What is the Difference Between the Soul and the Spirit?

The Bible is a book about spiritual things. It describes both God and mankind as being spiritual in nature. While we all have a physical aspect to our being, Scripture explains that we also have a soul. In fact, the words, “soul” and “spirit” are often used interchangeably, depending on the context. So, what is the difference between the soul and spirit? Wayne Jackson’s website, The Christian Courier,* has one of the best explanations I have ever read regarding this topic. Here’s an excerpt of what he says:

A Soul is a Person

 Sometimes the word soul signifies merely an individual person. The prophet Ezekiel declared that the soul (i.e., the person) who sins will surely die (Ezekekiel 18:20). Peter would write centuries later that eight souls were saved by water in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20). See also Exodus 1:5.

A Soul is life itself

In some contexts, a soul simply has reference to biological life. It is the animating force that is common to both humans and animals. All creatures have “life” (see Genesis 1:30; cf. ASV footnote). The wicked king, Herod the Great, sought to take the “life” of baby Jesus (Matthew 2:20; cf. Revelation 12:11). In one of the visions of the Apocalypse, certain creatures of the sea were said to possess “psuche” [Greek word] or life (Revelation 8:9).

A Soul can Refer to the Mind

 A soul can have to do with that aspect of man that is characterized by the intellectual and emotional (Gen. 27:25; Job 30:16). It is the eternal component of man that is fashioned in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26). It can exist apart from the physical body (Mt. 10:28; Rev. 6:9).

Spirit Can Refer to the Air we Breathe or Wind

 [It] can literally denote a person’s breath. The queen of Sheba was breathless when she viewed the splendor of Solomon’s kingdom (see 1 Kings 10:4-5). The word can also signify the wind. For instance, some people pursuing empty goals are but striving after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14, 17).

A Spirit Can Refer to a Non-physical Being

The term spirit can be employed, however, in a higher sense. It sometimes is used to depict the nature of a non-material being (e.g. God). God (the Father), as to his essence, is spirit (John 4:24). He is not a physical or material being (Luke 24:39; Mt. 16:17). Another member of the godhead is specifically designated as the “Holy Spirit”). Similarly, angels are spirit in nature, though they are not deity (Hebrews 1:14).

A Spirit Can Refer to a Person

Sometimes the word spirit can be used by way of the figure of speech known as the synecdoche (part for the whole, or vice versa) for a person himself. John wrote: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). Note that the term “spirits” is the equivalent of “false prophets” in this text.

Spirit Can be Used as a Synonym for the Soul

Spirit may refer to the “inward man” (2 Cor. 4:16) that is fashioned in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). Thus, it is a synonym of “soul.” A sacred writer noted that the “spirit of man is the lamp of Jehovah” (Proverbs 20:27). This is an allusion to that element of man that distinguishes him from the beasts of the earth.

Daniel affirmed that his spirit was grieved within his body (Daniel 7:15). And Paul noted that it is man’s spirit that is capable of “knowing” things (1 Cor. 2:11). Paul also affirmed that church discipline is designed to save a man’s “spirit” in the day of the Lord (1 Cor. 5:5; see also, 1 Cor. 16:18; 2 Cor. 7:1; James 2:26).

A Spirit Can Refer to a Mental State or Disposition

Spirit sometimes stands for a person’s mental disposition or attitude — either for bad or good. Examples include the following: a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), a meek and submissive spirit (1 Peter 3:4), or a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).


From this brief discussion, then, it is readily apparent that the careful student must examine biblical words in their context. The context can override all other linguistic considerations (e.g., etymology and grammar). A Bible term, extracted from its original context, loses its divine authority. One thing is for certain. An honest student cannot study the uses of “soul” and “spirit” in the documents of Scripture, and then conclude that humans are wholly mortal. And yet this is what skeptics contend, and some religionists allege as well.

* < https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/526-soul-and-spirit-whats-the-difference