Our own language can trip us up. Sometimes a word or phrase may simply be unknown to us. Or a word may have more than one meaning, and we don’t know which one applies. Other times a word might be used in a way we are completely unfamiliar with. Sometimes we can sort out the meaning of a word from the context, but it’s safer and easier just to start out with some definitions. That way everything’s clear in the beginning.
On this website and all of my writing there are a few words I feel are especially important, but I use them in ways that aren’t so common. So, I’ll offer some definitions. (I’m not trying to be academic — just clear.)
Creature: The word generally refers to a physical animal such as a bird, fish, mammal, reptile, amphibian, insect, micro-organism or other living thing characterized by voluntary movement. Note, however, the root of creature is create. Hence, the word carries within it the aspect of a thing created — created by God of course. (North American colloquial: critter). I’m obviously not referring to plant matter here; but less obviously, I’m also not referring to spiritual beings of any kind.
Every creature has a visible part and an invisible part. The visible part is the physical body. The invisible part is the mind. Mind is defined and used here to mean that invisible part that controls the visible part — the body. A creature’s mind allows it to do such things as avoid danger, associate with others of its kind, feed itself, communicate, reproduce etc. The domain of the mind is what we call the animal nature. The Apostle Paul calls it the flesh in his writings.
There is a second invisible part given only to human beings — the spirit. That spirit is defined here as the invisible part of a creature that can communicate with God. Only mankind has such a spirit — no other creature has it. No other creature but mankind has ever been seen to worship. All human beings are capable of worship. (I suppose there are some who are so dramatically incapacitated that they cannot worship, but such people would be far from normal.) All human beings worship something.
The human spirit can control the human mind. Therein lies a tension. If the spirit is not in control in a particular human, then the mind or animal nature of that human will be left in control and he or she will exhibit the behavior of an animal — a very intelligent animal, but an animal.
Some shorter definitions of terms described above—
Spirit — One of the two invisible aspects of a human being that allows a human to communicate with, interact with, and respond to God. It can, when allowed to, control many aspects of the human mind.
Mind — The invisible aspect of a creature that controls its physical body.
While the words mind and spirit are used in most Bible translations similar to the definitions I have given, some translators of the Holy Word are a bit less than accurate in their work and have used the words in more-or-less interchangeable ways leaving the reader to supply the definition from the context. That usually works out okay, but not always.
In that same vein, I think it would be helpful to provide some finer definition for the word spirit. That word is used in three, perhaps four, different ways in some Bible translations. When the word is capitalized (as in Spirit) it usually refers to that aspect of God Himself — the Holy Spirit.
When spirit is lower case it can have other meanings that usually can be gotten from the context. It can mean disposition, evil spirit or demon (in which case it is often preceded by the word unclean) or it can mean a person’s individual human spirit.
To further complicate the issue, the word spirit and soul are used somewhat interchangeably in the Bible.
I use the word spirit throughout my writing to only mean a human being’s individual spirit and the word soul to mean the entire invisible aspect of a creature — the sum of mind and the spirit — which, in any creature other than mankind amounts to only a mind without a spirit.
I make that distinction because, as near as I can tell, human bodies are made of the same warp and weft as other animals — particularly other mammals. The distinction between a human and any other mammal is the possession of a spirit — the ability to communicate with, react to and worship God.
Mammals behave, in general, in very similar ways in both individual and group situations. Those behaviors vary with age and gender, but are highly predictable. Mankind without a spirit in control will behave in ways similar to other mammals. While the Apostle Paul refers to such behavior as flesh, I think, in contemporary terminology, it’s more descriptive to use the term animal.
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