In Hebrews 4:12, the writer 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; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The distinction between the soul and spirit is very difficult, yet we are told that the word of God is powerful enough to do it. Most seem to think that the two are the same thing, yet this verse indicates that while they are similar that there is a difference.
According to Nelson’s Bible Dictionary – “Soul” has two meanings in scripture: 1) That which makes the body alive (life in the physical body) and example is found in Gen 35:18 …”As her soul was departing – she named her son Ben-oni.” 2) The inner life of a person, the personality. An example of this use is Gen 2:7 “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.” The word ‘soul’ can refer to either physical life or the spiritual life depending on the context. In the verse – Matt 16:25-26 “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” The same Greek word translated ‘life’ in verse 25, is translated ‘soul’ in verse 26. In verse 25, it is referring to the physical life, and in verse 26, to the spiritual life.
“Spirit” comes from the Greek pneuma which means breath or wind. It refers to the vital principle given by God, the ‘spirit’. It is the part of man that is made in the image of God. It is used in verses like Gen 2:7 “ the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life, and the man became a living soul.” Also see Heb 12:23
The scripture says in James 2:26 “the body without the spirit is dead..” which indicates that although the body may die, the spirit lives on. The spirit is the part of man that is made in God’s image and lives eternally. See Ecc 12:7 So the ‘spirit’ is the part of man that lives on, while the ‘soul’ (physical life) can die. See Josh 10:28, Josh 11:11 KJV
These two words are so closely associated though that distinguishing between the two is very difficult. In some passages, the word ‘soul’ is used to mean the spiritual life that continues on after death, and not just the physical life. So it may be said that the ‘spirit’ is the eternal part of man, made in the image of God, that will live forever in either heaven or hell. The ‘soul’ is the resulting life in the body, and may refer to either the physical life or the spiritual life in the new spiritual body (depending on the context). The body is made ‘alive’ by the combination of the soul and spirit. 1Thess 5:23 “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body, be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”