How did Paul understand the nature of the human being?

1.  Introduction

What, in Paul’s view, is a human being?  Although he has not left behind a carefully-crafted discourse on human nature, there is an anthropology implicit in Paul's writings.  In order to extract this anthropology, it is necessary to examine the anthropological terms that Paul uses.  By so doing, it will be possible to uncover data by which to piece together how Paul conceived of a human being.  When relevant, the attempt will be made to understand Paul's anthropological terms against their appropriate religious-historical background, in an effort to illuminate further Paul's intended meaning.  As will be discovered, Paul's anthropological terms derive from both Hebrew and Greek religious-historical backgrounds.  (See D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology, 163-80; R. Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms; J. A. T. Robinson, The Body;  D. E. H. Whiteley, The Theology of St. Paul, 31-44.   Bultmann's analysis of Paul's anthropology is too tainted by existentialism to be of much use (New Testament Theology, 191-239). ADD see Ridderbos 114ff.; Kuemmel, Man in the New Testament Do I have this???

2. Methodological Difficulties

It should be noted from the outset the difficulties attendant on this sort of investigation.

2.1. The terms in Greek are polyvalent both diachronically and synchronically.

2.2. Paul as a Jew could have used Greek terms with Hebrew meanings; these terms may have originated in the LXX (Septuagint) or other Greek translations.  (One should note that there is no one-to-one translation of words from the Hebrew to the Greek in the LXX.)

2.3. Paul is not always precise in his use of terms: some of the terms are used equivocally (different meanings for the same terms), whereas other times terms seem to overlap in meaning.  Sometimes Paul also combines terms to produce compounds.

2.4. It is difficult to distinguish between the terms as descriptive of functions and as constituting parts of a human being.

3. Paul’s Anthropological Terminology

The major anthropological terms that occur in Paul’s letters are: body (soma); soul (psuche); spirit (pneuma); heart (kardia); inner and outer human being (eso kai exo anthropos); mind (nous); conscience (suneidesis); flesh (sarx).

3.1. Body (soma)

It seems that “body” in Paul's use denotes the human being as corporeally existent.  Paul speaks about the body as distinct from the "I"; this is not necessarily significant, since even the materialist does this, all the while recognizing the conventionality of what he or she is doing.  Selected (but representative) statements about the nature of the body in Paul's writings are as follows:

3.1.1. Rom 8:10-11  Paul says that the body is mortal (ta thneta somata).

3.1.2. 1 Cor 6:13  Paul says that the body is not meant for immorality.

3.1.3. Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 15  Paul says that the body is destined for redemption (ten apolutrosin tou somatos hemon) and resurrection.

3.1.4. 1 Cor 6:19  Paul says that the body of a believer is the temple (naos) of the Holy Spirit.

3.1.5. 1 Cor 6:20  Paul says that the believer is to glorify God in the body.

3.1.6.  Phil 3:21  Paul says that God will transform “our body of humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory.”

Addendum:  Although Paul does not use the term “body,” since he uses metaphorical language, in 2 Cor 5:2-4 Paul explains how he does not want to be without his “tent” or to be “unclothed” (i.e., to be without his body), but to be reclothed, in order that mortality may be swallowed up in life.

3.2. Soul (psuche)

The term soul (psuche) is not often used in Paul's letters; when it is used it appears to be used as a synonym for life or a living person, which is not surprising since the Hebrew equivalent of soul (nephesh) is used often with this meaning in the Old Testament and in the Qumran sectarian writings (see G. Maier, Mensch und freier Wille, 168).  (Excluded are uses that are part of quotations from the Old Testament, such as Rom 11:3 = 1 Kings 19:10, 14; 1 Cor 15:45 = Gen 2:7.)

3.2.1. Rom 16:4  Paul says that some risked their necks “on behalf of my soul” (huper tes psuches mou)

3.2.2.  Phil 2:30  Paul describes himself and his colleagues as being in danger with respect to soul (paraboleusamenoi te psuche).

3.2.3. Rom 13:1 Paul says that “each soul” (pasa psuche) should be subject to the ruling authorities.

3.2.4.  1 Thess 2:8 Paul says that he and his companions shared with the Thessalonians not only the gospel but their very souls (tas heauton psuchas), meaning that they gave of themselves completely.

3.2.5.  2 Cor 1:23  Paul calls God as witness upon his soul (epi ten emen psuchen), meaning against himself.

3.2.6.  2 Cor 12:15  Paul says that he will be spent for the souls of the Corinthians (huper ton psuchon humon).

3.2.7.  Phil 1:27  Paul exhorts the Philippians "with one soul (mia psuche) striving together for the faith of the gospel"; with one soul means unified as one individual.

There are occurrences of the term soul, which seem to appear in idiomatic phrases, such as Eph 6:6; Col 3:23 ek psuche  (This phrase seems to mean “whole heartedly”) and Rom 2:9  epi pasan psuchan anthropou  (This phrase seems to mean “on every human being”).

    Nowhere in Paul's letters does soul denote an entity as distinct from the body, as it does in Greek thought as influenced by Hellenism or even in places in the Old Testament, with perhaps one exception: 1 Thess 5:23.  In this passage, Paul distinguishes between the body, the soul, and the spirit; one could read this as meaning that Paul believes that a human being is composed of three entities: body, soul and spirit.

3.3. Spirit (pneuma)

Another term used by Paul to denote a component part of the human being is spirit (pneuma).  Most references to spirit in Paul's letters refer to the Holy Spirit (“spirit” meaning the Holy Spirit is not capitalized in Greek); but in one instance Paul distinguishes between the Holy Spirit and the human spirit:  in Rom 8:16, Paul says that the Spirit witnesses to our spirits that we are the children of God.  There are other references to the human spirit that seem to indicate that the spirit is an entity distinct from the body.

3.3.1. 1 Cor 2:11  Paul says that the spirit of a human being is said to be in a human being (to [pneuma] en aute) and to know the things of a human being.

3.3.2. 1 Cor 7:34  Paul says that a person can be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit (agia kai somati kai pneumati).

3.3.3. 2 Cor 7:13  Titus's "spirit" was refreshed by the Corinthians.  (This could be idiomatic, however, for "Titus was happy because he was treated well.")

3.3.4. There are two uses of spirit that require special consideration

A. 1 Cor 5:3-4 (see Col 2:5)  When he says that he is present in the spirit (paron te pneumati), Paul seems to be saying that he was present non-bodily in Corinth and thereby was able to make a judgment concerning the sexually immoral man. This implies that he is constituted by a spirit (pneuma) and a body (soma), which he left in order to be "present in spirit" in Corinth.  Paul also refers to the destruction of the "flesh" of the sexually-immoral man, in order that his spirit would be saved on the Day of the Lord.  If by flesh he means body, again it seems that Paul believes that a human being is composed of an incorporeal part (pneuma) and a corporeal (sarx or soma).

B. 1 Cor 14:14  Paul makes a distinction between his spirit, which at times prays, and his mind, which at times prays; this is said in connection with his discussion of speaking in tongues.  Praying in tongues is the human spirit speaking by means of the Spirit so that the mind does not understand what is being said.  But notice that the contrast in this passage is not between spirit and body but spirit and mind; what the mind is will be considered later.

3.3.5 There are a few passages in which the term pneuma is used ambiguously or  idiomatically.

A. 1 Cor 16:18  Paul speaks about a collective spirit: “my and your spirit” (to emon pneuma kai to humon)

B. Rom 1:9  Paul says that he serves God in his spirit (en to pneumati mou); what it means to serve in the spirit as opposed to the body (?) is unclear.  Perhaps this is an idiom for a sincere service as opposed to merely "going through the motions."

C. Eph 4:23  Paul refers to being renewed in "the spirit of your (pl) mind" (to pneumati tou noos humon); what the spirit of a collective mind is unclear, but probably spirit means something like disposition or attitude, not some substantial entity.

D. 1 Thess 5:23  As already discussed, Paul distinguishes the spirit from the soul and the body.

3.4. The heart (kardia)

In Paul's writings, the heart (kardia) denotes the "center" (to use a metaphor) of the human being, with a stress on the human being's cognitional and volitional (and therefore moral) nature.  This is a relatively common term in Paul's letters, which is not surprising, since this term is used in this sense in the Old Testament and intertestamental Jewish texts (kardia reflects the Hebrew use of leb or leba).  It is only necessary to examine a few examples:

3.4.1. Rom 1:21  Paul says that gentiles became darkened in their foolish hearts, meaning that they became darkened in the center of their being.  This resulted in sinful choices.

3.4.2. Rom 5:5  Paul says that the love of God is shed in our hearts; he means by heart the center of our being.

3.4.3. Rom 10:1  Paul speaks of the desires of his heart, which means the desires that reflect Paul’s true self, the center of his being.

3.4.4. Gal 4:6  Paul says that the Spirit of God’s son is sent into “our hearts,” meaning the center of our being.  (Earlier, it was seen that Paul says that the Spirit indwells our bodies.)

3.4.5. Col 3:15  Paul instructs the Colossians to allow the peace of God is to rule “your hearts,” meaning that the peace of God is to dominate the very center of their beings (see 2 Cor 4:6).

3.4.6. Eph 1:18  Paul speaks of the “eyes of the heart” (ophthalmos tes kardias) being enlightened.  He is speaking doubly metaphorically:  a. “heart” is used metaphorically to mean the center of a person  b. eyes is used metaphorically to mean the understanding.  Together they denote the understanding associated with at the most profound level of our being.

3.5. Inner and Outer Man (eso kai exo anthropos)

Paul distinguishes between the inner and outer of a person; the inner is the unseen, true self, whereas the outer is the physical human being, visible to the eyes.

Add Eph 3:16 strengthen in inner man

3.5.1. Rom 7:22  Paul says that the inner human being agrees with the law, meaning the true self.  For Paul, however, the simple assent to the law is not praiseworthy but a fact of human nature; it is the doing of the law that is praiseworthy.

3.5.2. 2 Cor 4:16  Paul says that the outer human being is wasting away, whereas the inner human being is being renewed.  In this context, the outer human being appears to be the body, while the inner human being is something distinct from the body and appears to survive the dissolution of the body:  it is that which is strengthened, presumably by the Spirit.  Thus the inner person is the unseen, true self, whereas the outer is the corporeal part of the human being.

3.6. Mind (nous)

Although, in the LXX, it translates several different Hebrew words with different meanings, the term “mind” (nous) in Paul's writings  refers exclusively to the faculty of discursive thought (what we normally calling thinking).

3.6.1. Rom 1:28  Paul says that the mind can be reprobate, meaning the faculty of discursive thought can be corrupt.

3.6.2. Col 2:18  Paul refers to the mind as “the mind of the flesh,” meaning the sinful mind, which can puffed up (phusioumenos upo tou noos tes sarkos autou) (see 1 Tim 6:5; 2 Tim 3:8), resulting in intellectual pride.

3.6.3. Rom 12:2  Paul says that the mind can be renewed (te anakainosei tou noos), by which he means that the contents of the mind, the objects of discursive thought, can be changed.

3.6.4. There are a few difficult passages in which mind occurs:

A. 1 Cor 14:14-15  As already indicated, Paul contrasts the mind with the spirit with respect to types of prayer; the prayer in the spirit is speaking in tongues, whereas the prayer with the mind is prayer the contents of which is understandable.  In this context, mind seems to mean the faculty of discursive thought resulting in intelligible thought/speech.

B. 1 Cor 14:19  Paul writes about speaking with the mind (te noi) as opposed to speaking in tongues (en glossai).

C. Phil 4:7 Paul speaks about the peace of God surpassing all mind (panta noun), meaning intelligibility.

In each of these passages, mind has the meaning of the faculty of discursive thought.

3.7. Conscience (suneidesis)

ADD see Ridderbos 288ff. conscience and relation to Law

Paul uses this term in the standard Greek sense of the word.  Although the Hebrew equivalent does not occur in the Old Testament, the term “conscience” does occur in the Apocrypha (Wis 17:10; Sir 42:18).  (The term suneidesis also occurs in the LXX Ecclesiates 10:20, translating [dm.)  Although in the Old Testament there is no distinct term for conscience, the heart performs the function of the conscience (see 1 Sam 26:6; 2 Sam 24:10).  Conscience is the faculty of moral judgment as relating to oneself; it can either commend or condemn.

3.7.1. Rom 2:15  Paul says that conscience is universal among gentiles, condemning and approving of actions  (see Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 1:12; 4:2; 5:11).

3.7.2. 1 Cor 8:7; 10:25-26  Paul says that the conscience can be ignored and defiled.

3.7.3. 1 Tim 4:22  Paul says that the conscience can be totally hardened.

3.7.4. Titus 1:15  Paul says that both the mind and the conscience can be defiled; this means the faculty of discursive thought and the ability to make moral judgments about oneself becomes impaired.

3.8. Flesh (sarx)

The word “flesh” (sarx) has several different meanings in Paul's letters; it is often difficult to distinguish one from the other.

3.8.1.  Flesh can mean literally the material that covers the bones (1 Cor 15:39).  (This is a common meaning for the Greek word.)

see Ridderbos 94 re; flesh as body 2 Cor 4.10, 11; Gal 4.13; 2 Cor 12:7

Gal 1:16; 1 Cor 15:50; Eph 6:12; 1 Cor 1:29

flesh as opposed to the divine see Isa 31:3; Jer 32:27; Job 10:4


3.8.2. By extension, flesh can mean the human being considered from the point of view of his external, corporeal existence.

A. Gal 4:13 Paul writes about a weakness of the flesh (astheneia tes sarkos) by which he means physical illness.

B. Rom 2:28  Paul describes a circumcision according to the flesh (en sarki), by which he means literal, physical circumcision.

C. Rom 4:1 Paul refers to descendants according to the flesh (kata sarka), meaning physical descent (see Rom 9:3, 8; 1 Cor 10:18).

D. Rom 1:3  Paul refers to Christ's descent according to the flesh (kata sarka), meaning his physical descent.

E. 1 Cor 5:3-4 (see Col 2:5)  As already indicated, Paul  refers to the destruction of the "flesh" of the sexually-immoral man, in order that his spirit would be saved on the Day of the Lord.  Flesh in this context seems to mean the man's corporeal existence, his body.

F. Eph 2:11  Paul says that his readers are gentiles in the flesh (en sarki); he means that they are gentiles by physical birth.

G. 2 Cor 10:2-4  Paul speaks of walking in the flesh (to exist as physically existent), but not fighting with weapons used to destroy those who are physically existent.  He is contrasting physical existence with non-physical existence; his point is that in the non-physical realm, one must use spiritual weapons in undertaking spiritual warfare.

3.8.3. Flesh can also denote simply the human being as a whole.

A. Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16; 1 Cor 1:29  Paul refers to "all flesh" (pasa sarx), by which he means all people.

B. Eph 5:28-29  Paul writes that no one hates his own flesh (ten heautou sarka), meaning no one hates himself or herself.

C. 2 Cor 7:5  When Paul says that "our flesh" (he sarx hemon) had relief he means "we" had relief.

D. Col 1:24  Paul writes about how he is "to fill up the deficiencies in my flesh" meaning “in me.”


3.8.4. Most importantly flesh in Paul's writings can mean the human being as a willing instrument of sin; it becomes synonymous with the sinful nature.  As such, it denotes a function or aspect of a human being rather than a substantial entity, a component part.

A.  Flesh as Sinful Nature in Paul’s Writings

1. Gal 5:13  Paul says to the Galatians that their calling to freedom should not become an opportunity for the flesh; rather they should serve one another by means of love.

2. Gal 5:16-21  Paul says that walking in the Spirit will result in not fulfilling “the desires of the flesh” (5:16).  The Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh and vice versa (5:17).  There follows a list of “the works of flesh”:  “sexual immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger , quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things.”

3. Gal 5:24  Paul says that those who are of Christ have crucified the flesh with its lusts and desires.

4. Rom 7:18  Paul says that nothing good dwells in him, that is, in his flesh.

5. Rom 8:3  Paul says that the law was weakened by the flesh, so that obedience was impossible, resulting in condemnation.

6. Rom 8:7-8  Paul says that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. ADD more detail disposition of the flesh is death

7. It should be noted that often “flesh” is set in opposition to the spirit, understood as the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:4, 5, 6, 9, 13; Gal 5:16-17).

B.  Religious-Historical Antecedents to Paul’s Use of Flesh as Sinful Nature

1. Negative Use of "Flesh" in Second-Temple Sources

Paul’s use of “flesh” to denote the sinful nature has antecedents in the Old Testament and second-Temple Jewish texts.  The use of the term “flesh” to mean human weakness occurs in Old Testament (Gen 8:21; Isa 40:6, 8; 2 Chr 32:8; Ps 78:39; Jer 17:5).  Flesh as a term denoting both human weakness and sinfulness, that aspect of the human being that stands in opposition to God, is found in Qumran sectarian writings (The Community Rule and The Thanksgiving Hymns) (Hebrew:  basar) and Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (Greek: sarx) (see G. Maier, Mensch und freier Wille, 169-74).

a. 1QS 11.11-12  “When I stumble in the iniquity of flesh”

b. 1QH 4.29-30  “What is flesh compared to this [god’s power]?  What creatures of clay can do wonders?  He is sin from his mother’s womb.”

c. 1QH 10.23  “What is the spirit of flesh to fathom all these matters and to appreciate your great and wondrous secret?  What is someone born of woman among all your awesome works?  He is a structure of dust shaped with water, his base is the guilt of sin, vile unseemliness, source of impurity, over which a spirit of degeneracy rules.” (See 1QH 18.21  “And What is flesh?”)

In the Qumran sectarian writings, human beings are also depicted negatively by virtue of being made from the dust of the ground, which is considered to be a shameful and ignominious origin (Gen 2:7); to be made of "dirt" explains for the Qumran sectarians take as an explanation  the degradation of human beings.  For example, 1QH 13.15-16 says, "What is someone born of woman among all your awesome works?  He is a structure of dust shaped with water, his base is the guilt of sin, vile unseemliness, source of impurity, over which a spirit of degeneracy rules"  (see also 1QH 1.21-23; 1QS 11.20-22).   (O. Betz, Offenbarung und Schriftforshung in der Qumransekte, 120-23).  In 1QH 4.29 (cited above) being flesh is parallel in meaning to being a creature of clay (an allusion to Gen 2:7).

d. Testament of Judah 19.4  “For the ruler of deceit blinded me, and I knew not, as a man, as flesh, in my corrupt sins…”

e. T. Zebulon 9:7: "He [God] does not bring a charge of wickedness against men, since they are flesh and the spirits of deceit lead them astray in all their actions.”

2. An Evil Principle within Each Individual

Similar to Paul's use of the flesh to denote the "sinful nature," some second-Temple sources posit the existence of an evil principle within each individual, which resists obedience to God.  This evil principle is called the spirit of deceit or falsehood and the evil inclination.

a.  1QS 3-4

In the Community Rule, human beings are conceived as possessing two spirits.  It is said that God has established two kinds of spirits in which a person can walk until the time of His visitation, which are identified as the spirits of truth and of deceit (3.18-19).  Every human activity originates in one of these two spirits:  righteous acts in the spirit of truth and wicked acts in the spirit of deceit (3.25; 4.2-14). The two spirits should be interpreted as two opposing human dispositions or propensities; the spirit of truth is the human capacity to obey God while the spirit of deceit is the capacity for evil.  Walking in these two spirits will have opposite eschatological consequences. The "visitation" of those walk in the spirit of truth will be blessing (4.6-8), while the "visitation" of those who walk in the spirit of deceit will be destruction (4.11-14). In other words, God will reward the righteous, but punish the wicked.

b. Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns)

There is some evidence that the author of this hymn works with the idea of the two inclinations.  He writes, "You put a pure heart in its (?) place; [removing] the evil inclination" (2.1.10).  It seems that what is being described is the removal of a disobedient heart, dominated by the evil inclination, and its replacement by a pure heart, obedient to God.  Unfortunately, what corresponds positively to the evil inclination, as the causal antecedent rendering the author's heart pure, is not stated.

b. Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

The assumption made by the author(s) of these texts is that human beings, and in particular Jews, are morally free and responsible; nevertheless there are two principles within each person vying for supremacy.  In T. Judah 20 the patriarch teaches that there are two spirits (pneumata) that await an opportunity with a person, the spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.  Juxtaposed between these two spirits is the conscience of the mind, which inclines to the one spirit or other.  The spirit of truth provides an innate ethical knowledge, which presumably is at least partially identical to the precepts of the Torah.  A longer exposition of this doctrine occurs in T. Asher 1:3-9.  Asher says to his children, "God has given two ways to the sons of men, two inclinations, two ways of acting, two ways of life and two ends. The two ways are the good and the evil.  Within the human breast, there are two inclinations (duo diaboulia) that choose between these two ways.  It seems that the soul gives permission to one of these two inclinations to choose its corresponding way.  When the soul allows the good inclination to choose the good way, the natural result is righteous action.  But if the soul allows the evil inclination to choose the evil way, evil actions result.  Although the terminology used in T. Judah and T. Asher is different, the basic understanding of the human being is the identical. God places a person before between two possibilities of being, good and evil, and requires that each choose. A person's actions are a reflection of this fundamental life choice.

c. Non-Canonical Psalms 11QPs 19 (Prayer For Deliverance)

The  author  recognizes  that  he  needs  help  in  remaining obedient to God, as demonstrated by this petition:   "Grant  me a spirit of faithfulness and knowledge; let me not be dishonored  in ruin" (14).  A spirit of faithfulness is the disposition to be obedient, while a spirit  of  knowledge  is  the capacity of knowing what God requires.  The author apparently sees himself as lacking  in  both areas, so that he turns to God to make up this deficiency.  If God does not grant this request, the author  foresees  that he will "be dishonored in ruin."  Immediately following a request for protection from Satan, the psalmist  also asks  that neither "pain nor the  evil  inclination  take  possession  of  his bones."  To take possession of his bones  is  to  take  complete possession of the author.  Pain seems to be  ordinary physical affliction, which the author fears  may  derail  his  efforts  at faithfulness to God.   The  evil inclination, on the other hand, is the propensity to evil inherent in the author; he requests that God subdue this  propensity  to evil in him, so that it would not lead him into sin.

e. Rabbinic Writings

The early rabbis assume that human beings were morally free, but this does not mean that the will is not influenced in its deliberations.  Central to the early rabbinic  conception  of  the human being is the idea of the evil inclination, derived from Gen 6.5; 8.21; Deut 31:21.  It denotes the  universal  human  tendency towards disobedience.  Although created by Him, it seeks to lead human beings away from God (Sipre Deut 45).  In the sources, the evil inclination as this tendency is almost hypostatized, becoming the enemy within, that which seeks to lead a human being into sin and to destruction (see m. Abot 2.11).  The evil inclination seeks to lead human beings into idolatry (Mek  Bahodesh  6.85-86;  Sipre Deut 43).  It also seeks to create doubt about the validity of those commandments in the Torah for there are no parallels in  the law codes of  the  nations  and  which  appear  as  arbitrary  and unnecessary (Sipra Lev Ahare 13 [8-9]),  as well as deceiving people into believing that there is no life after death  (m. Abot 4.22).  The  evil  inclination  also  incited  Boaz  to  sexual impropriety when Ruth spent to night at the foot of his bed (Sipre Num 88 [II 1.U]), and seeks to deceive people into believing  that there is no life after death (m. Abot 4.22).  In general the  evil inclination stands in antithesis to Torah (Sipre Deut 222).

4. Conclusions

4.1. In Paul's view the human being is composed of two parts: a corporeal or bodily part, identified as the body/outer man/flesh and a non-corporeal part, which seems to be, in Paul's view, the spirit/inner man.  There is a part of a human being is survives death and the dissolution of the body; in other words there is an non-corporeal component of human beings that can exist without the body.  Paul even seems to believe that his spirit can leave his body before death, and it is the human spirit that speaks to God with another language, by-passing the mind.  The body, however, is where the Holy Spirit dwells.

    Two further passages should be noted.  First, in Phil 1:22-26, Paul expresses the desire to depart the body so that he would be with the Lord; the implication is that some part of himself not identical to the body would survive death and would be with the Lord.  Second, in 2 Cor 12:1-6, Paul allows for the possibility that he can depart his body, travel to the third heaven and still be who he is; his true self is not tied to his body.  What leaves his body is his spirit or inner man.

That there exists a part of a human being that is distinct from the body and survives death is found in some Jewish texts from the Second-Temple period.  Most texts probably reflect either a Pharisaical theological perspective or are influenced by a Hellenistic conception of the soul (see 2 Maccabees; 1 Enoch; Wisdom of Solomon; Testament of Moses; see early rabbinic texts).  As already indicated, Josephus describes the Pharisees as believing that “souls” (psuchai) have the power to survive death (Ant. 18.14) and that every soul (psuche) is immortal (War 2.163).  He also says that the Essenes believed in the immortality of the soul, which is imprisoned in a perishable body (Ant. 18.5; War 2.154-56).

    In 1 Thess 5:23,  Paul seems to give a tripartite view of the human being: he or she is composed of body, soul, and spirit.  Nevertheless, it is probable that this phrase should taken to be idiomatic of the whole person; by piling up terms Paul is making the point that God shall keep the whole person.  Since Paul is not precise in his anthropological usage and since there is no indication elsewhere in his letters that he believes that the soul is a substantial entity, a component part of the human being, it is justifiable to interpret the phrase in 1 Thess 5:23 as idiomatic.

4.2.  In Paul’s view, the human being is a unity of body and spirit; it is wrong to suggest that Paul sees the body as incidental to what a human being is, dispensable and even undesirable.  Paul's interest in the resurrection, the redemption of the body, expressed in various places in his letters is an obvious indication that he did not see the body as incidental to what it means to be a human being.  There are two passages in particular where Paul expresses the view that to have a body is a part of what it means to be human.  First, in  2 Cor 5:4,  Paul writes about how unsettling the loss of the body is the one who loses it in death: he speaks of not wanting to have the old body stripped off, but to have a heavenly body.  Second, in Phil 3:21,  Paul says that God will transform our bodies (not discard them as irrelevant), and in Rom 8:23 he speaks of the redemption of the body.

4.3.  As Paul uses the term, the soul is a synonym for life or the whole person (as are some uses of the word "flesh").

4.4. The human being as a unity composed of two component parts, a body and a spirit (inner man) has several functions/aspects.  First, functionally the human being has a heart, which denotes his or her cognitional/volitional capacity; it is the "center" of the human being.  Second, the human being has a mind, which denotes the human being in his or her intellectual functioning.  Third, the human being has a conscience, which is the faculty that accuses and approves of his or her moral choices.  Finally, the human being is flesh, is in flesh or has flesh, which denotes the sinful nature, the human being without the Spirit of God.  (In this Paul has parallels to Second-Temple sources.)