The Bible says that man is a three-part being:
That man has a body is, of course, self evident; but that man has a spirit in addition to his soul is also just as evident - at least to those who are disposed to read the Scriptures literally. The Scriptures very clearly differentiate between the two. For example, that man has a spirit seems to be very plain from the following Scriptures:
"The spirit (Heb. - ne shamah) of man is the lamp of the Lord." (Prov. 20:27)
"The spirit (Gk. - pneuma) indeed is willing ..." (Matt. 26:41)
"Jesus perceiving in his spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Mark 2:8)
"He sighed deeply in his spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Mark 8:12)
"My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Luke 1:47)
"He was deeply moved in spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (John 11:33)
"Being fervent is spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Acts 18:25)
"I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Acts 20:22)
"Whom I serve in my spirit (Gk. - pneuma)." (Rom. 1:9 NASB)
"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Rom. 8:15)
"What man knoweth the things of a man except the spirit (Gk. - pneuma) of man which is in him." (I Cor 2:11)
"They refreshed my spirit (Gk. - pneuma) as well as yours." (I Cor. 16:18)
"His spirit (Gk. - pneuma) was refreshed by you all." (2 Cor. 7:13)
"The Lord Jesus be with your spirit (Gk. - pneuma)." (2 Tim. 4:22)
ne shamah = spirit (Hebrew); pneuma = spirit (Greek); both words mean wind or breeze
And that man has a soul is also evident from the following Scriptures:
(1) "Why are you cast down, O my soul (Heb. - nephesh)." (Ps. 42:5)
(2) "My soul (Gk. - psuche) is very sorrowful." (Matt. 26:38)
(3) "My soul (Gk. - psuche) doth magnify the Lord." (Luke 1:46)
(4) "Now is my soul (Gk. - psuche) troubled." (John 12:27)
(5) "... were of one heart and soul (Gk. - psuche) ..." (Acts 4:32)
(6) "I call for a record upon my soul (Gk. - psuche)." (2 Cor. 1:23)
(7) "For they watch for your souls (Gk. - psuche)." (Heb. 13:17)
(8) "Seeing you have purified your souls (Gk. - psuche)." (I Pet. 1:22)
(9) "Which war against your soul (Gk. - psuche)." (I Pet. 2:11)
nephesh = soul (Hebrew); psuche = soul (Greek); both means a living, thinking being
nephesh = soul (Hebrew); psuche = soul (Greek); both means a living, thinking being
It should be noted in this connection that the Hebrew word for spirit is ne shamah which means "wind," and the Hebrew word for soul is nephesh which means a "living (thinking) being." They are two totally different words, and mean two totally different things. In addition, the Greek word for spirit is pneuma which means "breeze," and the Greek word for soul is psuche, which - like the Hebrew word, nephesh - means a "living (thinking) being." Again, they are two totally different words, and mean two totally different things.
In addition, the Hebrew word for spirit, ne shamah ("wind"), corresponds to the Greek word for spirit, pneuma ("breeze"), while the Hebrew word for soul, nephesh ["living (thinking) being"] corresponds to the Greek word, psuche [also "living (thinking) being"].
Finally, the fact that the soul and spirit of man are two different things is made absolutely apparent by Hebrews 4:12 where the Bible speaks of separating the two into two distinct entities:
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)
Thus, when God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him ..." (Gen. 1:26-27) what is meant here is that God made man a three-part being. Since God is a three-part being (i.e., He is triune), He created man a three-part being - body, soul and spirit.
If, however, man has a spirit which is different from his soul, what is the spirit? The spirit is our "inner man" (Eph. 3:16) - it is that portion of our being which is meant to touch (and commune with) God - so that we:
"May be able to comprehend [understand] ... what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height [of Christ]; and to know [His] ... love ... which passeth knowledge, that ... [we] might be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:18-19).
The spirit is what Peter refers to as "the hidden person of the heart" (I Pet. 3:4) - and it's precisely this "hidden person of the heart" which differentiates man from the beasts.
The beasts have no such ability to touch God - they were never meant to "commune" with God - only man has this ability (or possibility). Indeed, if only the body and soul are taken into account, then the radical "animal rights" activists (as bizarre as they may seem) are correct when they say that there is little that differentiates man from the beasts - after all, beasts, just like man, think, reason, love, and hate and, ipso facto, they have a soul!
To say that they don't - that they just react to stimuli like plants - is asinine. Plants (which have only a body, but no soul) don't think, don't love, don't reason. Unlike the beasts and man, they only react to stimuli; they are still alive, but they don't have a soul, and surely they don't have a spirit.
It is important to understand the difference between our soul and spirit because it is in our spirit where we are cognizant of God and where He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. It is in the spirit where our fellowship with God begins. It is in our own spirit where we must worship God. This is why Jesus said,
"God is a Spirit [meaning the Holy Spirit]: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit [meaning man's spirit] and in truth." (John 4:24)
Our spirit is deeper than our soul. It's deeper than our random thoughts. It's deeper than our outward emotions which we might project to others. It's a place to which we can retreat and always find happiness and joy in Christ - regardless of our outward circumstances. This is what Paul was talking about in II Cor. 6:10 when he said that as a servant of Christ he was "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" - sorrowful in his soul due to the trying circumstances which surrounded him - but always rejoicing in his spirit where he had fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul puts it this way in II Cor. 4:8:
"... we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." (II Cor. 4:8)
Nothing could shake Paul from his deep, abiding trust and peace that was his experience down deep in his spirit - although outwardly, in his soul, he was often bewildered and distressed. Some have likened it to a storm raging on the ocean; but if we go down beneath the waves we find rest and peace. How often we forget, and try to ride out the storm on the surface (in our soul) where the raging waves of confusion and fear predominate, instead of trusting Christ in our spirits.
It's in our spirits where "the peace that passes all understanding" is to be found (Phil. 4:7) - the peace which is ours because Christ dwells there. It was in our spirit where we first met God when the Holy Spirit convicted us of our sin. Wasn't it glorious when we first came to know Christ? It might not have made sense in our mind or soul, but down deep inside we knew the gospel was true and that we needed a Savior. That was God speaking to us in our spirit.
It's in our spirits where "the peace that passes all understanding" is to be found.
It is in our spirits where the consciousness of God is found. Some have said that:
Our spirit is where we are conscious of God.
Our soul is where we are conscious of self.
Our bodies are where we are conscious of the physical world of the senses.
Sanctification means bringing our soul into submission to our spirit which is beholding and reflecting God. When we do this, we reflect God to the world. This is what Paul meant when he said that -
"... we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [mirror] the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18)
This is what true godliness is all about. It's not about learning formulas from "how to" books promoted by "Christian" psychologists and counselors on how to have a good marriage, to be a loving father or wife, to be a caring parent, etc. It's about beholding God in our spirit and reflecting Him through our soul to the world which surrounds us. Our need isn't for more books and seminars, our need is to behold the Lord in our spirit and reflect Him to those who touch us in our daily lives. When we do this, we will automatically be a loving father or mother, because He is a loving father or mother; we will automatically be a loving husband or wife because He is a loving husband or wife; we will automatically be a caring parent because He is a caring parent. This is exactly the practice of our Lord insofar as His walk with the Father is concerned. Jesus said,
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." (John 5:19)
And, likewise, this is what Jesus told us to do insofar as our relationship with Him was concerned:
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
"Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." (John 15:4-8)
It's not working for Christ, but "abiding" in Christ; it's not doing, but "beholding and reflecting."
Most Biblical scholars in the early church saw man as a threefold (Trichotomous) being. Even as late as Augustine (A.D. 354-430), the common view was that man was Trichotomous - that he possessed a body, a soul, and a spirit. The words of Augustine substantiate this fact very plainly when he wrote in Faith and Creed:
"... there are three things of which man consists - namely spirit, soul, and body ..." [Faith and the Creed (XX:23)].
But as Latin Theology (i.e., Roman Catholicism) began to take hold, most theologians abandoned Trichotomy and began to see man as simply a two-fold being of soul and body (with spirit being just another name for the soul). This idea, known as dichotomy, continued as the majority opinion down through the centuries and still is the common view held by the Roman Catholic Church and most of the Protestant churches that came out of the Reformation (i.e., the Dutch Reformed, the Lutheran, the Episcopalian, the Presbyterian, etc.) - all of which, interestingly enough, hold to a post-millennial approach to eschatology [i.e., that the church must take control of the world before Christ can return (more about this later)]. It is interesting to note in this connection, however, that Martin Luther, the father (so to speak) of the Reformation, championed the view that man was Trichotomous.
It wasn't until the rise of evangelicalism in the 1800s [and most especially, the Plymouth Brethren, the group which is looked upon by most church historians as the parent body out from which evangelicalism sprang] and John Nelson Darby that Trichotomy once again revived - and it's worth noting in this connection that along with a revived view of man as a Trichotomous being, pre-millennialism also revived. Darby's teachings were popularized and gained wide acceptance and public acclaim in conservative church bodies throughout most of the 20th century. But with the rise of the modern ecumenical movement - i.e., the political movement of Protestant and Catholic bodies together to "take the nation back for Christ and the church" - post-millennialism (which "politicizing" promotes) resurfaced along with dichotomy - which post-millennialism of necessity encourages.
* Much of this material was derived from Brent Harris's excellent booklet, Body, Soul and Spirit