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TH 502 - Humanity, Angels and the Personal work of Christ - Dr Steve Tracy - HumanConstitMatImmat

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Dr. Steve Tracy

Phoenix Seminary

TH 502, Fall 2008

Most religious traditions recognize that humans are unique and complex, being made up of what appear to be material and immaterial parts. Are humans in fact made up of material and immaterial? If so, how are these two parts related? If there is an immaterial part of humans, can it be broken down into constituent parts? Ill. Bill W’s death

Metaphysical Monism—

This is a metaphysical view of reality which holds that ultimately, there is only one real substance in the universe. Everything, including God, is part of this one substance. This view of reality is strongly reflected in eastern religion, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism, also New Age.

Anthropological monism—

The Old Testament:

In the OT, humans are described in terms of an organic whole, not as a body and a soul, but as a living unit. Anthropological monism insists that humans are viewed biblically not in terms of body, soul, and spirit, but simply as a self. Anthropological monists often assert that the Hebrews had no terms to distinguish between flesh and body, for they saw no distinction, just as they saw no ontological distinction between body and soul.

Greek philosophical influence:

It is often claimed that dualism is a product not of biblical, but of Greek philosophical influence, though the Greek/Hebrew world views are not as distinct as is often believed. Others argue that dualism leads to an erroneous distinction between the sacred and the secular. While the Bible clearly affirms that the whole of life is under the reign of God, and in that sense, all is sacred, distinctions are still to be made (Cooper notes that Christian faith should have a more overt influence on how we relate to our neighbor than on how we change a tire). The problem here may be with the way material and immaterial are defined, than by the doctrine of dualism itself.

Anthropological monism and progressive revelation:

It is surprising to note that the OT has very little to say about the afterlife (which is why Jews have historically debated the resurrection of the body) and even seems to say that death is the cessation of existence

(Job 14:10-14 "so man lies down and does not rise...if a man dies will he live again?; but cf. Job 19:25-27

Eccles 9:5-6, 10 "a live dog is better than a dead lion...the dead do not know anything." Robert Gordis, a Jew in his commentary on this verse states "consciousness, on any terms is preferable to non existence" (Koheleth, the Man and His World, 305); Murphy, (Ecclesiastes, WBC) says Koheleth "is in tune with the rest of the Hebrew Bible in his denial of life after death"; though Kaiser (EBC) notes that his point is the same as in John 9:4—work while it is day, for night comes when no one can work (cp. Ec 9:10 is no activity or planning in Sheol) ).

Ps 6:5"there is no mention of Thee in death, in Sheol who will give Thee thanks?" Leupold notes that the OT writers didn't have a clear sense of the afterlife, and this passage is written from a point of personal despair. Furthermore, there is a sense of truth in that once dead before the resurrection, we cannot praise God as we do now. Also, note that other OT passages affirm conscious existence after death—esp. Ps 16:8-11; Is 26:19; Dan 12:2-3.

As we will see, the OT does affirm the afterlife, so one must look at the whole of the OT. We must also note carefully the context of these passages which appear to deny the afterlife.

In response to anthropological monism we should note that the doctrine of progressive revelation helps us understand the fact that the NT has much more to say than the OT on human nature, and specifically, on the survival of the soul after the death of the body (Matt 27:50; 1 Thess 4:13-16; 2 Cor 5:8).


This is the theological view that the human nature is divided into three parts: body, soul, and spirit (physical, psychological, and spiritual). This view originated with Aristotle's division of the human soul into: an animal soul, the organic aspect of human existence, and the rational soul, the intellectual aspect. Trichotomists typically argue that physically, humans and animals are not materially distinct, but the differences are of degree (humans have in some respects a more complex physical structure). The differences between humans and animals is seen with soul and especially spirit.

Soul is defined as the psychological element which includes reason and emotion. Personality is said to reside in the soul. Animals are said to have a rudimentary soul, and thus soul distinguishes animals from plants. What really distinguishes humans from animals is spirit, which is defined as the religious element or capacity which enables humans to perceive and respond to spiritual stimuli.

Trichotomists appeal to the Trinity for support: the Trinity itself is supposedly mirrored in the human elements of body (Christ, God who took on a body), soul (God the Father) and spirit (the Holy Spirit).

Specific biblical passages used to support trichotomy:

1 Thess 5:23 "may your whole body, and soul, and spirit be kept blameless."

Heb 4:12 says the word of God "penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow."

1 Cor 2:14-3:4 offers indirect support of trichotomy through the use of the three terms to describe individuals who are: "of the flesh" (sarkikov"), "unspiritual" (yucikov"—"soulish"), and "spiritual" (pneumatikov").


This is the theological view of human nature which holds that humans have two fundamental parts: body and soul (material and immaterial).

Dichotomy is supported first of all, by noting that the NT repeatedly affirms a distinction between body and soul (material and immaterial) (Matt 10:28 "do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul"), for the soul is described as immortal, as an entity which survives after the death of the body (Matt 27:50; 2 Cor 5:8; 1 Thess 4:13-16).

Secondly, dichotomy is supported by noting the weaknesses of the trichotomist arguments, and the interchangeable manner in which "soul" and "spirit" are used in Scripture. For example, the basic components of humans are said to be body and soul in Matt 6:25 and Matt 10:28, but body and spirit in Eccles 12:7 and 1 Cor 5:3, 5. Death is described as giving up the soul in Gen 35:18, 1 Kings 17:21, and Acts 15:26, but as a giving up of the spirit in Ps 31:5 and Luke 23:46. In John 10:15 Jesus says "I lay down my soul (yuchv) for the sheep, but in 19:30 when Jesus dies, He is said to have given up His spirit (pneu'ma). In Luke 1:46-47, soul and spirit is used synonymously for Mary says "my soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God."

 Finally, the two chief proof texts for trichotomy upon closer examination are not convincing. 1 Thess 5:23 appears to be using the three different terms as a literary device to indicate the whole person not anthropologically to indicate three distinct human components. The theme in this passage is the complete sanctification of the whole person. If these distinctions between body, soul, and spirit in 1 Thess 5:23 are accepted as an affirmation of trichotomy, then to be exegetically consistent, we should accept quadchotomy in Luke 10:27, which says we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. 

 In Heb 4:12 the point is not to distinguish soul and spirit, but rather, to indicate that Scripture pierces to the heart, to the core. The verb used here, diikneomai (dii>kneomai) means to pierce completely, penetrate (Ex 26:28 LXX). Thoughts and intents are synonymous, as are soul and spirit. 

 1 Cor 2:14-3:4 is irrelevant for determining human constitution, for it refers to three kinds of human individuals not three elements of an individual human being.

Conditional Unity

Erickson suggests a moderating position between monism and dualism which affirms both the unity of the human person and the reality of human existence after the death of the body. He notes that the normal description of humans in Scripture is one of unity in which body is united with soul, though there is a period of time before the second resurrection in which Christians who have died do have an existence in heaven, and yet they do not have new bodies yet (cf. 1 Cor 15:18-23; 1 Thes 4:13-17).

Ministry Principles—

1.         Given the biblical (esp. the OT) emphasis on the unity of the human person, we should minister to the whole person seeking to meet physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs. "The different aspects of man's nature are all to be attended to and respected" Erickson, 539

2.         While we must minister to the whole person, we must also recognize that everything in the material world will pass away (2 Pet 3:10-13), including our mortal bodies (2 Cor 4:16-5:1). We must not be seduced into living for that which will perish (1 Tim 6:7, 17-19).

3.         We must beware of sacrificing biblical accuracy for a neatly packaged (and quite homiletical) theological view like trichotomy unless we can justify it biblically.

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