How to Enter God's Rest: Hebrews 4


Soul And Spirit

Even to the division of soul and spirit: The writer to the Hebrews makes a distinction between soul and spirit, indicating that a division can be made between them.   

  • Certainly, there is some distinction between soul and spirit. “The New Testament use of pneuma for the human spirit focuses on the spiritual aspect of man, i.e. his life in relation to God, whereas psyche refers to man’s life irrespective of his spiritual experience, i.e. his life in relation to himself, his emotions and thought. There is a strong antithesis between the two in the theology of Paul.” (Donald Guthrie)   

  • But the stress of this passage isn’t to spell out a theology of the difference between soul and spirit. “Attempts to explain [these terms] on any psychological basis are futile. The form of expression is poetical, and signifies that the word penetrates to the inmost recesses of our spiritual being as a sword cuts through the joints and marrow of the body.” (Marvin R. Vincent)   

  • However, it is important to understand what the Bible means with the terms soul and spirit. The Bible tells us that people have an “inner” and an “outer” nature (Genesis 2:7, 2 Corinthians 4:16). The inner man is described by both the terms spirit (Acts 7:59, Matthew 26:41, John 4:23-24) and soul (1 Peter 2:11, Hebrews 6:19, Hebrews 10:39). These two terms are often used the same way, as a general reference to the inner man. But this is not always the case. Sometimes a distinction is made between soul and spirit. We can say that soul seems to focus more on individuality regarding the inner life (often defined as the mind, the will, and the emotions). The spirit seems to focus more on supernatural contact and power in the inner life.   

  • That there is some distinction between soul and spirit is obvious in passages like this (Hebrews 4:12) and 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Passages like Job 7:11 and Isaiah 26:9 show that the terms are sometimes both used to generally refer to the inner man.   

  • Because the soul and spirit both have reference to the “inner man,” they are easily confused. Often an experience intended to build up the spirit only “blesses” the soul. There is nothing wrong with “soulish” excitement and blessing, but there is nothing in it that builds us up spiritually. This is why many Christians go from one exciting experience to another but never really grow spiritually – the ministry they receive is “soulish.” This is why the Word of God is so powerful and precise; it can pierce even to the division of soul and spirit, which isn’t easy to do.   

  • “When the soul is thus distinguished from the spirit, by the former is meant that inferior faculty by which we think of and desire what concerns our present being and welfare. By spirit is meant a superior power by which we prefer future things to present.” (Adam Clarke)   

  • The terms flesh (Colossians 2:5, Matthew 26:41, Galatians 5:16-17) and body (Romans 6:6, Romans 8:13, 1 Corinthians 6:13 and 6:19-20) describe the outer man. The terms flesh and body also seem to include aspects of our person such as the senses and habits. When we allow our flesh to direct our thoughts and actions, it ends in spiritual ruin. God wants us to be directed by the spirit, not by the flesh, or even the soul.

Based on the Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik.