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What does the Bible teach about the "spirit in man"? Is that human spirit the same as an immortal soul?

The Bible does indeed teach that every human being has a spirit, but that spirit is neither immortal nor a soul.

I. The Spirit in Man

We discuss the biblical concept of the “spirit in man” extensively in our free booklet, “The Theory of Evolution–a Fairy Tale for Adults”.

In this Q&A, we are quoting the following excerpts:

“Most people know nothing about the existence of the spirit in man—even many religious people—lay persons and theologians alike. When they read passages in the Bible describing the spirit in man, they assume the Bible is talking about the soul. But the soul is not a non-physical component of the human being. The soul, according to the Bible, is totally physical. The Bible does not teach the concept of an immortal soul. Rather, we read in Ezekiel 18:4, ‘The soul who sins shall die.’ The word ‘soul’ in the Bible refers to the living body of both man and animals…

“In the book of Isaiah we are told that each human being has a spirit within him. ‘Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk on it…’ (Isaiah 42:5).

“We also learn that God sometimes influences man’s spirit for His purpose. We could say that God inspires or motivates a person by ‘stirring up’ the spirit in that person. Note 1 Chronicles 5:25-26, ‘And they [Israel] were unfaithful to the God of their fathers, and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria…He carried the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh into captivity.’

“Another example is found in 2 Chronicles 21:16-17, ‘Moreover the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabians…And they came into Judah and invaded it, and carried away all the possessions that were found in the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives.’

“Later, when God saw to it that His word and promise would be fulfilled to rebuild the destroyed city of Jerusalem and the temple, He inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue a decree, permitting the Jews who were captured in Babylon, to return to Jerusalem. Both 2 Chronicles 36:22 and Ezra 1:1 record what exactly happened. ‘Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.”‘ Even King Cyrus realized that God had influenced his spirit to make this proclamation.

“But the work of rebuilding the destroyed temple progressed very slowly. There was a lack of leadership to motivate the people to accomplish the task at hand. Let’s read how God intervened, in Haggai 1:4, ‘So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel…, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua…and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.’

“The Bible strongly indicates that God gives the human spirit at the time of conception, and then takes it back at the time of death. We read in Zechariah 12:1, ‘Thus says the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.’ Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, ‘Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.’ When the spirit in man leaves a person, that person is dead. James 2:26 says, ‘For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also’…

“Understand though, that when a man dies and his spirit returns to God, that spirit does not continue to live consciously, apart from the body. Rather, God ‘stores’ it, so to speak, in heaven, until He unites it at the time of the resurrection of man with a new spiritual or physical body. The concept that man’s soul is immortal is as wrong as the concept that man’s spirit continues to live consciously after death…

“Note Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, ‘But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope… For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing…Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished…’ And verse 10, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.’ In other words, there is no conscious activity after a person dies. The spirit does not continue in the realm of consciousness…

“The spirit in man records all the human characteristics of the person, as well as his or her outward appearance. At the time of the resurrection, the spirit of the dead person is combined with a new body of the dead person. This means, all the experiences and memories and ideas of the former life are back in the resurrected individual, and the resurrected person will also look the same way he or she did in their former life…

“When a person dies, his body returns to dust. But the spirit of man in him has recorded the appearance of the person, the personality, the personal attributes, and God gives the spirit of that person back into the newly created physical body.

“Let’s read Luke 8:49-55, ‘While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying to him, Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher. But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, “Do not be afraid, only believe, and she will be made well.” When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James and John, and the father and the mother of the girl. Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead. But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Little girl, arise.” Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately’…

“One of the writers of the Psalms, Asaph, also understood that it was the spirit within him that motivated him to think and gave him intelligence. He says in Psalm 77:6, ‘I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search.’ King Solomon, who wrote the books of Proverbs, likewise confirmed that it is the spirit in man that grants human understanding and is responsible for self-awareness. He says in Proverbs 20:27, ‘The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inner depths of his heart.’ The New Jerusalem Bible renders this verse, ‘The human spirit is the lamp of Yahweh—searching the deepest self’…

“Paul says in Romans 8:14-16, ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God [the Holy Spirit], these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear [a reference here to Satan, the god and spirit of this world], but you received the Spirit of adoption [or better, sonship] by whom we cry out, Abba, Father. The Spirit [God’s Holy Spirit] Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’

“Paul speaks very clearly about two spirits—the spirit of man and the Holy Spirit. Notice in 1 Corinthians 2:11 and 14, ‘For what man knows the things of man except the spirit of the man which is in him. Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God… But the natural man [a person who does have the spirit of man, but who does not have the Holy Spirit of God] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.'”

As mentioned, each person has a human spirit which God gives to each human, apparently at the time of conception, and which goes back to God in heaven when the person dies. This spirit is not the person, nor is it immortal or eternal, nor does it have a conscious existence when the person dies.

It is THAT spirit in man which God uses when He resurrects the person from the dead. In this context, we must understand that converted Christians, who have ALSO received God’s HOLY SPIRIT in addition to the human spirit, will be resurrected to eternal life, while unconverted humans will be resurrected at a later time to PHYSICAL life. For more information on the resurrections and the function of the human spirit in that process, please read our Q&A’s on the “three resurrections” and the misunderstood concept of the so-called “bodily” resurrection.

II. The Soul

As mentioned in the quotes above, pertaining to the “spirit in man,” the human spirit is not identical with the soul. In fact, the Bible distinguishes between soul and spirit–but neither is immortal. We are setting forth pertinent excerpts regarding the New Testament teaching of the mortality of the soul from our free booklet, “Do We Have an Immortal Soul?”:

“The Greek word translated as ‘soul’ in the New Testament Scriptures is ‘psyche’… As in the Old Testament, we find proof in the New Testament that animals are called ‘souls’ and that those souls can die. Revelation 8:9 states, ‘And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died.’ The word for ‘creatures’ is ‘psyche’ in the Greek. So we could say, ‘The souls in the sea that had life, died.’ Although men are included, the primary emphasis here is on sea animals.

“Revelation 16:3 applies the word again to sea animals. Notice, ‘And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man, and every living soul died in the sea’…

“The New Testament also reveals that people are souls. Souls are not something within the people—rather, souls are people. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, when talking about the resurrection from the dead, Paul quotes from the book of Genesis, telling us what man is and how man came into existence. We read, ‘And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul [‘psyche’].” But this living soul, as well as all other living souls since Adam, died, and have to be made alive again (cp. v. 22). They have to be ‘raised up’ (vv. 35, 42)…

“In the 18th chapter of Revelation, the commercial side of the modern city of Babylon is described. In Verse 13, some of the items are listed with which modern merchants will trade, ‘…And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls [‘psyche’] of men.’ We see that they will trade with people—not only with slaves, but also with ‘free’ men. They are not trading with some immortal element within the men…

“Note, too, Revelation 18:14, ‘And the fruits that thy soul [‘psyche’] lusted after are departed from thee.’ Again, the soul is equated with lusts for physical food, and with special feelings. It is the person, of course, who has those desires and feelings, but special emphasis is given to the psychological aspect of a person here, describing it as the ‘soul.’ (Interestingly, the English word ‘psychological’ is, in fact, derived from the Greek word ‘psyche.’)

“When these psychological aspects are to be emphasized, the word ‘soul’ is sometimes used in combination with other human aspects—but this does not make the ‘soul’ an immortal element or entity within the man… We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, ‘And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit [Greek ‘pneuma’] and soul [Greek ‘psyche’] and body [Greek ‘soma’] be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

“In dividing the person into three aspects or ‘components,’ Paul did not address the issue as to whether some of the aspects were mortal or immortal. Rather, the ‘spirit’ of the person describes his mind [the human spirit or spirit in man], the ‘body’ describes his physical flesh, and the ‘soul’ describes his ‘temporary physical life.’ The Christians were asked to preserve blameless their minds, bodies and lives…

“We read in Acts 15:26, ‘Men… have hazarded their lives [‘psyche’] for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is clearly a reference to physical life—it could not refer to any immortal soul, as the idea of an eternal soul within the person would of course not allow that the person could endanger his or her ‘immortal soul’ by standing up for Jesus Christ—quite the opposite would be the case…

“Let’s notice what Matthew 10:28 does say: ‘And fear not them which kill … the body [‘soma’], but are not able to kill… the soul [‘psyche’]: but rather fear him which is able to destroy… both soul [‘psyche’] and body [‘soma’] in hell [‘gehenna’]’… We need not fear man who can only kill us, taking away our physical lives. That is all man can do—man cannot prevent God from resurrecting us from death to give us life again. Instead, we must fear God, who not only can take away our physical lives, but who can also throw us—both ‘body and soul’—into ‘hell’ [‘gehenna’], taking away our opportunity for eternal life…

“The word ‘gehenna’ and the very concept of it are derived from the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem in which the corpses of dead people, mainly criminals, would be burned up. It is another expression for the ‘lake of fire’ in Revelation 20:15, in which all who have acted wickedly, and who have refused to repent, will be thrown into, to be burned up or ‘devoured.’ (Remember that Hebrews 10:27… tells us that the wicked wait for God’s fiery indignation that will ‘devour’ them.)…

“Those who sin deliberately, willfully and maliciously, God will resurrect to physical life to throw them—their physical body and their soul or their ‘life’—into ‘gehenna’ or the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13–15; 21:8). They won’t burn there forever—rather, they will be burned up. They are the ‘chaff,’ that will be ‘burned up’ with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12)—that is, no human can quench it… they ‘shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up… that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.’ (Malachi 4:1). They will become ashes under the feet of the righteous (Malachi 4:3); it will be as if they had never existed (Obadiah 16).”

In conclusion, the spirit in man is not the soul, but it is residing IN the human soul and body, and it goes back to God when the soul dies–when the temporary physical LIFE ends–and when the body–the physical flesh–ceases to function and begins to decay.

When the soul dies–when physical life ends–and when the body begins to decay, what happens to the “spirit in man,” which goes back to God when man dies? God will use it in the process of the resurrection of the person–He will use the spirit in man to create new–spiritual or physical–bodies. But while beings with spiritual bodies will live forever, beings with physical bodies will be subject to death–they will only be given a temporary existence. While many physical human beings will fulfill their potential and will be ultimately changed into spirit beings, some will commit the unpardonable sin and die the second death in the “gehenna” fire. They will never become immortal, but they will be destroyed and annihilated. What will then happen to their human spirit? This question will be addressed in the next Q&A.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link