The soul and the spirit are the two primary immaterial parts ascribed to humanity in Scripture. Discerning the precise differences between the two can be confusing. The word spirit refers only to the immaterial facet of humanity. Human beings have a spirit, but we are not spirits. However, in Scripture, only believers are said to be spiritually alive (1 Corinthians 2:11; Hebrews 4:12; James 2:26); unbelievers are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1–5; Colossians 2:13). In Paul’s writing, the spiritual is pivotal to the life of the believer (1 Corinthians 2:14; 3:1; Ephesians 1:3; 5:19; Colossians 1:9; 3:16). The spirit is the element in humanity that gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship with God. The word spirit refers to the immaterial part of humanity that “connects” with God, who Himself is spirit (John 4:24).
The word soul can refer to both the immaterial and material aspects of humanity. Humans have a spirit but are souls. In its most basic sense, the word soul means “life”; beyond this essential meaning, the Bible speaks of the soul in many contexts. One of these is in relation to humanity’s basic selfishness (e.g., Luke 12:19). Human beings have a sinful nature, and our souls are tainted with sin. The soul, as the life essence of the body, is removed at the time of physical death (Genesis 35:18). The soul, as with the spirit, is the center of many spiritual and emotional experiences (Job 30:25; Psalm 43:5; Jeremiah 13:17). The word soul can refer to the whole person, whether alive on earth or in the afterlife (see Revelation 6:9).
The soul and the spirit are connected, but separable (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is the essence of humanity’s being; it is who we are. The spirit is the immaterial part of humanity that connects with God.