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  • Daniel Surya Avula

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

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

Trichotomists believe that physical body is material part of man. They believe that human soul is the psychological element of man where the reason, emotion and social interaction take place. 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. 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 see any distinction between “soul” and “spirit”. Yet the third view is Monism. This view claims that the human person is a unity and not composed of any 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 they 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 true? What is human constitution? Before answering these questions, there is a need to review four important anthropological terms in the Bible for right understanding of human constitution. They are body, soul, spirit and heart. Let us review each term individually before constructing the biblical doctrine of human constitution.

First word is body. Hebrew language uses Gwiya (body, dead body) and Basar (flesh) to designate a body. Gwiya indicates either living body (Gen.47: 18; Neh.9:37) or 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), human kind collectively (Gen 6:12-13; Job 34:15), 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 contrary and affirms that body as an essential component of human being. 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.

Second word is soul. The Old Testament uses the word nephesh for 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 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).

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), 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).

Fourth word is heart. In the OT it means whole person (Ps.22: 26), 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, heart is the command center of a person. It is wicked without God. And God gives new heart to every person at the time of conversion.

The following are the conclusions based on the biblical evidence presented above: 1) Monism must be rejected because there is more to human than physical body, 2) OT presents human person as unified whole. Therefore, the words soul, spirit, heart and body refer to 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 unified whole, and 6) the body is not less important than spirit/soul. 

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