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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Surya Avula

Is man made up of a spirit, soul and body?

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Is man made up of a spirit, soul, and body?


Many today believe that human beings are made up of a body, soul, and spirit. They believe that physicians care for the body, pastors care for the spirit, and psychologists care for the human soul. They are trichotomists because they believe in the trichotomy of the human constitution. The word trichotomy comes from two Greek words. Tricha means “three,” and temno means “to cut.”


Trichotomists believe that the physical body is a material part of man. They believe that the human soul is the psychological element of man where reason, emotion, and social interaction occur. This element distinguishes humans and animals from plants and other unconscious life. Then they claim that spirit is a religious element of man, which perceives and responds to spiritual matters. For them, the presence of spirit is what distinguishes humans from animals. Some Christian psychologists argue for this view by quoting 1 Thess. 5: 23 and Hebrews 4:12. Early church history records that Alexandrian church fathers supported this view.


Another view is Dichotomism which believes that man is a two-part being consisting of two elements. The physical body is the physical part of a man, and it disintegrates when it dies. Soul/ spirit is an immaterial part of man. This view does not distinguish between “soul” and “spirit”. Yet the third view is Monism. This view claims that the human person is a unity and not composed of divisible parts. Naturalistic evolutionists and idealists are adherents of this position. They claim that there is no soul or immaterial part to man, and he is full of matter. John Robinson, a strong proponent of this view, argues that Hebrews had a unitary view of the human person and always used the words “body” and “soul” interchangeably as synonyms. He further claimed that Greek philosophy introduced the distinctions between these two words, and therefore it must be rejected. He concludes that the Bible teaches monism.


Which view is biblically accurate? What is the human constitution? Before answering these questions, there is a need to review four critical anthropological terms in the Bible to understand the human constitution properly. They are body, soul, spirit, and heart. Let us review each term individually before constructing the biblical doctrine of the human constitution.


The first word is the body. The Hebrew language uses Gwiya (body, dead body) and Basar (flesh) to designate a body. Gwiya indicates either a living body (Gen.47: 18; Neh.9:37) or a dead carcass (1 Sam.31:10,12). Basar is used to designate a blood relative (Gen.29: 14; 2 Sam 5:1), every living thing (Gen. 9:15-17), humankind collectively (Gen 6:12-13; Job 34:15), the material substance of the body (Gen.2: 23; 17:14) and the whole person (Lev.17:11; Ps.16:9; 63:1; Eccl.4:5). This word does not designate the seat of sin. Its Greek equivalent is “soma”, which means body. It means a physical body (Mark 5:29; Rom. 8:11; Gal. 6:17) or the whole person (Rom. 12:1; Eph.5: 28; Phil 1:20). In summary, the body can mean a physical body or the whole being.


While Greek philosophy taught that the body is evil because it is matter, the Bible teaches the contrary and affirms that the body is an essential component of the human being. The body is unredeemed, needs to be disciplined, and is the residence of the Holy Spirit. All human bodies are destined for decaying, physical death, and bodily resurrection. The bodies of believers will be raised to eternal life and unbelievers to damnation at the White Throne Judgment.


The second word is soul. The Old Testament uses the word nephesh for the soul. It means a living being or a whole person (Gen 2:7; Pss.6:3; 63:1; 104:1; Ezek. 18:4,20). It can also mean the life principle or life force that gives life to the body (Lev.17:11; 26:16; Ps. 19:7) and the seat of intellect, will, and emotions (1 Sam.2: 35; Lam.3:20; Gen.23:8; Ps.10:3; Deut.28:65). The NT equivalent is psuche, which means soul or life. It is used to denote a whole person (Acts 2:41; Rom.13: 1; 2 Cor.12: 15), seat personal identity in relation to God (Matt.10: 28, 39; Luke 1:46; John 12:25; Heb.10: 39), the inner life of the body (Acts 20:10; Eph.6: 6) and returns to God at death (Acts 2:27; 1 Pet.1: 9; Rev.20: 4).


The third word is spirit. In the OT, the Hebrew word ruach is used for wind, physical breath, the Spirit of God, and the life of lower creatures. With reference to human beings, it denotes the whole person (Ps.31: 5; Ezek 21:7), the seat of intellect, spiritual understanding, wisdom, and emotions. The NT equivalent is pneuma means “spirit”. It means an immaterial life force that animates the body and departs at death (Matt.27: 50; Acts 7:59; James 2:26; Rev.11: 11). There are several instances where the “spirit” is used interchangeably with “soul” (Ps.31: 5; Eccl. 12:7; Heb. 12:23; Luke 1:46-47).


The fourth word is the heart. In the OT, it means a whole person (Ps.22: 26), the core of the inner life (Exod. 7:3, 13; Ps. 9:1; Jer. 17:9). It is the central command center from where emerge good and evil thoughts (Gen. 6:5; 1 Kings 3:12), memory (Ps.31: 12; Isa 65:17), intentions (Exod. 35:5; Dan.5: 20), love and hate for God (Deut.6: 5; Job 1:5), emotions and passions (Deut.19: 6; 1 Sam.1:8), conscience (1 Sam.24: 5; Job 27:6), spiritual life (1 Sam. 12:24; Ps 9:1) and good and evil actions (Isa. 32:6). In the NT it means governing center of the person (Matt 18:35; Rom. 6:17; 2 Cor. 5:12) and the seat of intellectual life and memory (Matt.9: 4; Acts 8:22). In summary, the heart is the command center of a person. It is wicked without God. And God gives a new heart to every person at the time of conversion.


The following conclusions are based on the biblical evidence presented above: 1) Monism must be rejected because there is more to a human than the physical body, 2) OT presents the human person as a unified whole. Therefore, the words soul, spirit, heart, and body refer to the whole person; 3) There is not enough biblical evidence to support trichotomy, that the immaterial part of man has two separate parts- soul and spirit; 4) the terms spirit and soul used interchangeable (Luke 1:46-47; Job 7:11; Isa. 26:9; John 12:27; John 13:21; Hebrews 12:23; Rev.6:9), 5) It is right to conclude that human beings are dichotomous. Nonetheless, they are complex unity because God designed both material and immaterial parts to stay together as a unified whole, and 6) the body is not less critical than the spirit/soul.




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