The preceding study of the New Testament view of the human soul-psyche has shown how Christ expanded the Old Testament meaning of nephesh as physical life to include also the gift of eternal life. What is true for the human soul is also true in many ways for the human spirit. The coming of Christ contributed to reveal the fuller meaning and function of the Old Testament spirit-ruach in the redemption of man. The meaning of the spirit-pneuma as life principle is expanded to include the new-life principle of moral regeneration made possible through Christ's redemption.
The spirit-pneuma is largely synonymous with psyche, as the two words are often used interchangeably in the Old and New Testaments. Yet there appears to be a difference between the two. "Spirit" is often used for God while "soul" is never so used. The overall usage of the two words suggests that "spirit" represents mostly a person's orientation toward God, while the "soul" represents a person orientation toward fellow beings. To put it differently, the soul generally describes the physical aspect of human existence, while the spirit denotes the spiritual aspect of life (the inner self) that relates a person to the eternal world. To appreciate the New Testament meaning and function of the spirit-pneuma in human nature, it is important first to understand the role of the Spirit in Christ's life and ministry.
Christ, the Man of the Spirit. The New Testament in some real sense identifies Christ with the Spirit in the work of salvation. As the second Adam, Christ became "a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45). The Spirit of God becomes the Spirit of Christ: "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our heart, crying 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal 4:6). The "Spirit of God" dwelling in believers is seen to be interchangeable with the "Spirit of Christ" in Romans 8:9-10. The Spirit is so identified with Christ's life and ministry that Paul can say: "The Lord is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:17).
The Spirit who abides in Christ also abides in the person who is "in Christ" (Rom 8:2). "It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rom 8:16). The immediate effect of redemption is the giving of the Spirit who ". . . dwells in you and will be with you" (John 14:17). The Spirit that dwells in a believer is not a detachable immortal soul, but a divine power that regenerates the present life, making the person into a new creature (Rom 7:6; Gal 6:8).
Christ is the Man of the Spirit par excellence. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18,20; Luke 1:35). At His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove (Mark 1:10; Acts 10:38). After His baptism, Christ "was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness" (Luke 4:1-2). In the Spirit, He confronted the Devil in the wilderness (Matt 4:1). Later "Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee" (Luke 4:14). In His inaugural speech, delivered at the synagogue of Nazareth, Christ applied to Himself Isaiah's prediction of the anointing of the Messiah by the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. . . . Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:18, 21). Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christ "went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38).
God's Spirit and the Human Spirit. How does God's Spirit, mediated through Christ, relate to the human spirit? What is the relationship between the spirit as the animating principle of life, present in every living person, and the Spirit as the regenerating principle of moral life active in the life of believers? The answer to these questions is to be found by recognizing that both the physical and the moral-spiritual aspects of life need the Spirit for their existence. It is because man is a living being animated by the breath of God's Spirit that he is capable of receiving the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament, we found numerous texts according to which the spirit-ruach is God's breath that gives and sustains human life. The same function of the spirit-pneuma is expressed in the New Testament. For example, James says: "For as the body without the spirit-pneuma is dead, so faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26). Similarly, Revelation 11:11 speaks of the spirit-pneuma of life that entered dead bodies and they revived and stood up. Thus, every human being has the life-giving spirit of God within himself. When Jesus raised Jairus' daughter, "her spirit returned and she got up at once" (Luke 8:55). We noted already that the spirit which returned was God's breath of life that made the girl a living person again.
The spirit as the principle of the physical life eventually came to mean the source of psychical, rational life. Thus the spirit is used to represent the seat of insight, feeling, and reasoning, the inner disposition or character of the believer. This accounts for the many uses of the term "spirit" in the Old and New Testaments. "Man's spirit is stirred (Ez 2:2), or troubled (Gen 41:8); it rejoices (Luke 1:47), or is broken (Ex 6:9); it is willing (Matt 26:41), or it is hardened (Deut 2:30). A man may be patient in spirit (Ecc 7:8), proud in spirit, or poor in spirit (Matt 5:3). The necessity of ruling one's spirit is stated (Prov 25:28). It is the spirit of man that seeks God (Is 26:9), and to man's spirit that the indwelling Spirit of God bears witness (Rom 8:16)."27
Spirit's Activity in Humanity. Since the spirit-pneuma is a person's true inner self, it is with the spirit that a believer serves God (Rom 1:9). A person as spirit is able to enjoy communion with God (1 Cor 6:17). Prayer and prophecy are exercises of the human spirit (1 Cor 14:32). God's grace is bestowed upon the believer in the sphere of the spirit (Gal 6:18). Renewal is experienced in the spirit (Eph 4:23). Through the Spirit, God witnesses to the believers' spirit that they are children of God (Rom 8:16).
Both the physical and psychical aspects of life need the spirit for their existence, and thus the term reasonably can be applied to both the general principle of physical life and the regenerating principle of moral life. The new nature is certainly a new life principle, but it is an essentially moral-life principle, manifesting itself in a holy disposition or character. It is difficult to establish the exact relationship between the spirit as life principle and the spirit as the regenerating principle of moral life.
For example, some passages in Romans 8 make it difficult to decide whether the term "Spirit" should be written with a capital "S" to designate the Holy Spirit, or with a small "s" to refer to the human spirit redeemed and renewed. Perhaps Paul intended to allow us to read his words either way. Verses 5 and 9 do not lose anything of their profound meaning if this interchange is allowed. "Those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (Rom 8:5). "You are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you" (Rom 8:9).
The connection between the two appears to be found in the fact that the spirit which every person possesses as the animating principle of life enables believers to be receptive and responsive to the working of the Holy Spirit in their life. In other words, it is the spirit as the seat of psychical and rational life (inner self), with which God has endowed every person, that makes it possible for the Spirit of God to dwell in human beings. W. D. Stacey makes this point, saying: "All men have pneuma [the spirit] from birth, but the Christian pneuma [spirit], in fellowship with the Spirit of God, takes on a new character and a new dignity (Rom 8:10)."28
Human Spirit Capable of Receiving God's Spirit. The human spirit has no power to regenerate itself. It is not a divine spark that can be fanned into a flame. Rather, it is a capacity God has given to every person to experience the regenerative power of His Spirit. When a person has been born again by the Spirit of God, his "natural" (psychikos) nature becomes "spiritual" (pneumatikos) (1 Cor 2:14-15).
The human spirit that is obedient to God experiences the guiding and transforming power of God's Spirit. Fellowship with God is achieved by the human spirit through God's Spirit. Claude Tresmontant describes this function of the spirit-pneuma: "Man's spirit, his pneuma, is that within him which permits an encounter with the Pneuma [Spirit] of God. It is the part of a man that can enter into dialogue with God's Spirit, not as a stranger but as a child: 'The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God' (Rom 8:16)."29
The human spirit enables a person to serve God: "For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit-pneuma in the gospel of his Son . . ." (Rom 1:9). The phrase "serve with my spirit" suggests that the spirit is a mental and volitional capacity that enables a person to serve God. We might say that the human spirit is intended by God to be united with the Holy Spirit. It is because man is spirit-pneuma, meaning a living being animated by the breath of God's Spirit (ruach-pneuma), that he is capable of receiving the Holy Spirit-pneuma and thus of coming into a close living relationship with God.
Henry Barclay Swete explains the human orientation toward the Holy Spirit: "The Holy Spirit does not create the 'spirit' in man; it is potentially present in every man, even if rudimentary and undeveloped. Every human being has affinities with the spiritual and eternal. In each individual of the race the spirit of the man which is in him (1 Cor 2:11) answers to the Spirit of God, in so far as the finite can correspond with the infinite; . . . But though the Spirit of God finds in man a spiritual nature on which it can work, the human spirit is in a so imperfect and depraved a condition that a complete renovation, even re-creation, is necessary (2 Cor 5:17)."30
To allow the Spirit of God to renew and transform our life is not to renounce our own personality but to bring it into submission. In line with the Old Testament, the New Testament sees human nature wholistically, where body, soul, and spirit are integral parts of the same being. The spirit is a force, inseparable from breath and life (Luke 8:55; 23:46) that renews the mind (Eph 4:23) and enables a person to become a new creature, "created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph 4:24).
The Spirit as Spiritual Rebirth. The Spirit of God is the active agent of creation and re-creation. We have seen that in the Old Testament the creation of man is ascribed to the Spirit of God. Man exists as a living soul because of God's breath (Gen 2:7). Re-creation in the moral order is also the work of the Spirit. We are reminded of Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones that came to life through God's Spirit. The dry bones, which represent "the whole house of Israel" (Ez 37:11) in her apostate condition were brought back to life, that is, to spiritual rebirth by God's Spirit: "I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live" (Ez 37:14).
In the New Testament, the moral transformation accomplished by the Holy Spirit is described more fully than in the Old Testament, especially in the writings of John and Paul. The two apostles describe this process in different and yet complementary ways. John conceives of the inner moral transformation as rebirth and Paul as new creation. The two metaphors, as we shall see, are complementary, each designed to help us understand the new life brought about by the Holy Spirit.
In John's Gospel, Jesus compares the moral transformation accomplished by the Holy Spirit to a rebirth. Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus says: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Being born of the Spirit is contrasted with born of the flesh: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). The physical birth is according to the flesh (kata sarka), placing a person on an horizontal level of natural existence. The spiritual birth is "from above" (John 3:3) by the Spirit, placing a person on a vertical level of living by the enabling power of the Spirit.
On the night of His resurrection, Jesus "breathed on them [the disciples], and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22). This action, which marked the re-creation of the disciples, is parallel to the first creation of man, when God breathed the breath of life. Creation and recreation, birth and rebirth, are acts of the Spirit, because, as Jesus explained, "It is the Spirit that gives life" (John 6:63). This is true of both the physical and spiritual life.
The Spirit is the immediate source of life that is mediated through Christ. "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.' Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:37-39). Christ is the meriting source of the Spirit, because through His atoning sacrifice He can give His life-giving Spirit to the believer. This is why Paul speaks of "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2).
Summing up, we can say that although John does not mention the spirit of man as such, he envisions it as fulfilled and realized by the Spirit through whom Christ gives new life, a spiritual rebirth, to the believer. In a sense, the ultimate meaning of God's breath as the source of physical life is revealed and fulfilled in the new life made possible by "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2). Nowhere does John identify the life-giving Spirit with an immaterial, immortal soul capable of detaching itself from the body. The function of the spirit is simply to bring about a spiritual rebirth, that is, a moral transformation in the whole person of the believer. There is no dualism in John between a material, mortal body, and a spiritual, immortal soul, because the Spirit brings new life to the whole person.
The Spirit as New Creation. Paul describes the moral transformation accomplished by the Spirit, not as a rebirth, but as a "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17; cf. 1 Cor 6:11; Gal 3:27; 6:15; Eph 4:24). The two metaphors essentially convey the same idea. Paul attributes vital importance to the role of the Spirit in the new life of the believer. This is indicated by the fact that in his letters he refers to the spirit 146 times, compared with only 13 references to the soul. Wheeler Robinson rightly affirms that pneuma-spirit is "the most important word in Paul's psychological vocabulary, perhaps in his vocabulary as a whole."31 The reason is that Paul is concerned to show that salvation is exclusively a divine gift of grace mediated by "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2), and not a natural possession of an immortal soul.
Salvation is not the removal of the spirit or of the soul from the body or from the world in which the body lives, but rather the renewal of the body through the enabling power of the Spirit. Therefore, Paul's description of the Christian life is largely in terms of the empowering of the Spirit for the believer to live according to God's revealed will. The apostle explains that Christ came "in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4).
To walk according to the Spirit means to set the mind "on the things of the Spirit" (Rom 8:5), that is, to live in conformity with the principles of life that God has revealed, rather than according to the desires of the flesh. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Gal 5:16). To walk according to the flesh (kata sarka) means to perform "the works of the flesh" such as "fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like" (Gal 5:19-20). On the contrary, to walk according to the spirit (kata pneuma) means to produce "the fruit of the Spirit" such as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22-23).
The effects of the new creation accomplished in the believer's life by the Holy Spirit are manifested especially in a sonship relationship; in an unshakable faith and hope; in a burning love for the brethren; and in a bold witness for Christ. Through the Spirit, we become members of God's family. "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir" (Gal 4:6).
The Spirit instills in the believer faith and hope in Christ. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Rom 15:13; cf. Gal 3:14; 5:5). The new life of the Spirit is manisfested especially in the spirit of brotherly love that flows from Christ into the life of the believer. "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5; cf. 15:30; Col 1:8; 2 Cor 6:6). The Spirit imparts strength to suffer for Christ's sake. "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Pet 4:14).
Finally, the Spirit is the miraculous life-giving force of the third Person of the Godhead which will bring about the resurrection of the body. "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit which dwells in you" (Rom 8:11; cf. 1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 6:8). As the Spirit was at work in the first creation (Gen 2:7), so He will be at work in the final resurrection. In chapter 4 we see that the Bible nowhere suggests the resurrected body will be reattached to a disembodied soul. Instead, the Bible teaches that this earthly body will be raised into a "spiritual-pneumatikos body" (1 Cor 15:44), that is, a person wholly dominated by the life-force of the divine spirit.
The Flesh and the Spirit. The contrast that Paul makes between the flesh and the Spirit has led many to believe that the Apostle distinguishes between the material, mortal body and the spiritual, immortal soul.32 This interpretation ignores the fact that the Pauline antithesis between the flesh and the spirit is not a duality of metaphysical substances, but a contrast of ethical-religious orientation.
The most vivid contrast between flesh and spirit is found in the first part of Romans 8. Here Paul sharply contrasts those who "live according to the flesh" with those who "live according to the Spirit." "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom 8:5-6).
The first thing to point out in this and similar passages (Gal 5:16-26) is that Paul never uses the Greek words for "body" and "soul" (soma and psyche). Instead, he always employs a different set of terms, namely, sarx and pneuma which are translated "flesh" and "spirit." If Paul had meant to emphasize the distinction between the mortal body and the immortal soul, he would have used the Greek words soma (body) and psyche (soul) that were standard in the Greek dualistic doctrine. But what Paul had in mind was something entirely different, consequently, he uses a different set of words to express it.
There can be no doubt that for Paul "the flesh" and "the Spirit" stand, not for two separate and opposing parts of human nature, but for two different ethical orientations. This becomes clear when one compares his list of the "works of the flesh" (Gal 5:19-20) with that of "the fruits of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-23). Here again the two lists show that "flesh" and "Spirit" represent, not two separate and opposing parts of human nature, but two different kinds of lifestyle. The sins ascribed to the flesh such as "idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissensions, party spirit, envy," have nothing to do with physical impulses. "They could well be practiced by a disembodied spirit."33
Charles Davis clearly states the Biblical meaning of flesh and spirit, saying: "He [Paul] is thoroughly Hebrew in outlook; he saw man simply as a unity. Consequently his antithesis of flesh (sarx) and spirit (pnuema) is not an opposition between matter and spirit, between body and soul. 'Flesh' is not part of man; but the whole man in his weakness and mortality, in his distance from God, and in his solidarity with sinful and corrupt creation. 'Spirit' is man as open to the divine life and as belonging to the sphere of the divine, man under the influence and activity of the Spirit. Flesh and spirit are two active principles affecting man and struggling within him."34
In a similar vein, George Eldon Ladd writes that "flesh" refers "to man as a whole, seen in his fallenness, opposed to God. This usage is a natural development of the Old Testament use of basar [flesh], which is man viewed in his frailty and weakness before God. When this is applied to the ethical realm, it becomes man in his ethical weakness, i.e., sinfulness before God. Sarx [flesh] represents not a part of man but man as a whole - unregenerate, fallen, sinful man."35
Flesh and Spirit stand respectively for the power of death and the power of life that can operate within a person. Oscar Cullmann offers this insightful comparison between the two: "'Flesh' is the power of sin or the power of death. It seizes the outer and the inner man together. Spirit (pneuma) is its great antagonist: the power of creation. He also seizes the outer and inner man together. Flesh and spirit are active powers, and as such they work within us. The flesh, the power of death, entered man with the sin of Adam. It entered the whole man, inner and outer in such a way that it is very closely linked with the body. The inner man finds itself less closely connected with the flesh; although through guilt this power of death has more and more taken possession of the inner man. The spirit, on the other hand, is the great power of life, the element of the resurrection; God's power of creation is given to us through the Holy Spirit."36 The quickening power of the Holy Spirit is manifested in this present life in "our inner nature [which] is being renewed every day" (2 Cor 4:16) by the transforming power of the Spirit (Eph 4:23-24).
The Flesh as Sinful Human Nature. The flesh-sarx represents the unregenerated, sinful human nature, but not because sin resides in the physical nature of the body rather than in the "spiritual" nature of the soul. After all, the body of flesh is the temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), a member of Christ (1 Cor 6:15), and a means of glorifying God (1 Cor 6:20). The reason the flesh-sarx represents fallen, sinful human nature is that it stands for human frailty that can become an instrument of sin.
The meaning of "the flesh," like the meaning of "the world," is ambivalent in Paul as in the Bible generally. The flesh and the world, as created by God for the proper enjoyment of mankind, are good (Gen 1:18, 21, 25, 31). But when the flesh and the world deny their creaturely status and rebel against God by claiming independence and self-sufficiency, then they become bad. It is in this sense that the flesh (carnal nature) and worldliness are synonymous with sinfulness. We could say that "the flesh-sarx" is neutral when it refers to a person living in the world, but designates sinfulness when it describes a person living for the world and allowing the world to govern the whole life and conduct.
It is evident then that the antithesis between "the flesh" and "the Spirit" has nothing to do with body-soul dualism. The flesh per se does not stand for that part of human nature (the body) that is allegedly bad, and the spirit does not represent that part of human nature which is supposedly good (the soul). When used in a negative way, "the flesh" stands for the kind of person in whom the whole life, both physical and psychical, is misdirected, centered upon self rather than God. Similarly, "the spirit" represents not merely the spiritual part of human nature, but the kind of person in whom the whole life, both physical and psychical, is directed toward God rather than self. The contrast between "felsh" and "spirit" is ethical, not ontological.
It is unfortunate that many have misread Paul on this point. The reason for this is the failure to understand that for Paul, and the Bible as a whole, what corrupts a person is not the body or the flesh, but sin. The flesh can become an instrument of sin, and as such it affects the body and the soul, just as its counterpart, the Spirit, transforms the body and the soul.37 "The ultimate enemy of the Spirit of God is not the flesh, but sin, of which the flesh has become the weak and corrupt instrument."38
Conclusion. Our study of the New Testament use of the term "spirit-pneuma" has shown that the spirit, like the soul, is not an independent, spiritual component of human nature which operates apart from the body. On the contrary, the spirit is the life principle that animates the physical body and regenerates the whole person.
We have found that the meaning and function of the Spirit are expanded with the coming of Christ, who is identified with the Spirit in the work of salvation. The meaning of the spirit-pneuma as life principle is expanded to include the new life principle of moral regeneration, made possible through Christ's redemption. The Spirit sustains both the physical and the moral-spiritual aspects of life.
The moral transformation accomplished by the Holy Spirit is described more fully in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. John and Paul describe this process with two different and yet complementary metaphors. John conceives of the inner moral transformation as rebirth; Paul, as new creation.
The "Spirit-pneuma" is the most important word of Paul's vocabulary because it serves to show that salvation is exclusively a divine gift of grace mediated by "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2), and not the natural possession of an immortal soul. Nowhere does the New Testament identify the life-giving Spirit with an immaterial, immortal soul capable of detaching itself from the body.
The function of the Spirit is not to sustain a spiritual, immortal soul; it is to support both our physical and spiritual life. Both creation and recreation, birth and rebirth, are acts of the Spirit because, as Jesus explained, "It is the Spirit that gives life" (John 6:63).
The Pauline antithesis between "the flesh" and "the Spirit" has nothing to do with body-soul dualism. The two stand, not for two separate and opposing parts of human nature, but for two different ethical orientations of a person: living a self-centered life versus living a God-centered life. Summing up, we can say that the spirit, like the soul, describes not a separate entity of human nature but an aspect of the totality of human nature.