Spirit, Soul and Body – Parts or a Whole?

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The existence of the invisible world is a reality that is assumed throughout the Bible. The Bible begins with this reality when the material, earth and universe are made by what is invisible.  Romans 1:20 tells us that we can know for certain that “God’s invisible attributes” “have been clearly seen, being understood from what was made”. Within our culture there is an emphasis on what we see is all there is – seeking solutions out of advancement of knowledge and technology. So, to acknowledge the spiritual is an important step to belief. 

Body Soul Spirit – many views 

When it comes to man, some see a dualism, or dichotomy in the makeup of man, or a trichotomy with three parts. Green, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, sees a radical dualism which is the soul can be separate with no relation to the body. There is also Holistic dualism, held by Hoekema, that is the soul and body interact consisting of a functional unity. Another view is monism believing there is no second entity that is the soul and the soul is not brain activity just a capacity of self.  

Details of Triparte 

The verses that are referenced are: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12, and  1 Thessalonians 5:23  

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Pink comments on Hebrews 4:12 that man is triparte: body, soul and spirit. His reasoning for this is that man was made in the image of God who is trinity and so is man. He concludes from this that when man died spiritually his spirit was no longer connected to God and it is now connected to the soul. His definition of spirit is God conscious, the highest part of man. Soul is the person, a man has a spirit, but is a living soul. The soul is the emotions and he connects the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life as dominating the soul. So, at regeneration a dividing of soul and spirit takes place. The spirit then is reconnected to God. For Pink Hebrews 4:12  is describing what the word of God does at salvation. 

In regards to triparte Zacheriah 12:1 is cited for support as well, it says the Lord, “forms the spirit of man within him.”  Andrew Murray also makes a place for these three areas of man. The Spirit is the highest place because it connects to God. The body is the lowest because it connects to the sensible and animal, and the Soul is intermediate being – the bond between the spirit and body.  

Pember and the Scofield bible acknowledge from 1 Thess and Hebrews that there is a trichotomy but speak about them with only distinction of definition more than actually separate parts. Further conclusions and implications are not found with them.  

Penn Lewis stems off from 1 Thess 5:23 the meaning of “spirit” being listed first is that the spirit should dominate the soul and the body is the instrument of the spirit through the soul.  

Watchman Nee concludes as well from 1 Thess 5:23 this trichotomy of man. He states that Body Soul Spirit is the whole man but goes on next to speak about the division of soul and spirit. He further concludes the nature of soul and body are against the spirit.  

The trichotomy of man appears to have become more popular and present during the late 1800s to the early 1900s. People looked at these scriptures in a definitive way that made them matter of fact. So, when mentioning the three, body – soul – spirit, together took it to mean they are separate.  

MacAuthur comments about 1 Thess. 5:23 that a trichotomy is not defendable and is arbitrary. He states the soul and spirit are used interchangeable. His comments on Hebrews 4:12 concluding the language should be taken as metaphorical.  

I lean to disagreement with triparte. The context and brevity of 1 Thess. 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12 are making points that are not directly about the anthropology of man. The main point of Hebrews 4:12 follows in 13 that the word of God penetrates the heart. The heart is spoken in vs 7 and in chapter 3. The teaching of these chapters is about avoiding the hardening of the heart toward God and  to believe, because the word of God penetrates man and nothing is hidden from him. So we should go confidently to the “throne of grace” to receive mercy and grace.  God entering heart, the center of man, affects man in his entirety.  

My thought is that making conclusions about soul and spirit is further away from the context and teaching of the passages.  If a man is a whole then he is against the corrupt nature of the whole self  not necessarily separate parts within the whole self. Romans 6:12 says “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts” The whole man is in opposition to sin not its parts

 In the Old Testemant there is nephes, ruach, lebh, and basar.The different views that man is body, spirit, soul do not all communicate a separateness.  

First, Man can be made up of different parts but still be considered a whole.  Second, God is concerned with man’s wholeness. Some of the views of commentators seem of concern. Pink for example concludes there is a division between soul and spirit at salvation which seems to be a speculation rather than plain interpretation. There are quite a number of things the New Testament speaks about happening to a believer at salvation and the division of soul and spirit are not present.  

Third, Within the context of the verse in Hebrews it is speaking about the word of God.The Bible speaks about the resurrection and so the Bible is not just about immaterial life after death. There is also a real concern in scripture about what man does while in this body.  

The Holistic Man 

When looking at the content of teaching from the Bible a holistic treatment of man is displayed throughout scripture. The Bible does not have passages that speak specifically on the parts of man. So, to determine an exact anthropology is difficult and a bit of mystery. 

Genesis 6 describes what happened to man after the fall. Six verse five says, “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”. Further, in vs. 11, “the earth was filled with violence” and “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth”. So the corruption was the whole of man—the outward flesh and the inner thoughts. In Deuteronomy 6:5 Moses instructs the people, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” The whole man is instructed to love the Lord.  

Romans 5:12 teaches that death came through sin which is consistent with what God said to Adam as a judgment from disobedience.  In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” The New Testament testifies that the sin nature affected all of man, the immaterial and the material.  

Concluding from the OT and the NT, if all of man is corrupted then all of man is held responsible for sin and in turn all of man needs salvation.  

Wholness – in the Image of God 

Wholeness is seen in man being made in the image of God. Among theologians there is much debate on where the image of God is in man. Karl Barth limited it to the capacity for relationship with God. Irenaeus saw the image of God based in the reason and freedom of man. The image of God is much more than these two. God created all of man which includes also his body.  Man does not simply bear or have the image of God; he is the image of God. When God saw all of creation He said “it was very good”, Gen. 1:31. Though, because man corrupted God’s image, he did not represent God clearly. But Jesus did. Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”  In Colossians 2:9 Paul places an importance on Jesus’ humanity, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. All of Jesus was sinless and He represented God perfectly. And through Him there is a resurrection of the whole person. 

 Eternal Life 

Eternal life is associated with God. This is one of God’s attributes. 1 Timothy 6:16 says of the Lord, “who alone has immortality”.  Enteral life is given to man in salvation as Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” John 17:3 says that eternal life is knowing God and Christ. This seems to beg the question of why we would need Jesus for enteral life if our souls lived on inherently.  Creation of man is where life started, God in Gen. 2:7, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” In the Old Testament the dead were not called bodies or souls, but shades. Job 26:5 uses the word saying, “The dead tremble”. Proverbs 9:18 speaking of the way of folly connects the word to Sheol, “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” An interesting contrast is seen in Isa. 26, in vs. 14 speaking of those who do not trust in the Lord, “They are dead, they will not live; they are shades, they will not arise…” In Isa. 26:19, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.” The word for dead in vs. 19 is not same word translated shades.  

There is an existence after the death of the body, but it is up to God to what that existence will be. God will judge the living and the dead. 2 Timothy 4:1, and as prophesied in Daniel 12:2, “some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” With this in mind the body in itself cannot be seen as evil. 

 What is of real concern is what Jesus told the Pharisees in John 8:24, “if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins”. There is a great concern found in Jesus because if a person dies in their sin, they will not have life, the good that men and woman experience in this life will not extend after death. This gives a sobering reality to reflect upon and a sincere love. There is no immortality without God—all are resurrected by Him.  

If immortality/eternal life means knowing God and being present with him then not receiving this life from God is separation from him. Separation from God is not living, but with the idea of hell it seems the person is aware of their “death” separation from God. In some sense they are alive but separate from God who is and gives life. John 5:29 Jesus says in the end mankind will all be resurrected to life or judgment.  

When looking at the Bible with this view there are some important conclusions and lessons to be made.  Within the view of wholeness and unity the body and soul are interconnected, one is not superior to the other. Meeting with believers is important, it matters what we do with our bodies. When today’s medicine seeks to cure depression and other ailments of the mind we cannot assume drugs are the only way to solve the issue. If the physical mind affects the soul then the soul can affect the body that is with the Holy Spirit 

Dietrich Bonhoefer says it well, The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was baptized in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual-physical creatures.  

Archibald D. Hart, Unmasking Male Depression: Recognizing the Root Cause of Many Problem Behaviors, Such as Anger, Resentment, Abusiveness, Silence, Addictions, and Sexual Compulsiveness (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 1. 

Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible, Studies in Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008), 1. 

Lord, F. Townley. The Unity of Body and Soul: The Value of the Body in Christian Teaching and Modern Thought. London: Student Christian Movement, 1929. 

Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), 1. 

Joel B. Green, Stuart L. Palmer, and Kevin Corcoran, eds., In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2005), 1. 

Charles R. Solomon, Counselling with the Mind of Christ (S.l.: Revell, 1977), 1. 

Stanton L. Jones and Richard E. Butman, Modern Psychotherapies: a Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Christian Association for Psychological Studies Partnership), 02 ed. (Downer Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 1. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: the Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 1St ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 1. 

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