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A Look at Psalms 23 Part 4a

Kirk Coffman

A Look at Psalms 23 Part 4a

I have been operating with the understanding that we are made up of three distinct parts: body, soul, and spirit. But, I have heard many different preachers and scholars give differing information on distinguishing between soul and spirit. What everyone can seem to agree on is we are made of two identifiers: the material (body) and immaterial (soul/spirit).

[Psa 23:3 NKJV] 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His
name's sake.

Verse three starts out by saying “He restores my soul”. Before I get into the interpretation of what may be meant in this passage I need to explore a mystery that has been on my mind for years now. I even preached a Sunday morning message on the subject of body, soul, and spirit, and I managed, somehow, to skirt this mystery in the process preaching it. I have been operating with the understanding that we are made up of three distinct parts: body, soul, and spirit. But, I have heard many different preachers and scholars give differing information on distinguishing between soul and spirit. What everyone can seem to agree on is we are made of two identifiers: the material (body) and immaterial (soul/spirit).

But, there seems to be some controversy around distinguishing between the immaterial. I have heard commonly that our mind, will, and emotions, are “seated” in our soul but I have heard the same thing taught for our spirit. After some investigation on this subject, it turns out, this has been a point of discussion for a very long time. There are two basic ideas, humans are made of two parts (the dichotomous view), or humans are made three parts (the trichotomous view).

The trichotomous view suggests that we are three distinct parts (body, soul, and spirit) in one. They use supporting scriptures like Hebrews 4:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23, a very convincing couple of scriptures. Also, I must admit this theory does have a nice symmetry with our understanding of the Holy Trinity and how we were created in God’s image. However, dichotomists would point out that the hermeneutic employed to interpret 1 Thessalonians 5:23 would then need to also be applied to Mark 12:30 which would then suggest that a tetrachotomy (four parts) view would need to be put forward.

Inside of the dichotomous view there are two theories, the first theory is, we are only two parts because soul and spirit are meant to be synonyms. In other words the two words are interchangeable, which does offer some explanation for the back and forth from the aforementioned preachers and scholars. There are many scriptures that list these two words in subsequent verses, which does suggest they may be synonymous (Luke 1:46-47, Isaiah 26:9, Matthew 6:25, 10:28, ect). The other dichotomous theory offers that humans are two parts body and spirit, and the terminology used for specifically identifying both parts together is soul. With this view, soul is a word that communicates the whole of the human life. I find this to be a compelling point of view when I consider the Hebrew word translated to soul (nephesh) is also translated to our word for “life” over 100 times. Also, from my perspective this theory would also benefit from all the advantages of the synonymous view. Finally it’s kind of interesting to think about humanity being only two parts (body and spirit), because then it would only be when we receive the Holy Spirit at salvation that we would become complete and reflect the Holy Trinity and be able to walk in our created purpose.

I don’t think scholars will ever be able to conclusively say one idea is right and the other is wrong. There is scriptural evidence that supports each idea. However, I do find it helpful to understand each of the perspectives especially when I consider Ps 23:3. The word soul in this instance is the Hebrew word nephesh; which is strongly connected to, that which is breathing, breath, or life. So, when read in context, it’s when I am lying down in His green pastures and being led beside the still waters that He is restoring my soul. For this scripture I like to think about soul being interpreted as the last option in list. That means that when I’m led by God He restores everything the material body and the immaterial spirit.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for leading me, feeding me, and restoring my soul. God will you continue to give me clarity about what is meant from soul and spirit. Amen.