An Inductive Exposition

Commentaries that have a more inductive method acknowledge the implications of man as spirit, soul and body as taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

Here is the interpretation of Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament (Abridged Edition):

Throughout the letter Paul has been concerned with sanctification (3:13; 4:3-4, 7-8). Now he prays that God will indeed “sanctify” (i.e., separate to himself) his readers “through and through.” This expression speaks of the ultimate maturity of Christian character. It presents the qualitative side of spiritual advance in its final perfection.

The quantitative objective of the prayer is in the word “whole”. Wholeness pertains to three parts of the human make-up, “spirit, soul and body.” Paul petitions that this wholeness may be “kept” (or “preserved”) and that it may be “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The question arises as to how Paul conceives of the human being in the words “spirit, soul and body.” Among the various explanations of this expression are these four: (1) Paul intends no systematic dissection of human personality. Instead, he uses a loose rhetorical expression emphasizing the totality of personality, … (2) “Spirit” and “soul” are interchangeable, both referring to a person’s immaterial substance. “Body” then completes the picture by referring to the material part: “your whole spirit (i.e., soul) and body.” This sees the human being as dichotomous. (3) Others divide the last sentence of v.23 either into two independent parts or join “may your whole spirit” with the first part of the verse (both of these require adding words that are not in the Greek). (4) Paul saw a human being as a threefold substance, body, soul, and spirit.

Of the four options, this fourth one is by far the preferred interpretation, being generally recognized since the early fathers. The symmetrical arrangement of three nouns with their articles and their connection (in Greek) by means of two “ands” render this the most natural explanation. That Paul elsewhere does not make such a distinction is no argument against trichotomy. A trichotomous understanding of v.23 has so much to commend it that other interpretations cannot compete without summoning arguments from elsewhere. The difference between the material part (“body”) and the immaterial parts (“spirit”; and “soul”) is obvious in other places in Paul’s writings (e.g., Ro 7:17-23; 1Co 2:14-15; 14:14; 15:44).

The “spirit” is the part that enables us to perceive the divine. Through this component we can know and communicate with God. This higher element, though damaged through the fall of Adam, is sufficiently intact to provide each individual a consciousness of God. The “soul” is the sphere of our will and emotions, the true center of personality, which gives us a self-consciousness that relates to the physical world through the body and to God through the spirit. The “body” is the physical side of the human person. This analysis of humankind had been Paul’s training in the OT, though much unresolved mystery remains regarding the interrelationships between the different parts, including the body. How one affects the other is fully understood only by the Creator.

For such a composite creature Paul therefore prays, seeking an unblamable wholeness in the presence “of our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 2:19; 3:13).

Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III Editors: Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament, Abridged Edition (Zondervan, 2004).

Soul/Spirit Distinction: A Practical Issue

Devotional writer, F.J. Huegel addressed the issue of hurt feelings this way:

More Christians go on the rocks, defeated, over the nasty little thing we call “hurt feelings” then over the so-called great crises which test the very fiber of the soul.

I have been slighted. I have not been given the place I feel I merit, or I have been treated inconsiderately, justly. My opinions and feelings have not been consulted. Self has been wounded.

As a result I have began to sink. I am being defeated, not by a monster, but buy a mere fly. And yet it is no less defeat. A “scum” covers my spirit formerly free and rejoicing. I have sunk down into the so-called “vessel of the soul.”  I have become soulish.

The stream of eternal life from the throne and from the Lamb has ceased to flow in and out of my being. My step has become heavy, and my face now carries an unhappy, darkened look. I am plainly defeated. Wounded pride did it. I looked at my self and took my eyes off Jesus my Lord.

How different all would have been if my answer had been the sublime answer of death! I would immediately have said, “They crucified my Lord – this is nothing. It is my chance to go a little deeper into the fellowship of my Savior’s sufferings, being made conformable onto His death.  The result will be a fuller participation of His resurrection.

“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it’” (Luke 9:23,24).[1]

Thank you, Lord, for these things that have hurt. Bless those who have hurt me. I forgive as You forgave. I am deeply grateful for this reminder of my nothingness. I am willing to be nothing that You might be all. Amen!”

Now when our answer is the answer of the Cross, nothing can hurt us. We immediately turn everything into a blessing.

  • We go up by going down.
  • We triumph through death.
  • We feed on the holy Cross and live.
  • The kick backward was really a kick forward.

The hurt feeling is immediately seen in light of the Savior’s death which the Holy Spirit as freshly applied, and the stream of eternal life from the throne flows richer and fuller than ever. Our concern is that Christ be glorified, the rest does not matter.


“Frederick Julius Huegel (1889-1971) was born in the United States of German immigrants, and studied English literature and philosophy as he searched for the meaning of life. Huegel came to Christ after reading a book by Anglican author F. Farrar, and dedicated himself to ministry. He served as a World War I chaplain and a long-time missionary to Mexico. Huegel was a prolific writer and well-traveled speaker, focused on drawing people to the power of the cross and the victorious life in Christ.”

What Is the Difference between the Soul and the Spirit?

The blog for Bibles for America features a concise article on the meaning of the human spirit and soul in the New Testament: What Is the Difference between the Soul and the Spirit?:

“The terms soul and spirit have been discussed at length in philosophy and literature, and in the writings of various religions. They’re sometimes used interchangeably because people believe they’re the same thing. But what does the Bible say? Are they different? And why does knowing if they’re different matter? In this post, we’ll look at verses and notes in the New Testament Recovery Version to see the soul and spirit are different. We’ll also discuss why knowing they’re different is important in our relationship with God.” https://blog.biblesforamerica.org/difference-between-soul-and-spirit/

Bibles for America is a non profit ministry, founded in 2020, that distributes free copies of The Recovery Version of the New Testament and Christian literature across the U.S. The Recovery Version is a translation of the Bible by Living Stream Ministry (LSM.org) that is published with extensive footnotes and cross references that clarify a Christ-centered, deeper life understanding of Scripture.

By the way, The Christian Research Institute (a.k.a “The Bible Answer Man” broadcast) devoted an issue of their Journal to retract their previous condemnation of Nee/Lee/”Local Church” (authors that Living Stream Ministry publishes).
https://elcmatters.org/2018/12/14/watchman-nee-an-orthodox-evangelical/

A similar blog post by Bibles for America is “What Is the Human Spirit According to the Bible?”

“‘God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truthfulness.'” (John 4:24 RV)

 

Charles H. Spurgeon on the Soul/Spirit Distinction

“Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) was a British Particular Baptist preacher who remains highly influential among Christians of different denominations, among whom he is still known as the “Prince of Preachers”. Spurgeon was to 19th century England what D. L Moody was to America… A strong figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition,…Spurgeon preached to around 10,000,000 people, often up to 10 times each week at different places” [Amazon.com].

His book, The Soul Winner (Fleming H. Revell, 1895) is a biblical, theological and practical volume of 15 chapters originally prepared for the students at the Pastors’ College.

Like all evangelical he used “spiritually” as an adverb to describe the work of the evangelist and the nature of regeneration of the lost person:

“There are some of us who have, by God’s grace, been so richly blessed that we have all around us a large number of persons who have been spiritually quickened through our instrumentality, people who have been aroused under our ministry, who have been instructed and strengthened by us, and who are all doing good service for God” (p. 65).

But we see it as very significant that this leader also believed in the holistic trichotomy of man. He referred to man’s regenerated spirit as a noun and distinct from the soul.

“Regeneration, or the new birth, works a change in the whole nature of man, and, so far as we can judge, its essence lies in the implantation and creation of a new principle within the man. The Holy Ghost creates in us a new, heavenly, and immortal nature, which is known in Scripture as “the spirit”, by way of distinction from the soul. Our theory of regeneration is that man in his fallen nature consists only of body and soul, and that when he is regenerated there is created in him a new and higher nature—”the spirit”—which is a spark from the everlasting fire of God’s life and love; this falls into the heart, and abides there, and makes its receiver a partaker of the divine nature.” Thenceforward, the man consists of three parts, body, soul, and spirit, and the spirit is the reigning power of the three…” (p. 11).

Note that, although regeneration impacts the whole person (as holistic trichotomy affirms), the new creation” of 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a regenerated human spirit. We also appreciate his observation that the [new human spirit] spirit is the reigning power of the three [body, soul and spirit] which has important implications for sanctification.

Spurgeon mentioned implications of this trichotomous view for evangelism. He considered it harmonious with his Calvinistic theology, teaching the sovereignty of God in salvation: “‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be [Rom. 8:7]’ A new and heavenly mind must be created by omnipotence, or the man must abide in death” (p 13). He also quoted 1 Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man [literally “soulical man”] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (p.12).

Spurgeon observed that “this God-begotten spiritual life in men is a mystery… “(p.13) because it takes place in the realm of the spirit–and perhaps because it is not as explicitly taught in the Bible prior to the progressive revelation of the New Testament. (See “mystery” in 1 Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 3: 1-6).

Considering this example from another well-respected pastoral leader, we would hope that some theological seminaries and biblical counseling organizations would be less dogmatic and exclusive in their view of man as only a dichotomy of body and soul.

-JBW


Page numbers are based on the free PDF edition at http://thesoulwinner.org/ebooks/

In Man as Spirit, Soul and Body, I present the case that man’s spirit before regeneration is not non existent, but dead toward God (Eph. 2:1-4). Unsaved man still has enough faculties of intuition (Rom. 1:20,21) conscience (Rom. 2:15), and creativity (Eccl. 2:1-26) to indicate that there is a human spirit that dignifies him above the animal kingdom.

Joseph Benson’s Commentary

On Thessalonians 5:23-26. And the very God of peace…sanctify you wholly — That is, may he carry on and complete the work of purification and renovation begun in your regeneration, redeeming you from all iniquity, Titus 2:14; cleansing you from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, 2 Corinthians 7:1; stamping you with his whole image…and may the whole of you, ολοκληρον υμων, your whole constitution, the whole frame of your nature, all belonging to you, all of and about you, be made and preserved blameless.

And what the apostle means by this whole constitution, or frame, of their nature, he immediately specifies, mentioning the spirit, the soul, and the body. Here, says Whitby, “the apostle justifies the ancient and true philosophy, that man is, as Nemesius styles him, τριμερης υποστασις, a compound of three differing parts. This was the doctrine of the Pythagoreans, and also that of the Platonists, who held that there is in man a soul irrational, which includes the affections of the body; and a mind, which uses the body as its instrument, and fights against it. This also was the doctrine of the Stoics, whence Antoninus saith, “The three constituent parts of man are σωμα, ψυχη, νους, the body, soul, and mind. Irenæus, and Clemens of Alexandria, and Origen, say the same.” He adds, “those two excellent philosophers, Gassendus and Dr. Willis, have established this philosophy beyond all reasonable contradiction.” It appears also, as the learned Vitringa has very accurately shown, a notion prevailed among the rabbis, as well as the philosophers, that the person of a man was constituted of three distinct substances; 1st, the rational spirit, which survives the death of the body, and is immortal; 2d, the animal soul, which man has in common with the beasts, and which dies with the body; and, 3d, the visible body.

[Benson conceded that other scholars interpreted man as dichotomous. Then he continued…]

“To comprehend,” says Macknight, “the distinction between soul and spirit,” which the sacred writers seem to have intimated in some passages, “the soul must be considered as connected both with the body and with the spirit. By its connection with the body, the soul receives impressions from the senses; and by its connection with the spirit, it conveys these impressions, by means of the imagination and memory, to the spirit, as materials for its operations. The powers last mentioned, through their connection with the body, are liable indeed to be so disturbed by injuries befalling it, as to convey false perceptions to the spirit. But the powers of the spirit not being affected by bodily injuries, it judges of the impressions conveyed to it as accurately as if they were true representations, so that the conclusions which it forms are generally right.” It may not be improper to add here, that the spirit, as distinguished from the two other parts included in the human constitution, seems to be supposed by the apostle (Hebrews 4:12) to be capable of being separated from the soul, his expression being, The word of God is quick, &c., piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; and some have thought that he intimates, (1 Corinthians 14:14-15,) that the one may know what the other does not.


from Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Joseph Paul Benson was “One of the most eminent of the early Methodist ministers in England…In 1766 Mr. Wesley appointed him classical master at Kingswood School. He devoted himself closely to philosophy and theology, studying constantly and zealously… After the death of John Wesley, Joseph Benson took over the Methodist/Wesleyan movement and the organization that Wesley created…The circulation of The Methodist Magazine rose from ten thousand to twenty-four thousand per issue on his watch, and it was one of the most widely read periodicals in pre-Victorian England. He was an able writer, serving as apologist against Joseph Priestley, as biographer of John Fletcher, and as author of a multi-volume commentary on the Bible.”

The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life

Evan Hopkins was a leading preacher and author over century ago. His book, The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life is a definitive exposition of the message that brought spiritual renewal and increased missional involvement to many through the early years of the  Keswick Convention in England. In chapter 3, Hopkins delineated man as spirit, soul and body to give greater clarity to creation, the fall, redemption and faith-based sanctification. Here is an excerpt.


A REMARKABLE brick from the wall of Babylon bears the inscription of one of its mighty kings. In the centre of the inscription is a footprint of one of the dogs which wandered about the crowded city. It was the custom to imprint the royal mark upon the bricks used for public works. While this particular brick was lying in its plastic state to dry, a vagrant dog had accidentally trodden upon it. The king’s inscription is entirely illegible, while the footprint of the dog is perfectly distinct. The name of the mighty ruler of Babylon is unknown. The footprint of the dog has decidedly the advantage over the inscription of the king (Norton).

“May we not see a picture here of man’s present condition? Created originally “in the image and after the likeness of God [Gen. 1:26],” man, as he is now by nature, no longer reflects the moral beauty and perfection of the Divine character. While in one part of his nature – the soul – God’s image is defaced, in another part the spirit – it is altogether obliterated. The footprint of the Evil One is distinctly visible.

And yet we would not say that there are no traces of the original inscription. The Scriptures recognize such outlines, faint though they be, even among the heathen (Rom. 2:14, 15). And yet while this is true, the word of God speaks of man as wholly corrupt, and needing a change, so complete and thorough, that it is called a “new creation.” He “must be born again.  [2 Cor. 5:17; John 3:3]”

[Creation of man: God’s design]

Man as originally created, consisted of spirit, soul, and body. We read, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7).

In order of thought, we have first the construction of the body. Man was made of the dust of the ground, and fashioned by the hand of God, as the potter fashions the clay. Then, into that body thus formed, God breathed “the breath of life.” And yet “the formation of man from the dust, and the breathing of the breath of life, must not be understood in a mechanical sense, as if God first of all constructed a human figure from the dust, and then, by breathing His breath of life into the clod of earth which He had shaped into the form of man, made it into a living being. . . . By an act of Divine omnipotence man arose from the dust; and in the same moment in which the dust, by virtue of creative omnipotence, shaped itself into a human form, it was pervaded by the Divine breath of life, and created a living being, so that we cannot say the body was earlier than the soul” (Delitzsch).

“Man became a living soul.” Though the same term is employed to designate the lower animals (Gen. 1:20, 21,24;2:19),

“It does not necessarily imply that the basis of the life-principle in man and the inferior animals is the same. The distinction between the two appears from the difference in the mode of their creations. The beasts arose as the Almighty fiat completed beings every one a living soul. Man received his life from a distinct act of Divine in-breathing — a communication from the whole Personality of the Godhead. In effect, man was thereby constituted a living soul like the lower animals; but in him the life-principle conferred a personality which was wanting [lacking] in them” (Delitzsch).

Man not only received that part which we term soul, but that part termed spirit. He was not a mere individual creature, like the lower animals: he became a person. That personality was the meeting point of the two natures, the animal and the spiritual. He consisted, therefore, of the three parts – spirit, soul, and body. Body and spirit uniting in the personal soul is the true idea of man as he came forth from the hand of God…

Read the full chapter here: GraceNotebook.com

S. D. Gordon on the Ideal Man

Samuel D. Gordon (1859-1936) served as Ohio’s State Secretary for the YMCA. “He was a widely traveled speaker in high demand. A prolific author, he wrote more than 25 devotional books. He also traveled to Europe and Asia as a missionary. A plain man, controlled by a strong desire to edify God’s people, he won the respect of the learned and at the same time the affection of the simple” (GoodReads). He is especially known for his titles on “Quiet Talks…”

In a chapter on “The Problem of Ambition,” S. D. Gordon expounded on Paul’s resolve in Philippians 3: 12-14: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [emphasis Gordon’s]

In this context he taught on man as body, soul and spirit with relevant insights for functioning according to God’s design:


The man we are talking about just now [the ideal man] is a trinity. There are three of him tied up together. The three are in a scale ascending from lowest to highest. At the lowest there is a body; yet though lowest it is never low; at the lowest it is high. The lowest rung of this ladder is high.

A step up is the mind. Every man has a mind, though quite a number do not seem to have suspected that fact. It is peculiar in its make-up; there is a cold-storage room for facts; a photographer’s highly sensitized plate for receiving impressions of all that comes; and a judge sitting above all to weigh and sift and give decisions and guide all below. And highest of all is the spirit which lives in the body, thinks through the mind, and holds the sceptre of the life. The true man aims steadily to have a trained body, its powers matured or rather maturing, disciplined to obey and under full control. It is to be kept steadily in its place of a faithful servant. That is a very high place, to serve faithfully the purpose intended. He does not coddle his body, nor abuse it; he is not heedless of its requirements; and, above all, he is not ignorant of its nature and needs, and does not allow it to reverse the true order and become master. This man has not attained, but he is reaching, and this is his aim.

A Double Trinity

On the next higher level is another trinity, a trinity within a trinity, for the mind is that. [Gordon uses “mind” as synecdoche–a part representing the whole.  Note his explanation of the faculties of mind, will and emotions. Paul’s term for this middle aspect of man’s basic “trinity” is soul. ] Through the five in-gates of eye and ear, taste and touch and smell, come in the impressions, the information, the facts that are put away. The intellect is the mind’s cold storage for gathering and holding all that comes. It should be kept clear, cool, and calm, ever alertly listening, keen for facts, gathering, weighing, sifting, sorting and pigeonholing them for use.

Then there is the power to feel, the faculty that is impressed by all that comes, and that gives expression to what is felt, the emotional nature. It should be kept soft so as to record quickly and accurately all that comes in. It properly is susceptible, plastic; on the one hand not stupid, nor on the other overexcited or stale. There is perhaps less training of this faculty, except narrowly in strictly professional studies, as music or art or medical skill, than of either of the other two powers of the mind. It should not be repressed, and should not be dominant. Yet to either one of those extremes does the pendulum usually swing.

There is a tendency among men to repress the feelings, especially the finer feelings. There is a tendency among women to yield unduly to the feelings and allow them to rule. Both are extremes to be carefully avoided. A tear may be as manly as rugged strength. And repressed emotion may be as womanly as the finer fibre of woman’s strength. The tears that stand simply for an emotion spending itself out are hurtful; they do but wear away the strength to help that somebody needs. The tears that tell of a motive touched and stirred into action in behalf of that which called them forth are beauteous with rainbow light.

The duty of the feelings is to note accurately all that comes in and report fully to the will above. One should aim to discipline his emotional nature that it may serve him fully. The man one should be has not reached his aim here, but he is steadily stretching up towards it.

Combined with these is the third and highest member of the mental trinity, the will. The will is the king here; the judge on the highest bench from which no appeal may be taken. It is the autocrat on the throne, with no constitution to limit its sway. There are various words used for the will: purpose is the aim or direction of the will; determination is the quality of the will, telling how much or how little the purpose may be depended upon; force is the driving power of the will, telling how much pressure or how little may be brought into play in getting the will’s will done.

The man who would be true to his being keeps all the avenues of approach open to receive all there is, his intellect quietly and steadily at its work, the feelings sensitive but well in hand, the will listening to its servants and ruling fairly over all with a gentle but very firm hand.

Then distinctly above both of these is the spirit, the living spirit who resides within this organism of body and mind [soul], animating and dominating all the powers below, and all the life.

Such a man is ambitious [as in Phil. 3:12-14], in the true sense of that great word. He is reaching steadily towards the highest levels.


From Quiet Talks on Personal Problems, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House 1980, chapter 3. (originally published in 1907 by Revell). Bracketed comments, italics and bold emphases added

– John Woodward

Book by Andrew Wommack

Andrew Wommack is a popular speaker and author. I recently read his book, Spirit, Soul and Body. He not only affirms this model of how we are made (1 Thess. 5:23), but testifies to the importance of this perspective in his life and ministry. Wommack recalls a time of intensive Bible study and prayer that brought him to pivotal spiritual life discoveries.

“This understanding of spirit, soul, and body was one of the first revelations I received through studying the Bible. It not only alleviated the frustration and confusion I had, but has served as a foundation for almost everything the Lord has shown me since. These important truths freed me from the bondage of much wrong thinking and enabled me to consistently experience God’s supernatural power. Personally, I cannot comprehend how anyone can truly prosper in their relationship with God apart from understanding this basic revelation” (preface).

In 145 pages the author explains and applies this understanding of man as spirit, soul and body and our new identity in Christ to salvation, sanctification, and service. It is a thorough presentation given at a popular (not academic) level.

Wommack’s Pentecostal theology is expressed at times. He also concludes that union with Christ guarantees physical healing and prosperity in this life if claimed by faith. However, we (at Grace Fellowship Int’l) would not agree with these conclusions. See:

https://gracenotebook.com/getting-out-of-the-doldrums/
https://gracenotebook.com/why-christians-get-sick/
https://gracenotebook.com/understanding-suffering-part-1/

Andrew Wommack Ministries makes some of his teaching available freely online. Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body is presented in his audio series on the Holy Spirit:
https://www.awmi.net/popular/

Distinguishing Soul and Spirit

“For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
“Hebrews 4:12 In addition to “sword,” the word in Greek was used for the knife used by the priests to slit the throats of the sacrificial lambs and for the knife (scalpel) used by a surgeon.” – The Amplified Bible

Note that when the priest’s knife would cut through the bone, the joints were distinct from the marrow. (Modern science observes the marrow to be the inner, life-giving element) . So bone was the unifying structure with joints and marrow being distinct, not just in connotation, but in reality and function. Similarly, the immaterial part of a person (like bone) is one, yet comprised of soul (joints) and spirit (marrow). And only the Word of God reveals and penetrates theses distinctions; (Augustinian theology certainly does not.)

“Hebrews 4:12 apparently indicates that soul and spirit are to be distinguished though there is difficulty in doing so. The distinction is often defined in terms of the higher and lower aspects of man’s psychical life; the soul is said to be the manifestation of the immaterial part of man toward the world, and the spirit its manifestation toward God. 1 Corinthians 2:14, 15, makes the clearest distinction between psychikoi [soulical] as men whose lives are uninfluenced by the Holy Spirit [unregenerated], and pneumatikoi [spiritual] as those who are directed by the Spirit of God (cf. Jude 19) [and regenerated by the Spirit of God – John 3:3-6]. – Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Spirit.”

This is the view of holistic trichotomy: man’s primary nature is one, having two separable elements (2 Cor. 5:8), yet man’s immaterial side has two distinguishable aspects/dimensions (1 Thess. 5:23).

Dividing Soul and Spirit

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12,13) NKJV).

Believer’s Bible Commentary observes that “[These] two verses contain a solemn warning that unbelief never goes undetected. It is detected first by the word of God. (The term used here for word is logos, the familiar word used by John in the prologue to his Gospel. However, this verse refers, not to the Living Word, Jesus, but to the written word, the Bible.) This word of God is:

  • living—constantly and actively alive.
  • powerful—energizing.
  • cutting—sharper than any two-edged sword.
  • dividing—piercing the soul and spirit, the two invisible, nonmaterial parts of man. Piercing the joints and marrow, the joints permitting the outward movements and the marrow being the hidden but vital life of the bones.
  • discerning—discriminating and judging with regard to the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is the word that judges us, not we who judge the word.”

[1]  Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald (red and bold font added)