What is the "spirit in man"?

Several verses in the Bible talk about a spirit of man that is described much differently from what many religions envision as an immortal soul. What is this spirit in man?


What is the difference between an animal brain and a human brain of similar size? Science hasn't been able to explain the vast difference in thinking ability between the animal brain and the human mind. But the Bible talks about a spiritual component God gives to every person (Zechariah:12:1). The Bible teaches that this spirit in man imparts aspects of the human mind, including self-awareness, intellect, creativity, personality and temperament—everything that enables human accomplishment and knowledge short of true spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians:2:11).

Ecclesiastes:12:7 mentions this spirit, saying that the spirit of man returns to God upon death. Some erroneously interpret this as a reference to righteous souls going to heaven. However, the context shows this interpretation is wrong. For one thing, it says that the spirit of everyone who dies, not just the righteous, goes back to God who gave it. The preceding verses speak of aging and death taking their natural course in every person.

As our booklet What Happens After Death? explains, Paul wrote that the righteous dead wait in their graves until the resurrection (1 Thessalonians:4:14-18). And since Christ comes to the earth to reign, the resurrected saints will also be on the earth. Heaven isn't the reward of Christians. (See also our booklet Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach ? )

This verse of Ecclesiastes 12 is part of the chapter's conclusion. In its entirety, the verse reads, "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it." Upon death, the human body decomposes into the dust from which it was created and the spirit in man goes back to God.

What is the spirit in man? Is it the man himself? If that were the case, Ecclesiastes:12:7 would not make sense. It plainly says that the body decomposes. Is the spirit in man an immortal soul? Much of mainstream Christianity has adopted the idea of an immortal soul from ancient pagan religion; it is not taught in the Scriptures.

Why would the spirit of man return to God upon death? Consider how God will resurrect the dead. He will not simply put life back into dead bodies. For even if the body remains intact upon death, it will eventually decompose, just as Ecclesiastes:12:7 stated. That is, the bodies of most people will no longer exist by the time of the resurrections.

It is likely, therefore, that the spirit in man serves as the permanent record of every human being, by which God will resurrect him or her at the appointed time (1 Corinthians:15:23). By way of analogy, it's possible to recreate a destroyed building if one has the blueprints of the original. Similarly, God is able to recreate a person by the record preserved in the spirit in man.

Brother Mitch

Brother Mitch's picture

It has been said; that man is comprised of three components. 1. The Spirit of the Mind, 2.The Entity of the Soul, 3.and the Physical Body. I believe the Genesis of man was created in the image and likeness of God. Romans 12:1-2 teaches us how to present our bodies with an acceptable attribute of God which is Holiness, the Holy Scriptures also state we can be renewed in the Spirit of our minds. It is clear that Godliness can occur when our conduct lines up with God's character, it is through this transformation we can receive Divine Miracles.


rwp_47's picture

Consider this to be an alternative presentation of "What is the spirit in man".
Based on the bible man is a soul that has a body and a spirit. Matthew:10:28 teaches that man has a "conditionally" immortal soul ... not to be confused with what "traditional Christianity" teaches. Conditionally in that God can destroy it in Gehenna when the time comes if he finds it necessary. Otherwise one's soul will never die since no one but God can kill (destroy) it says Matthew ... and because it never ages and will continue forever unless destroyed by God in Gehenna.
I propose that the spirit does not serve as the permanent record of a man ... but instead the soul serves as the permanent storage facility since spirit can't be destroyed but soul can ... but only by God and in the lake of fire. This affords the ability to destroy the record of the wicked ... which if it was stored in the spirit couldn't be destroyed (which is totally unacceptable ... because that would mean the wicked lived forever in a sleep and couldn't be completely blotted out).
I propose that our body, soul, and spirit can more clearly be understood by an analogy to a computer (rather than to a building). The computer consists of hardware, software, and power circuit ... where these correspond to the body, soul, and spirit. Nothing is stored in the power circuit. Its function is to empower the body and soul acting together to live as a being. Its the software that has all the information ... and it corresponds to the soul ... and it is what God breathes into one's body to resurrect. The body (the hardware) is self explanatory and is necessary if the software is to function (i.e., if the person is to be animated as we are in this life and to be conscious). So the spirit is the power to animate a person that is completely constructed ... just like the power circuit animates the computer (hardware and software) when the "on" switch is switched "on."

Malachi 3_16-18

Malachi 3_16-18's picture

Hi rwp_47,

Man doesn’t have immortality inherent within him. God has “put eternity in our hearts” (check Eccl 3:11 in the New International Version or New King James Version), but this means the need or desire to have an eternal relationship with Him.

The Holy Spirit, given to us at conversion, is spiritual (1 Cor:2:13), and while a down payment of our salvation (2 Cor:5:5), it doesn’t guarantee immortality, since God can remove it from us (Ps:51:11; 1 Sam:16:14). Unlike the animals, mankind also has the human spirit (1 Cor:2:11), which imparts personality, intellect, reasoning ability, and the ability to join with God’s Spirit when He gives it (Job:32:8). But this spirit isn’t the “soul”, and when a person dies, it goes back to God (Eccl 12:7). It contains a record of our thoughts, etc, so it is apparently put back into us when He resurrects us.

In many places in the Bible, the word soul simply means “living being”, or “person”. (For instance, consider 2 Sam:4:9 and Acts:2:43). It does perish when we die, because “the soul that sins shall die” (Ezek:18:4), and all have sinned (Rom:3:23). For a detailed explanation of how “soul” is used in Mt 10:28, I recommend this article from our website:


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