2001 June/Questions

Q. What is the difference between soul and spirit and where in the Bible is there reference to an immortal soul?

A. This question I presume refers to I Cor. 14: 14: “If I use a strange tongue when I offer prayer, my spirit is praying, but my mind reaps no advantage from it. In the New Testament the words ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ have a variety of meanings which I can only summarise here.

Soul has four different meanings:

a) Individual life, as opposed to life in general. “I am the only one left, and my life (soul), too, is threatened.”—Rom. 11:3.

b) The subject of life, the person. “Every soul must be submissive to its lawful superiors”—Rom. 13:1.

c) The soul itself as distinct from the body. “And there is no need to fear those who kill the body, but have no means of killing the soul; fear him more, who has the power to ruin body and soul in hell.”—Mt. 10:28.

 d) The soul as principle of corporeal life. “Such are the men who now keep themselves apart, animal —of the soul, soul-like) natures, without the life of the Spirit.”—Jude 19.

Spirit has three meanings in the New Testament:

a) As principle of thought in man.  “Who else can know a man’s thoughts, except the man’s own spirit that is within him?”—I Cor. 2:11. In this sense it is distinct from the soul as principle of life, even though both belong to the same substance, just as intellect and will are distinct faculties in the same soul.

b) The Holy Ghost himself, usually referred to by the terms Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ and Holy Spirit.

c) Man under the influence of the Holy Ghost. In this sense is to be understood I Cor. 14:12: “Since you have set your hearts on the spirits…..”, and I Cor. 14:32: “and it is for the prophets to exercise control over their own spirits”. This refers to the charisma, or spiritual gifts of the Holy Ghost.

Thus is the text from I Cor. 14:14 to be understood: the spirit is the charism of glossalalia, enabling a man to praise God in a language unknown to his auditors or even himself, whilst his mind, or intellect, remains idle.

As regards the query about the soul’s immortality, the Scriptures do not state in black and white “the soul is immortal” since that was a truth so self-evident to its readers that it did not have to be formulated. But one can conclude on the soul’s immortality from passages like the following:

“Go far from me, you that are accursed, into that eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”—Mt. 25:41. There is no mention anywhere of the devil being annihilated at any future date, and so one can take “eternal” in the literal sense. If wicked souls are to be punished with a fire that is eternal, then evidently they are eternal themselves.