When Paul speaks so distinctively of the soul-body and the spirit-body, a very interesting question arises in regard to the difference between the soul and the spirit, which are generally regarded as synonymous. When he prayed for the Thessalonians that their whole Spirit, Soul, and body, should be preserved blameless in the presence of the Lord (1. Thess. 5:23), he evidently intimated that the soul and spirit are not the same. In Hebrews 4:12 it is said that the Word "is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the Soul and Spirit."
The popular notion regarding the Soul is that it is that immaterial part of man that lives after death—that goes to hades or heaven till the resurrection; and if question were asked, "And what becomes of the Spirit?" the answer would probably be, "The Soul is the Spirit, and the Spirit is the Soul."
There is reason to suspect, however, that we have ceased to recognise a distinction which was once universally acknowledged, and that soul and spirit are not synonyms. The Bible does not use them as such; and so marked is the distinction, that when we try to ignore it, we are surprised to discover that it is impossible.
The Bible speaks of the danger of a man losing his soul, not of losing his spirit. The Bible speaks of God being a Spirit; we should be shocked were we to hear anyone say that God is a soul. Nor is it only in English that the distinction is made, we find it also in every classic language, from Hebrew downwards.
When we examine the passages of Scripture in which the words occur, we at once discover that the words are used in a totally different sense, although, in consequence of the defects of our English translation, the distinction is not so evident. The word psuchE (soul) in the New Testament is sometimes rendered as life, as well as soul, meaning by life the life of the body, as distinguished from life generally (zOE). In the following five passages the word soul is in the Greek psuchE:—
Matt. 6:25; "Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your soul what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on." Matt. 10:39; "He that finds his soul shall lose it." John 10:11; "The good shepherd gives his soul for the sheep." Luke 12:23; "Is not the soul more than meat?" Mark 3:4; "It is lawful to save the soul or to kill ?" In all these and similar passages the word is translated life, and is the same as that translated soul elsewhere. This is the case even in the Revised Standard Version. It is not life as a state, but a soul as an immaterial substance, as when it is said (Matt. 10:28): "Fear not them which kill the body; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." Again, Acts 2:27; "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades."
In Latin the word for soul is "anima," the animating principle of the body and this really appears to be the true meaning of soul, as distinguished from spirit when spoken of in Scripture.
We also find in the Bible that the word Soul is used in a secondary sense, as the seat of the emotional part of our nature, as distinguished from the intellectual. It is the Soul that rejoices or is sorrowful, that longs for or that loathes, that loves or that hates, independent of the intellect. Corresponding with this duality of soul and spirit, we find another duality in the nervous systems with which they are respectively en rapport (in sympathy with). We have already noticed one of these systems, the cerebro-spinal, commencing with the brain, and reaching out to every part of the body by means .of the spinal cord. But there is another and totally different system of nerves, called the ganglionic or sympathetic system, which attends to the domestic economy of life, and over which the spirit has no control. This great system of nerves is distributed over the trunk without having any central mass like the brain to give unity to its action. It has, however, numerous patches or ganglia, as they are called, in different parts of the body, so that whatever may be the use of the brain in the cerebro-spinal system, these ganglia perform corresponding duties in this. The advantage of this arrangement is evident. In the cerebro-spinal system unity of thought and concentration of attention are necessary; therefore, a single brain forms the metropolis of its operations; but in the other systems, where the operations are so numerous and so varied, and where all must be going on at the same time, instead of there being only a single brain, the cares of office are distributed among many ganglia, which, like the municipal courts of a country, adapt their labours to local circumstances, and perform their subordinate functions without having to engage the attention of the central imperial government.
We find, then, two great nervous systems which divide between them the vitality and government of the body. One of them is in connection with, and inhabited by the spirit; and the question arises, What is the tenant of the other? The nervous matter is evidently a medium of communication between the body and the spirit in the cerebro-spinal system. Does it perform no similar duty in the ganglionic? And if there be a Soul distinct from the Spirit, must not this be its residence, in the same manner as the cerebro-spinal system is the residence of the Spirit?
In confirmation of this conjecture, we may notice how much the ganglionic system is connected with the emotional part of our nature. Distinct from the local pains which we feel when the sensitive nerves are injured in connection with the cerebro-spinal system; there is the suffering of sickness, which is sometimes even more distressing than local pain, and whose seat must be the ganglionic system. May it not be then that all our emotions and temperaments, elevations and depressions, are produced by the combined action of the two systems, and that it is the soul that is the subject of the emotions?
A.T. Last updated 27.2.2006