Chapter 14 - The Essential Elements of Human Nature


are two theories with reference to the essential elements of human nature. We note them in the following order:

I. THE TRICHOTOMOUS THEORY

The two following passages are held by some to teach a three-fold division of human nature into body, soul and spirit, —these constituting three distinct elements in man’s nature:

"Me God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess. 5:23).

"The word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).

We reject this theory for the following reasons:

1. If the three-fold enumeration in 1 Thess. 5:23 must he taken as signifying three distinct elements in man, then Matt 22:37 must he taken as naming at least one additional element, making four in all.

Matt. 22:87 reads: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind." It needs to be noted that this passage, in the light of the interpretation of 1 Thess. 5:23 by the advocates of the trichotomous theory, makes the heart and mind different elements in man’s nature. Now it may be said that "mind" in this passage is identical with "spirit" in 1 Thess. 5:23. But the "heart" cannot be identified with anything in 1 Thess. 5:23, since "soul," as well as heart, is mentioned in Matt. 22:37. So, for the advocates of the trichotomous theory, in the light of their interpretation of 1 Thess. 5:23, there is no escape from the necessity of holding a four-fold division of human nature.

2. Just as it is manifest from the Scripture that "heart" and "mind" do not designate separate elements of human nature, so this is also manifest of "soul" and "spirit."

We presume all will agree that "heart" and "mind" represent, not two distinct elements of human nature, but only two faculties; the mind being specially the faculty of knowledge and the heart the faculty of feeling. Later we will show that it is just as manifest that soul and spirit are not distinct.

3. Heb. 4:12 need not be taken as referring to a division between the soul and spirit, as though they are separable elements.

Rather we think it refers to "the piercing of the soul and of the spirit, even to their very joints and marrow; i. e., to the very depth of the spiritual nature (A. H. Strong).

4. The terms "spirit" and "soul" are used interchangeably in the Scripture.

See Gen. 41:8, as compared with Ps. 42:6; John 12:27, as compared with John 13:21; and Heb. 12:23, as compared with Rev. 6:9. This interchangeable use of the two terms is fatal to the trichotomous theory.

5. Only two elements of human nature are indicated in the creation of man.

God first created man’s body. Then into the nostrils of that body He breathed the breath (spirit) of life, and man thus became a living soul. Cf. Gen. 2:7. Man did not first come to be a living soul or to possess a soul, and then receive the spirit in addition. It was the reception of the spirit that made him a living Soul.

6. Jesus divided human nature into two elements only.

In Matt. 10:28 Jesus said: "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." If there are three elements in human nature, what becomes of the third when the body and soul go to bell?

If Eccl. 12:7 is offered in answer to this question, we reply that the Hebrew word translated "spirit" in this passage, cannot be taken as meaning "spirit" in the sense that we are here using it; it merely means breath. In reply to this, it may be said that, if the Hebrew word here means only breath, then it means the same in Gen. 2:7, where we have interpreted it to mean spirit. But since, after the departure of the breath, man continues to be a living soul, as evidenced by his eternal conscious suffering, in case he goes to hell (Gehenna), it must be understood that the word in Gen. 2:7 means more than breath.

Let it not be understood that we are here saying that there is never any distinction whatever made between soul and spirit. While they are most frequently used synonymously, yet sometimes a vague distinction is traceable. But this distinction is not between different elements of human nature. When a distinction is made, the two terms merely "designate the immaterial principle from different points of view" (A. H. Strong). "We conclude that the immaterial part of man, viewed as an individual and conscious life, capable of possessing and animating a physical organism, is called ‘psuke’ (soul); viewed as a rational and moral agent, susceptible of divine influence and indwelling, this same immaterial part is called ‘pneuma’ (spirit). The ‘pneuma’ (spirit), then, is man’s nature looking God-ward, and capable of receiving and manifesting the ‘Pneuma Hagion’ (Holy Spirit); the ‘psuke’ (soul) is man’s nature looking earthward, and touching the world of sense. The ‘pneuma’ (spirit) is man’s higher part, as related to spiritual realities or as capable of such relation; the ‘psuke’ (soul) is man’s higher part, as related to the body, or as capable of such relation. Man’s being is therefore not trichotomous but dichotomous, and his immaterial part, while possessing duality of powers, has unity of substance. Man’s nature is not a three-storied house, but a two-storied house, with windows in the upper story looking in two directions—toward earth and toward Heaven. The ‘lower story’ is the physical part of us—the body. But man’s ‘upper story’ has two aspects; there is an outlook toward things below, and a skylight through which to see the stars" (Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 246). "Soul is spirit modified by union with the body" (Hovey).

II. THE DICHOTOMOUS THEORY

In view of all the foregoing considerations we hold to the dichotomous theory of human nature rather than the trichotomous theory. The dichotomous theory views man as being composed of two parts, one material (body) and the other immaterial (either soul or spirit).

We have already justified this theory, at least to our own satisfaction, against the trichotomous theory. It remains now only for us to answer those who refuse even a two-fold division of man’s nature and deny that the soul is an actual element, distinct from the body. As proof that the body and soul are two distinct elements, we offer the following arguments:

1. Jesus said that man cannot kill the soul.

See Matt. 10:28. And in this same passage He also said that man can kill the body. Therefore the body and soul are distinct elements.

2. Man continues to exist after the body is gone back to dust.

For proof of this see the chapter on "The Present State of the Dead."

3. Physical death is spoken of as the departing of the soul from the body and a coming to life again is spoken of as the soul’s coming again into the body.

See Gen. 35:18; 1 Kings 17:22. Sometimes the Hebrew word in these passages for "soul" (nephesh) means merely life. But such a meaning does not make good sense in 1 Kings 17:22, for it is stated there that "the soul of the child came into him again and he revived" or lived again. To translate "nephesh" here as "life" would make the words read: "The life of the child came into him again and he lived again."

4. Paul calls the body merely our earthly house, and says that we shall have another house after the dissolution of this body.

See 2 Cor. 5:1-4. This other house is the spiritual body which believers will receive in the resurrection. Thus the inner man or soul may move out of this house and into another one, and is, therefore, as distinct in substance and separable in nature from the body as the human body is from the house it lives in. The physical body is only the soul’s earthly dwelling-place.