Dichotomy and Trichotomy Question?
by Tim Binion
Is man twofold or a threefold being? Are soul and spirit one and the same or should we distinguish between them? This article will examine both theories and try to answer some of these questions. The twofold theory is called Dichotomy and the threefold theory is called Trichotomy.
The Dichotomous theory teaches that man is twofold or made up of two substances, one physical and the other spiritual. The two words “Soul” and “Spirit” are simply two attributes but one in substance. The Greek word “Psuche” translated “Soul” is the immaterial part of man capable of possessing and animating a physical organism. The Greek word “Pneuma” translated “Spirit” is the same immaterial part viewed as the rational and moral agent, susceptible of divine influence and indwelling. The Spirit is man’s nature looking God-ward, and capable of receiving and manifesting the spirit of life. The Soul is man’s nature looking earthward, and touching the physical or flesh.
Trichotomous theory holds that man consists of three distinct elements: body, soul, and spirit (threefold). The body is the material part of our constitution, the soul is the principle of animal life, and the spirit is the principle of our rational life.
Dichotomy is heavily supported by the following facts: First God breathed into man “one” principle, and he became a living soul. GEN 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Notice God did not breath into man two forms of life. It was one breath, breathed and one life given. This element of life that God breathed is singular with regard to its nature.
Second, the terms “Soul” and “Spirit” seem to be used INTERCHANGEABLY in some scripture. Notice in John 12:27 & John 13:21 where Jesus used both words without distinction. JOH 12:27 Now is my soul (psuche) troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. JOH 13:21 When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit (pneuma), and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Here Christ made no distinction between Soul and Spirit, and clearly used them interchangeably. This frequently occurs in the Bible. Notice in the following passages how soul and spirit are used interchangeably by our Lord. MAT 20:28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life (psuche) a ransom for many. MAT 27:50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost (pneuma). Christ came to give His soul a ransom for many and on the cross He gave up His spirit. The purpose of Christ was completed in giving His soul and the same purpose was completed (a ransom) by giving up His spirit.
If Spirit is one thing in substance and the Soul another, how do we explain HEB 12:23 which reads; To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, Are the souls of these just men also made perfect?
There are other References like these in both New and Old Testament that seem to unite these two words “Spirit and Soul” as one in substance. For instance in Job 27:3 “life” and “spirit” seem to be used interchangeably (33:18). Also, a comparison could be made from GEN 41:8; & PSA 42:6 .
Though the soul or spirit in beasts is irrational and mortal, in man it is rational and immortal. “Spirit” as well as “soul” is ascribed to brute creation. Compare Rev. 16:3 & ECC 3:21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
Revelation 16:3 And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
The word “Soul” and “Spirit” is ascribed to the Lord but we do not believe the Lord to be two Spirits. ISA 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. & HEB 10:38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. If the Lord is one God in substance should not the Spirit and Soul of man be the same? Or does this mean God is one part Soul and one part Spirit. No, God is pure spirit or pure soul. In LUK 23:46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Did He not also commend His soul to the father? Yes, there is no separation because soul and spirit are one in unit, they are one in substance. Soul and Spirit are one substance of life divided only in its attributes of relationship.
It’s important to note that the highest place in religion is ascribed to the soul and body and soul (or spirit) is spoken of as constituting the whole make up of man. Read the following passages. MAR 12:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. (LUK 1:46; HEB 6:19; JAM 1:21; MAT 10:28; 1CO 5:3; 3JO 1:2) To lose your soul is to loose it all. MAT 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? MAR 8:36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul.
Consciousness testifies that there are two elements in man’s being. We can distinguish a material part and an immaterial part, but the consciousness of no one can discriminate between soul and spirit.
One of the main passage in scripture used to supports a threefold man, is found in 1Thess 5:23 and reads; And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though this scripture seems to point to trichotomy, is it not possible that it merely intends to include the whole man? Could not this passage be like those passages that emphasizes the completeness of man that refer to the mind, heart, strength, etc. . . like in MAR 12:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. No one would try to build a fourfold division of human nature on this statement made by Jesus.
The same thing seems to be indicated in Hebrews 4:12, where the Word is said to pierce “as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow.” The Dichotomous feel that this passage does not speak of the separation of the soul from the spirit, but of the separation itself extending to that point. The Word pierces to the dividing of the soul itself and the spirit itself. The soul and the spirit are laid open. As found in the following verse 12:13 “naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
In Vine’s Expository Dictionary we read: “Apparently, then, the relationships may be thus summed up Soma, body, and Pneuma, spirit, may be separated, Pneuma and Psuche, soul, can only be distinguished.” (From notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, pp. 205-207 & Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, pp. 589)
There are many names used in scripture for the innerman: heart, conscience, fountain of life, mind, will, spirit, soul . . . etc. These all are one in substance but different in function. In other words man’s immaterial nature is looked upon as one nature with many intricate parts,- – -the two primary parts being the soul and spirit. Sometimes the parts are sharply distinguished; at other times they are used for the whole being.
“Students of Scripture are not agreed to whether the distinction between spirit and soul . . . is substantial or functional. Trichotomists hold to the former, dichotomists to the latter” (Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles, pp, 253).