feelings of joy and grief.
The heart is a figurative term, which evidently embraces both soul and spirit, for the Bible uses it of the seat of both desires and purposes, and either the context or sound doctrine must determine the distinction, where distinction can be made.
The Bible distinguishes between sin and sins. “Sin that dwells in me” is not the same thing as sins which I commit. The former is involuntary, the latter voluntary. “Sin that dwells in me” seemingly consists primarily of illicit desires, while sins are acts resulting from choices to yield to those desires. The former belong to the soul, while the latter belong to the spirit.
Thus whatever of inability belongs to man in his depraved state is apparently in his soul, not his spirit. His emotions and desires are involuntary
—-bound —-necessary —-but his will is free. Every man knows this by his own experience, and it is everywhere assumed in the Bible, though false doctrinal systems assert the contrary. A man’s emotions and desires may be all wrong, and yet, under the motivation afforded by the conscience and the understanding, he may choose to do right. God does not require a man to hate his sins (as some preachers do), but to forsake them. To hate them he has no immediate power; to forsake them he does. This is the Bible doctrine of self-denial, and of repentance and conversion. I am well aware that there is such a thing as being a slave to sin, for the lusts may be so strengthened, and the will so weakened, by indulgence in sin, that a man has not sufficient “will-power” to break the chain. But what freedom remains to a man’s will in such a state, and how he may break away from the chains of sin, are questions too large to be treated in this article.
True religion, godliness, and character belong to the spirit. Religion does not consist of religious emotions, feelings, or desires, which belong to the soul, but of choices and actions, which belong to the spirit. Many have such desires and feelings, who have no religion at all.