It is easy to recognize the body as the physical matter that makes up a person. The body is clearly distinct from the soul and spirit in several ways:

  • The body is visible to others. (When I see you, I am seeing your body.)
  • The body is recognizable by others. (I know who you are when I look at you.)
  • The body has a beginning and an end. (Our bodies experience conception/birth and death/decay.)
  • The body directly interacts with the rest of creation. (We touch, eat, move things around, etc.)

Are there similar comparisons that help describe the distinction between the soul and spirit? I'm specifically interested in the viewpoints of those who believe in the tripartite nature of man, that is, that the body, soul, and spirit are the three distinct components of a person.

  • When I first did a little research, I didn't find anything indicating that the Bible saw these as distinct. However, per this site, it looks like the distinction is actually biblical. That was my mistake.
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 17:31
  • related: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/8847/69
    – warren
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 20:36
  • 1
    This question is in the close-vote queue, but I'd like to defend its on-topic nature by pointing out that it clearly asks for the view of "those who believe in the tripartite nature of man." For a question like this, that scope should be sufficient. Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 15:20
  • @Mr.Bultitude To me that only makes this a borderline case. There are still at least three different ways that trichotomic theologians have answered the question. Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 15:38
  • @Nathaniel Thanks. That I did not know. If the fifth close-vote hasn't been delivered in a day or two, I'll consider casting it. Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 15:41

7 Answers 7


There is an interesting passage in the magnificat in Luke,

The phrase in verses 2:56,47 seems to indicate that Spirit and Soul basicly mean the same thing. Jewish verse uses a technique called parallelism where one line says something, and the next ,the same thing but using diifferent words for emphasis.

It might be pushing it a bit but the phrasing here does tend to present an interterminology and holistic viewpoint of the inner aspect of man.

Logicaly to say that there are two seperate parts of Mary rejoicing or exulting leads to an assumption that there are two independendant self consciouse, self expressing entities with in one person, who by the way is aware that they are present and active! Such a conclusion does not make sense.Especialy to the Jewish thinking, which was not so clear cut as the Greek dualism of the time. Up to that time many scholars indicate that the view was held that the body and the soul were a composite whole one linked to the other and not seperate in the way that later Theology developed and expressed the nature of man.

Therefore we must conclude that these terms "spirit" and "soul" refer to the immaterial part of human beings and are aspects and interchangable terms of expression of these.

I feel it is rather difficult and confusing to try to define too clearly the various parts of the above in terms of differentials. Especialy with those are all used in the NT particularly.

There are mysteries within the acts of God that are beyond our comprehension.cf Psalm 139. The problem we have is that we always want things to be 2+2= 4. It is just not that easy to come down hard and fast and defend a particular emphasis on the Biblical expressions of the nature of mankind.

In the classic text in Thessalonians Paul seems to be making a tri-partite affirmation, but it could well be he is using interchangeable terms to relate that he is talking about the entirety of the human being. Once again a kind of parallelism or overstatment for emphasis to give fullness of meaning could be the style in this passage. The rich vocabulary of the Greek Paul used gave ample opportunity for this kind of prose.

In summary the full data of the scripture uses the terms spirit, soul, and even heart interchangeably and the context indicates the process or functionality rather than a difference in substance or place within a human being. To press one or the other to make an absolute point of reference and fixed meaning tends to move away from the holistic view that the biblical record suggests.

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    Welcome to Christianity SE!
    – Ryan Frame
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 0:35

Your soul is who you are; the essence of your being. Your spirit is given to connect with God. When the soul is used in the Bible, it can refer to the whole person: in its most basic sense, the word soul means "life".

As Paul explained, we are triune beings made up of body, spirit and soul. A good analogy would be the three temple courts: outer, inner, and the Holy of Holies. The outer court represents your body, the inner court represents your spirit, and the center of man, the soul, represented by the Holy of Holies.

I THESSALONIANS 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some scripture references to put things into context:

The Soul:

Genesis 2:7 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.

Genesis 35:18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.

The Spirit

I Corinthians 2:11-12 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

Ezekiel 36 explains the born again experience. First, God gives you a new heart to believe him. Then a new spirit that cleanses you and sets you aside for service. Finally, He puts His spirit in you.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

The born again experience is also mirrored in the Old Testament temple worship. First, you approach God through the outer court, where the Word was taught (under Solomon's Porch). Next, you enter into fellowship with God in the inner court, by offering sacrifices and through worship with God's people. Finally, the veil having been rent by our Christ's sacrifice, we are able to enter into the Holy of Holies as "kings and priests" (Revelation 1:6) and enter into true fellowship with God.

Viewpoints on the Triune Nature of Man

Early 1900 teachers such as Lehman Strauss and William Branham taught that the body consisted of 5 natural senses (sight, taste, etc), and the middle realm (spirit) consisted of 5 senses (memory, reason, consciousness, affection, imagination).

Lehman Strauss taught that the center realm (soul) consisted of an additional five senses: faith, hope, reverence, prayer and worship.

William Branham on the other hand, taught that the center realm consisted of only one sense, either faith or doubt, depending on the person's state of salvation (if you had been filled with the Holy Ghost, you believed God's Word).

William Branham's viewpoint is consistent with the "floor plan" of Solomon and Herod's temples.

From Alfred Edersheim's "Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ":

The priests kept watch in the Temple in three places: in the house Avtinas, and in the house Nitsuts, and in the house of Moked; and the Levites in twenty-one places: 5 at the five gates leading into the Temple (the Mountain of the House), 4 in the four angles within, 5 at the five gates of the court, 4 in its four angles without, and 1 in the chamber of offering, and 1 in the chamber of the vail, and 1 behind the Most Holy Place (the House of Atonement).

There were obviously more than just five gates into each court of the temple complex. But the order of approach, and the symbolism, was maintained by the way that the Levites guarded the gates. They guarded five gates of the body, five gates of the spirit, and one gate into the Holy of Holies (soul).

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    That is interesting and fits with my current understanding (triune nature). However, how does this fit with the concept of "mind" in the bible (Romans 12:2, Genesis 41:8, 1 Samual 2:35, 1 Cor 1:10, etc.)
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 17:43
  • I believe I Corinthians 2:16 is referring to "His spirit" of Ezekiel 36:27, so in that case, the "mind of Christ" would be His spirit in your soul, the center realm, governing outwardly (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45). But in different contexts in scripture the word "mind" may refer to either your soul, your spirit, or both together.
    – Bob Black
    Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 18:36
  • Sorry if I sound dense... are you saying that man's spirit is what connects or comes between his body and soul?
    – jimreed
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 11:35
  • @jimreed not dense at all. Thanks for the question - I've added a section to my answer comparing a couple of teachings on the triune nature of man that clarifies my understanding.
    – Bob Black
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 14:13
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    @Bob Black: Justin Martyr disagrees with you. He states, "For the body is the house of the soul; and the soul the house of the spirit." (On the Resurrection, Ch. X).
    – user900
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 5:18

What is the difference between man's soul and spirit?

The difficulty in making this distinction is shown in the description of the discerning precision of the word of God.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Soul = psuchē Spirit = pneuma

The two terms are so often used in place of each other and overlapping that it might seem that there is little difference. However, one can see that the “breath of life” (pneuma) has an emphasis of vitality while “the soul” has an emphasis on individuality.


I figure I'd chime in with another perspective.

  • body- physical body
  • spirit- spiritual body (same form as physical, but not tangible)
  • soul- union of body/spirit or a synonym with spirit

Biblical basis:

Genesis 2:7:

7 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.

In many cases in the Bible, this idea is not clear. I believe that in many cases, usage of the word "soul" actually means "spirit".

We know we have a spirit (Romans 8:16):

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

We know we have a spirit that the Lord can commune with.

As far as I know, only LDS theology accepts the word soul to mean the union of spirit and body.

Many other congregations teach that the word soul is synonymous with spirit. Essentially, many Christian denominations believe in a bipartite view of man, spirit/soul and body. While not authoritative, this post can be helpful in seeing what others believe.


From an LDS perspective, the soul includes both the body and the spirit. It is the combination of the two, and does not exist separately.

  • "And the spirit and the body are the soul of man" (D&C 88:15)

We believe that at death,the spirit is separated from the body, and that at the resurrection, each person's spirit is "reunited" with (a now-perfected, incorruptible) body, becoming again a "soul".

  • "Now behold, I have spoken to you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption." - - - Alma 11:45

  • ". . . wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the body and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other. . . and all men become incorruptible amd immortal, and they are living souls . . ." - - - 2 Nephi 9:12-13


As a Christian, and a spare time student of the great World Religions, I am aware that the vedantic and yogic texts actually explain this in detail.

Unfortunately, the details are lost in the metaphorical nature of the Christian texts.

In the yoga tradition, they further distinguish the being as five "bodies":

1) Physical body (cells, tissues, etc.) 2) Bio-energetic body (bio-energy is translated as: "chi" in Chinese; "ki" in Japanese; and "prana" in Sanskrit) 3) Emotional body (emotional volition) 4) Mental body (thoughts) 5) Consciousness body (awareness/soul/spirit)

In my understanding, in the Christian tradition, the Soul includes the thoughts, emotions, and a portion of the Spirit in man; that is, man's connection with the Divine, Universal Consciousness. However, most people are lost, wandering the planet, not knowing that their Soul is also a part of God, of Spirit. It is only when they look within, and experience their own Soul, that they experience the sacred Divinity within - the "Kingdom of God within."

  • Welcome to the site! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 2:55
  • @George Hoffmann: I have interested in comparative analysis of main religions of the world, because I would like to know do all religions have something in common or not. This time it suffices for me to know that Christianity and Basic tenets of it are based on facts, but then it comes to my mind to figure out how other main religions differ in the areas of like "soteriology", "eschatology" and "christology". So do you have good sites or books which could answer maybe to my questions I just mentioned?
    – alvoutila
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 21:02

The body is what houses both the soul ans spirit. It is the tangible part of man. The spirit is the real man. It allows him to interact with the spiritual realm. The soul is made up of the mind, will and emotions.

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    Please consider reading the previous answers before adding your own. Weigh your answer with the others to see how it could be greater or different than those already presented. Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 14:48

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