Theological Models of Man

This is the second post in my series on annihilationism (please see my first post “Is There a Case for Annihilationism?” if you haven’t already). After studying the topic for a while it became clear that how we view the make-up of mankind determines how we interpret many passages that bear on the ultimate destiny of all humans.

I was raised believing, and still hold to, the teaching that all people are born dichotomous (having a body and soul only). Then when a person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ one of the things they receive is a human spirit thereby becoming trichotomous.

Many Christians don’t care about such things considering them to be academic navel gazing but what you believe on this topic impacts your interpretation of scripture more than you may realize. To make the point clear when it comes to the topic at hand let’s take a look at the following verse of scripture:

Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].
Matthew 10:28

For anyone who believes that all people are dichotomous (body & soul/material & immaterial only) this verse may not jump out at them. For those who believe that only unbelievers are dichotomous, having no spirit, this appears to be a threat to destroy all that an unbeliever is. In other words this verse seems to speak of annihilation of the unbeliever.

To be fair there are many fine Christians who believe that unbelievers are dichotomous and believers are trichotomous that will have no part with annihilationism. They may very well be right and I have no quarrel with them. However I want to get the point across of why your understanding of what constitutes a person is important to this topic.

I have been studying up on this topic and want to share some of the background information with you. First I want to provides some quotes from John B. Woodward’s book Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body: A Study of Biblical Psychology which defends the trichotomous model. I will then quote from Robert B. Thieme, Jr.’s Doctrine of the Human Spirit. Once again in the interest of fairness I want to make it clear that I have no reason to believe that John Woodward would entertain the idea of annihilation. Since I grew up under Colonel Thieme’s ministry I know that he would dogmatically and unequivocally deny annihilation of the unbeliever.

From Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body: A Study of Biblical Psychology:

Monism

Monism is the theological model that believes man is comprised of only one part. Although soul and spirit are identified as aspects of human nature, they do not consist of separable parts of man. Monism opposes both dichotomy and trichotomy, the usual evangelical models of man. As Phillip Hefner contends, “Contemporary understanding of the human being and the human personality structure do not allow either a dichotomous or trichotomous view, except metaphorically.

In his discussion of the models of man’s constitutional nature, Millard Erickson (as a dichotomist) writes:

Monism insists that a man is not to be thought of in any sense composed of parts or separate entities, but rather as a radical unity. In the monistic understanding, the Bible does not view man as body, soul, and spirit, but simply as a self. The terms sometimes used to distinguish parts of man are actually to be taken as basically synonymous. Man is never treated in the Bible as a dualistic being.

Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body: A Study of Biblical Psychology
by John B. Woodward
p 3

Dichotomy

This view of human nature sees man’s constituent elements as two-the physical and the spiritual. The term “dichotomy” derives two Greek roots: diche, meaning “twofold” or “into two”; and temnein, meaning “to cut”. Augustus Strong states his view:

Man has a twofold nature,-on the one hand material, on the other immaterial. He consists of body, and of spirit, or soul. That there are two, and only two, elements in man’s being, is a fact to which consciousness testifies. This testimony is confirmed by scripture, in which the prevailing representation of man’s being is that of dichotomy.

Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body: A Study of Biblical Psychology
by John B. Woodward
p 7

Multifaceted

In the attempt to discern the parts of man, a variation on the views described above is that man has a plurality of aspects that defy a decisive distinction of spirit, soul, and body. In addition to studying psuche and pneuma, other aspects of man need to be identified and incorporated into man’s makeup. The following is a sample list of such faculties with brief definitions…

Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body: A Study of Biblical Psychology
by John B. Woodward
p 10

Woodward goes on to list heart, conscience, mind and will as some of the facets.

Trichotomy

This chapter will describe the model this book seeks to clarify, support, and defend. Hebrews 4:12 indicates that the soul/spirit distinction is not obvious. Only the Word of God can reveal the subtle, yet important distinctives. A definition of trichotomy is given by Paul Enns:

Trichotomy comes from the Greek tricha, “three,” and temno, “to cut.” Hence, man is a three part being, consisting of body, soul, and spirit. The soul and spirit are said to be different both in function and substance.

The distinction of soul and spirit, however, does not require an emphasis on disunity of the human constitution. As recent dichotomists emphasize the unity of man’s nature, so the trichotomist can value this unity. J. B. Heard reflected this balance in his definitive work, The Tripartite Nature of Man:

We may distinguish in idea, as we shall presently see Scripture does, between body, soul, and spirit; but to suppose that either can act without the other, or to suppose, for instance, that the unsouled body, or the disembodied soul, or lastly, the unsouled spirit, can act by itself, is to assume something which neither reason nor revelation warrants… The facts of consciousness are all against such trichotomy as would divide as well as distinguish the natures of man.

Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body: A Study of Biblical Psychology
by John B. Woodward
p 15

Now to quote from Robert B. Thieme, Jr.’s Doctrine of the Human Spirit”:

  1. Trichotomy and Dichotomy.
    1.  Original man was created trichotomous, Gen 2:7.  He had a body, soul, and spirit.
    2.  As a result of the Fall, both Adam and the woman became dichotomous, having body and soul.  They immediately suffered spiritual death, Rom 5:12.  Spiritual death includes the destruction or death of the human spirit.  The human spirit was lost and they acquired an old sin nature.  As a result, their progeny, the human race, are always physically born dichotomous, having no human spirit.
    3.  The unbeliever is born in the line of Adam with a genetically formed old sin nature passed down through the man in procreation.  He receives the imputation of Adam’s sin directly at physical birth.
    4.  1 Cor 2:14 describes all the human race as PSUCHIKOS, meaning soulish.  The verse says, “The soulish man cannot understand the things of the spirit of God; they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are discerned by the human spirit.”
    5.  Jude 19, “These [unbelievers] are the ones who cause divisions, soulish, not having a human spirit.”
    6.  When anyone believes in Christ, the omnipotence of the Spirit restores the status quo of trichotomy (Adam before the fall), i.e., in regeneration, the Holy Spirit creates a human spirit for the imputation of eternal life.
    7.  Therefore the believer receives the human spirit at the same time he receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Both the human spirit and the Holy Spirit are necessary for the function of GAP (the grace apparatus for perception).
    8.  1 Thes 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely, and may your spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
    9.  The human spirit is taught in several places.
    a.  Job 32:8, “But it is the spirit in man [believer] and the Spirit of the Almighty that gives perception.”
    b.  Phile 25, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
    c.  The human spirit of Titus is mentioned specifically in 2 Cor 7:13.  “For this reason, we have been comforted, and in addition to our comfort, we have rejoiced, even much more, for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.”
    d.  Heb 4:12, “The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two‑edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder between the soul and the spirit . . .”
    10.  The unbeliever is dichotomous; the believer is trichotomous.

[Click on link to see the next installment in this series: The Place of the Dead]

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