Q&A Forum: Body, Soul, Spirit and Mind

“How do we distinguish between body, soul, spirit, heart and mind?”

In both Hebrew and Greek, the word “spirit” is identical with “wind,” emphasizing what is invisible and powerful. We understand “spirit” to be the highest level of our being, by which we know God and are able to relate to Him.

The OT Hebrew term translated “soul” (475x) is also given as “life” (117x), “person” (29x), “mind” (15x), and “heart” (15x) in the KJV. “Soul” (Gk psuche) is “the breath,” the living creature that breathes. “Soul” is generally identified with emotions and desires as our intermediate “self” that integrates immaterial spirit with physical body. Yet virtually every aspect of thought, emotion and will is interchangeably attributed to both soul and spirit!  Hebrews 4:12 suggests that God alone is able to “divide asunder soul and spirit.” Some suggest that “spirit” is the life principle given by God and “soul” is the resulting life in the individual.

The OT Hebrew term translated “heart” (508x) is also given as “mind” (12x) in the KJV. “Heart” and “mind” are coextensive in many passages, yet in other passages, such as Philippians 4:7, “heart” equates with our emotions while “mind” relates to our thoughts. The mind is where we reason, make our decisions, and from which our life is directed. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph 4:23) suggests that underlying our conscious thinking processes are spiritual principles from which our true character is derived.

“Body” (Gk soma) is the physical part of our being through which our inner spiritual life and character are expressed and known. This relationship is complicated by the presence of sin within us, and we experience the confusion of conflicting emotions, desires and behaviour. The scriptural term “the flesh” describes sin’s distortion of our being, using the body’s desires to dominate and defile soul and spirit.

A key NT verse is: “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless” (1Th 5:23 KJV). We have been marvelously designed to exist in the physical realm in and through our bodies, yet we also share spiritual characteristics and capacities with God who is spirit, and with one another on spirit and soul level. Spirit and soul can consciously exist independent of the body in the event of physical death and destruction of the body.

What is becoming obvious in brain research and psychology today is that the “materialist” model of reality – that mind is nothing more than the physical/chemical/electrical activity of the brain and, therefore, there is no moral responsibility for thinking and behavior – is completely false. Our thinking, emotions and choices form and change structures of the brain, so mind is the master and brain is the servant. However, as thoughts, beliefs and feelings are stored as memories in the brain, the brain also uses them in continuous interaction with both our mind and the rest of our body, so each influences the other profoundly.

What we think, feel and believe are tremendously powerful and important in determining the person we are becoming. In which direction are we developing? Are we yielding to God, cooperating with His will and enabling the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit? If so, we will experience substantial wholeness, holiness of character and life now, with the great prospect of being with Him and like Him forever.