What is the
difference between the soul and the spirit?
What is the difference between the soul and the spirit?
The difference between the soul and the spirit is as the difference between the physical and spiritual.
Nearly every religion and society believes that the real man is not the body, but an invisible immortal soul that lives on. But is this so? What exactly is man? What exactly is the soul? What exactly is spirit? And what exactly is “the spirit in man” as mentioned in the Bible in Job 32:8? Is this the immortal soul that lives on?
Men and animals are souls
Let’s start with spirit. Spirit is invisible, not subject to the physical laws. God is spirit (John 2:24). Satan and his demons are spirit. The righteous angels are also spirit. Spirit is also immortal. A spirit being lives forever and cannot die.
Man is physical, formed from the dust of the ground. He was made in the shape and image of God, but was not made as spirit—but of the dust of the ground, which God caused to become flesh.
The soul is also physical.
Genesis 2:7 states: “And 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.” The Hebrew word translated soul here is nephesh. This word is translated elsewhere within the Bible as creature; sometimes referring to animals. Man and animals have a similar, fleshly existence.
God told Adam and Eve that if they took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. Elsewhere in the Bible it says: “The soul that sins dies.” (Ezekiel 18:4 and 20.) If the soul can die then it is not immortal spirit. The soul is physical. Man is a soul. Thus the expression: “He’s a jolly old soul.” Man has the same physical existence as animals. Man and animals are both souls. The same source of life that is in animals is in man. Just as animals die, so does man. And, the dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
Difference between the spirit in man and in animals
Of, course there is something different about man that distinguishes him from the animals. Man has intellect. Animals have instinct. Man can think, reason, and philosophize. Man can appreciate art, has the ability to make choices and decisions; is capable of forming ethical and moral attitudes. Animals only do what they are “programmed” to do. Though, they can learn within certain limitations; they work on instinct. Birds build nests—certain birds build certain kinds of nests. That is what is programmed into them. Does one type of bird who sees the nest of another type of bird think: “Oh, how interesting; I think I will build my nest like that also.”? No. Animals are unable to reason in the sense that man reasons.
So, what causes this difference in Man and animal? Science has shown that the brains of man and animal are very similar. Some animal brains are bigger than man’s brain. So, is it the brain that makes the difference? Or is it something else?
In his book The Brain: The Last Frontier, Richard M. Restak, M.D. points out that there is a difference between brain and mind. “The question ‘Is the brain a sufficient explanation for the mind?’ was anticipated by biologist, Sir Julian Huxley: ‘The brain alone is not responsible for mind, even though it is a necessary organ for its manifestation. Indeed, an isolated brain is a piece of biological nonsense as meaningless as an isolated individual’.”
So, the mind is different from the brain. What is the mind in man?
Job said: “There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty gives them understanding?” (Job 32:8). So what is this spirit in man?
In his booklet “What Science Can’t Discover About the Human Mind”, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote: “It is the nonphysical component in the human brain that does not exist in the brain of animals.”
It is this “human” spirit that is the mind in man. It is the brain that thinks, however, it is the spirit that imparts the power to think. Animal brains, without this spirit, cannot think, except in the most elementary manner.
The difference between spirit and soul
This spirit is not the man. It is not another person inside the man. It is not something that makes the man immortal enabling him to go from being to being or from being to animals as some religions think. It is not an immortal soul that lives forever. Ecclesiastes 12:7 states that this human spirit returns to God upon a man's death. But, it does not have life. This human spirit is more of a depository—like a computer disk holding the files on a hard drive after a computer has been destroyed—it holds the memories of the man's character—which God uses later to implant back into the man at the resurrection.
So, from birth, God gives man this “human” spirit. The spirit gives man the mind power which is not in animals.
This spirit is given to man to aid in God’s plan for mankind. Unlike animals, man was made in the shape and image of God to have a special relationship with God. He was made to ultimately be born into the Family of God, which right now is only composed of God the Father and Jesus Christ, but in the future will include all of mankind.
"The real value of a human life, then, lies solely within the human spirit combined with the human brain," Herbert W. Armstrong states in Mystery of the Ages.
He continued: "Man was created to have a relationship with his Maker. Therefore, he was made in his Maker's form and shape, with contact and relationship made possible by the presence within him of the human spirit."
So, the difference between soul and spirit is as the difference between the physical and spiritual.