What Is Spirit?

Jesus Christ explained in John 4:24, “God is Spirit.” But this raises the very challenging question: “What is spirit?” What does the Bible tell us?

Many people believe in the spirit world or spirit realm. Most religions focus on the worship of a being or beings that are believed to be spirit.

Many movies, books and television shows have human characters interacting with beings from the spirit world as part of their story line. Often the beings encountered are ghosts or demons. Ghosts are usually viewed as the departed souls of the dead. (For more on the subject of the soul, please read the article “Immortal Soul: What Is a Soul?”)

These examples show that the concept of a spiritual dimension is not foreign to our minds.

But when encyclopedias, Bible dictionaries and articles on the Internet discuss the subject of “spirit,” they invariably refer to what people can see―ghosts, apparitions or other manifestations of things that were not previously visible. I have not found any that deal with the subject of what spirit itself is. There is a good reason for this. “Spirit” lies outside of the realm of detection by our five senses.

Spirit is not matter

To describe “what spirit is,” the best we can do is describe what spirit isn’t.

We live in the realm of matter. We are physical beings dwelling on a physical earth in a physical universe. All that is in the realm of matter is composed of the basic building blocks of all matter―atoms. We also know that atoms are not the smallest particles of matter. Atoms are themselves composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. And, from the field of particle physics, we know that protons and neutrons are also composed of numerous smaller particles that have names like quarks, leptons, bosons, etc.

All of these particles that make up all matter in the material universe are physical and can be detected by physical means. They are not spirit.

We can safely conclude that spirit is not a part of this realm of matter since it cannot be detected by any physical means.

Spirit is also not energy

In 1905 Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity. Contained in his theory was a formula that became the most recognized equation in the world: E=mc2. This equation expresses the relationship that exists between matter and the energy contained within matter―nuclear energy.

Einstein’s equation shows that a small quantity of matter (the m represents mass in kilograms) can be converted into a large quantity of energy (E, energy in joules). We can see this in the fact that the multiplier of m is the speed of light squared (c2 means the speed of light in meters/second multiplied by itself). Since the speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second, squaring that number produces a very large number.

This equation can be demonstrated by a nuclear (hydrogen) bomb, where a fusion reaction transforms a small amount of matter into a tremendous amount of energy.

To put this into perspective, one gram (.001 kilogram) of matter (about the weight of an average metal paperclip), if converted into energy, would produce the energy output of roughly 85.2 billion BTUs (using the formula to convert joules into BTUs). This is equivalent to the energy released by burning 747,368 gallons of gasoline rated at 114,000 BTUs/gallon (Fuel Economy Impact Analysis of RFG, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

This energy is stored in all matter. But this is still in the material realm and is not spirit. Spirit is not matter or energy. However, the relationship between matter and energy can be used as an analogy to help us grasp a similar relationship in the spirit realm.

The spirit realm

The Bible tells us that God is spirit (John 4:24) and angels are spirits (Hebrews 1:13-14). By analogy, we can assume that everything in the spirit realm is composed of spirit, just as all things in the material realm are composed of matter.

Therefore, God’s throne (Ezekiel 10:1) and the “furnishings” at God’s throne would be composed of spirit. The mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant was a representation of the throne of God in heaven (Exodus 25:17, 22). From Hebrews 9:23-24 we see that the physical temple was patterned after the design of the heavenly sanctuary where God dwells.

So, again, we can conclude all that exists where God dwells is composed of spirit.

Does the spirit realm have anything analogous to the energy of the material realm? One way to describe the Holy Spirit is that it is the power God uses to do whatever He does. This is a biblical analogy (Acts 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:7).

When Luke described the awesome miracle of God Most High transforming the Word (the other member of the God family, John 1:1-2) into a human seed to impregnate Mary, He used His power called Holy Spirit. We can read of this remarkable account in Luke 1:31-32, 35.

The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.’ … And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’”

The power of God that overshadowed Mary was Holy Spirit.

We know that Holy Spirit is used by God for more than one purpose. It is more than just raw power. It is the power God uses to do whatever He does. By analogy, then, the Holy Spirit can represent the energy of the spirit realm.

Interaction between realms

There is nothing in the realm of matter that can affect (touch, move or hinder movement, inflict damage of any kind or alter the composition of) anything in the spirit realm. Spirit and spirit beings are not affected by fire, walls or any other elements or barriers made of matter. Spirit is not affected by the near absolute zero cold of intergalactic space, the tremendous heat of the fusion furnaces at the heart of stars or the gravitational strength of black holes.

Further, spirit beings and things composed of spirit can only be seen by human beings if the spirit beings take visible form (as Gabriel did when he appeared to Mary) or God enables those in the flesh to see them.

In the account of Balaam, the angel of God allowed Balaam’s donkey to see him and his sword but did not let Balaam see him (Numbers 22:22-23). Balaam did not see the angel until God opened his eyes (Numbers 22:31).

On another occasion Elisha prayed that his young servant could see the spirit beings who were with them. When the young man’s eyes were opened, he saw horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:16-17).

However, we do know that the material realm can be greatly affected by the spirit realm. We know that God, who is spirit, can greatly affect this material world, whether by great events (like the Flood, the plagues on Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea) or by smaller events (like physical healings and other miracles).

We can conclude that nothing in the realm of matter can affect anything in the spirit realm. But the spirit realm can greatly affect the material realm since the material realm was created by God.

The creation of the universe

Scientists have proven the universe had a beginning. They currently refer to the theory describing the expansion of the universe from its beginning as cosmological inflation or simply inflation. However, when it comes to describing what existed before this “inflation,” scientists are at a loss for sound descriptions.

One of the first to attempt a description of what existed before the matter in the universe expanded (in what has been called the big bang) was the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître. The British science author John Gribbin wrote in his book The Birth of Time, “What Lemaître was really talking about was a single atomic nucleus containing all of the mass of the visible Universe, which exploded at the beginning of time. … Lemaître became something of a celebrity as a result of his elaboration of these ideas both in scientific papers and several popular contributions, culminating in his book … [Hypothesis of the Primal Atom], published in 1946” (1999, pp. 139-140).

However, Lemaître’s hypothesis began with matter (all the matter of the universe) already in existence compacted into one primordial atomic nucleus. The question arises: “From where did that matter originate?” From Einstein’s formula, we understand that a very small quantity of matter, if it is totally converted into energy, produces a vast quantity of energy. Being an equation, the reciprocal reaction is also true. The equation would reveal that in this physical realm it would take a huge amount of energy to produce a very small amount of matter.

So what is the ultimate source of all the energy required to produce the matter of the physical universe?

There have been many attempts to describe what happened to produce the universe we now see and live in. All theories outside of the revealed truth of the Bible seek to explain what is―what can be seen―by purely physical methods, and they fail. (See the article “Does the Big Bang Theory Require a Miracle?”).

The material universe was created by the God family of the spirit realm. The apostle Paul recorded in Ephesians 3:9, “God … created all things through Jesus Christ.” We read in Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (emphasis added). We do not know for sure exactly what God did to create the heavens and the earth. Whatever He did, the Bible records that things which are seen were made of things that are not seen.

What is spirit? All we can say for sure is that it is not matter or the energy that is from matter. Spirit is what exists in the realm of God—things that were, are and always will be.

Read more about the great God who created the physical universe and who has a plan to create us again in spirit in the article “Children of God.”

About the Author

Steve Moody

Steve Moody

Steve Moody graduated from Ambassador College in Pasadena, California, in June of 1971. He met his lovely wife and lifelong companion, Vivian, while in college. They married a few days following his graduation.

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