The Brain: Marvel and Metaphor

God has created us with amazing brains (which hopefully our minds use quite a bit). It is marvelous. (However, an examination of the physical aspects of the brain, its amazing design (such as the the right and left hemispheres) and functionality is a separate study.)

Material and immaterial aspects: brain and mind

The physical brain is obviously in the material aspect of a person, yet the mind comprises the immaterial side.

A materialistic worldview denies the spiritual aspect of life. Yet even scientific research shows the inadequacy of materialism. Heather Zeiger observed,

“The results of experiments with OCD, phobias, depression, and the placebo effect do not make sense to materialists because the mind seems to affect the physical brain. However, we know from Scripture that the mind, or the soul, is an essential part of our being. James 2:26 and Luke 8:55 show us that when the soul leaves, the body is dead, and when the soul returns, the body is alive. Also, passages such as Matthew 26:41 and Romans 8:10 and 11 tell us that our spirit can affect what our bodies do and keep us from sinning. Passages about the resurrection such as in 1 Corinthians 15 discuss the distinction between our spirit and our physical body.” [1]

Non-physical aspects of man

In a more precise understanding of how we are made, the immaterial aspect of man has two distinguishable parts–soul and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23).

The human spirit is distinct from the soul. Note the need for spiritual revelation in addition to the natural mind: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man [literally, “soulish man]” does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:11 -14).

Hebrews 4:12 affirms, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow…”  In the immaterial side of a person, the human spirit can be conceived as “in” –yet distinct from–the soul. Similarly, the marrow is in the bone, yet not all bone is marrow.

In the passage about the proper use of spiritual gifts the apostle Paul states, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful” (1 Cor. 14:4). In this scenario, the human spirit is engaged in speaking an unlearned language that is not intelligible in the natural (soulical) mind.

Illustrations of material and immaterial aspects of man

Although no analysis or illustration completely describes the nature of man, illustrations can be useful. The most familiar one is that the believer is compared to the Old Testament Temple–God’s dwelling place. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19). The Tabernacle and (later) Temple had an outer court, Holy Place and Holy of Holies. These illustrate the human body, soul and spirit respectively. See the section of devoted to the symbolism of the Tabernacle.

A contemporary illustration of body, soul and spirit is the design and function of the “brain machine” known as a computer.

The physical brain is like a computer’s hardware Humanity has used their brains to invent an inferior brain-like machine, the computer, that has become a huge part of modern life.

The soul is like a computer’s software.  The machine is useless without installed programming–software. Software is similar to the the human soul (made, will, and emotions).

The human spirit is like electricity.  Without electricity the hardware and software have no “life.” As electricity is distinct from the computer’s software, likewise, the human spirit is distinct from the soul.

A science course observes, “Both [a computer and the brain] use electrical signals to send messages. The brain uses chemicals to transmit information; the computer uses electricity. Even though electrical signals travel at high speeds in the nervous system, they travel even faster through the wires in a computer. Both transmit information.”[2]

Christian psychiatrist and Bible teacher, Dr. Tim Jennings, uses this computer analogy (hardware, software and electricity) to illustrate the distinctions of body, soul and spirit.[3]

The human brain is a marvel. 

“I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:14 NKJV).

The brain is also a metaphor when compared to a computer, and the computer can illustrate the interdependent (yet distinct) body, soul and spirit.

by John Woodward

[1] The Spiritual Brain” by Heather Zeiger, July 5, 2008

[2] (secular}

[3] Cited from Dr. Jennings seminar, “God and Your Brain.” See

For More on the marvels of the brain, see Cross-Wired Mind: A Study for Finding a Right Relationship with God through the Mind He Intended Us to Have, by Mary Kay Thomas at