are sometimes used interchangeably by people who talk about the disembodied entities that supposedly exist in the unseen world. This common misconception can be traced back to the one who told Eve, ''You will surely not die!"
Well then, just what is a spirit? Doesn't the Bible say that man has one of those? And isn't that what goes back to God when a person dies?
Genesis 2:7 tells how
figured into the creation of man. "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (NASB).
In this verse,
is from the Hebrew word
. This word occurs 24 times in the Old Testament and is usually translated by
are among other possible renderings. It was the
of life that God breathed into Adam. It was the
of life that transformed his inert form into a living soul or being.
Someone who has misread the biblical description of Creation might be thinking, “So, l AM a
, but I HAVE a
. It must be my
that can live on after I die!”
That conclusion fails when we look at another Hebrew word,
ruach. It is the Old Testament's primary Hebrew word for
spirit. It appears about 380 times. The King James Version usually translates it
spirit. It refers to God 90 times, and even to angels in a few places. There are more than one hundred verses where it represents the life force, or the spiritual, mental, or emotional aspects of life.
, ruach, which is sometimes translated
spirit, may look like an even better candidate than
neshamah for a person’s conscious survival after the death of the body. The two words are used together in Hebrew poetry. Here's one example:"The
spirit of God hath made me, and the
breath of the Almighty hath given me life" (Job 33:4). In this verse
spirit is used for
Job, speaking of death, talks of the life-giving process being reversed. He pictures God gathering "unto himself his
spirit and his
breath" (Job 34:14). We find support for this idea in Ecclesiastes 12:7, which speaks of man's death this way: 'Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the
spirit will return to God who gave it" (NASB).
But what really happens when the
spirit returns to God. Does that
spirit carry with it the consciousness of the person who has died? According to the Bible, No. The Psalmist wrote, "His
spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:4).
In the New Testament,
spirit is used most often to refer to the third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. There are also references to angels and demons. But nowhere does the New Testament support the view that we have a conscious, intelligent
spirit which lives on after death.
God is the source of life. He gives the
spirit of life, and we live. Without that
breath we cease living and our bodies decompose into dust.
Whether we recognize it or not, our dependence upon God is complete.