Scripture refers to man as a unified, complex, singular being having two elements:  a body and a soul. Man is not a duality, he is a unity 1.  God created mankind as a physical and spiritual being.   Louis Berkhof said, “It is customary, especially in Christian circles, to conceive of man as consisting of two, and only two, distinct parts, namely, body and soul. This view is technically called dichotomy.”2  This was the Augustinian view, and is a more unified view of man than the trichotomist view.

The mysterious union between body and soul has been referred to as the "union of life"3.  Some theologians across church history have taken a pagan Greek-oriented, platonic,  trichotomous view of man (1 Thessalonians 5:23 – spirit, soul and body).  However, the terms spirit, soul, heart, and mind are used interchangeably in Scripture (1 Corinthians 5:3; 1 Corinthians 7:34; Matthew 10:28; Luke 1:46–47; Matthew 6:25; Ecclesiastes 12:7; 1 Corinthians 5:5).  A point of danger with the trichotomous view is the semi-pelagian error that "the spirit is excepted from the original sin which affected the body and soul"4.  This can lead to the belief that man is not fully depraved, not truly dead in his trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13).

The trichotomous view further “allows for the typically American idol, namely the conception that the human will, and not the grace of God, is the ultimate factor in determining just where, exactly, we will spend our eternity.” 5 The trichotomous view can also lead to the conception that the believer’s body is not “saved” (Erasmus’ trichotomous view), Another point of danger in the trichotomous view is that humans are seen as essentially spiritual beings rather than a unity of body and soul (there is then an exaltation of the soul/spirit/heart over the body); this allows for teachings that the body is bad, and makes us sin.  However, the body is not inherently evil (a gnostic idea), nor is it the prison-house of the soul.  Yet another influence of the trichotomous understanding is Pentecostalism.  In this understanding, Pentecostals argue that “the spirit is the higher element of human nature...'speaking in tongues' is the divinely appointed means of bypassing the lower elements of human nature, such as the rationality of mind and soul. In the Pentecostal scheme, we can commune with God directly, without the hindrances of the lower elements of human nature and language.”  6

Genesis 2:7 refers to man as a singular “living soul”.   Humans are one person, and from a counseling perspective, a person cannot blame their body for sinning; when they sin, their “whole” person sins (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Man’s dichotomous nature features an inner aspect and an outer aspect; an inner man (a person’s “soul”) and an outer man (a person’s body).  All issues of life “spring” from the soul/heart…a person’s treasures, thoughts, words, feelings and deeds (Matthew 12:34, Proverbs. 4:24-26, Matthew 15:18).  The outer man was affected by the Fall and is now subject to entropy and eventual corruption (Genesis 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:16).   This does not make the body evil in and of itself (it was created good, Genesis 1:31).  Instead, our sin nature has “wrongly programmed” 7our body (including our brains), which results in impairments and defects because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  “Because its orien­tation is away from God it habituates the body, so that when adverse things happen (people say something critical, problematic situations develop, pressures come), the body is taught to respond habitually to those circumstances, in sinful ways. This nature programs the body to respond wrongly... Your body is acted upon by your mind, and the body itself responds by acting according to its predispositions.” 8The body has a “mind of its own” (pun intended):  it has desires and bad patterns that get established (e.g., pornography, eating habits, idleness, laziness, spending, anger, etc.).  Sin literally has the effect of damaging the presentation of our bodies through the quenching of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

However, the Believer’s body is called the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Romans 8:11 says that God, through the Spirit, will give life to the believer’s “mortal body” in the here and now.  God’s Holy Spirit, the Word of God (John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26), the death of Christ (Galatians 2:20, Galatians 5:24) and our union with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30) change our desire and empower good choices (Hebrews 12:14, 2 Timothy 2:21-22) and breaking of bad habits, enabling us to increasingly present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1-2).  Knowing that our true citizenship is in heaven, we cling to a future hope waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ, who will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

  1. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology.
  2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology.
  3. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1932, p. 195).
  4. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, repr. 2008), p. 51.
  5. Kim Riddlebarger.  Trichotomy:  Beachhead for Gnostic Influences., p. 4.
  6. Kim Riddlebarger.  (Trichotomy:  Beachhead for Gnostic Influences., p. 4.
  7. Jay Adams.
  8. Jay Adams.

1 Comment

  1. Elias Msughter Aondover on April 10, 2022 at 11:53 pm

    The Reformed standard of the nature of man.