Genesis 2:7 tells us that “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” This passage raises an interesting question: what is man made of?
There are three basic view of the nature of man. Some believe that man is a body, soul and spirit (trichotomy). Others believe that man has two parts: our visible bodies and invisible souls (dichotomy). Then there are those who believe that man is nothing more than a body (monism).
The last view (monism) is clearly non-Christian, but which of the other two should Christians accept? Before we continue, we need an important reminder: Scripture emphasises the unity of man. The whole man was created by God to exist in a unity. Our salvation touches the whole man and will only be complete with the restoration of our whole being (1 Cor. 7:34; 2 Cor. 7:1). That being said...
There are a number of Scriptures that use soul and spirit interchangeably (John 12:27; 13:21; Luke 1:46-47). The dead are either called spirits (Heb. 12:23) or souls (Rev. 6:9) and at death either the soul or the spirit departs (Luke 12:20; Ps. 31:5). There are also occasions where man is described as a body and soul (Matt. 10:28) or a body and spirit (1 Cor. 5:5; Jam. 2:26).
Arguments for trichotomy focus on 1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12. In 1 Thess. 5:23 Paul is simply piling on synonyms for emphasis (much like Jesus does in Mark 12:30). The same holds true for Heb. 4:12. The weight of evidence is with dichotomy: man as unity of body and soul.
Why is this important? Because we need to guard against two common errors associated with trichotomy. The first is to assume that only spiritual things matter. Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good. The second is to assume that the mind is an enemy. Anti-intellectualism robs our faith of its substance. Be a complete Christian, who understands that our visible bodies and our invisible inner man (spirit and soul) have to be submitted to serving Christ.
Because of Christ,
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