Word Study on Spirit, Soul, and Body

Here are the key terms, in easy-to-read Hebrew and Greek, spelled out in English.

Let’s look at the key terms, first in Hebrew (Old Testament) and then in Greek (New Testament).

Old Testament

It was written Hebrew, and here are key nouns.

1.. The noun basar (pronounced bah-sahr), and it is the soft tissue of any animal or the whole body. It is used 270 times. (There are other nouns, but this one is sufficient for our purposes.)

2.. The noun nephesh (pronounced neh-fehsh) can also mean body, but it is life-force, life generally (as distinct from death), breath (Gen. 2:7), and body and soul—together. A man does not only have soul, but he is a soul (Gen. 9:5). It can be translated as person (Lev. 4:2; Ezek. 18:20). He is a unit. It is used 757 times.

3.. The noun ruach (pronounced roo-ach, and the -ch- is said like the -ch- in Bach) has a variety of meanings, depending on the context: wind (Exod. 10:13, 19; 14:21; 2 Sam. 22:11); the general character of the individual or group, angelic beings (1 Sam. 16:15-16, 23; 18:10; 1 Kings 22:19); the Spirit of God is used 11 times (Is. 40:13; 42:1; 48:16; 63:11; Num. 11:17, 29). The ruach of God can give revelation (Num. 11:25; 1 Sam. 10:10; Neh. 9:30). It is used 378 times.

4.. The nouns leb (pronounced lehb) and lebab (pronounced leh-bab) can be translated as “heart” or “mind.” It is the seat of the emotions (1 Sam. 2:1), desire (Ps. 37:4), thought (Gen. 6:5, and decision (1 Chron. 12:38). “To say in his leb” can be translated “to think” (Ps. 35:25). Plans are made in the leb (Gen. 27:41). Leb is used 854 times and lebab 252 times.

New Testament

It is written in Greek, and here are key nouns.

1.. The noun sarx (pronounced sarx, and we get our word sarcasm from it, as in biting the flesh) literally means “flesh,” but it can be translated as “body.” It can also be translated as “sin nature” in a few contexts (Rom. 7:5, 18, 25; 8:3-13; 1 Cor. 5:5). This shows that the sin nature resides in our flesh or mammal natures. It is used 147 times.

Is Our Sin Nature Embedded in Our Mammal Nature?

2.. The noun sōma (pronounced soh-mah, and we get our word somatic from it) means “body,” in animals (Jas. 3:3), but mostly it is used for the human body in the NT (Matt. 5:29; 6:22; 26:12). Greek philosophy used dualism, which says the connection between body and soul is looser, and sometimes we have to escape from the body by contemplation. In contrast, NT thought says they are closely connected, as a unit. However, we must distinguish body and soul in many doctrines. Our spirit-soul will live forever after we die in Christ, and at the resurrection of the dead, we will have a transformed body. We are called to keep the body holy and separated from the world’s pollution (1 Cor. 6:18-20), and not just the soul. This is the unity of the two. It is used 142 times.

3.. The noun psuchē (pronounced psoo-khay, and be sure to pronounce the -ps-, and we get our word psychology from it). It can be translated as “life, soul, person, mind.” It encompasses the whole person (1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:14). In Matt. 6:25 Jesus illustrates that both body and soul has needs together, as a unit. In Acts 20:10, Eutychus fell from a third story window, and Paul rushed down and prayed for him. “His life [psuchē] is still in him!” Eutychus was all right. Psuchē is also the seat of the emotions. Jews and Greeks stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned the psuchē [minds] against the Christian brothers and sisters. The psuchē can rest, relax and be merry (Luke 12:19). It is used 103 times.

4.. The noun dianoia (pronounced dee-ah-noi-ah) means “mind, thought, understanding,” and it is more closely connected to the heart than the Greek version of mind. Jesus said to love the Lord with your minds (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). In Mary’s song, God scatters the proud in their innermost thoughts (Luke 1:51). The mind can be seen positively, “prepared for action” (1 Pet. 1:13) and wholesome (2 Pet. 3:1), or “enlightened (1 John 5:20; cf. 1 Cor. 2:12; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 4:17). Or it is negative “darkened” (Eph. 4:18), “hostile (Col. 1:21). Our thoughts can be located in our sinful nature (Eph. 2:3). It is used 12 times.

5.. The Greek noun nous (pronounced noose) also refers to “mind, intellect, understanding.” It initiates thoughts and attitudes. It is where spiritual development occurs. Believers can have “the mind” of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16. Jesus opens the mind and understanding of the disciples during his resurrection appearance (Luke 24:45). We speak an intelligible (mind-produced) words, as distinct from payer languages (1 Cor. 14:19). Paul encourages the believers to have the nous renewed (Rom. 12:2). Gentiles (unbelievers) engaged in futile thinking (Eph. 4:17), and believers can have a new mind (Eph. 4:23). Minds can be “depraved” or “corrupt” (Rom. 1:28; 1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 3:8), “puffed up” (Col. 2:18), or “unclean (Tit. 1:15). It is used 24 times.

6.. The noun pneuma (pronounced p’noo-mah, and be sure to pronounce the -p-; we get our word pneumatic from it). It can mean that which animates or gives life to the body (Matt. 27:50); the human spirit generally (Jas. 2:26); the part through which a person interacts with the spirit world, but best of all he can relate most intimately and immediately to God. The noun in some contexts can mean evil spirits that come from the spirit world (Matt. 8:16; Luke 4:36; Acts 19:12-16). The noun can also refer to the Holy Spirit, but there are already many articles on him at this website (see the categories Spirit and Triunity). This noun is used 379 times in all of these contexts.

7.. The noun kardia (pronounced kahr-dee-ah) and it is the seat of mental and emotional activities: thinking (Matt. 2:6, 8), grieving (John 16:6), rejoicing (John 16:22), desiring (Rom. 1:24), desiring (Rom. 1:24), understanding (Eph. 1:18), and deciding (2 Cor. 9:7). The center of the spiritual life is the heart: temptation (John 13:2), devotion (Luke 12:34), faith (Rom. 10:9), or doubt (Luke 24:38). Salvation is the matter of the heart (Rom. 10:9-10), but the heart cannot accomplish it on its own (Eph. 2:8). The Spirit resides in the kardia (2 Cor. 1:22; Gal. 4:6). The peace of Christ can rule in our hearts (Col. 3:15). It is used 156 times.

Conclusion from the Biblical Data

It is clear that the NT authors borrowed heavily from the OT. The nephesh and psuchē seem to be the same. The ruach and pneuma correspond to each other, and so do the leb and kardia. Many people see the parallels between “spirit” and “heart” as synonyms, while others say that this can be expanded to “spirit,” “heart” and “soul” together, as synonyms. Nous in Greek corresponds to leb in Hebrew, because both mean “mind,” though leb can also mean “heart,” as we have seen.

The sarx and sōma relate to the basar, but sarx may have slightly differing nuance, if Paul develops the idea that the flesh is the sin nature; otherwise they are the same.

It is misleading to mix and match these terms for the inner person in tidy and airtight categories.

Therefore it seems to me that we can at least make two divisions between the inner being (soul, spirit, heart) and the outer being (body or flesh). In our living, God wants all of us. In our dying in Christ, our spirit-soul-heart goes to be with him, while our body and flesh lie in the grave until the final resurrection.


I hope this illustration helps to counter the belief that our inner being is made up of distinct compartments. That’s too simplistic. This is the Well of Soul and Spirit:

The blue represents water: H2O. And the well is contained in the ground or body (we could make it more elaborate and picture stonework going down deep and holding the water). The ground or stonework (body) surrounds and contains the soul-spirit.

So the spirit and soul are made of the same (nonmaterial) substance, illustrated by the water. But the spirit is deeper than the soul. As the water in the deepest part of the well is still H2O, so is the soul near the top.

Maybe this equation I made up is clearer:

The spirit ↓= the soul

That is, the human spirit is deeper than the soul (indicated by the downward arrow) and equal to and identical with the soul. This has the advantage of distinguishing them but without separating them into different substances. Both are H2O, so to speak (and I don’t know what the soul or spirit is made of!). In other words, the inner life of the person has depth, reflected in the terms soul / spirit, but he is not made of different substances. The only exception is the soul / spirit (same substance) and the body are different substances and have different properties.

Presumably, however, for strict dichotomists it should just read only “soul,” so for them the illustration is wrongheaded. (Dichotomists divide the boy and soul, but not body, soul, and spirit.)

The other disadvantage of the illustration for some is that in Hebrew thought the body and soul are much more closely connected as a unit. That may be, but the New Testament teaches a distinction, because the body goes to the grave and decays, while the spirit / soul lives on. Acts 2:25-32 is clear on this point and quotes from the Old Testament.


Here are two things that all theologians referenced at this website agree on:

1.. The spirit is also defiled by sin and is not perfect (2 Cor. 7:1; Ps. 51:10).

It is not true that the spirit is perfect when it is born again. This would present an untenable scene at judgment. God says to you, “I now set aside your spirit without judging it since it is morally perfect, but I judge only your sinful soul!”

2.. Both the unbeliever and believer have a living spirit.

The spirit in Sihon, king of Heshbon, rebelled against God (Deut. 2:30). Nebuchadnezzar’s spirit was sinfully and rebelliously proud (Dan. 5:20). Israel’s spirit was not faithful to God (Ps. 78:8). It is not as if an unbeliever has a dead spirit until he is born again, and a living soul whether he is born again or not. Both believer and unbeliever have a living soul / spirit.

When Paul writes that our spirits are alive because of righteousness, he means alive to God, while before then we were living outside fellowship with God and were dead to him—we ignored him. It is not as if our spirits were deflated balloons until we were born again and then it is filled with air when we are born again.

Further, we were dead in our trespasses and sins without God (Eph. 2:1), but now we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Rom. 6:11). It is disjointed to conclude that our spirit was made alive, but our whole person is not a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). No, our inner being, whether soul and spirit or just soul, is a new creation.

We are a unit, and too many separations or placing the numerous terms in the Hebrew and Greek word studies in neat categories defy the unity of the inner person.

How does this post help me grow in Christ?

You are fearfully and wonderfully made! You live in your body, and you are a soul-spirit. This post says we have even a deeper part of our inner life called the spirit, but the soul and spirit are not differing substances, but the spirit runs more deeply in you than just the mental faculties. You have a heart. You can believe with the heart or you can believe a set of truths with your head through notional agreement. You can say, “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus,” but has this truth penetrated your heart? That is, have you put your entire being in his hands by trusting in him, the resurrected Lord? Have you trust completely–spirit / soul– in him? Do so today.

Whether we are bipartite or tripartite, God wants all of us, spirit / soul and body. Your trust in him must encompass your whole being.


Is Humankind Two or Three Parts?


Works Cited

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