I do not know if there is any one topic in the beliefs of most Christians that is so lacking in Biblical backing and so corrupted by traditional thought than what is believed regarding the nature of man in relation to his spirit and his soul. These two words, though they are found in Scripture and play an important role in regards to God’s teaching about mankind, are not viewed in the light of Scriptural truth by most of those who take up the study of them. A thousand and one traditional ideas are firmly entrenched in the mind of the student before he ever takes up God’s Word to see what It has to say on the subject of these two important concepts.

In order to change this unfortunate circumstance, and to come to a real understanding of what these words signify and what God truly would have us know concerning them, it is necessary for us to leave all preconceived ideas behind. It is difficult to do this. Indeed, for many it may be impossible. Yet for the believer, for the student of God’s Word, it is what must be done if we are to be found believing, acknowledging, and keeping all that God has said.

Since there are two words that we seek to focus on in this lesson, not one, let us narrow our consideration to first one, and then the other. Let us look for now at the word “spirit,” and afterwards we shall consider the word “soul.”

A complete study of the word “spirit” should be undertaken by the student. Every occurrence of this word in the Hebrew and the Greek of the Old and New Testaments should be undertaken to fully comprehend the exact use that the Spirit of God makes of the word in the Scriptures. Yet to do such a thorough examination of the word would require the writing of a study bordering on the length of a book, not a single article, for the Hebrew for this word occurs 378 times in Scripture, and the Greek 385 times. I will not take the time to look at all of these occurrences here. Yet I do not think that a study quite this thorough is even necessary to reveal what the Spirit of God means when He uses this important word in Scripture. I believe that, by merely examining the use God makes of this word in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, our study will reveal to us all the meanings that God has attached to this word, and will give us the key to understand all the further uses of this word throughout the Word of God.

In the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures, the word for “spirit” is ruach or ruwach, pronounced “roo’-akh,” with the emphasis upon the first syllable. The first occurrence of this word, the Hebrew word for “spirit,” is in the very second verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:2.

Genesis 1:2. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

The word “Spirit” here is the Hebrew ruach, and this tells us that “spirit” is an aspect of God. In fact, John 4:24 tells us that God is Spirit, when it says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” So this is the first meaning of “Spirit” that we come upon: the Spirit of God.

Genesis 3:8. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Here is the second occurrence of the word ruach. We do not see the word “spirit” in English, as here it is translated “cool.” This may not make much sense at first, but I would suggest “wind” as a better translation here. Again anyone familiar with the book of John will recognize the connection between spirit and wind. As John 3:8 says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” So I believe that this verse in Genesis 3:8 is telling us that the Lord was walking in the garden in the windy part of the day. Of course, this would result in it being cool, as the New King James translates it. So ruach can be used for “wind,” as we will see later in our study.

Genesis 6:3. And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

The word for “Spirit” here is again ruach. I believe this is talking about the man Adam, and not men in general. The word translated “man” here is the Hebrew word Adam. The LORD was saying that His Spirit would not remain with Adam forever. When it left him, he would die, and his days would come to an end. The LORD here declares that this would happen 120 years after He said this. So here ruach is connected with that which causes life.

Genesis 6:17. And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.

Here the word “breath” is the Hebrew word ruach. This verse speaks of the ruach or spirit of life which all living flesh must have. So this verse tells us that all flesh, everything that lives, has the ruach aspect. This would include both animals and men. Ruach here is again connected with life, and so one who does not have ruach is dead.

Genesis 7:15. And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life.

This verse uses ruach the same way as the above verse. Ruach is connected with the life that all animals have.

Genesis 7:22. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died.

Here is a very interesting occurrence of the word ruach. It occurs here with another word for “breath,” which is the Hebrew word neshamah. This is the word used in Genesis 2:7, which reads, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” “Breath” there is neshamah. So every being that has breath is alive, and that breath in Genesis 7:22 is associated with the spirit, the ruach. A breathing being is a living being, and every living being has spirit or ruach. A being that is dead and not breathing has lost also its ruach or spirit from God, just as it has lost its breath of life.

Genesis 8:1. Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided.

Here, the word ruach is translated “wind.” So this confirms what I said above, that ruach can also be used for “wind.” This makes it clearer why the spirit would be associated with the breath.

Genesis 26:35. And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.

Here, we come upon a new and completely different use of the word ruach. Here, it is translated “mind,” and speaks of the troubled thoughts of Isaac and Rebekah regarding their Canaanite daughters-in-law, the wives of Esau. This use of “spirit” is not merely talking about life, but about the mind, the thoughts, and the inmost beliefs of men. Your “spirit” by this definition is what you think, your opinions, your reasoning, and your thought processes in general. Of course, this is only true of one who is living, for a dead person can neither think nor reason, so we can see some connection. Yet this is definitely a different use of the word ruach than any we had come upon up until now.

Genesis 41:8. Now it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.

Here, Pharaoh’s spirit is troubled. Clearly this is not his breath. So this is a second use of the word ruach in connection with mind. Pharaoh’s thoughts were troubled. He was disturbed in his mind about the dream he had had.

Genesis 41:38. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?”

Pharaoh recognized that the Spirit of God was in Joseph. This hearkens us back to the first occurrence of this word in Genesis 1:2, and its use to designate that essential part of God known as His Spirit.

Genesis 45:27 But when they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived.

To understand this occurrence, we need to realize in the context of verse 26, that when Jacob’s sons told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt,” that “Jacob’s heart stood still, because he did not believe them.” It seems that, in his shock and disbelief, Jacob’s very heart had stopped beating, and his breath had stopped coming. Whether this was literal or figurative, it seems that when he believed, he revived, and his spirit returned to him. So, in this verse spirit is again connected with life, with breath, and perhaps even with mind and thoughts, for it was there that Jacob was at first unbelieving. It is a good summary of what we have learned about the word “spirit” from the book of Genesis.

So we have now studied all the occurrences of this very important word in the very first book of God’s Word. From doing this, we have learned, from the first eleven occurrences of the word “spirit” in the Bible, these definitions of “spirit:”

1. An aspect of God, the “Spirit of God,” “God is Spirit.”

2. An aspect of man that means he is alive, and is connected with his breath.

3. The wind.

4. The mind, thoughts, and opinions of men.

I believe that, if we were to do a more thorough examination of the word ruach, and even if we were to pass into the New Testament and examine the Greek word pneuma, these four definitions, in only slightly modified form, would cover all the uses of the word “spirit” from this point on throughout Scripture. When God uses “spirit,” this is what He means.

Next, the second half of this important study is to examine the uses of the word “soul.” We will do this in our next study.