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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47 COMMENTS

  1. Shalom; a very interesting read, which reminds me of the amazing story of the prophecy to his parents of the birth of Samson; this heavenly Visitor just chats away to them like another earthling and then ascends to heaven in the flames of their burnt offering! Wow!
    Judges 13.
    • Shalom, that was an out-of-this-world scenario. Manoah and his wife thought they were surely going to die. Yahweh's servants are truly awesome as is their Lord, who is forever praised.
  2. Jesus' statement as he ate a piece of honeycomb before his disciples, urging them to touch Him to see that he was not a mere spirit, gives incite into the nature of a spirit in a visible form, "A spirit does not have flesh and bones". Angels ate Abram's food!
  3. I am of the opinion that when ever a spirit makes contact with the living it is demonic . The Story Jesus graphically describes of the rich man and Lazurus is to my understanding complete description that those that are there cannot come to those that are here .
    • Thanks for your input, Howard. I would be cautious about importing the term "demonic" into the discussion, since nowhere does the biblical text use this term with reference to spirit encounters. More, Samuel's appearance to Saul wasn't "demonic" (that is, Samuel is not a "demon" in the afterlife).

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    • Apparently then the Holy Bible is s a big lie!! The 2 angels that appeared to Lot in Sodom. The angels that appeared to Abraham. The angel that wrestled with a disciple. God appearing as a dove at the baptism of Jesus---
  4. Thanks for letting me know about this message on spirit's because I lost my sister Karen in April and I believe that I see her spirit even though I know it's here or my mom or Dad or my Husband's children's mother I'm not Afraid I know they are okay
  5. I disagree that a spirit has a body .
    After the resurrection of Jesus he showed them his hands as proof that he was not a spirit he said so himself ,for a spirit has no flesh and bone as you see me have
    • Howard, note that the article says twice that spirit-bodies are not made of "flesh and blood." Spirits have bodies, but the aren't made of the same material as human bodies, which is exactly what Lk 24:39 is saying.

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    • Where is it written that Jesus resurrected in Spirit?? In Greek resurrection ''ANASTASIS'' literally means to PHYSICAL resurrection of the BODY. There is another word in Greek for resurrection if not bodily.

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  6. my ignorance - When the spirit (ruach) returns to God at death and the body returns to the earth - is there still a soul? and when, a sinner are thrown in the lake of fire - what living being is he/her without the ruach of God. exciting to know
    • Thanks for your question, Mishael. It's best not to view the "soul" as an internal entity like the "spirit,' but rather as one's "being" or "selfhood." See a previous article on "soul" vs. "spirit": https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/the-soul-or-the-spirit/
  7. Jesus was not raised a spirit being(as a Jehovah's Witnesses teach after Resurrection), but was raised in his resurrected body.
  8. I understood that Jesus was in His resurrection body when He spent time with his disciples. We, too, are promised new bodies, resurrection bodies like His, which I assume to be solid bodies that can eat and hug, but are also spiritual bodies.
  9. What people “see and hear” in the situation and context described and their consequent descriptive statements is not evidence that “a spirit” is corporeal. People see star formations as Gods, animals. People hear voices in the wind.
    • Winston, not only does Eliphaz "see and hear" the spirit in Job, but the spirit "stands" nexts to him -- one needs to be corporeal in order to stand. More, Luke notes that the Holy Spirit descended in "bodily form" at Jesus' baptism. The Gospel writer doesn't present this event merely as the audiences' (false) perception, but rather an accurate description of the Spirit's embodiment.

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