“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
The word “spirit” carries a wide variety of meanings depending on its context. For example, we might associate this word with things like enthusiasm, fortitude, or ambition. It might refer to a supernatural apparition or a ghost. Or perhaps it might to alcohol or other type of flammable liquid.
When used in a Biblical context, the word “spirit” finds it’s origin in the Old Testament Hebrew word “ruach” and the New Testament Greek word “pneuma.” In fact, a remnant of the word “pneuma” still exists today in the form of the word “pneumatic” as it relates to an automotive tire, air tool, or gas.
In a larger sense, the word pneuma is used to express the idea of a breeze, a gust of wind, an air current, or the act of breathing. In this respect, the human spirit is invisible and immaterial, much like a current of air. It represents the eternal and non-corporeal part of every human being that remains following the death of his or her physical body. Once that physical separation occurs, the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “…your spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7-8 NCV).
The word used for soul in this passage is the Greek word psuche, a word survives today as the root of such modern-day words as psychology or psychoanalysis. In this context, the soul refers to the human being as an individual personality.
For instance, the soul reflects our individual preferences- that which we like and that which we dislike. In addition, this word carries an emotional component that involves the things we love, hate, or feel indifferent about. The soul also embodies our talents, skills, and abilities- those we were born with and those we have developed. In addition, this word refers to the will, intellect, and all that distinguishes an individual human being from every other human who has ever lived or ever will live. In short, the soul represents the “you” inside your body.
Finally, the “body” is represented by the word soma in the original language of this passage. As one source explains, “It is an indisputable fact that the Greek word for ‘body’ (soma), when used of a person, always means physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this.” (1) We’ll tie these elements together in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 next.
(1) Ron Rhodes, The Complete Book Of Bible Answers [pg. 133] Copyright © 1997 by Ron Rhodes, Harvest House Publishers