Spirit and Soul, part 2

by William J. Stewart

Last week, we looked at the words “spirit” and “soul”, and more specifically, the two Hebrew words which are primarily rendered in this manner. We will continue our consideration of the same this week, addressing now the Greek words psuche and pneuma.

In defining the word psuche, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon provides two primary definitions: 1) breath, and 2) soul. In the first case, Thayer speaks of …the vital force which animates the body …life …a living being…” Of the second definition, he identifies “…the seat of feeling, desires, affections, aversions… the soul regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life … the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death…”

Psuche is used to translate from the Hebrew nephesh. For instance, the Law stated, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul {nephesh}, and with all your strength.(Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus quoting this (Matthew 22:37) used psuche for nephesh.

Consider some of the ways which the word psuche is employed by the Lord and the New Testament writers:

Of Persons. “…that day about three thousand souls {psuche} were added to them.” (Acts 2:41)
“Let every soul {psuche} be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1
Of Life. “Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life {psuche} for My sake?” (John 13:38)
“…none of these thigns move me, nor do I count my life {psuche} dear to myself…” (Acts 20:24)
Of The Inner Man After The Body Is Gone. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul {psuche}. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul {psuche} and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
“…You will not leave my soul {psuche} in Hades…” (Acts 2:27)
Distinct From The Spirit. “…may your whole spirit, soul {psuche} and body be preserved blameless…” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
“…the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul {psuche} and spirit…” (Hebrews 4:12
Distinct From The Body. “Is not life {psuche} more than food and the body more than clothing.” (Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? (NKJV)”>Matthew 6:25).

It is evident from the usage of the word psuche that it is primarily used of things which are eternal in nature, not of the physical body nor of the things exclusively related to the body. It deals with the inner person, the eternal being which God has made each of us.

Pneuma has a very wide range of use. That it deals with breath or wind is evident to most, just upon first glance. Our English word pneumonia, though not directly from pneuma is nonetheless related. It is a very common Greek word, appearing in 350 verses in the New Testament. Thayer gives five definitions of pneuma:

“…we must consider the context and use of a word to determine it’s meaning.”

  1. a movement of air,
  2. the vital part by which the body is animated,
  3. a simple essence… possessed by the power of knowing, desiring, deciding, and acting,
  4. God’s power and agency – distinguishable in thought from God’s essence in itself considered, and
  5. the disposition or influence which fills and governs the sou of any one.

Pneuma is used to translate from the Hebrew ruach. Matthew 12:18 reads, “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul {psuche, nephesh} is well pleased. I will put My Spirit {pneuma, ruach} upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 12:18; cf. Isaiah 42:1). Let us consider the use of pneuma in the New Testament:

Of A Wind. “The wind {pneuma} blows where it wishes…” (John 3:8).
Of The Holy Spirit. “…he saw the Spirit {pneuma} of God descending…” (Matthew 3:16).
Of Unclean Spirits. “…there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit {pneuma}; and he cried out…” (Mark 1:23.
Of One’s Character. “…he shall go before him in the spirit {pneuma} and power of Elijah…” (Luke 1:17).
“…incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit {pneuma}, which is very precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3:4).
Of Angels. “Are they not all ministering spirits {pneuma} sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (NKJV)”>Hebrews 1:14).
Of The Inner Man.
(ie. Spiritual vitality)
“For they refreshed my spirit {pneuma} and yours.” (For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. (NKJV)”>1 Corinthians 16:18).
“The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit {pneuma}…” (2 Timothy 4:22).
Of One’s Disposition Or Perception. “The spirit {pneuma} indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (NKJV)”>Matthew 26:41).
“…his spirit {pneuma} was provoked within him…” (Acts 17:16).
Distinct From The Body. “…a spirit {pneuma} does not have flesh and bones as you see I have…” (Luke 24:39).
“…as the body without the spirit {pneuma} is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26).

Again, what is the importance of considering the meaning of these Greek words? it is from the Greek that our English New Testament has been translated. Knowing the wide usage of words such as psuche and pneuma will help us better understand what is being said in the word. Likewise, it will guard us against those who might seek to propagate error with regard to the nature of man.

What shall we conclude? That we must consider the context and use of a word to determine it’s meaning. Never should we apply a single meaning to a word so diverse as nephesh, ruach, psucheand pneuma. Allow the context and an honest unbiased approach to the Scriptures direct our understanding.

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