Body, soul and spirit

Although the subject is complicated, and those who study the Bible reach different conclusions in some respects, the article below may be helpful. The writer, John Drain, was a man who loved the Word of God and applied great care in teaching from it. His writings express clear thinking, with support from relevant Bible passages, and can therefore provide a good foundation read on subjects that can easily cause us to get lost in complexity. So this is commended to all as a valuable starting point for studying this important topic.


“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” (Gen.2:7). In these words we have the Scriptural account of how man began to be. We observe that in the constitution of man there was (1) that which was out of the earth, (2) that which was out of God, (3) that which man became—a living soul. There are, therefore, three things which present themselves in relation to man’s constitution, (1) body—that which came from the dust, (2) spirit—that which came from God, (3) soul—the person in whom is the spirit and who lives in the body. In the creation of man we reach a crisis in the creative work of God. Living creatures, cattle, creeping things, beasts had been made each after its kind. But in relation to man “God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness”. Here is something distinctive. “In Our image, after Our likeness” cannot refer to anything physical because God is spirit. It seems rather to imply that man, superior to the other living creatures on the earth, was intended to be God’s overlord on the earth, God’s representative, possessing not only God-consciousness and self-consciousness but enjoying also sovereignty and dominion over the living things in the sea, in the air and on the earth.

In the Scriptures we find the words “spirit” and “soul” and “body” used with a variety of significations. And it will be observed that in order to secure a particular emphasis each of these words has been used as representing the person. Peter referring to certain persons calls them “the spirits in prison” (1 Pet.3:19). In the next verse he writes of those who were saved at the time when God sent the judgement of the Flood and he says, “Wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water”. Paul when dealing with the sin of fornication writes, ” Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” (1 Cor.6:16). Though the words may be used with the variety of signification to which we have referred and also each be used to represent a person, there is in Scripture a clear indication that man consists of spirit and soul and body, and this truth was in the mind of Paul when he wrote, “and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess.5:23).

When we consider the great mystery of the incarnation of God the Son we find outstanding proof of the tripartite constitution of man. He partook of blood and flesh so that He might die to fulfil great purposes of the divine counsels. As we think of the Cross we recall that when the work undertaken by Christ was accomplished “He said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (Jn 19:30). He was dead. His spirit He had commended into the hands of His Father. His body was carried by Joseph and Nicodemus and placed in the tomb. He Himself went to Sheol (Gk., Hades). When preaching on the day of Pentecost Peter quoted concerning Christ from Psalm 16, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 2:27). It is clear that Christ in becoming Man possessed spirit and soul and body. It is also clear that in particular His soul is identified with Himself, the One who having given up His spirit and having vacated His body went down into Sheol.

Long before Christ came into the world by incarnation Job, a man who not only enjoyed remarkable powers of observation but who also received profound illumination through divine revelation, said, “Man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost (literally, expires), and where is he?” (Job 14:10KJV). Here Job seeks to probe the great mystery of death and its consequences. He knew something of what happened to the body—it wasted away. He had the knowledge that man gave up the spirit. On another occasion Job said, “as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils” (Job 27:3). But Job’s question related to the man who had been in the body and in whom was the spirit. Where was he? Where did he go at death? The analysis which Job’s words involve seems to indicate that he regarded man as body and spirit and soul.

With Job’s words in mind we can go back to examine the record of the death of Abraham. We read, “Abraham gave up the ghost (literally, expired), and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah” (Gen.25:8-9KJV). Three facts emerge here.

(1) Abraham gave up the ghost. Job said, “Man giveth up the ghost”;

(2) Abraham’s sons buried him, and in the cave the body went to corruption. Job said, “and wasteth away”;

(3) Abraham was gathered to his people. “Where is he?” was asked by Job. In Abraham’s case he was gathered to his people. What happened to Abraham in the great dissolution which results from death happened to many others about whom we read in the Scriptures.

Accepting that man is body and soul and spirit we may consider in particular some things that are said about each. The body of man, as we have seen, came originally from the earth. To this Paul refers when he says, “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust” (1 Cor.15:47). David said, “Wonderful are your works”. This truth is specially demonstrated in the body of man, and David wrote also, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Man’s body in its anatomical relationships and in its physiological functions has drawn admiration from all who have studied it. Brilliant minds have made specialized examination of the various parts and organs of the body, and as we think of the vast accumulation of knowledge which the aggregate of this specialized investigation must provide we feel something of the force of David’s words “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.

When sin entered through Adam’s transgression the resultant fall of man brought serious consequences which affected the whole being of man. Into his body came the effects of sin. Disease and death were among these effects. And sin laid hold upon the body to use it as its instrument for sinful passions and activities. Paul wrote, “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death” (Rom.7:5). In the experience of regeneration the body of the believing sinner is indwelt by the Spirit of God, and by reason of this indwelling the believer’s body is temple of the Holy Spirit. Further, the believer is assured that his body which belonged to Christ by reason of Creatorship now belongs to Christ by right of purchase. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor.6:19,20). Tremendous possibilities now unfold. The believer may glorify God in his body. By the Spirit’s power he can respond to the exhortation, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Rom.6:12). Instead he may obey the injunction, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (or, “reasonable service” RV) (Rom.12:1). When Christ returns for His Church, the body of the believer will undergo amazing radical changes, whether through the resurrection triumph in the raising of the dead and their being clothed upon “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor.5:2), or through the change by which “the mortal puts on immortality” (1 Cor.15:54). The great change will involve that the Saviour from heaven will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil.3:21). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of heaven” (1 Cor.15:49).

Of man’s spirit someone has said, “Thus the ‘spirit’ is that part of your personality which, as the higher consciousness, is directed toward the Divine and super-sensual”. Paul’s words give us help in this matter, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” (1 Cor.2:11). It is therefore clear that with the spirit of man is associated that complete inner knowledge which penetrates the complex being of man in his motives, desires, purposes and will. We believe that the spirit of man, like the body of man, suffered the effects of the Fall. In regeneration the Spirit of God indwells the body and makes vital contact with the spirit of the believer. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom.8:16). Thus is established true spiritual fellowship, the communion of the Spirit, which makes possible the higher knowledge of God our Father. There can be no doubt that in the spirit there is God-consciousness which can direct the body in “reasonable service”.

It has been said that the soul attains merely to self-consciousness. Such a statement would have to be examined against the answer cited by the lawyer from Deut.6:5, and approved by Christ, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” (Lk.10:27). The soul can love and can direct its love to the Lord. Paul exhorted, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Col.3:23). Note that the word “heartily” is really “from the soul” (see RV Margin). It may be true that the soul reaches out through the body, through its appetites and lusts, to find sensual satisfaction, but as in regeneration the body and the spirit enjoy spiritual restoration so also does the soul.

We live in a day of great spiritual dangers. These may affect any part of our complex being. The prayer of Paul should be often on our lips: “may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
J. Drain

(This article was first published in Bible Studies Magazine: 1969)

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