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Bible Basics (5th. ed.)



4.3 The Spirit of Man

There is an unfortunate confusion in many people’s minds between the soul and the spirit. This is aggravated by the fact that in some languages and Bible translations, the English words ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ have only one equivalent. The ‘soul’ fundamentally referring to all the constituents of a person can sometimes refer to the spirit as well. However, normally there is a difference in meaning between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ as used in the Bible; soul and spirit can be ‘divided ’ (Heb. 4:12).

The Hebrew and Greek words for ‘spirit’ (‘Ruach’ and ‘Pneuma’ respectively) are also translated in the following ways.

Life Spirit Mind Wind Breath

We have studied the idea of ‘spirit’ in Study 2.1. God uses His spirit to preserve the natural creation, including man. The spirit of God which is within man is therefore the life force within him. “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). “God breathed into (Adam’s nostrils) the breath (spirit) of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). Job speaks of “the breath of God” as being “in my nostrils” (Job 27:3 cf. Is. 2:22). The spirit of life within us is therefore given to us at birth, and remains as long as our body is alive. When God’s spirit is withdrawn from anything, it immediately perishes - the spirit is the life force. If God “gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust. If you have understanding, hear this” (Job 34:14-16). The last sentence again hints that man finds this exposure of his real nature very hard to come to terms with.

When God takes away His spirit from us at death, not only does our body die, but our entire consciousness ceases. David’s appreciation of this led him to trust in God rather than in creatures as weak as man. Ps. 146:3-5 is a tough counter to the claims of humanism: “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth (the dust from which we are made); in that very day his plans perish. Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help”.

At death, “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7). We have shown earlier that God is present everywhere through His spirit. In this sense “God is Spirit” (Jn. 4:24). When we die we ‘breathe our last’ in the sense that God’s spirit within us departs from us. That spirit is absorbed into God’s spirit which is all around us; so at death “the spirit will return to God”.

Because God’s spirit sustains all of creation, this same process of death occurs to animals. Men and animals have the same spirit, or life force, within them. “What happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one (i.e. the same) breath (spirit); man has no advantage over beasts” (Ecc. 3:19). The writer goes on to say that there is no discernible difference between where the spirit of men and animals goes (Ecc. 3:21). This description of men and animals having the same spirit and dying the same death, appears to allude back to the description of how both men and animals, who both had the spirit of life from God (Gen. 2:7; 7:15), were destroyed with the same death at the flood: “All flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life...died... all living things were destroyed” (Gen. 7:21-23). Note in passing how Ps. 90:5 likens death to the flood. The record in Genesis 7 clearly shows that in fundamental terms, man is in the same category as “all flesh... all living things”. This is due to his having the same spirit of life within him as they do.

Some have argued that the fact God breathed His Spirit into man means that by nature we have immortality within us. This is not so. The fact that God breathed into Adam the spirit/power of life meant that he became a living soul; but this fact is quoted in 1 Cor. 15:45 as proof that Adam was mortal; he was only a living soul, a living creature, but was mortal compared to the immortality of the Lord Jesus.

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