Question: What is the difference in Scripture between “soul” and “spirit,” and does the “soul” die?
Technically, the word “soul” in the Bible refers to the self-aware life force that allows the physical nature of man to function. Genesis 2:7 describes how God formed Adam from the same elements that were in the soil, but that Adam was nothing more than an intricate clay model—until God breathed life into him. That action turned the clay model into a conscious being (“soul”) in physical form. The soul is what makes the body come to life.
Gen. 2:7 …the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (“soul”—KJV).
It would even be somewhat inaccurate to describe man as a body with a soul in it, because the soul and body were designed for each other permanently. They were designed to function together and never be separated. When the two are separated, the body dies:
Matt. 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Therfore, “death” is not a ceasing to exist, but rather a change in condition. Both the body and the soul can be “destroyed” in hell, where the word “destroyed” (Gk. “apolesai”) means to be “lost,” not annihilated. The idea is that both body and soul have entered a form of existence from which there is no return.
In the same way, when a believer dies the body and soul are separated until the resurrection, at which time the body is raised imperishable:
1 Cor. 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable
The “soul” gives us self-awareness and emotional responses, such as Jesus experienced in Gethsemane:
John 12:27 “Now my heart (Gk. “psuche”—“soul”) is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.
Human beings (souls) are spirit as well as body and soul, however. “Spirit” (Heb. “ruach;” Gk. “pneuma”) is what distinguishes humanity from the rest of the huge varieties of created, conscious, earthly life. Dogs and birds and fish are all forms of conscious life, and all are capable of varying levels of emotional responses, such as fear or desire. But only humanity has spirit.
Mankind is fashioned for existence in the spiritual realm. We are designed to live with God and to have interchange with other spirit-beings, such as angels and, of course, God Himself:
John 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.
Jesus, as a sinless man, functioned in this spiritual capacity with perfection:
Mark 2:8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?
As with the soul, when the spirit and body are separated death occurs. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death, her restored spirit re-animated her body and soul:
Luke 8:55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.
Death is the result of sin and not part of God’s original design for man. Death is being cut off from God, our source of life, because of sin, and results in an un-natural separation of body, soul and spirit. Jesus came to restore us to God, and to a life that is imperishable:
1 Th. 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.