When God created His most advanced work of art, human beings, He created us with both tangible and intangible elements. The tangible is the physical body—bones, organs, cells, etc.—which God designed to last just as long as there was physical life in us. It is the "tent" in which the intangible parts of us dwell. The intangible aspects of humans are those which are immaterial: soul, spirit, intellect, will, conscience, emotions, and personality, and God designed these to exist beyond the physical. It is these immaterial parts of humanity that enable us to relate to God by either embracing Him in worship and obedience, or by rejecting Him in pride and ignorance. The apostle Paul summed it up succinctly in 2 Corinthians 5:1, "For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
Do we have a body, soul, and spirit? Are we made of two parts or three? Dichotomy or trichotomy?
The intangible qualities of that "building from God" are often debated. Does the immaterial part of man consist of two separate entities, the soul and the spirit? Or is the soul/spirit a single entity? When God created Adam, He breathed the breath of life into him and Adam "became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7 KJV). It doesn't say Adam was given a soul or that he had a soul but that he became a soul. However, other Scriptures indicate that man does have a soul. Deuteronomy 4:29 tells us to seek God with all our soul, which would indicate that the soul is something man has as part of himself. Deuteronomy 6:5 exhorts us to love God with all our soul, again a reference to something within us.
The spirit is also described in Scripture as an immaterial part of humans and the word is often used interchangeably with "soul." Unlike the description of Adam as a soul, humans are never described as "spirits." We have spirits, but we are not spirits. This may be the only real distinction between the two. The spirit is that part of us that relates to God who, when He changes us, puts into us a "new spirit." Ezekiel promises that God will put a new spirit in those who love Him and follow Him, replacing the "heart of stone" with a "new heart" along with the new spirit (Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31, 36:26).
The only verse that really refers to a separation of the soul and spirit is Hebrews 4:12: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." This verse tells us at least two things. The soul and spirit apparently can be divided, but only supernaturally by the power of God and His Word. We are still left with the question of whether humanity is dichotomous (body and soul/spirit) or trichotomous, having three parts (body, soul and spirit). The truth is that it is impossible to be dogmatic about either stand. The important thing is to know that God designed a miraculous creation, He cares for it, and we worship Him with every part of it.
What is the difference between the soul and the spirit?
Is the human soul mortal or immortal?
What does it mean that humanity is created in the image of God?
Does humanity truly have free will?
What does it mean to be fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)?
Truth about Humanity