Home > Dichotomy, Theology > Dichotomy, Trichotomy which is Biblicaly Correct?

Dichotomy, Trichotomy which is Biblicaly Correct?

I have lived with an assumption for most of my Christian life. I have assumed that man consists of three parts, body, soul, and spirit. The body is my flesh with its five senses, touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight. God breathed into man and he became a living soul Genesis tells us. We are in touch with the soul. In it resides our will, our mind, and our emotions. The mind is in the soul while the brain is in the flesh. They are two distinct things. Scripture says that God’s Spirit speaks to man’s spirit. Man’s spirit involves spiritual communion, feelings, and discernment. The spirit communicates between God and man’s soul. The soul communicates between man’s spirit and his flesh. The flesh is visible and material, while the soul and the spirit are immaterial and unseen. The soul and spirit go on to be with the Lord after death and are united with a new spiritual body, one that is incorruptible and far different from our earthly body.

Happy me until I began to listen to Dr. William Lane Craig’s U-tube series on the Doctrine of Man. There Dr. Craig made the case that man is in fact body and soul/spirit with soul and spirit being synonymous. In his view man is dichotomous not trichotomous. The words mean cut in two parts or cut in three parts. I like Dr. Craig very much and he left me with my jaw all slack and quivery. He also left me with the feeling that he had done some hand waving enough to draw conclusions that were in agreement with Protestant doctrine since the Reformation and that was that. His exegesis did not reflect the level of scholarship I expect from him, so I began to explore the subject. There are a good number of defenders of dichotomy out there.

It seems that the very early Church writers were trichotomous. Augustine came along arguing for dichotomy. Later the Greeks with their views of purity and idealism separated the invisible from the visible and espoused trichotomy. Soon the Eastern Church with its Greek influence went to man in three parts while the Latin Church held to a view of man in two parts. With the Reformation the body, soul/spirit view prevailed. It appears that my view is the odd man out perhaps and that means that I must be cautious. Some commentators approach the subject with humility and they split the baby by not taking any sides. They admit to the controversy. Some exegetes seem to take the dichotomy side in order to protect their broader doctrinal view. In both cases, the arguments seem to be those of Dr. Craig and again less than persuasive.

The question in my mind was why the two words soul and spirit if they were synonymous. I had the feeling that they were two distinct things while Dr. Craig was saying they were two functions while being one substance. I found an article that resolved this question in favor of trichotomy. It takes the arguments for dichotomy subjecting them to the light of logic and to what Scripture says on the subject. I will not repeat the arguments here, but I will provide a link.

The paper resolved many of my questions and in particular documented the clear differences and similarities in the Biblical use of soul and spirit. The writer clearly makes the point that soul and spirit are not interchangeable. They are not synonymous and to make them so diminishes the richness that the two concepts bring to our understanding of who we are as Christians.

Jump to the link and see if you agree.


Dr. Craig’s Doctrine of Man series is found at this link.


Categories: Dichotomy, Theology Tags: ,
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