Resource Sheet 4 - What is a Spirit?

God is spirit - πνεûμα (pneuma) (John 4:24).

Humans are made in God's image.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27)

The Hebrew word used here for 'created' is bara' = creation out of nothing (ex nihilo). Only used in the O.T. and Hebrews 11:3, and only of God's activity.

"By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." (Hebrews 11:3)

So, God created man out of nothing. But in Genesis 2:7 we read that

"The Lord God formed man out of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."

This Hebrew word 'formed' is yasar = created out of existing substance.

So what was it that God created out of nothing, which became in man the image and likeness of His own Spirit-Being? He breathed [nãpah] his breath [nešãmãh = 'breath', 'wind' or 'spirit'] into the man. This human spirit was created out of nothing, that is, no substance or matter. Adam became 'the man with the living soul'. The spirit brings the body to life.

"The body [σωμα (sõma) = 'body'] without the spirit [πνεûμα (pneuma) = 'spirit', 'breath'] is dead." (James 2:26).

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul [ψυχη' (psyche) = 'life', 'soul', 'heart', 'mind'] and spirit [πνεûμα (pneuma) = 'spirit', 'breath'], joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [καρδια (kardia) = 'heart', 'mind']." (Hebrews 4:12)

God's Spirit creates our human spirit.

"The Spirit [rûah = 'spirit', 'wind', 'breath'] of God has made me; the breath [nešãmãh = 'breath', 'breathed', 'blast', 'spirit', 'life'] of the Almighty gives me life [hãyãh]." (Job 33:4)

God "breathed", or "en-spirited" ("inspired"), or "enlivened" us.

The parallel words in the Greek New Testament for spirit also mean wind and breath, as do the Old Testament words. There is a strong connection in both the very different Hebrew and Greek world views between spirit, life, and the Holy Spirit's action.

For example, In John 20:22 Jesus breathed on [ε'μφνσα'ω (emphysao) = 'breathed on'] them, and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit [πνεûμα (pneuma) = 'spirit', 'breath']'.

Soul and spirit are not the same. Spirit enters into flesh and their interaction - the relationship between them - creates the soul. Tom Marshall, in Living in the Freedom of the Spirit, or Free Indeed, pictures it this way:

God Creates Adam

The soul thus created is the human's rational, emotional and volitional faculties - mind, emotions and will. As Marshall diagrams it:

The Human Makeup

So, humans have a body, soul and spirit.

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit [πνεûμα (pneuma) = 'spirit', 'breath'], soul [ψυχη' (psyche) = 'life', 'soul', 'heart', 'mind'] and body [σωμα (sõma) = 'body'] be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 5:23)

Three parts, inseparable, and all needing sanctification, purification and protection. Three parts, but one person.

In James 4:5-6a, speaking about the need to submit to God and not strive after the things of the world, James says: "Do you think scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace." This can be read in two ways. If the 'spirit' is our human spirit, then James is referring back to God's creation of man in Genesis 2:27. Because of the fall we 'envy intensely' worldly things. But God's grace overcomes this envy. Or it could be the Holy Spirit in us who longs jealously for our devotion, and will not share us with anything which breaks our fellowship with God. But, if this is so then it is the only reference James makes to the Holy Spirit in this letter.

Either way, both are present within us. In fact, God promises us a new Spirit when we come to him:

"I will give you a new heart [leb = 'heart', 'mind'] and put a new spirit [rûah = 'spirit', 'wind', 'breath'] in you: I will remove from you your heart [b] of stone and give you a heart [b] of flesh. And I will put my Spirit [rûah] in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezekiel 36:26,27)

I don't believe that we give enough importance to the presence of God's Spirit in the believer. It isn't given just so we can have gifts, or hear God's voice (although it is essential for these). It is so that we can stop dying and begin to live again! Yes, Jesus saves - but how does he save? The sinner is dying, not as punishment for sin in the sense of appeasing the wrath of a vengeful god, but from sheer separation from the source of life because of contamination with that which leads to death! Jesus gives us his Spirit, and so our spirit, and consequently our body and soul, begins to live.

It is interesting to see the movement which has taken place in the medical profession's understanding of when death takes place. First, absence of breath [rûah, πνεûμα] was enough. Not long ago a person was said to be dead when their heart [b, καρδια] stopped beating. Now they are unsure about this and look for brain death. Most scientific opinion says that the brain is the seat of the mind [b, ψυχη', ψυχη']. How long will it be before they begin to worry about the condition of the spirit [the same words as for 'breath': rûah, πνεûμα] of a 'dead' person, and we will have gone around in a complete linguistic circle.

Human spirits and Holy Spirit are not the only spirits with which we have to deal. Evil spirits or demons also exist. In fact the same Greek word [πνεûμα] is used for these as well, making it difficult to dismiss them as merely a phenomenon of mental [ψυχη'] disturbance.

"One day the evil [πoνηρóν] spirit [πνεûμα] answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know Paul, but who are you?" (Acts 19:15)

In the later courses on Intercession and Spiritual Warfare and Prayer Ministry we will look at evil spirits and the idea of persons being demonised.