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The Constitution of Man

October 4, 2015

The question, “Am I made up of a spirit, soul and body; do I have three parts as a human being?” is a very important question. The content that Scripture presents concerning the constitution of man is extensive. However, there are several key texts from Scripture that can help elucidate the truth concerning the constitution of man.

To introduce the topic candidly, there are two main views concerning the constitution of man in competition with one another among conservative evangelicals, namely, the Dichotomy view (i.e. man is made up of only body and soul, where soul and spirit are to be understood in Scripture as being used interchangeably to refer to the same immaterial constituent) vs. the Trichotomy view (i.e. spirit, soul and body are three distinct parts of man).  Scripture teaches that the regenerate man has three main parts, namely spirit, soul and body. The main text from Scripture to support Trichotomy concerning man’s constitution is 1 Thessalonians 5:23 which reads, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek construction of this verse is presented this way, “Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης ἁγιάσαι ὑμᾶς ὁλοτελεῖς, καὶ ὁλόκληρον ὑμῶν τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ τὸ σῶμα ἀμέμπτως ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τηρηθείη.” In the Greek construction of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 there is a definite article before each of the three parts mentioned. For example, spirit has a definite article (e.g. “τὸ πνεῦμα” the spirit), soul has the conjunction καὶ (and) with a definite article directly before it (e.g. “ἡ ψυχὴ” the soul) and the word for body has a καὶ conjunction and a definite article before it (e.g. “καὶ τὸ σῶμα” and the body). The exact same construction is found in Matthew 28:19 for the doctrine of the Trinity to show that God is one in three distinct persons (e.g. “βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος). Each member of the Trinity has a definite article to show distinction of personhood. Also the verse reveals that God is one being. It is important to clearly articulate that the Trichotomist argument is not an argument for the Doctrine of the Trinity, because it is wrong to use that which is created as a way to define the Creator (e.g. the soul, spirit, and body are not one God in three persons in which three persons are distinct yet are one being, substance, essence or nature, co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial yet three distinct persons). The argument concerning the human constitution being three parts is based on comparing the way the grammar is presented in Greek. For example, both verses (i.e. Matt 28:19; and 1 Thess 5:23) reveal both unity and distinction based on the grammar construction.  The Granville Sharp rule number six claims that for nouns that all have the same cases (e.g. each spirit, soul, and body are in the nominative case), are joined together in a sentence by the conjunction kai (i.e. “and”) and where each noun has a definite article (i.e. “the”) which is directly before each noun, the second noun is a different person, thing, or quality than the first noun.

Moreover, there is a distinction between soul and spirit in the Gospel of John based on the lexical meaning/value of each word itself and also based on the context in which each word is found. For example, John 12:27 reads of Jesus being troubled in His soul ψυχή (psuche) when the text reads, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour ‘? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” In John 13:21 John describes the Lord Jesus being troubled in His spirit about his immanent prophesied betrayal to fulfill Scripture when Scripture records the following, “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.’” Why would John not use the exact same word (e.g. soul “psuche”) in John 13:21 that he used in the immediate preceding chapter if he was not indicating two different parts? There is nothing in the context that explicitly claims that the words “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably. His spirit in John 13:21 is not the Person of God the Holy Spirit, but Jesus’ human spirit. Jesus is God in human flesh, that is Two Natures united in One Person Christ (“acknowledged in two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ”). The Lord Jesus Christ is fully God, that is, He is every way God is in His Divine Nature. Jesus Christ is distinct from the Father in Person yet One Essence, Substance or Nature with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (co-essential and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, Jesus is YHWH). Jesus is also fully man, that is, Jesus Christ is every way man is in His human nature except the Lord Jesus is without sin (Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5). The Lord Jesus has a soul, spirit and body.

The Greek word soul ψυχή (psuche) just by itself is used in the NT to identify just an entire person/individual. For example, after Peter’s amazing sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts, the Scripture claims that about three thousand souls were saved (cf. Acts 2:41). Souls is used in this context to simply mean individuals. Concerning every single person who has ever lived, each person has an immortal soul. This is to be understood that every single person (i.e. scope of humanity) that has been, is or will be in the future is born with an immortal soul. Human persons are creatures (except the Lord Jesus who is God in human flesh, the agent of creation and its Redeemer) and human persons as creatures have a point in time when they were created and brought into existence, however each person will exist for all of eternity, because everything that God does will last forever (cf. Ecc 3:14), God has created man and set eternity in man’s heart (cf. Ecc 3:11), therefore man will remain for eternity. Man will remain for eternity in one of two places, (i.e. the unredeemed souls will remain for eternity in Hell paying God back for breaking His law, whereas the redeemed souls will remain in Heaven for eternity because Jesus being their Redeemer and them being joined to Him in and by means of substitution on the cross, Christ has secured the salvation of their souls forever). The reason this argues that man is three parts is because every person has a soul but not every person has a new spirit that has been given them by God as a result of the new covenant and thus the new birth. In the new covenant God gives persons (i.e. souls) a new heart, a new spirit, and He puts His Spirit in a person (i.e. God the Holy Spirit causes a person to be regenerate and takes up residence inside the regenerate person). For example, Ezekiel 36:26-27 argues for a Trichotomy view of the believer when the text reads the following, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Notice in this verse that the NASB translation identifies the first spirit as lowercase and the second Spirit mentioned as God’s Spirit as uppercase, referring to God the Holy Spirit.

The unbelieving are spiritually dead (i.e. those who have not been born again by God the Holy Spirit, and as such have not become spiritually alive to trust in Christ to save them from the wrath of God). For example, in the new covenant a person is given a spirit from God along with God the Holy Spirit to understand spiritual truths. Those who have not been born again have neither a new spirit from God to receive revelation from God nor God the Holy Spirit living inside of them. The most explicit Scripture concerning the absolute necessity of receiving a spirit from God and primarily to have the Holy Spirit of God to understand spiritual things is 1 Corinthians 2:14 which contrasts the natural man (i.e. the spiritually dead man) vs the spiritual man (i.e. the spiritually alive man in Christ) when the text reads, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” It should be understood by the reader that this writer is making a connection between Ezekiel 36:26-27 with 1 Corinthians 2:14. Likewise,  Romans 8:16 reveals that God the Holy Spirit (upper case Spirit) testifies with the believer’s spirit (lowercase spirit) that the believer is in fact a child of God (cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13). Moreover, when Paul was absent in body from the Corinthians he was present with them in spirit concerning the church discipline described in 1 Corinthians 5:3. His soul did not leave his body to join with the Corinthians, but he was “in spirit” with them.

The Dichotomy view argues that spirit and soul are used synonymously concerning all the arguments given above. But the Dichotomy view is heavily based on Greek Philosophy. The Dichotomy view is more compatible with Plato’s allegory of the Cave which creates an non-holistic view of body and soul but rather a dichotomy between soul and body making the body (the material) a prison for the soul and soul (the immaterial) needing to be released from the body to join the esoteric spiritual realm of the non-particulars. There are only two realities in Plato’s cave. There are not three! Dichotomy comes from Plato’s cave (not Trichotomy!). What is more, Trichotomy is not charismatic. Although the following argument it is not an absolute argument (because it appeals to man), it is interesting that the most influential continuationist theologian, namely Wayne Grudem, is a dichotomist, whereas the greatest exegete in the 20th century, that is S. Lewis Johnson, who was a staunch cessationist, believed that the Word of God taught Trichotomy. Likewise, James Montgomery Boice, one of the greatest expositional preachers of the 20th century, was a staunch cessationist and believed that the Word of God taught Trichotomy. The Prince of Preachers, C.H. Spurgeon believed that the Word of God taught Trichotomy. Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is this, why would these three men who were staunchly against charismatic theology hold a charismatic doctrine in the realm of the constitution of man unless they were deceived hypocrites? Do you not think that they thought this issue through? Do you not think that they considered these implications related to the doctrine of pneumatology?

The constitution of man is holistic. It should be understood that man is a unity – that is, a whole person. The commandment, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) means that we are to love the LORD will all of our being. All of the intricacies of everything material (physical) and non-material (metaphysical) of the constitution of man is very complicated. That is why the Word of God “cuts” and divides all the parts of man so that no part of man is hidden. There is clearly distinction of parts that the Word of God surgically divides; “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

In conclusion, there are two main views concerning the constitution of man, namely the Dichotomy view and the Trichotomy view. Scripture teaches the Trichotomy view – that is, man is made of three parts, namely the spirit, and the soul, and the body.

-Eric Powers

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