“I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).With the these words David worships of his great Creator/God. Our study of the nature of man should also move us to worship our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As Ryrie brought out in his introduction to chapter 32 (Basic Theology), man has a material part with a variety of features such as arteries, veins, brains, muscles, etc. All of us are agreed on this facet of man’s nature. Man also has an immaterial part with a variety of features such as soul, spirit, heart, will, mind, etc. This is where we agree to disagree on the nature of man. This is not a hill we must die on. But we do want to be as accurate and precise as possible when it comes to interpreting the Bible.
There are four positions on the trichotomy/dichotomy debate.
1. Monism, which is a non-conservative view, believes that man is one part. Monism was a reaction to the liberalism of Harry Emerson Fosdick who because of his belief in the immortality of the soul saw no need for a resurrection of the body. Monism taught that because the person is indivisible there is no existence of the soul after death and that the person will not exist after death until the resurrection of the body. This view eliminates the intermediate state of existence between death and resurrection which the Scriptures teach as demonstrated in the next paragraph (Christian Theology, Erickson, pp. 524-525).
Wayne Grudem defines monism on page 473 in his Systematic Theology. “According to monism, the scriptural terms soul and spirit are just other expressions for the ‘person’ himself, or for the person’s ‘life.’ This view has not generally been adopted by evangelical theologians because so many scriptural texts seem clearly to affirm that our souls or spirits live on after our bodies die (see Gen. 35:18; Ps. 31:5; Luke 23:43, 46; Acts 7:59; Phil. 1:23-24; 2 Cor. 5:8; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 6:9; 20:4).” The 2 Cor. 5:8 passage nails it for me: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
2. Dichotomy which believes that man has two parts This is the general view of Scripture.
3. Trichotomy which says that man is made of three parts. There are particular verses that indicate this view.
Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology gives the origin of the trichotomy view on page 191. “The tripartite conception of man originated in Greek philosophy, which conceived of the relation of the body and the spirit of man to each other after the analogy of the mutual relation between the material universe and God. It was thought that, just as the latter could enter into communion with each other only by means of a third or an intermediate being, so the former could enter into mutual vital relationships only by means of a third or intermediate element, namely, the soul.”
C. I. Scofield helped popularized this view beginning in 1909 in his Study Bible on page 1270.
4. Modified trichotomy/dichotomy view states that man has two parts with three functions.
Here are my responses to the arguments that favor trichotomy. First, I will state the argument in favor of trichotomy and then I will give my response in favor of dichotomy.
1. “Man is in three parts because he is made in the image of God who is a divine Trinity.”
This was the view of Franz Delitzsch in his A System of Biblical Psychology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966). Delitzsch compared the difference between soul and spirit to the distinctions between the persons of the Trinity. The persons of the Trinity, like soul and spirit, are distinct but not in essence (page 117).
Delitzsch , quoted Martin Luther, who likened the three parts of the believer to the three parts of the OT tabernacle. “To adduce a parallel to this from Scripture, Moses made a tabernacle with three distinct compartments (Ex. 26:33-34, 27:9). The first was called the holy of holies, since God dwelt there, and there was no light therein. The second was the holy place within which stood a candlestick with seven branches and lamps. The third was called the atrium or court; and it was under the open heaven, in the light of the sun. In the same figure a Christian man is depicted. His spirit is the holy of holies, God’s dwelling-place, in dim faith, without light. For he believes what he does not see, nor feels, nor apprehends. His soul is the holy place, whose seven lights represent the various powers of understanding, the perception and knowledge of material and visible things. His body is the atrium or court, which is manifest to every man, so that all can see what he does and how he lives” (Delitzsch, pp. 460-462). There is really no NT grounds for making the tabernacle a type or picture of the believer’s person.
Ryrie’s response to the Trinity analogy on the top of page 196, in his first edition of Basic Theology, is well said. “Certainly the Persons of the Trinity are equal, though the parts of man are not. To which Person of the Trinity would the body correspond?”
2. “The unsaved do not have a spirit. This was lost at the fall and is restored at conversion.”
Dr. Bowman asks and answers this question; “Does the unsaved person have a spirit? All flesh have a spirit (Numbers 16:22; 1 Cor. 2:11).” “And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be wroth with all the congregation”(Numbers 16:22)? Wayne Grudem states, “Of course, our ‘spirits are alive’ to God after regeneration (Rom. 8:10), but that is simply because we as whole persons are affected by regeneration. It is not just that our spirits were dead before—we were dead to God in trespasses and sins.” Read the rest of his arguments on page 701 of his Systematic Theology.
3. “The spirit is the God conscious aspect of man that enables man to worship God and the soul is self conscious aspect of man that is synonymous with the mind.”
Scofield makes this distinction, “Because man is ‘spirit’ he is capable of God-consciousness, and of communication with God (Job 32:8; Psa. 18:28; Prov. 20:27); because he is ‘soul’ he has self-consciousness (Psa. 13:2; 42:5, 6, 11); because he is ‘body’ he has, through his senses, world-consciousness” (The Scofield Study Bible, page 1270.
Man’s nature cannot be compartmentalized this neatly. The spirit of man thinks, not just the soul. “They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine” (Isaiah 29:24). The soul of man worships or has a God-consciousness, not just the spirit. “”Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mt. 22:37).
These two terms, soul and spirit, are used interchangeably throughout Scripture.
Again Scofield fails to see the interchangeably of these two words, “In Scripture use, the distinction between spirit and soul may be traced. Briefly, that distinction is that the spirit is that part of man which ‘knows’ (1 Cor. 2:11), his mind; the soul is the seat of the affections, desires, and so the emotions, and of the active will, the self. ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful; (Mt. 26:38; see also Mt. 11:29; and John 12:27)” (page 1270).
For trouble feelings: Not only does the soul feel but also the spirit of man. In the OT (Gen. 41:8 and Ps. 42:6); in the NT (John 12:27 “My soul is troubled” and John 13:21 “He was troubled in spirit”)
For expressing praise: Luke 1:46 and 47 where you have OT parallelism where the same thought is expressed with similar words. The soul can worship the Lord.
For death: Gen. 35:18 (soul departs); Acts 7:59 (spirit departs). Scripture never says that “the soul and spirit departed.” Wayne Grudem elaborates on this point. “If soul and spirit were separate and distinct things, we would expect that such language would be affirmed somewhere, if only to assure the reader that no essential part of the person is left behind. Yet we find no such language: the biblical authors do not seem to care whether they say that the soul departs or the spirit departs at death, for both seem to mean the same thing” (page. 474).
For persons in heaven: Heb. 12:23 (spirits); Rev. 6:9 (souls).
Both terms are ascribed to animals: souls in Gen. 1:24; spirit in Ecc. 3:21; Rev. 16:3.
The highest duties of Christians are demanded of the soul, not just the spirit: Mark 12:30; Luke 1:46, 47.
The whole man is referred to as body and soul (Mt. 10:28) and body and spirit (1 Cor. 5:3). Grudem asks a question that needs to be answered by trichotomists, “What can the spirit do that the soul cannot do? What can the soul do that the spirit cannot do?” (page 477).