According to Genesis, God breathed into the first human “the breath of life (נשׁמת חיים; nishmat hayyim)” (2:7). This God-given “breath” (נשׁמה; neshamah) is the means by which humans receive their animating “spirit” (רוח; ruach). While the human body will, one day, return to dust (e.g., Gen 3:19; Job 34:15; Ps 104:29), “the spirit (רוח; ruach) returns to God who gave it” (Ecc 12:7). On the one hand, though we live in a physical world, our internal spirit is ethereal – that is, not strictly physical. On the other hand, with respect to that which is beyond the earthly realm, the Bible describes spirit-beings—while not made of flesh and blood—as corporeal entities with spatial and, sometimes, visible bodies.
Israel’s Scriptures offer a glimpse into the embodied spiritual realm in the story of Saul and the medium at En-dor (1 Samuel 28). After the prophet Samuel dies, the Philistines encamp against the Israelites. Saul asks God whether he should engage in battle, “but the Lord did not answer him” (1 Sam 28:6). In response to this divine silence, Saul finds a medium in En-dor and asks her, “Divine for me by means of a spirit (באוב; ba’ov) and… bring up Samuel for me” (28:8, 11). When the medium does so, Saul asks, “‘What is his appearance?’ And she said, ‘An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.’ And Saul knew that it was Samuel” (28:14). Saul knows that the “old man” (אישׁ זקן; ‘ish zaqen) who emerges from the afterlife is Samuel because the prophet is wearing the “robe” (מעיל; me’il) that his mother Hannah had made for him each year as he grew up (see 1 Sam 2:19). While Samuel’s earthly body has been buried in his hometown of Ramah (see 1 Sam 28:3), and he now “comes up” (עלה; ‘oleh) from the non-physical realm of the dead, he is still very much embodied when he meets Saul at En-dor.
This view of an embodied Samuel in the spirit realm coheres with Job’s description of spirits. Eliphaz tells his suffering friend of a spiritual experience that he once had during “visions of the night” (Job 4:13). He recalls to Job, “A spirit (רוח; ruach) glided past my face; the hair of my skin stood up. [The spirit] stood still, but I could not discern its appearance, [though] a form was before my eyes” (4:15-16). While Eliphaz cannot make out the “appearance” (מראה; mareh) of the spirit, it nevertheless possesses an embodied “form” (תמינה; temunah) that both moves (going past Eliphaz’s face) and “stands” (עמד; amad) in physical space. The biblical language emphasizes the fact that the “spirit” (רוח; ruach) that Eliphaz encounters has a body.
The embodiment of spirits also appears in the New Testament. For instance, when Jesus is baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended, like a dove, in bodily form (σωματικῷ εἴδει; somatiko eidei)” (Lk 3:22). Thus, when Jesus says in John 4:24 that “God is Spirit” (πνεῦμα ὁ θεός; pneuma ho theós) this does not preclude the notion—repeated throughout the Bible—that God has a bodily form (e.g., Exod 24:9-10; 33:20-23; Num 12:8). In biblical thought, while the spiritual realm is not one of “flesh and blood” (cf. 1 Cor 15:50), a spirit can, indeed, have a body.
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