To begin we need to define what the scripture means by body, soul and spirit. Whereas body is fairly consistent in meaning, both soul and spirit are dependent upon context for definition.
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Body = dust (chemical elements) formed into a physical frame of flesh and bones.
Breath (Hebrew ‘neshamah’) = Air (78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen with traces of water vapour, carbon dioxide, argon, and various other components).
Soul (Hebrew ‘Nephesh’) = Creature or being.
The same word translated ‘soul’ is used of animals:
Genesis 1:24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature (Hebrew ‘Nephesh’) after his kind...
Soul (creature or being) can be alive or dead.
Numbers 19:11 He that toucheth the dead body (Hebrew ‘Nephesh’) of any man shall be unclean seven days.
Ezekiel 18:4... the soul (Hebrew ‘Nephesh’) that sinneth, it shall die.
In general usage the soul is understood to be alive.
Genesis 12:5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls (Hebrew ‘Nephesh’) that they had gotten in Haran...
The word is sometimes used as a synonym of life.
Genesis 19:17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life (Hebrew ‘Nephesh’)...
The Greek word translated soul is used in the same way in the New Testament.
1 Peter 3:20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls (Greek ‘psuche’) were saved by water.
Matthew 2:20... for they are dead which sought the young child’s life (Greek ‘psuche’).
Matthew 22:37:‘psuche’ is readily understood to mean with ‘every part of your being’
Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul (Greek ‘psuche’), and with all thy mind.
Mark 10:45 ‘psuche’ is readily understood to mean his ‘life’ and is so translated.
Mark 10:45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life (Greek ‘psuche’) a ransom for many.
‘Nephesh’ and ‘psuche’ come together as equivalents when Peter quotes David.
Psalms 16:10 For thou wilt not leave my soul (Hebrew ‘Nephesh’) in hell (Hebrew ‘sheol’); neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Acts 2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul (Greek ‘psuche’) in hell (Greek ‘hades’), neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Peter explains what it means:
Acts 2:31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul (Greek ‘psuche’) was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
Hell (Hebrew ‘sheol’ – Greek ‘hades’) is the grave; the tomb in which Christ was laid after his crucifixion.
His body was not allowed to corrupt and his soul was restored to life.
The soul in the Bible is not immortal. The soul is our whole being; when we die our whole being dies; we have no conscious existence after death.
Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing...
Death is spoken of as sleep; resurrection is the awaking out of the sleep of death.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
The hope of the gospel is resurrection from the dead.
In the Old Testament, the word translated Spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) is used of the Spirit of God.
Genesis 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The Spirit of God was the power used in creation.
Job 33:4 The Spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) of God hath made me, and the breath (Hebrew ‘neshamah’) of the Almighty hath given me life.
The word of God and the Spirit of God become synonymous. God speaks and it is done.
Psalms 33:6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) of his mouth.
The spirit of God acting upon men empowers them in different ways as God requires.
Exodus 31:3 And I have filled him with the spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
The word is also translated as ‘mind’ and ‘wind’.
Genesis 26:35 Which were a grief of mind (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) unto Isaac and to Rebekah.
Exodus 10:13 And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) upon the land...
It is also used to denote a man’s character or way of thinking.
Numbers 14:24 But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) with him, and hath followed me fully...
Psalms 32:2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) there is no guile.
Proverbs 16:19 Better it is to be of an humble spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.
In the New Testament, the word translated Spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’) is used of the Spirit of God. As in the Old Testament the word is synonymous with the power of God.
Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost (Greek ‘pneuma’).
Luke 1:35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost (Greek ‘pneuma’) shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
As in the Old Testament, the Spirit of God acting upon men empowers them in different ways as God requires.
Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost (Greek ‘pneuma’) is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
As in the Old Testament, it is also used to denote a man’s character or way of thinking.
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’): for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Luke 9:55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’) ye are of.
Ephesians 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’) of your mind;
Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually (Greek ‘pneuma’) minded is life and peace.
It is in the sense of ‘his way of thinking’ that we are told that man has a spirit which in its natural state finds the things of God unintelligible.
1 Corinthians 2:11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’) of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’) of God.
Our way of thinking needs to be ‘cleaned up’.
2 Corinthians 7:1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’), perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
We have to change the way we think naturally to the way God thinks. The Bible gives us the information on how God requires us to live. It is up to each of us to make the effort to subordinate our will to the will of God.
Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
The scriptures were written by inspiration for this purpose.
2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
This is what Christ means by being born of the spirit.
John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
In this way we form within us a character or spirit acceptable to God. It was his character (sinless), not his breath, which Christ commended to his father.
Luke 23:46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’): and having said thus, he gave up the ghost (Greek ekpneo – expired).
Stephen’s request also was that his character might be acceptable.
Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit (Greek ‘pneuma’).
In the Old Testament, the spirit of a man is also shown to be the God-given essence that gives man independence of thought from his maker. The human brain is a machine, but we are not pre-programmed robots; God has given us the capacity of independent thought. This capacity for independent thought is called spirit.
Isaiah and Zechariah confirm that God gives man both breath and spirit.
Isaiah 42:5 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath (Hebrew ‘neshamah’) unto the people upon it, and spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) to them that walk therein:
Zechariah 12:1 The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) of man within him.
When we die our bodies return to dust and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) shall return unto God who gave it.
Job 34:14 If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) and his breath (Hebrew ‘neshamah’); 15 All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.
The spirit, like the soul has no independent conscious existence after death.
Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing,
Psalms 146:4 His breath (Hebrew ‘ruwach’) goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
The spirit returning to God is the capacity for independent thought imprinted, as it were, with the character or way of thinking that we have formed in our lifetime and which determines whether we will be raised from the dead in the future. It has no separate conscious existence and without resurrection we ourselves remain unconscious in the ground forever.
Proverbs 21:16 The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
If we understand that it is the character we develop that makes us acceptable to God then we can understand why Christ commended his spirit to God. Because his character was sinless and the way he thought was faultless, God raised him from the dead on the third day. Those who obey the gospel and the commandments of Christ and develop characters like his will be raised from the dead when Christ returns.
This is the reason why Stephen asks Christ to receive (or accept) his spirit. Stephen is not alive in heaven; he sleeps in the dust awaiting resurrection to eternal life at the return of Christ.
Paul explains what is going to happen:
1 Corinthians 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
This will be the fulfilment of God’s declared purpose.
Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
Numbers 14:21 But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.
In conclusion: Christ’s spirit (his capacity for independent thought) returned to God when he died. His body and soul were placed lifeless in the tomb. God did not allow his body and soul to corrupt, but restored him to life on the third day. In his newness of life Christ has not only independence of thought but he is energised by the Spirit of God with eternal life.
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
As God is Spirit (John 4:24) with life in himself, so Christ now lives by the spirit with life in himself; he is endowed with the divine nature.
This same nature is promised to those who believe and obey the gospel.
2 Peter 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
I hope you have found this helpful.