The Greek words translated “spirit” (pneuma) and “soul” (psyche) are very closely related. In fact, both can be translated as “breath”.
Be that as it may, look at how the context most often demands that psyche be translated. I’m going to give you some verses that force psyche to be translated into the word “life”, and life pertaining specifically to bodily life.
Matthew 2:20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.
Matthew 6:25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Matthew 20:28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
John 10:15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Acts 7:14 Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.
Now, I have given you a very, very tiny sample here, and I have also skipped around, but I promise you that if you search your concordance you will find that the word psyche is translated most often as body, and then second most often as mind.
Acts 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds (pysche) evil affected against the brethren.
Here is a link to the Strong’s concordance showing every instance of the word psyche as it appears in Scripture so that you can see for yourself.
As for the word translated spirit (pneuma), pneuma is the word the New Testament uses to identify the Holy Spirit, angels, demons, and men. It is also used to identify a person’s attitude, such as in 1 Corinthians 4:21 “What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?”
Pneuma’s Old Testament counterpart, ruwach, is also used to identify God’s Spirit. However, the most common use for the word concerns the identification of wind, and in particular, wind as it relates to the appearance of God’s judgment. (I am actually going to be talking about the word this Sunday in my Hebrews lesson!)
The other Hebrew word, nĕshamah, corresponds more closely to psyche and is often translated breath, as in God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life.
But wait, there is a very interesting problem. We are told that God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of neshamah. However, we are also told in places like Ecclesiastes that both man and animal have the same ruwach.
Ecclesiastes 3:19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
Man has no preeminence above beasts. Why? Because they both have one ruwach. But is this the same ruwach?
This is where the problem gets very interesting.
In Genesis 2 we are told that God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath (neshamah) of life. However, when we get to the flood account, the Bible suddenly flips the script. We start seeing God bringing the flood waters over the earth to destroy all flesh with the . . . ruwach of life!
Genesis 6:17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruwach) of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
Genesis 7:15 And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruwach) of life.
Genesis 8:1 And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark: and God made a wind (ruwach) to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged
If that’s not enough of a flip, then consider what Job does.
Job 27:3 All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit (ruwach) of God is in my nostrils
Suddenly we now have ruwach being used to identify God’s Spirit
Job does this throughout.
Job 33:4 The spirit (ruwach) of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.
What in the world is going on here?
Thankfully, Psalm 104 comes to the rescue.
29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath (ruwach), they die, and return to their dust.
30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit (ruwach), they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
Basically, what the Bible is telling us is that God’s Spirit sustains the life and breath of every living thing. I mean, think about it, what is it that keeps our heart pumping and our brain cells firing? We aren’t Deists, are we? We don’t believe that God jump started our hearts at some point while we were in the womb and then stepped back to watch it gradually wind down seventy or so years later, did He? Of course not.
The Bible is telling us that it is the Father who wills it, the Son who holds it all together by the word of His power, and the Spirit who causes what the Father wills and the Son holds together to breath and to live. It’s the Trinity actively at work in every living moment of our life.
A day is coming for each one of us when the Spirit will cease to cause us to live and breath, but the Bible also promises that a day is coming which the Father has willed when the Son will return with a shout, “Come forth!”, and the Spirit will once more restore His breath of life to the bodies of His people, causing them to live and breath once more. And from this resurrection, for God’s elect, there shall never again come a day when the Spirit will cease to sustain His people with His breath of life.
What does all this mean? It means God’s people are a material substance whose conscience is sustained by God, the only Person who is inherently immortal. We are not mind-body-and spirit. Rather, we are bodies of dust (souls) that live and breath (spirit/wind) only so for as long as the Holy Spirit keeps our brain cells firing and our lungs breathing.