Is Man Body, Soul and Spirit?

I don’t expect most people to read this. It is exceedingly long with my original document clocking in at 29 pages and long lists of verses. I don’t expect most people to interact with this trimmed down version; the Internet is fraught with shallowness. I do expect most people, especially Trichotomists, to ignore it, the verses, and the sources. But, this is my way of putting a stake in the ground and arguing why the position is wrong, where it’s wrong, and when it matters. I do allow for a view of trichotomy that is holistic in its approach, but I’ve rarely seen that nuanced a position at the lay level.

To deal with man being three parts, I want to show first what Trichotomists say; then the Biblical Data and how the Scriptures, in both Testaments, respond to pointed questions; give some answers to the arguments and show how the Scripture corrects the incorrect teaching; and finally show a path forward for the trichotomist.

A Definition and Short History of Trichotomy

Trichotomy just means three-parts. It is the view that man’s nature consists of three parts: body, soul, and spirit.

Christianity played with trichotomy thanks to Greek Philosophy and Plato. Eventually remained part of the Eastern Church but it hasn’t historically been part of the Western Church.  Neo-Platonic thought was re-introduced into the Church via Aquinas when influenced by the pseudo-Christian Plotinus. As Berkhof says, dichotomy (that man is body and soul, two parts) has been the historic and dominant position of the Church. On the other hand, he says, “The tri-partite 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 substance 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.” (Berkhoff, Systematic Theology)

Eventually, some Protestant scholars came to hold a variation of the view but it was a mixed bag. Delitzsch, for example, seems to make it more a psychological division (like in my old Scofield bible) while Watchman Nee sounds downright Gnostic when he calls the body “the lowest” aspect of man and the spirit the highest. (Nee, The Spiritual Man)

What Trichotomy Argues

Some of their arguments are as follows:

  • Scripture clearly teaches trichotomy: (1) 1 Thessalonians 5:23; (2) Hebrews 4:12; (3) 1 Corinthians 3:14 – 3:4; and (4) 1 Corinthians 14:14
  • The body pertains to the senses (touch, smell, sight. etc), souls have passions and emotions and will: spirit does not do any of those things.
  • Our spirits died at the fall and that’s the aspect of man that needs regeneration to commune with God. Without it, we are lost and merely natural men.
  • The tri-partite nature of man reflects the tri-partite nature of God. God is trinity therefore man is trinity.
  • We must have a component that differentiates us from animals: that is our spirit.
  • What’s important is the soul and the spirit: the flesh is corrupt and evil.
  • God is spirit and cannot commune with the physical world if it were not for the spirit and soul of humans. The teaching allows us to have a God that can deal with us fleshly beings. This is why when we die both our souls and spirits depart to be with the Lord to get a spiritual body but our fleshly bodies remain behind.
  • For Jesus to remain sinless and yet human, he must have a human body and human soul but his spirit must be pure. This is why, as God, he came as a human with a body, a soul, and the Holy Spirit as his spirit.

Dealing With The Biblical Data

First I want to highlight words that are used in the text with a caveat that I’m not highlighting every conjugation. These are the words that Trichotomists say pertain to specific things (and not others) so I wanted to highlight the usage before answering the questions.

  • Naphesh (נֶפֶש) the Hebrew word for living thing is used 754 times. Naphesh is Hebrew so it’s not in the New Testament. Sometimes it’s used of the immaterial part of man (soul), though often it is used as any living thing—including its body.
  • Ruach (ר֫וּחַ) is the Hebrew word for spirit or wind and is used 399 times.
  • Pneuma, the Greek word for spirit (Trichotomists relate this to ruach), is used in the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament.

    LXX: (πνεῦμα) 273 + (πνεύματος) 49 + (πνεύματι) 44 + (πνεύματα) 9 = 383

    NT: (πνεῦμα) 192 + (πνεύματος) 96 + (πνεύματι) 91 + (πνεύματα) 18 = 397 (Strong’s 4151: 383)

  • Psuche (ψυχῆ), the Greek word for Psyche (which Trichotomists equate with the nephesh).

    LXX: (ψυχὴν ) 301 + (ψυχῆς ) 135 + (ψυχὰς) 74 = 510

    NT: (ψυχὴν ) 41 + (ψυχῆς ) 12 + (ψυχὰς) 15 = 68 (Strong’s 5590: 104 Total)

  • Soma is the Greek word for body.

    LXX (σῶμα) 74 + (σώματος) 23 + (σώματα) 22 + (σώματι) 12 + (σωμάτων) 3 = 134

    NT: (σῶμα) 70 + (σώματος) 36  + (σώματα) 10 + (σώματι ) 25 + (σωμάτων ) 1 =142 (Strong’s 4983: 142 Total)

  • Sarx or flesh means physical bodies—the meat, as it were. It is used to refer to living and dead animals. Paul often uses it in a specialized sense that never means “Physical matter” but rather a secular system apart from the control of the Holy Spirit.

    LXX: (σάρξ) 49 + (σάρκινος) 0 + (σαρκὶ)17= 66

    NT:(σάρξ) 54 + (σάρκινος) 1 + (σαρκὶ)39 = 94  (Strong’s 4561. Sarx: 149 Total)

With so much data, we are forced to try to organize it.I’ll approach this in the form of questions that deal directly with the Trichotomist position to see how it holds up. I will not include every single passage in the answering of the questions; I will simply include enough data to show where the preponderance of the evidence lies and how the text uses the words.

1: What part of man is lost and needing salvation?

  • Psalm 35:3 My soul needs salvation
  • Psalm 49:8 soul’s redemption/ransom is costly
  • Psalm 120:2 (Deliver my soul, O Lord) suggesting the soul needing deliverance (in this case from lying lips and a deceitful tongue)
  • Job 33:18 soul is rescued from the pit
  • Psalm 6:4 soul needs delivering
  • Heb 10:39 Having faith unto the saving of the soul
  • 1 Peter 2:11 fleshly lusts wage war against the soul
  • 1 Peter 1:9 The salvation of your souls
  • Peter 1:22 Purified soul
  • James 1:21 Implanted word saves soul
  • Deut 2:30 the hardened spirit (needs unhardening)
  • Psalm 32:2; 51:10 a sinning spirit (needs to stop sinning)
  • Prov 16:2 a judged spirit (is condemned)
  • Rom. 8:10 Spirit only made alive by regeneration
  • 2 Cor 7:1 defilement of body and spirit (needs purification)
  • 1 Cor. 7:34 being devoted in body and spirit

Spirit and Soul are used interchangeably to show that the immaterial needs as much saving as the material aspect of man (Romans 3; John 3). Indeed, some of the passages cited speak of the entire person as “a soul”. So when the Psalmist says in Psalm 120:2 “Deliver me, O Lord” the original text reads “Deliver my soul”. So when the Psalmist goes on to speak of physical things that are injurious to him (his very being) he lists lying. Therefore, the spirit doesn’t stand alone as dead but rather the entire man, as a living being, is demarcated as dead and in active rebellion against God (Ephesians 2:8,9). The idea that the spirit is the only part of man that needs to be brought alive by the new birth unto salvation is therefore erroneous according to Scripture. It’s not just my spirit that is born again, but my entire self. My body catches up at the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15).

2: What part of man can God interact with?

  • John 3: 5 Being born of the spirit to enter the kingdom of God
  • Haggai 1:14 Spirit stirred up to perform work
  • Ezek 1:1 Spirit of Cyrus (unbeliever?) stirred up
  • 1 Chr 5:26 spirit of Pul and Tilgath (evil kings) stirred up by God
  • Philemon 25 grace of Jesus be with your spirit
  • Prov 20:27 spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord
  • 1 Tim 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit
  • Psalm 31:5 person commits spirit to God
  • Psalm 25:1 the soul lifted up to Lord
  • Psalm 54:3-4 God sustains the soul
  • Isaiah 26:9 soul longs for God and spirit seeks God diligently (parallelism)
  • Psalm 63:1 soul thirst for God
  • Psalm 94:17 Bless lord my soul
  • Psalm 130:5 soul waiting for God
  • Luke 10:27 Love the Lord with your entire soul.
  • Romans 8:16 The spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God
  • Colossians 3:16 What are spiritual songs if not things that relate to God?
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20 Glorify God in your body
  • 1 Corinthian 7:34 Unmarried are concerned to be holy to God in body and spirit.
  • Luke 1:46-47: Mary uses a parallelism to show soul and spirit are the same. Soul exalts the Lord, Spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Psuche and pneuma
  • Psalm 30:3 soul brought up from Sheol by God

Scriptures teach that man communes with God in the totality of his being and that there is no nobler aspect of man in which relationship with Him is relegated. God made flesh, and he made it good (Gen 1-2:4) even if he later fell. God made living beings and he made them to be in relationship with him. God can interact with every aspect of man.

People have been made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27), and continue to be in the image and likeness of God (1 Cor 11; James 3:9)—therefore there is no reason to relegate an aspect of man as “lower” and “higher”.

God can communicate with man in the entiretyof his humanity and does so.  Indeed, Scripture consistently reveals God speaking to sinners (Romans 10) with the expectation that they should be able to hear (if they have ears to hear). Their damnation is due to their own active, and full, rebellion: not to an aspect of their personhood being dead.

3: Is thinking only an ability of the soul?

  • Colossians 1:9-10 Filled with knowledge of will in all spiritual wisdom and increasing in knowledge
  • 1 Corinthians 2:11 Thoughts of man known by spirit of man
  • Deut 34:0 Joshua has a spirit of wisdom
  • Ex 28:3 spirit of wisdom given so people can be skilled craftsmen
  • Dan 6:3 extraordinary spirit identified by king in that he had skill
  • Mark 2:8 Jesus is aware in spirit on what people are thinking
  • Job 20:3 Spirit of my understanding
  • Rom 7:14, 23, 25 Spiritual law served by Paul not in flesh but in mind Spirit equated with mind
  • Mal 2:15-16 Take heed with your spirit to not deal treacherously
  • Psalm 139:14 Soul knows that God’s works are wonderful
  • Psalm 94:19 Anxious thoughts combatted with consolations of soul.
  • Deut 4:9 Keeping watch over your soul lest you forget
  • Pet 4:6 Sound mind and sober spirit

There are no passages that relegate thinking solely to a thing called a soul in contradistinction to a thing called spirit. Scriptures teach that thinking is ability innate to man and this ability is seen to be occurring in the entire human. Scriptures identifies thinking occurring by “me” and that immaterial me is sometimes labeled soul and other times spirit.

4: Is emotion only an ability of the soul?

  • Josh. 2:11 Their spirits (courage) failed
  • Judg. 8:3 Their spirit (as in an anger) subsided
  • Matt 26:1; Mark 14:38 Spirit is willing but flesh is weak and tired
  • Matt 26:38 Christ’s soul is grieved to the point of death
  • Job 30:25 Soul grieves
  • Isaiah 54:6 spirit grieves
  • Jeremiah 13:17 soul sobs
  • Psalm 142:3 overwhelmed spirit (when declaring complaints and trouble)
  • Psalm 143:4 David’s spirit is overwhelmed
  • Psalm 143:7 Spirit fails
  • Psalm 51:10 a steadfast spirit
  • Psalm 51:12 a wiling spirit
  • Psalm 51:17 a broken spirit
  • 2 Tim 1:7 not a spirit of timidity or fear but a spirit of power, and love, and discipline
  • Gal 6:1 a gentle spirit
  • 1 Pet 3:4 A quiet and gentle spirit
  • Psalm 77:3 I sigh and my spirit grows faint
  • Is 57:15 contrite spirit sounds like contrite heart (parallelism is used)
  • Acts 17:16 Paul’s spirit provoked
  • Prov. 17:22 a downcast spirit
  • Ecc 7:8 patience and haughtiness of spirit and eager in heart
  • Prov 18:14 broken spirit is not endurable but it can handle sickness
  • Prov 17:22 broken spirit (affects body)
  • Job 7:11 anguish in spirit
  • Psalm 34:18 crushed in spirit
  • Job 15:13 person turning spirit against God
  • Gen 41:8 troubled spirit
  • Gen 45:27 revived spirit
  • 1 Sam 1:15 oppressed in spirit (for sorrow)
  • 1 King 21:5 sullen spirit
  • Dan 2:1 troubled spirit from a bad dream
  • Isaiah 28:6 spirit of justice
  • Isaiah 65:14 broken spirit
  • 1 sam 30:12 revived spirit upon eating food
  • Psalm 78 an unfaithful spirit
  • Gen. 26:35 An embittered spirit (grief)
  • Deut 2:30 hardened spirit equated with obstinate heart
  • Lam 2:11 troubled spirit
  • Dan 7:16 distressed spirit
  • Mark 8:12 sighing deeply in his spirit in sorrow
  • John 11:33 greatly moved in spirit (anger)
  • John 13:21 troubled in spirit
  • Psalm 131:2 composed and quieted soul
  • Psalm 86:2 glad soul
  • Psalm 123:4 soul filled with scoffing
  • John 12:27 trouble soul
  • John 13:21 troubled spirit

Emotions are not ever relegated to the body of man or the soul of man. Rather soul and spirit are often used interchangeably showing the spectrum of emotions throughout the human person. A soul can be glad just as much as a spirit lifted up because it’s different ways of talking about the same thing. In some cases, the spirit is presented as the totality of the person—a quality often relegated to the soul by trichotomists (Isaiah 57:15 ). What’s also interesting is that in many cases, the immaterial affects the material body (when the broken spirit dries up the bones in Prov 17:22). In the end, Scripture teaches that emotions are an aspect of humans—physical or immaterial.

5: What of man continues after death?

  • Genesis 35:18 Soul departs at death
  • Luke 23:46 Spirit departs at death
  • James 2:26 A body without the spirit is dead.
  • Job 26:5 the departed spirits
  • Psalm 76:12 cut off spirit results in death
  • Ecc 12:7 Spirit returns to God (who gave the spirit)
  • Psalm 94:17 Soul dwelling in the place of silence
  • Acts 7:59 Stephen sends his spirit to God
  • 1 Cor 5:5 Destruction of body salvation of Spirit
  • Phil. 1:23 being with Christ after death (soul?)
  • Luke 23:43 Being in paradise after death (soul?)
  • Matthew 10:28 Soul cannot be killed by man. It can be killed by God in hell.
  • Mark 8:36,37 to lose soul is to lose all

Scriptures never say that there are multiple components that go to be with the Lord. Indeed, what Scripture repeatedly teaches is that “absent from the body, present with the Lord” (Col 2:5) even while being “absent in body; present in spirit” with other believers (1 Cor 5:3). In other words, when I die, I (not two parts of me, but me without my body) goes to be with the Lord. This Me doesn’t want to remain in this state (I want to be fully clothed: 1 Cor 5) so I am awaiting the resurrection of my body that has been planted corruptible and will be raised incorruptible (1 Cor 15), even if I would rather be with the Lord than suffering in the present. This is why Scripture can use the terms interchangeably to show that the Immaterial goes to be with the Lord while the Material remains here awaiting to be glorified at the resurrection of the dead.

Nowhere is it more clear than in the death of our savior the Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross he commends his spirit unto the Father gives it up his spirit (pneuma John 19:29) and yet earlier, when he talked about what he was going to do, he says he is giving up his soul (psuche John 10:15; Matt 20:28 ).

Indeed, it would be easy for Scripture to speak about our soul AND spirit departing to be with God. As Grudem says (Grudem, Systematic Theology), you would expect that somewhere, once, it would be mentioned to show that no aspect of our humanity would be left behind.

6: Doesn’t 1 Thessalonians 5:23 clearly teach the three parts of man?

No, rather, the passage teaches that God will sanctify Christians completely and keeping their entirety blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and he’s using terms, that often underscore each other, to reflect that the entirety of the person is kept blameless. Note how Mary speaks about her soul magnifying the Lord and her spirit rejoicing in God (Luk 1:46,47). She’s not saying that two aspects of her are doing different things, she’s underscoring that what she is doing in the fiber of her being (magnifying the Lord) is exemplified in her being completely satisfied in God in the entirety of her person.

Our Lord speaks in a similar way when he says (Luke 10:27) that we are to love the Lord God with all our (1) heart, (2) soul, (3) strength, and (4) mind. He is not saying that humans are actually six parts (5 spirit; 6 bodies) or nine (7 thoughts; 8 joints, 9 marrow via Hebrews)—though some have argued for a multifaceted personhood. Beyond there being some semantic issues (soul and mind were often equated in ancient literature) this is really saying that we’re to love God with our entire being.

Now, I’ve read some writers say that the soul does glorify God but only when the spirit is renewed and rejoicing in the Lord. I think this facile explanation is just a way of ignoring the aspects of the text that are grounded in rules of literature: parallelism, merism, metonymy, chiasmus, etc.

7: Doesn’t Hebrews 4:12 clearly teach that soul and spirit are different parts?

No, rather, the passage teaches that the message of God goes deep into our being and actively does things to us. Our words don’t really cause a physical division of anything; God’s word divides planets and waters (Genesis 1). In this passage they word of God isn’t really dividing (by differentiating between things) but rather is going deep, into the deepest parts of who we are. We can’t hide from this message (Heb 4:13). We’re fully exposed.

Joints and marrow are not being listed as two Different Things but rather a deep aspect of the material man: our innards. Thoughts and Intentions are not being distinguished as two Different Things but our inner thought life. Soul and spirit aren’t being distinguished as two different things but rather as the word piercing deep into the entirety of our non-physical being.

Now, perhaps the person holds to the exact interpretation I gave but says that even though the word is piercing deep, it is also piercing at an area where the Word knows the differences which we don’t. I read a pretty good example somewhere (don’t remember where, probably Lewis Sperry Chafer) that we say the woman who is a mom in the home and a CEO in the office is really, ontologically, two different women. Sure she might function completely differently in both of those spheres and might be called “a totally different person” when she’s in the office versus when she is in the home, but no one in their right mind says that she really is one person that transforms into another like Captain Marvel (Shazam!).

The text in making these statements, this person might believe, reflects different functions to the aspect of man. Our joints function differently from the bones even if we don’t know where, but they’re still the physical man; the left ventricle functions differently from the arteries; our thoughts function differently from our planning; our soul functions differently than our spirit in this or that area—even if we don’t know how, the Word of God can pierce deep into those crevices. In this case, I would say that the proponent is likely a dichotomist (material and immaterial) but a functional trichotomist who wants to add some psychological elements to his or her reading of the text—I’ll agree to disagree, but I see no issue with this correlation of interpretation.

8: Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 14:14 teach that if I pray, the spiritual part of me is praying but my mind doesn’t understand it?

This question assumes that the thought-life is only part of the soul, but the large amount of passages above clearly showed that the thought-life is an aspect of man in his entirety. The point of the passage is to show that sometimes, when we groan in prayer, we might be praying in a way that we might not consciously know what we’re praying.

Imagine the times that you are in serious inner turmoil and you don’t have the words to pray, but you double over and cry out unto God. You don’t even know the content of your prayer since you’re relying on him while in pain, weeping tears, but the prayer is there. Paul can say in Romans 8 that we don’t even know what we should be praying but the Spirit of God who understands the mind of God knows exactly what needs to be uttered. That is exceedingly comforting—much more comforting than thinking there is an element in me that the rest of me just can’t join in communing with the lover of my soul!

9: Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4 clearly teach that Christians have a revived Spirit (they are spiritual) whereas non-Christians can’t relate to God because they are in a natural state?

No. As the above passages showed, the entirety of man can commune with God. In fact, I listed passages where unbelievers were stirred to communicate for God (ie: Balaam, King Saul, Pul, Cyrus, Saul of Tarsus). Indeed, Paul is speaking to believers that he says he can’t speak to as spiritual but as fleshly and yet fully expects them to understand what he’s saying! Rather, the passage is about people who need to be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul says that he can’t address them as spiritual but as merely flesh (1 Cor 3:1): infants in Christ. That is not to say that they just can’t understand what he’s saying but rather that he fully expects them to understand and to stop behaving as people who aren’t under the supremacy and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the huge difference between unbelievers and believers. Not that unbelievers are not able to understand but that unbelievers will not fall under the life-control of the Holy Spirit (without first confessing Christ as Lord 1 Cor 12:1-3). As Paul says about unbelieving Israel: the message was preached unto them, they did understand, they willingly rejected the message, but God remains merciful (Romans 9-11).

10: Does not the trinity of Man reflect the Trinity of God?

I think we can create countless comparisons once we assume what we’re comparing. We can also say that the seven holes in our face (ears, nostrils, eyes and mouth) pertain to the seven spirits of God in Revelation, the seven Churches of the end-times, and the perfect number of God—but we’d be reflecting more an active imagination than anything in Scripture.

Even if humans were three parts, it would be a faulty illustration of the Trinity. God is three persons in one essence; humans are one person and trichotomists teach that the different aspects of man have different roles. If anything, our trinity (if we had such a thing) would be reflecting a heretical image of God!

The fact is that we as a full human have been created in, and are currently reflective of, the image and likeness of God. I know that we as a full human are being conformed to the image of Christ who fully reflects the image of God. I don’t think that means that we must have parts that reflect God parts, or that God has legs or anything like that, so I don’t see a need to have man consist of three parts to reflect the trinity. After all, God isn’t female or male but he thought sexual reproduction was integral to the image of God (male and female made he them) and not a tri-partite marriage—and specifically says that the male and female are his image, together.

11: Doesn’t the trichotomy of man differentiate us from animals?

Animals are flesh (obviously) and they’re also often called living souls (Gen 1) scripture also says that animals have spirit. Trichotomists cite something like Isaiah 31:3 where horses (animals) are listed as flesh and not spirit but the point of the passage isn’t to show that animals have no immaterial component but rather that they are impossibly overpowered when trying to combat God’s forces. In the same verse Egyptians, who are men, are held up against God—who is God!

Scripture repeatedly says that living things have the ruach (Gen 6:17; Job 12:7–10): spirit of life! Indeed, even Balaam’s Donkey, before the Lord opened it’s mouth, was aware of a spiritual being standing in the way of the road—the thing had some sort of awareness (Num 22:22-27) even if it was later by supernatural intervention.

We know that animals (and all of nature) are in active obedience to God (Jonah 2:11; Numbers 22:28; Mark 4:41; 1 Kings 17:4-6; Gen 7:15) even if all creation is groaning under the subjection (Rom 8:20-21). We know that they act primarily by instinct (2 Peter 2:12) and without reason (Jude 10). We also know that animals will be in the Millennium (Isaiah 65:25) and even, somehow, riding with Christ and his people (Revelation 19:14) in the coming judgment.

But we also know that animals are never said to be made in the image of God. We know that Christ never came in the form of an animal to redeem them—he didn’t even do that for the angels. Humans are the ones who are said to be made a littler lower than God to rule over all of creation. We don’t need some fictional invisible component to tell us we’re different from animals; we’re different than animals by the declaration and plan of God.

We are Sons; Fido is not.

12: If not Trichotomy, then what?

Scriptures clearly teach that man has a physical and non-physical aspect. This automatically removes any form of monism, which teaches that man only has one nature—be it physical or spiritual (as in Hinduism).

Scripture also clearly uses soul and spirit interchangeably (see all the evidence above) which makes, as I’ve said, trichotomy exceedingly unlikely.

Scripture teaches that God made the physical, which he labeled as good, and that he redeemed the physical and intends for us to continue on in the physical at the resurrection of the dead. This removes any dichtomous Platonic views that make our bodies an unimportant thing driven by our souls from the world of forms as well as any Neo-Platonic, or even Gnostic views that make material evil and the spirit good.

That being the case, I believe that man’s nature consists of two aspects in one whole person. I am both spirit and material all of which is labeled “Me”. If I lose my body, I am present with the Lord yet actively waiting for the return of my body. It is part of me and it is rightly good, even if currently corruptible.

This proper teaching would result in the rejection of the ancient Gnostic heresy that spirit is part of the divine and flesh is part of the corruptible, evil world.

13: For Jesus to be born sinless and still remain a man, he had to have a divine spirit. This is why, as God, he came as a human with a body, a soul, and the Holy Spirit as his spirit. Isn’t this the correct understanding of Christ’s sinlessness?

No, this is a heresy (381 AD) called Apollinarianism which teaches that Christ’s humanity consisted of a body and a soul but that his divine nature was the Holy Spirit of God. The one Church teaches what Scripture revealed: Christ is fully human (every aspect of him) and fully God. Two natures, never mingled, yet undivided, in one person.

Conclusion: A Way Forward for the Trichotomist

More can be said. I can point out passages where God speaks of his own soul (Amos 6:8) or where some can seriously argue for even more parts to a person (might, heart, kidneys, mind?), but I won’t. I haven’t said anything about what died at the Fall (I think death is separation from God, so we immediately died) but I think that at this point, I’ve made a fairly sustained case for a holistic view of man: one person, two aspects, and that the case is heavily against trichotomy.

Moving forward, I think that Christians need to weigh their position against Scripture and also weigh any ideas against what the Holy Spirit taught the Church over the last 2,000 years of history. Now there was surely error during those years, and major misunderstanding, but some newer ideas are so heavily grounded in ancient heresies, that it is good to see how the Church repeatedly dealt with those things.

The evidence and the history of the Church weigh heavily against some of the variations of trichotomy. If you’re teaching that Jesus has a human body and soul but that his spirit is the Holy Spirit you’re teaching anti-Christian early-Church heresy. If you’re teaching that the material world can not be touched by God, you’re teaching anti-Christian early-Church heresy.  If you’re teaching that unsaved humans are ontologically sub-human (over against functionally sub-human since they’re acting as if they are uncreated and non-contingent) you’re teaching error that is tremendously damaging to the personhood of man. This topic frankly traverses into a multitude of areas so there are enough crossover lines where I think a person can fall into real error (ie: do babies get spirits at birth or are they full persons from conception; did animals evolve as body and soul but then were given the spirit of life to become human; etc.)

But, if you’re looking at the evidence and are convinced that man is three parts without holding to any of the errors I listed above, if you’re speaking of a total human but differentiate between soul and spirit by roles and not nature—as I spoke above—I don’t think you’re teaching falsely. I think that you’re wrong and I would want you to emphasize the holistic unity of man because ideas have real consequences. In your case, I wouldn’t bother arguing with you right up until you make statements that rub up against Scripture (ie: Man doesn’t have the likeness of God which is in direct contrast to James 3:9) or when you make statements that emphasize some sort of psychological fiction (ie: our souls are where our affections come from; our spirit never deals with passions) instead of the way Scripture speaks.

In other words, prepare for me to send you a link to this article if you’re finding yourself constantly emphasizing the division over against the unity.


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  • Morris, L. (1981). Hebrews. (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.)The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation.
  • Nee, W. The Spiritual Man (1968)
  • Pike, P. L., editor, Rosemead Graduate School of Professional Psychology, & Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology. (1998). Journal of Psychology and Theology : Volume 26
  • Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic theology : A popular systemic guide to understanding biblical truth
  • Scofield, C. I. Notes of the Bible
  • Shedd, W. G. T. (2003). Dogmatic theology. (A. W. Gomes, Ed.) (3rd ed., p. 954
  • Strong, A. H. (1907). Systematic theology (pp. 486–487).
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  • Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: for the English reader.
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16 replies on “Is Man Body, Soul and Spirit?”

Hi Rey, I enjoyed your treatise. There are some typos I found that would improve it somewhat. In section #7 there are two instances where they word “say” should have an “s” on the end. in Section #8, cry out onto God should be “unto”. In Section 11 “different ‘by” animals should be “than” animals. You have given one of the most interesting and thorough examinations of the subject that I have seen.

Much appreciated, Floyd. I went and edited those pieces so it should reflect the corrections. The problem of relying to heavily on the computer’s spell check over against a grammatical read!

Rey, thank you for your excellent exposition of the subject. It is the best I have found among articles on the net. I am going to research further some of your references listed below. I am gathering material to write a summary paper for a theology exam. Regards, Norm

Thank you for your work on this. You certainly have done a thorough study on this.

I have an honest question. I often read that the three fold division, SPIRIT, soul and body is a Greek concept. I have looked and looked and cannot seem to find that being the case. Now, a threefold division of the SOUL is very much a Greek concept. I would really appreciate some help verifying this one way or another.

Thank you for taking the time to clarify this,

Sonni Poulsen

Hi Sonni. Wikipedia isn’t helpful here at all. It goes back to what SOUL came to mean and then how that thinking was developed by neoplatonists like Plotinus and by Christian theologian, orthodox and heretics alike.

Clement operated in the realm of stoicism butting up against the tripartite soul of platonists. Clement developed his thinking in that vacuum by relying on the divisions and hierarchies one party put up against another.




Hi, Thank you very much for taking the time to write back, regarding the Greek view. I appreciate that.


Rey, sorry for such a delayed response. I have a gentleman in my men’s group that repeatedly “preaches” the tripartite nature of humankind stressing that our “dead” spirit remains dead until we accept Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. I do not know why I want to battle with him over this (I am exploring my own motivations for “needing” to engage), but I was not taught this and believe it to be a hindrance to teaching how to read the Bible (i.e. literally only or as literature – illocution/perlocution). I mean, the authors of the Bible, guided by the Holy Spirit, used language to affect how people understand God, the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, within the bounds that God allows (there’s still mystery!). Thank you for your work on the topic. I look forward to reading your notes.

Rey, really appreciate the detail you went through to address this. I stumbled on your post due to finding out that dichotomy is a commonly held understanding among believers, from what I gather especially some reformed theologians and Bible teachers (most Christians don’t give this too much thought to this) I decided to search to see why this was so since to me Trichotomy seemed so logical from the verses you mention and arrived at your post

Similar to Jim in the Facebook comment above, I also hold to the Trichotomy view especially with regards to residence of the Christ in us upon our salvation. For most of my life, before I found out about the human spirit as a distinct part from the soul, I struggled to understand where the residence of the Divine Spirit in my was but the testimony of Scripture clearly shows that we are one Spirit with the Lord (1 Cor 6:17) To me this had and has huge implications on my daily walk with the Lord.

To your point about the spirit having some functions of the soul, my understanding has been it is due to residence of the Spirit in our spirit who functions in us

Ultimately, I admit I am neither a theologian nor have any formal training but one aspect in handling matters related to the faith is if it while not compromising any basic items of the faith, does this truth advance our experience and love for the Lord unto our growth in His life and the building up of the church.

Also, on this topic I have received a lot of help from Mary McDonough’s God’s Plan for Redemption ( and a related topic is the matter of how both the Spirit and Christ are in us is addressed by Andrew Murray in the The Spirit of Christ (particularly Chapter

Grace to you all!

Thank you for all the detailed information about this subject. I am wondering where “heart” come in? Could that not be a good way to understand a spirit and soul housed in a body?
When Ezekiel wrote that God would put a new spirit in us and then put His Spirit in us would that therefore make us Holy since His Spirit is called Holy?
I am not wanting to debate but rather understand since I teach around the globe and have really been able to help people see their righteousness in Christ since they are now a “new creature”. Emotional responses in my counseling seem to be from false beliefs that are causing the conflict in their minds and emotions. Where is my choice to choose coming from? Am I free to choose and is that just a psychological term? Jesus said “not my will but thy will be done”. Was that his Spirit in opposition to God or was that the human soul longing for a different outcome? Thanks for all you hard work on this, I am learning a lot!!

I especially appreciate James O. and Gary’s replies. My soul and spirit are, like the most blessed Mary’s, different. Yet they seem healthiest when the two head in the same direction, the soul coming more to recognize the cosmic. Perhaps that potentially healthy intermingling speaks well of the people who cannot tell the difference?

Hey man this paper is really good, I am currently doing a personal research on this topic and I was using this paper as one of the main sources.
After doing some research I had found myself agree with you but then I run into another hebrew word that you dont mention which is the word leb (Strong’s H3820) and it is always translated as heart. It is used to talk about the inner part of a person, or of God in some instances. Its the part that has emotions and it appears in many verses you’ll find. It is clear that it refers to the inner man but not the spirit as it appears some times in contrast to the spirit like in Psalms 34:18 “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart(leb); and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit(ruach).” or also Ezekiel 36:26 “A new heart(leb) also will I give you, and a new spirit(ruach) will I put within you”.

It seems to be clear to me that both leb and ruach are part of the inner man but also that they are seperate as the Lord wants to do some specific divine restoration work on both of them.
So i was wondering why this word is left out by many that hold your position and if you have any insight on this point.

Thanks again for the amazing work you did with this paper.

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