1 Thessalonians 5:23 The Nature of Man: Body, Soul, and Spirit

By Truman Smith

“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).

Since the phrase, “spirit and soul and body” is the focal point of our study, we can think of no better place with which to begin these considerations than with Genesis 1:26-31; 2:7, 21-23, which is a part of the divine record of the six days of creation. Moses, having chronicled the events of creation from the first day, says that on the fifth day God created the water and air creatures. On the sixth day he created the land animals and, then on that same day, since everything else was now created, the very crown and glory of his creation, humankind, must now grace the landscape of this prepared cosmos; hence the record of the origin and production of mankind the source from whence he came.

Herein we are informed of how God created man in such a way as to dignify him by setting him apart from all other creatures. These passages teach us about the special and particular nature of mankind. The psalmist writes of the excellence of Almighty God and the honor due him for having created such a universe with, as far as man is concerned, such limitless and fathomless boundaries and then to be so thoughtful and perceptive as to remember to create such a minute creature as man. Said he in Psalms 8:4, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” David then refers to Genesis 1:28-30 and tells how God elevated man by crowning him with glory and honor and placed him in a position of power and dominion over all other created things. (Please read all of Psalm 8.) Thus, contrary to The Watch-tower doctrine, which placed man on the same level as a dog, when God made mankind, he gave to him a person-age and dignity which sets man apart from the animals and beasts of the field. Now let us look at that of which mankind is comprised.


Speaking of the creation, David said: “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and they were created” (Psa. 148:5). So, we understand that God spoke and this vast universe, with all of its galaxies, celestial bodies, sun, moon, earth, etc., were brought into existence, including all of the dry land creatures by the sixth day, with the exception of man; and God performed a different kind of miracle that same day, making it easier for us to comprehend the material makeup of our bodies. The miraculous formation of Adam from the dust of the earth, then later the miracle creation of Eve from a rib taken from the side of Adam, informs us of the substance from which our bodies came. Mankind was made of the very same chemicals of which the earth, or dust of the ground, consists; thus Adam, and all men since him, are “of earth, earthy” (1 Cor. 15:47-49; see also John 3:31; 2 Cor. 4:7). Even the name “Adam” means “red earth.”

The word “tabernacle” is used in Scripture to denote a temporary, portable and tent-like house which could be moved from place to place. Thus, this term is used to refer to the body of man to stress its temporary or transitory nature. The body is a habitation for the inner man, the “earthly house of this tabernacle” (2 Cor. 5:1). In our pas-sage (1 Thess. 5:23) it is called “the body” in contrast to the “spirit” and “soul” of man. Other like usages of the – word may be seen in such passages as Matthew 10:28; 2 Corinthians 5:6; James 2:26; etc. When we read where Jesus said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,” it should be obvious to any Bible student that Jesus speaks of the body of man as that part of him that is perishable and the soul as being immortal. Therefore the body of man is his physical composition. It is this “body” that dies and returns to the earth from when it came (Gen. 3:19; Psa. 146:4; Job 34:15; Eccl. 3:20; 12:7). But the Christian is charged with the responsibility of keeping his body pure and uncontaminated with sin (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1) and in this body he is to “glorify God,” for it is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).

Spirit and Soul

When Moses tells us that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7), we do not believe that this language is necessarily designed to inform us that this is the way man received his immortal soul. And, we agree with Leupold that, “Not this breath itself but the manner of its impartation indicates man’s dignity” (Leupold on the Old Testament, 1:116). Let’s remember that the word translated “soul” in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew nephesh and in the New Testament it is from the Greek word psuche. The word “spirit” in the Old Testament is from the Hebrew ruah, while in the New Testament it is from the Greek pneuma.

Yet, to avoid monotonous and tedious technicalities in dealing with the usages of all of these original words, we believe that it should be sufficient to say that when God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26), and then Moses said: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27), and since “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24) and is “the father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9), the only way that man can have an immortal soul is by the fact that God “created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him” (Gen. 1:27). If not, why not? Man certainly could not have been made in God’s image physically, for God is not a physical being! Why do we have to squabble over such things as “breath of life,” “animal life,” etc. It is said of no other creature in the Scriptures that God created them in his own image, except mankind! This is the principle that makes man different from all others of God’s creation. Those of the “Watch-tower Bible and Tract Society” who go up and down the streets and from house to house spreading their false doctrines, believe that man is just a higher form of animals, that all that man consists of is “the breath of life” and flesh and bones, and because he was given dominion over other creatures is the only thing that sets him apart from all other creatures. In other words, they deny that man has an immortal soul, an existence that survives after death (See Let God Be True, 66-75). Thus, they believe that man is to-tally mortal! According to their doctrine, when man dies, he simply goes back to the dust of the ground and that is the end of his existence; no different from a dog! Among other things, this helps them to propagate other false doctrines such as “Hell, a place of rest in hope” (Ibid. 88-89).

It seems most obvious to this writer that there are times when the Bible speaks of the soul and spirit as being two separate things, then there are other times that it uses the terms interchangeably. However, it does seem that when both words appear in a given passage, it is for the purpose of referring to that part of man which is immaterial while including the idea of his immortal being. This most definitely would be true of 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Here we have Paul referring to them “wholly,” thus the complete nature of man is intended: “spirit and soul,” their spiritual make-up, including their whole spiritual being, the part that is “not seen,” their “inward man” (2 Cor. 4:16, 18); and the “body” refers to “the outward man” (2 Cor. 4:16, “the flesh,” (2 Cor. 7:1). We do no detriment to the passage when we think of the “spirit” (pneuma) to include the breath of life or life-principals, and that it also comprehends our intellect, emotions, will, etc., while the “soul” (psuche) embraces all of these, but is also our personage, our own identity.

All of these, including the “body” (soma) must be “pre-served blameless” to the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Incidentally, while most all of us speak of “the salvation of the soul,” Paul does refer to the salvation of the “spirit” (pneuma) in 1 Corinthians 5:5. While either one is a biblical concept (see James 1:21; 5:20), it does seem that most of us think as we have explained above. As a general rule, the “soul” (psuche) refers to a person or individual. Luke speaks of “three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41; see also Acts 7:14, etc.). These “souls” are persons, individuals.

Let us remember too that we are to “present your (our) bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Rom. 12:1). The body of man is dependent upon the “inner man,” the “spirit,” to keep it pure. Paul said, “Let not sin there-fore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:12, 13). From this passage we also learn that the Christian’s body serves as an instrument through which the spirit functions and that the body must be used in the performance of righteous deeds in service to God.

An animal, such as a dog, functions by instinct. Its very survival depends upon this innate quality. Since it does not possess the same spiritual quality as does man, it does not have the capacity to understand, believe, repent of sin, and be baptized for remission of sins, which all must be done with the heart (Rom. 6:17, 18). This is why Paul said, “We persuade men” (anthropos), people. People do not instinctively obey the gospel; they have to be taught and brought to an understanding of the will of the Lord, then they must obey from the heart “that form of doctrine” (Rom. 6:17).

Brethren, our treatment of this passage might seem to be an over-simplification. However, we do not see the necessity of involving ourselves in the tedious and complicated aspects of the Hebrew and Greek usages of the words translated “soul” and “spirit.” Such, we believe, will only confuse the issue. And, while there are many aspects of these words and their usages, still it is our can-did view that the Bible student can be brought to an understanding of truth on these matters by carefully studying the context of any given Scripture where such is discussed. Let us uphold the dignity of man by seeking to be led by the teaching of God’s word, keeping ourselves pure within and without. If we do this, when life is no more upon this earth, we will be prepared to go home to be with Christ and live forever in the sweet by and by.

Guardian of Truth XL: 4 p. 10-11
February 15, 1996