BODY, SOUL AND SPIRIT
St Paul in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, invokes God’s sanctification for the whole ‘body, soul and spirit’ of his readers (1Thessalonians 5:23).
The composition of the human person has always been object of study and comments in history, from all sides of thought, so much from atheists, as from philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders. It is important because we need to understand ourselves before we can attempt to understand the world around us.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
The Bible explains the composition of the human person, so that we can distinguish and work in the different aspects of ourselves, and that way, serve God to the best of our abilities.
In Genesis, the narrative of Adam’s creation gives a clear description of the composition and nature of the human person.
“YHWH God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Man was made in God’s image, and according to it, he reflects in his own person the unity and plurality of the trinitarian deity that created him. We are a witness of his divinity.
The God of the universe introduced Himself to creation in a trifold, simultaneous co-relational manifestation. His supreme reality became known as ‘The Father’ who is Lord God YHWH; the Word, also known as the Father’s ‘only begotten Son’, who incarnated into Jesus of Nazareth; and the ‘Spirit of God’ or Holy Spirit.
These three persons are simultaneous manifestations of a unique GOD, who cannot be perceived in his perfect unity, save in the person of the Father, YHWH, or his Name ELOHIM. However, this unique divinity is present equally in the persons of the Son and the Spirit, in no less glory and dignity than in the Father Himself, being different to each other only in function.
The same way, humans are composed of three aspects, body, soul, and spirit, united into one person, the human being.
It was shaped by God from the soil of the Earth, meaning from earthly matter. In this aspect, humans share the same material body as other living creatures, making him a member of the animal kingdom. But humans are not the same as other animals. We reflected God’s image and likeness, so we were made from a different stock. The relation between ‘soil’ הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה (Haadamah), and ‘man’ הָֽאָדָ֗ם (Haadam) is clearly reflected in the similitude of words in Hebrew.
The material body was animated the same way other creatures were brought to life, through an invisible force, called ‘breath of life’, or נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים (Nismat-Hayyim), that comes from the word ‘Neshama’ ( נְשָׁמָה), commonly known as ‘spirit’, also called ‘Ruach’ (רוּחַ), mainly in relation to God. (Compare the exchange of words in Genesis 7:22 (Neshama), and Genesis 6:17 (Ruach) regarding the same animals). This life- force, is what animates the physical body and comes directly from GOD. A physical body dies when this spirit leaves it.
This life-force or spirit is present in all living creatures, from humans to insects, and in all forms of life.
The Bible does not speak of any other kind of force given to animals that animates them. In fact, the same term Neshama, the same energy that brought Adam to life, is mentioned to live also in animals (Genesis 7:22).
The soul is born automatically when the spirit unites with the material body and life sparks, better known as ‘consciousness’, or Nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ). This Nephesh is not a nature, but a faculty, and it is the consciousness where our awareness and knowledge live. It is our consciousness, and is equally positioned in the spirit through the psyche and in the body through the brain.
The soul is also a faculty present in all living creatures according to their level of awareness.
There is no other term used in the Scripture to describe consciousness for humans and animals (Genesis 1:20)
The soul, once alive, it never leaves the spirit, and will remain united to it, until the resurrection of the body and for eternity afterwards, regardless of the final destiny of the person.
It has been traditionally said that the body reflects the humanity of Jesus; the spirit, the Holy Spirit; and the mind, God the Father. But this is not necessarily the case since humanity was created before God’s incarnation. However, these three different natures, are present in all conscious creatures, plants, animals and humans, and these three elements are perfectly united into one identity, under one self-awareness.
When the Spirit of God comes into us, comes into our whole person, not only the spirit or the soul. He sanctifies body, spirit, and soul, making us similar to Christ in body and spirit.
On the other hand, when a person is possessed by a demon, the demon can only dwell in the physical body, as other creatures are not allowed to invade anyone’s spirit, either animal or human. However, in both cases, the soul or consciousness will be affected, since it is connected to the spirit and body, and can be influenced either for holiness or sinfulness.
Animals and humans share this same make up. There is no other term or theological ground to think otherwise in Scripture. The only difference is that humans were created, body, soul, and spirit, in the image and likeness of God, while any other creature were not.