Question Box - What is the difference between soul and spirit?

I asked my little boys (aged 8 and 13 years) if they'd like to come to the movies with me. "Yeah, wicked, dad" they replied. By "wicked", they mean excellent, great or wonderful: but I doubt you'd see that meaning of the word 'wicked' in any English Dictionary. This illustrates an important concept. The meaning of words are always contextual (that is, word meanings can change depending on the surrounding words), and may mean quite different things in different places, and at different times.

The word 'spirit' in both NT and  OT can mean spirit, wind, breath etc. The context usually means the mind, or disposition (happy/sad) of a person. Pararoh's spirit (or mind) was troubled (Gen. 41:8), Jacob's spirit (or depressed mind) revived (Gen. 45:27), Sihon had his spirit hardened (or his mind determined) (Deut. 2:30) etc. But the context may decree other shades of meaning such as that God given breath of life (Gen. 2:7) that keeps us all alive – Eccles. 3:21.

Soul in the OT and NT can mean animal/life/mind/person. Indeed many 'souls' of the older English Bible version are now 'persons' in the newer versions. The most common meaning is simply a life, or a person. Souls can drink (Isa. 32:6), eat (Lev. 7:20), faint (Ps. 107:5) etc. The souls of Gen. 2:7, 17:14, 27:19, 46:15, Exod 1:5 etc are all just 'persons'. But again, the context may decree a slightly different meaning. Job 7:11 is a case where both spirit and soul are used with almost the same meaning, the very depth of Job's feelings. The soul of Matt. 10:28 and 1 Thess. 5:23 is not the body, but the essential character of a person to be brought back to life at Jesus’ return. So, in conclusion, spirit usually means the mind or disposition of man, and soul usually means 'person' or character, but both meanings may vary, and even overlap.


Bro. John Thatcher (Baringa, Australia)

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