Spirit, soul, or just another word for consciousness

The bible talks of humans having a spirit or a soul, but is this just the ancients attempt at finding a word to describe consciousness?
Even now we still don’t fully understand how the brain, with its structures and its chemical and electrical happenings produce that conscious sense of me. It is an amazing, mysterious and wonderful thing.
Animal life in the Genesis creation story including the creation of humans looks like it is talking purely about the physical, with God interacting with them using a physical form as he walked in the garden and with the tree of life giving the ability to physically live for ever.
Evolution also purely deals with the physical.
Some Science Fiction writers will have worlds where our minds, including our consciousness, can be backed up and transferred to replacement bodies or to computers, whereby we can live forever.
Could it be that we are purely physical and that God can take our mind and put it in a different body after death? Just like going to sleep and waking up again. And there would be no need to worry about your mind being lessened by age as God is outside time and can get hold of who you are from through your life?
Lazarus had been dead 3 days when Jesus brought him back to life. His body and his brain would have been non-viable. His brain would have had to be rebuilt so that his mind could be restored back into it.
Why do humans feel the need to have a spirit or soul when God doesn’t need us to have one?

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We are citizens of two, coincidental worlds; a physical world, that is open to the eyes of its inhabitants and an ethereal world that is only visible to a very few gifted individuals. The physical world is finite, in that it is limited to the materials created in the Big Bang, whereas the ethereal world in infinite. Both worlds can act upon each other. Torn Between Two Worlds

Our soul is the most important part of our ethereal body, much so as the heart is the most important part of our physical body - without it we would not live. A human is a physical body, empowered by an ethereal body’s soul. The soul and the ethereal body are inseparable, but the ethereal body can leave the human body and it will remain alive as long the two are connected with the silver cord. Once the cord breaks, the human body dies.

So, when you die and stand looking at your “soul”, you will look much like you did in life, but you will be looking at your ethereal body. Your soul is the light that gives the ethereal body immoral life. The word enlightenment comes from the process of allowing the light of the soul to shine and this is done by removing vices and malice from the soul. The soul is a light and the brightness of that light depends on the virtues you have gained. The brighter the light, the greater the virtue. This is why people cannot properly see angels of God, their light is too bright for our eyes to see.

Humans confuse the soul with the heart because physically they are in similar locations on the two bodies. Having a “pain in the heart” is often the soul speaking to us, but the message is hard to understand. It takes enlightenment to understand the language of the soul.

Consciousness is contained in the soul. It is available after death and during out of body experiences. There are many stories of ghosts that do not know they are dead. They continue living the lives as they did before dying. They have not reached a level of enlightenment that allows them to see the difference.

Thanks for the information, but I don’t think there is evidence for that view. As far as I’ve investigated, consciousness is part of the brain, not the soul or an ethereal body, because we can turn it off with drugs, with sleep or with electrical stimulation, things which affect the physical. This is one reason why I’m questioning the traditional biblical teaching.

I know a woman whose soul is regularly dragged out of her body during the night, a traumatic experience, but then she does have a serious mental health problem to deal with it. The brain is an amazing illusionist, especially if it is affected by drugs, strong emotions or beliefs, mental health problems, or traumatic events like near death experiences.

I had a near death experience once and I didn’t see my body from above or a light I walked towards, the stories always advertised. Instead I was instantly transported back to my childhood home and saw my family until I was instantly brought back again, an illusion of a stressed brain.

As far as I can see, the idea of a soul is understandable wishful thinking as people struggle to cope with death as well and not liking the idea of a disconnect between our current physical bodies and a future body.


I believe that each of us has a soul, but I can’t define exactly what it is. And that suits me just fine!

Not to mention dementia! My mom is 91 now, and a few years ago she told me that somebody was murdered in the house. And Dad, 95, is SO paranoid!


If I can jump in here discussion about the soul. I am discussing this over at Quantum void, Akashic field and information. I agree that our mind - consciousness is linked with the physical brain. It can be said that it is information that determines the form and organization of matter. In this sense the information and the organization of the matter of the brain are linked. Consider that consciousness is essentially information processing. Information is immaterial like the soul. It is conceivable that the soul could exist and be independent of the brain and consciousness. Consciousness is linked by the matter into our reality.

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Soul = biological i.e. biological does not have or contain a soul, biological is a soul ergo tthey are synonyms and best presented as follows;

Biological/soul. Similar thing for Universe/God.

Spirit and soul in dictionary have many different definitions.

I believe there is four distincally primary definitions for spirit;

1} spirit-1 is spirit-of-intention and closely associated with metaphysical-1, mind/intellect/concept,


2} spirit-2, physical/energy ergo fermions, bosons and any aggregate collection thereof,

3} spirit-3, metaphysical-3, positive shaped ( ) geodesic gravity,

4} spirit-4, metaphysical-4, negative shaped )( geodesic dark energy.

All other definitions of spirit can only fall in one of the above four categories.

Except spirit is not part of the physical. The only defining ability of spirit is God. God is the Spirit outside the demarcation of the physical. The physical has no power or volition to enter the spiritual existence. The Spirit can come and go between the physical and spiritual. There is no demarcation for anything spiritual.

A dead physical body, cannot go into a spiritual dimension. Neither can a live body, but that is another point. If the physical cannot enter the spiritual, we compromise with the “soul”. I guess there are claims the “you” can leave the body. You cannot leave the “you”. You are technically not the body. The body is the mechanism/shell allowing “you” to exist in and observe and gather data in the physical dimension, or the dimensions that make up the physical universe.

If the spiritual dimension or existence does not exist there is only a body, and “you” are the body, and there is no need for two “yous”. Why leave or separate from the body, if there is no where to go? I guess if we could break down the body and transmit it in a way that does not take more than 3 days to get somewhere. Where ever that ends up, would be somewhere a separate “you” would need to go. If re-incarnation is an actuality, then “you” end up in a different shell/mechanism. “You” would still not be that body, that body would just be your way to exist in the physical. These two examples do not get you past the physical demarcation point. The spiritual is not a neccessity for there to be a separate “you” from the body. The point would maintain that you would survive the destruction of one physical form and obtain a new form. For all intents and purpose, transmission of a copy is still a copy and not the original body. If “you” are just a set of neurological values, in the brain, would “you” remain if that state could be exactly replicated? That would mean that there would have to be an exact “hardware” copy the same size and postioning of a similar brain structure waiting to receive the exact state your current brain exist as. Or a means of getting as close as one can. Else one can assume any brain could be adapted with your current state. Else you end up having a state outside of the physical where the “you” exists and you would have to be able to manipulate this “past the physical” demarcation.

I accept that the “you” is in a constant state of change. You are always different than the day before. Perhaps your beliefs and ideologies remain some what unchanged over your life time. It is not just the physical body changing it is your thoughts that change as well. More likely than not unrelated to one’s body. Not to say that physical phenomenon can’t effect how we think, which in turn effects who we are.

I think the concept of the soul, points to the actuality that the soul is separate from the physical body. Most all ANE accounts hold that the body is just an empty lifeless shell without an outside force endowing it with a separate source of animation. No one seems to agree with: what point a new brain becomes “self aware” and the “you” begins. And that is without actually understanding how the body’s organs actually work. They had to be told of this fact at some point and then the details got lost in mythology. I do not see how evolution would be self aware enough to produce such thoughts. Neither would a random thought be such an answer to the question “how to get to the stars?”. The question itself would be more random than the answer. Prior to modern technology the dilemma was settled in the point there were spiritual beings outside of the physical that had control over humans via the soul.

The use of the terms spirit and soul in the bible and other ancient writings make it very clear that these words have meanings to those using them far beyond mere “consciousness”.

Consciousness is the physical connection, because you would not be alive without a body. The body is just a shell though. Are you more than just you’re conscious thoughts? You have to have a body to experience the physical world. One would need a spiritual “form” to experience the spiritual “world”. Can you be connected to the spiritual without being a soul?

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(Not a response to Timtofly, must have pushed wrong button)

The situation is more complicated and to explore this I suggest looking at the Greek and Hebrew words.

In the NT it is the Greek word psychen which gets translated as “soul” and it is much more often translated as “life.” It is the Greek word “pneumati” that gets translated as “spirit,” and it is the same Greek word when speaking of possession by evil spirits or of the Holy Spirit. So in the case of “spirit” it is definitely referring to something supernatural that can exist without a body such as in those cases.

So the “soul” is closer but even in that case it is stretch. It doesn’t quite capture the very different way people thought. The word “psychen” derived from “breath” was the animating vital force. It was almost an alchemical idea of life as some kind of stuff or thing which gave the body life. The difference from “pneumati” is a subtle one for in that case the word is derived from wind and also used for breath. So we have the soul/psychen (life-breath) and spirit/pneumati (wind-breath).

So however subtle the difference, there definitely seems to be more of connection of the psychen to the natural physical body and the pneumati to the supernatural spiritual existence. And this is the contrast Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 15 using those same word to speak of the resurrection: “It is sown a natural (psychikon) body, it is raised a spiritual (pneumatikon) body.” But explains that while the first is perishable, weak, and of the earth, the second is imperishable, powerful, and of heaven.

So what of the Hebrew words in the OT?

The word translated as “soul” is “napsow” from “nephesh” and refers to living being, life, self, person, desire, passion, appetite, and or emotion. The word translated as “spirit” is “ruhow” from “ruach” meaning breath, wind, and spirit. It looks to me like the difference in this case is a bit less subtle. And I should point out that the context is much the same. Only in the case of spirit/ruach is the word used to refer to supernatural things like God and evil spirits (for angels it uses the word referring to messengers), while soul/nephesh is about the life of the physical body.

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Not sure why a difference if evolution is the means of origin. It would seem to me that in ANE sense images are just an empty shaped inanimate object. They are not alive nor biological. At what point does an ongoing biological animal gain the image of God? It would seem to me another concept should have been used instead of image, and God should not have been so commanding to Moses to not have any graven images. Just saying that God did not form golems does not make it a reality. Evolution is not that great of way to side step the issue. The next step in evolution was backwards after finally arriving to the image of God? If an image is just a step and essence of God is yet to come, then it would seem that carving images should be a welcome thing to do, as an actual form of worship and giving adoration to God.

I do not think that the image part is just the physical shell, nor do I think that God settled on the ape family and initiated the next step and designated the result as God’s new image on earth. The spiritual part is more than just the physical shell, but how that works is lost to our understanding and knowledge. If there is still a connection it has to be in the thoughts and processes of the mind. I have to agree that in everyone of us is a connection to God, but it is like looking through a two way mirror, and we can only see our own reflection, while God sees all of us and nothing is hidden.

If you figure in the teachings of Paul, there are only two “bodies”. The corruptible flesh and the incorruptible spirit. I think the soul would have to be the one item that animates both. The soul is who we are, but it is not a being. Some think it is part of God’s being, but that is suspect. The flesh whether an image or a biological being is not eternal and for the most part just an extension of the soul. The spiritual side seems to be what God claims as part of such existence as God has. But the spiritual does not seem to have a mind of it’s own, although that would seem to explain some spiritual phenomenon evident in physical reality. But if we claim that a soul has no form, what are those beings who are claimed to be called back into the present after death with a recognizable body? Is there a distinction between a ghost and spirit? It seems the breath of God animates, but God claims that a disobedient animation that sins, will die, presumably leaving both the physical and spiritual as if they never existed.

These issues have really been confusing me for some time…and to be honest I’m not quite sure how to think about them properly. It seems that the concept of ‘soul’ (if you check out the Bibleproject video on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_igCcWAMAM) doesn’t possess the kind of duality that comes from an Aristotelian philosophy (which no doubt heavily influenced Western thought. The ‘soul’ or ‘nephesh’ is a more integrative concept, a sum total of body and consciousness. Neither really exists without the other. It’s a synchronous model for existence. You don’t have a ‘soul’ you are a soul/nephesh. So perhaps Andrew_Cirel has a point there?

As for mentioning Paul’s discussions (say in Romans) about flesh/spirit I’m inclined to think that based on the context he is speaking more on categories of being and proceeding through life not necessarily metaphysical realities. At least from my understanding.

What confuses me though, is how to think about the Bible with its heavy reliance on pre-scientific ways of looking at the world, in this topic and others. Not that necessarily those ways were ‘wrong’ but they certainly were theories related to phenomenological experience. That is, the ‘firmament’ for ancient person functions totally fine as far as a way of thinking about the sky…it’s a framework for their net total daily experience. Why do they need to understand something like molecular theory/gas dynamics etc.? For the ancient person, therefore, these theories were perfectly okay for them and fit in with their pragmatic understanding of faith/christ/salvation etc.

A focal issue for me today as a modern person is trying to understand the realm of ‘spirit’, which is related to the topic of consciousness. Currently, any notion of vitalism is not tenable scientifically. It has been found that a better way of thinking about life as a process is through the discoveries, and hence theories of thermodynamics and chemistry. Life does not exist from an unknown mystical breath, but rather is a result of energetically favorable reactions that create complex replicating lifeforms. There is no need for a ‘life force’ in this model, and thus our experience of awareness/consciousness is intimately linked to physical processes, which interestingly enough gives credence to the Hebrew concept of ‘nephesh’.

But there are difficult implications for this idea. What does this mean for say, the ‘holy spirit’? What is a spirit anyway? I guess you could think of a spirit as a greater level conceptualization of lower order processes. It is accurate, in some way, to think about a ‘spirit’ driving our bodies? The world is full of examples of lower level thinking not being necessary to explain higher order processes. I don’t need to know what a neuron is to understand that I’m thinking, or quantum field theory to understand what a force is. But is this a necessary idea? Does this explain anything more that needs explaining? Why bother bringing in supernatural ideas if there is no reason to? But the supernatural has such a large function in the biblical narrative, so where does that leave us?


Amen. Please tell me you are a Christian. I’m not but my thoughts echo yours. It would greatly please me to see the faith placed on solid ground. If only it could be made palatable for those with a lifetime investment in the Bible. Seems to me you will need to address the resurrection, God as the creator of all and concerns for an afterlife to achieve such a synthesis.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m curious of course what your own spiritual orientation may be.

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Haha! That’s both a complicated and a simple question to answer. But yes, I would consider myself a person of faith. Although I get uncomfortable when asked that question because it doesn’t normally give me the ability to answer it on my terms. I think most of the time that question is asked it’s really a question about socio/political allegiances and not really about trying to understand hard questions.

I think there is a really really difficult problem where our current way of thinking about religious experience and the phenomenon of it are deeply wedded to a very specific philosophical and metaphysical interpretation of reality that was dominant during the historical events that are in the bible. So much has happened in the history of thought since then, and I think religion unfortunately can serve as a vehicle (through fear of change) to keep some unnecessary ideas hanging around. The reason I’m still a ‘person of faith’ through that problem is because, to be honest, I think creating a theory of how the world works is not the purpose of the gospels, nor the central message of them, although it certainly gets mangled up in all that mess.

For example, I might get called some kind of heretic for saying this (oh well), but I’m also not sure thinking of Jesus’s ‘divinity’ in a classical way is quite right either. It seems he is just as entrenched in the thinking of his time period as any other person, but how could he not be? He possessed a human brain, after all. What Jesus thought of how the world worked, even if he was God-in-flesh (whatever that means), would still no doubt be functioning through a human lens. So, I’m inclined to think his specialness is a far more mysterious thing than some boring, stale, rationalist Enlightenment theory of an ‘all-knowing/all-powerful/all-present’ God. But what I mean by that, I have no idea! I can’t help feeling myself pulled at by him though, in some inextricable way.


Thank you for sharing that. For my money, if you find yourself being pulled toward Jesus and longing for that reunion, then you are a Christian. I too have faith that pulls me along, it just isn’t based on relating to the person of Jesus about whom I know very little.

My God concept is probably insufficiently Christian as well. I tend to think what has given rise to God belief is something on board, every bit as real as we are in ourselves but autonomous. It is the longing to more fully know this mute partner of ours which pulls me along. But I stop short of attributing the creation of atoms, galaxies and genes to God. And I think ‘God’, like ourselves, is iterative with no personal eternality. But my suspicion is that others who have grown up with the Bible probably think similarly but would not openly say so. I think it is part of the specific philosophical and metaphysical interpretation to which Christian tradition is deeply wedded which you mentioned. But what really exists isn’t ultimately the most important question.

Hi, John - and welcome to the forum!

Responding to Christ’s call to you, and seeking to cultivate that relationship does more for you (I think) than a truckload of correct doctrines and philosophical dissertations. It is why Jesus thanked his father for revealing to “babes” what was necessary while the lofty and erudite puff themselves up with empty (even if correct) knowledge. Praise God for that, so that there is hope for us after we give up trying to appease both Jerusalem and Athens with all their doctrinal and philosophical exams respectively.

But meanwhile … it’s just fine to know that both Jerusalem and Athens do have useful things on offer that the Christian need not turn away from - and in fact may be called toward to fashion useful tools for the life of faith.

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Only all perfect John. Particularly in what Jesus was. He certainly wasn’t (coterminous with) a Person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: not nounally God. Adjectivally, yes.

Welcome to the discussion.

I do not like to argue with you, but I must. Do you really think that science can cure all our problems? Yes, it has done some great things, but the number of suicides in the USA is rising. Do science have a medication for this?

First, you are right, the Greek “psyche”/"soul’ and the Hebrew “nephesh” have roughly the same meaning, but Plato made the Soul an eternal consciousness as opposed to the temporary body. On the other hand the Greeks thought of the soul/psyche as the mind, as in the mind/body dualism.

The spirit is something else. the spirit is involved in right and wrong, good and evil. I identify the Spirit with Love. Of course materialists will say that love does not exist. It is just a feeling or a mirage. I hope that most people understand themselves well enough to know that love is real. It is an unselfish relationship that binds us to other people and to God. The old sang is still true, What the world needs now is love, sweet love, not just for some, but for everyone."

Science can help us to understand the universe and in the form of medicine heal the body. People who say that thinking is a physical process are wrong. Ideas are not made up of matter/energy. The spirit/love is not material, is not made up of matte/energy.

Science is the way we study our physical world. Theology is the way we study our spiritual world, which includes meaning and values. Psychology is the way we study our rational world, how we think. We need all three disciplines to understand who we are and what we need to do. Anyone who says do not need one or two of them is not telling the truth.

See my essay, Solving The One And The Many to Reconcile Theology, Philosophy, and Science. on the Academia.edu website. .

In the Bible the word translated as “soul” was the word for what animated the body and thus variously used to refer to life or person. The “spirit” however referred to something non-physical, whether God, angel or the body which we have after our lives our over (1 Cor 15). However there are also non-Biblical traditions such as Plato and Eastern religions in which the soul is a non-physical mind which is trapped in, inhabits, or even moves from one body to another in transmigration or reincarnation.

From science we have a better explanation for the life and animation of the body and I certainly don’t believe in the non-Biblical stuff. So I generally avoid the word “soul” and stick with Paul’s explanation of a “spiritual body” in 1 Cor 15.

I see consciousness as a property of life, which we human beings have in extra measure in the mind – a physical living organism of linguistic information dependent upon the human brain.

Since standards of what constitutes being dead has changed enormously since that time, we cannot know any such thing. It is much more likely that Lazarus was simply in a coma of some kind.

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Oops, that was supposed to be a message.