Re: Heb 4:12 and soul/spirit

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Oct 15 1997 - 08:50:21 EDT

At 8:11 AM -0500 10/15/97, Andrew Kulikovsky wrote:
>Hebrews 4:12 (NIV) says:
>For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged
>sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; ...
>KAI MUELWN, .....
>Now what I am wondering is what the difference is (if any) between
>I have heard it argued that the emphasis in this verse is on penetration
>and that soul an spirit is essentially a hendiadys (oh yes! that word
>again)...however that would seem to suggest that joints and marrow have a
>similar relationship, but they are clearly different. Anyway i find this
>explanation a bit wanting.
>I initially thought the soul was a person's consciousness and the spirit
>was their defining inner being - their mind and personality.
>However the NT seems to use these words interchangably. Also, KARDIA is
>another word that has a bearing on this. Where does that fit in?
>Any ideas?

This is the last area in NT usage that I would want to claim any great
confidence about assertions that I might make. I think that one can make
some reasonable assertions about the way Paul uses these terms with some
consistency and I have made reference before to what has always seemed to
me to be the least controversial of Bultmann's books, _Theology of the NT_
and to the chapter there on "Paul's Anthropology." A book first published
when I was an undergraduate made a big splash at the time (in the 50's) and
is still in print: R.B. Onians, _Origins of European Ideas about the Soul,
etc., etc._ (that's not exact--it is a long but accurately descriptive
title of the book's contents). This was a serious endeavor to sift
carefully through the ways in which different words for spirit, mind, soul,
etc. appear to have originated and been used in the ancient languages and

I wouldn't presume to offer a definitive statement of the distinction
intended by the author of Hebrews between PNEUMA and YUCH, but my initial
hunch would be that it is along the lines of the Latin distinction between
ANIMUS (mind, spirit) and ANIMA (soul, life-force). The clearest and
cleanest, though hardly the most persuasive, account of this is in terms of
Lucretius' Epicurean atomist theory: that ANIMA is a concatenation of
extremely subtle, rapidly moving atoms that permeat the body and convey
what he calls SENSIFERI MOTUS ('sense-bearing movements') that sustain the
body's life, while somewhat heavier atoms that are also extremely motile
constitute the ANIMUS and function as coordinators of sensation and
intellection. I don't mean to suggest that the author of Hebrews accepts
anything like a Lucretian psychology, but I think that the Lucretian
psychology expresses a common Hellenistic distinction between aspects of
selfhood centered on (1) sustaining life itself (ANIMA, YUCH, "soul,"
"life") and others (2) sustaining processes of sensation and understanding
(ANIMUS, PNEUMA, "spirit"). So I would guess that this is the kind of
distinction the author of Hebrews MIGHT have in mind, but I certainly
wouldn't venture to say this is what he/she MUST have meant.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:32 EDT