Does God have a soul?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Does God have a soul?

Answer: That’s a great question! But since you did not qualify what you mean by “soul” (or by “God” for that matter), then I will have to do all the qualifying on my end — and there is a bit of that to do. You see, since we were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), we can indeed make legitimate comparisons of our nonmaterial essences — our souls. But since he will always be the Creator and we will always be the creatures, this approach has its limits: a being that is sufficient to create anything must transcend his creation — and transcendence can eclipse comparison.

Perhaps this is why the Bible just assumes that God has sufficient attributes (“In the beginning God created…” [Genesis 1:1]) — and it does this without explaining his back-story. As such, we’ll be spending some of our time in natural theology rather than biblical theology.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the Bible tells us a lot about God. Indeed, it is our “go to” source — and natural theology is blind to most specifics. But the Bible is more about operations going forward from creation; it does not explore what was behind the creative event… or the underpinnings of thought, language — or even many aspects of God. As such, some godly issues are more philosophical than theological, and they are beyond the Bible’s scope.

For example, whether or not God has a soul (… or whether or not God is a soul) has more to do with ontology, definitions and philosophy than with the Bible. But the issue is not as simple as a thumbs-up or thumbs-down for God having a soul. The Bible reveals that God is a trinity! That’s something we would have never figured out without the Bible… but man, does that add some complexity!

So let’s begin with the basics. Jesus gave us an important piece of information about God: he is a spirit-being, not a physical being.

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24, NIV, emphasis mine).

But even though he is a spirit-being, God is still a person — and the overarching narratives in Scripture are proof of that. As a global theme (and by a significant percentage) the Bible is the account of the person of God interacting with the persons of Adam. Scripture never represents God as merely a divine force. He is always ultimately a person.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:8–9, NIV)

We physical beings have the extra burden of explaining our personalities — our essential selves — and we often call these nonmaterial parts of ourselves our souls. William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith Ministries describes the soul as, “the part of us endowed with rational facilities, each sufficient for personhood.” — and I like that. The question for us becomes, are we primarily a body in possession of a soul? Or are we souls in the current possession of some bodies?

I believe the latter to be more biblical because if a believer dies before Jesus returns, he remains unchanged as a person — a personality — a soul. But he will not have a body until the resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). So, the person can persist without the body, but the body cannot persist without the person… as decomposition testifies. But that’s about us; what about God?

If we are using the term “soul” to describe the nonmaterial essence of a person, then God has no soul because he is a soul… but only a soul. With no physical body, there is no reason to understand God’s essence under the body-soul paradigm. But since the Bible reveals God as a trinity, how do we make sense of “one God in three persons” — but especially where all we observe is a one-to-one body-soul correspondence in people?

This is interesting because even though God is not subject to the body-soul paradigm, we still have to make sense of him as a person… or make that three persons. So let’s shift from a body-soul paradigm to a persons-soul paradigm and see how that would work.

If we think of God as a single soul (a unity) endowed with three sets of rational faculties, each sufficient for personhood (a trinity), then God would be tri-personal yet single-souled. So, to answer your question more precisely, God has no soul because he is a soul — only a soul and a single soul — in spite of his being three persons.

But when Jesus became human, he came under the body/soul paradigm just like us… because to suffer like us he had to have the full human experience. It is my opinion that while Jesus had a human body that he had a soul, too… just like us… but that his soul was the person of the Son in the Trinity.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20160711 Does God have a soul?).

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