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Most Christians fall into either one of these views:

1) Dichotomist - believing that humans are made up of mainly two parts: material (body) and immaterial (soul/spirit, seeing these two as interchangeable)

2) Trichotomist - believing that humans are made up of mainly three parts: body, soul and spirit (distinguishing between soul and spirit)

Do you believe there is to be a distinction between soul and spirit, or are they interchangeable words and descriptions for the inward part of humanity?

Tags: dichotomy, soul, spirit, trichotomy

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Scott...just another quick thought...what impact does such an wholistic anthropology have on your pneumatology? For example, practically speaking, can we differentiate between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ? If it is the same 'Spirit of Adoption' by whom we cry "Abba, Father" that actually indwells us, then the baptism of the Spirit is not so much a "receiving" the Holy Spirit, as He already lives in us, but rather, a release of the "power of the spirit". Historically, have Pentecostals utilised incorrect theological terminology (such as 'receiving the Holy Spirit') leading to a sort of exclusivism (we have the Holy Spirit, like some sort of spiritual copyright) at the detriment to the evangelical church receiving Charismatic type experiences, and generally becoming an obstacle to unity for the ecumenical at heart?
Here is further reason why I believe there is a distinction between soul and spirit. 1st Corinthian 2:14-15 lists 3 types of men: Soulish, spiritual, and fleshly. It says soulish people reject Gods wisdom, yet people who are spiritual accept it. If the soul and spirit are the same, how would this scripture make sense? And as for 1 Thess. 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12, dichotomists reason that soul and spirit can be used interchangably. But even if thats true(I think so) then it still wouldnt make sense in this scripture. Would Paul write, "I pray your whole soul, soul and body be preserved...?"

Another reason is Romans 6. This passage says we are dead to sin and CANT live in it any longer. Yet, we know our flesh can sin. We know our mind can sin, it can even be guilty of sexual immorality. So in what sense are we dead to sin? It also says we are perfect and just. Yet if we offend in one part we are guilty of all. How then are we perfect and just? Hebrews 12:23 says our spirits are made perfect. The blood of Christ has cleansed our spirits.

This also clears up questions Ive had that bugged me. 1st John 3:9 says Gods child cant sin, but 1 John 1:8 says if we say we have no sin, we lie. Thats a tough one. But it makes sense to me if the spirit is perfected and soul and body are still affected by sin. And Id say they are, unless anyone here can say they have not sinned in mind or body sense their rebirth.
Well, I guess I'm a septchotimist (believing the incarnated individual has seven parts or bodies) - but I won't go into the details on that.

But yes, soul and spirit are two very different things, the main distinction between them being that the former is absolutelty indestructable and eternal, being an aspect of the pure substance of the deity, while the later embodies potential (the potential of the individual to become Christlike/Godlike or not to) and is mortal (the so-called "second death"). The point of life is to wed the soul to Christ, wherby one puts on one's permanent immortality in God and relates from the level of Spirit.
physical body, mind, spirit.

First of all, Hebrews 4:12 informs me that that there is a distinct difference between the soul and the spirit.

"For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires."


Right away, I notice it's clearly stated there is a division between soul and spirit.  Plus if I were to simply chalk this up to hyperbole or a Hebraism or something else like that, these arguments seem to be shot down right away by the addition of "joins and marrow" following. Which, in fact, are two real and actual totally different things which could actually be divided.  If there is to be any sort of comparison, it seems this would strongly suggest that the previous two things (soul and spirit) are in fact two separate things.


So, with that said, I think there is a definite difference between the soul and spirit.  So I don't think there is any sort of legitimacy to the idea that the two are some how the same exact thing. But, at the same time, I don't look at it like having two lungs in my body or that more than my one body and my immaterial self will be walking around in eternal state. So, without going into the logistics of it, I guess that makes me a dichotomist.

Hmm well I guess I'd be better being called a trichotomist.  But whatever.

All of you arguing for the distinction between body, soul and spirit have done a great job demonstrating from Scriptue their certain separation. Those arguing otherwise do so from passages that are either not intended to present their special properties in contrast to one another or are simply less definitive but neither should be permitted to override the more definitive passages. Bad theology/hermeneutic. I especially appreciate deconstructing the fallacial treatment of Hebrews in the claim it is hyperbole by pointing out that it would make no constructive literary sense to suddenly abandon it regard regarding the immediately following reference to the joints and marrow. You have wisely chosen the more definitive texts vs the less definitive.

I think if we look at where things started - in the beginning (Gen 2) - we see this picture:


1) Adam's body created

2) God breathed, or spirited, into Adam

3) Adam became a living being (chay nephesh)


It's interesting that it does not tell us man was given a part called soul. We are told that man became a living being, an alive soul.


Mathematically, it would look something like this: body + spirit = living soul


I think we need to start there and work our way through the Scripture. It might be easy to run to Heb 4:12 or 1 Thess 5:23. But forming a biblical theology on this matter might ask that we begin in the beginning. And we let the beginning help us as we move along the trajectory of the fuller canon of Scripture.


I'd probably note that Jesus mentioned we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. But I'm not so certain he was trying to divide us into 4 parts, into a quatrachotomy. His statement was holistic. Whether one ultimately wants to hold to human beings made of 2 parts or 3 parts (or 4 parts??), we must be holistic in our approach, which some can easily forget. I also feel that to say, as some argue, that our 'soul' is the part of us that is our emotions, feelings and the will, is a bit of a misnomer. Of course, I would agree in some sense. But I would not denote it as a part of us. We are chay nephesh and human beings have emotions, feelings and a will. And, as an important aside, it is interesting how soul and spirit can be interchangeable within the Psalms.


Finally, most comment that it is human beings that are the only creation with souls (again, I'd argue it isn't a part, but the essence of being living-alive). But the same phrase (chay nephesh) is utilised for the animals in Gen 1:20-21. It seems the animals were living beings (chay nephesh) and did not have a 'part' called the soul. They had been created alive creatures/beings. It's what the text tells us in Gen 1:20-21. So I would personally question the argument that the soul is a part of us. It's possible we need to fold Heb 4:12 and 1 Thess 5:23 into a greater biblical theology that begins in the beginning.

Fold into a theology biblical theology? I have yet to encounter the hermemeutic principle of "folding" and your citation is one passage, difficult to see this as a "greater biblical theology".

Alex -


Isolated verses might not accomplish much here. Hence, why I encouraged us to 'fold' them into a fuller biblical theology that sweeps across Scripture. I frequently find trichotomists skipping over to Heb 4:12 and 1 Thess 5:23.


I think we all practice this folding mechanism I referred to. We just call it other things. Everyone folds particular passages into their system, whatever that system might be. I do it as well. We all do it. It is a hermeneutic we practice regularly.


I tried to quote more than 1 passage. I think I referenced 4 passages - specifically 2 in early Genesis, overall to the way the Psalms address things, and to Jesus' teaching in the Gospels about loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength.


And I would say that starting in the beginning will probably be helpful. It is interesting to note how chay nephesh was utilised in Gen 1 and 2. And I wonder if this might inform the rest of our biblical theology on the chay nephesh.


I'd be happy for you to engage with the Genesis passages or other references I referred to.

I accept first mention precedence but first mention is not comprehensive and appears to be treated this way. Maybe time will permit greater interaction but today and tomorrow may limit e to anecdotes.

I posted something about this before, but it's been a long time.


I suggest it is perhaps unhelpful to think in terms of "two parts" vs. "three parts" in the human makeup. We are complex beings, and different cultures have varying terms for aspects of our being which can be distinguished.


How many colors are in the rainbow? Traditionally we say "seven," oddly including indigo, though we really have six first degree color terms there: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. Everyone knows what these terms are and they are very useful. But they are not real and discrete entities, but arbitrary slices in a spectrum. One kind of blue is closer to a certain kind of green than it is to a blue of the other extreme.


We can also slice this into cool and warm colors. Or some cultures combine blue and green.


Thinking of a person, we can easily conceive of dividing between material and immaterial. It is also possible to distinguish within the immaterial an element that is common to all people (and even beasts?) which has to do with consciousness, volition, contemplation, cognition etc.... distinguish that from that element which in regenerate persons interacts and receives communication with God's Spirit.


One can conceive of this as happening with the immaterial aspect of a person, or more specifically conceive this as the province of some particular aspect of the immaterial.


This is to say, there may not be a primary, ontological two-ness or three-ness to man's makeup, but we can say that within the immaterial aspect there are further distinguishable facilities.


At least, I think we see the Scriptural writers employing pneuma and psuche in ways that are not synonymous. I think it remains to be seen whether these become technical terms, pneuma always meaning what Paul uses it to mean, for example. When only one term is used, it is hard to say anything with much conviction. But at least in verses such as Heb. 4:12 and 1 Thes. 5:23, I think we are safe in saying that there the soul does not equal the spirit. They are distinguished.


The most significant evidence is not with the nouns but with the related adjectives. Paul clearly contrasts people who are pneumatikos "spiritual" with those who are psuchikos "natural" in 1 Cor. 2:14-15. Now there are different ways to understand this. But it sure seems to me that here Paul is communicating an understanding of spirit and being something quite different from soul.


This doesn't necessarily mean other authors follow this distinction, or that they are technical terms or that here the Bible describes THE parts of man's makeup.

That being said, I don't think the best course is to proclaim "trichotomy" over "dichotomy" per se, but to realize that undertanding a difference between a person's soul and a person's spirit is a perfectly valid Scriptural and apostolic understanding.

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