The Dichotomist Position: Man as a Twofold Being = Body and Soul/Spirit
(1a. For) God breathed into man but one principle–a living soul (Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”).
(1b. Against) The Hebrew text is plural, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of (lives); and man became a living being.”
(2a. For) The immaterial part of man (the soul) is viewed as an individual and conscious life, capable of possessing and animating a physical organism (body).
(2b. Against) Paul states that man has both a spirit and a soul, which are housed in a physical body (1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”).
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”(3a. For) The terms “soul” and “spirit” seem to be used interchangeably in some references (Genesis 41:8, “So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” & Psalm 42:6, “and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.” & Matthew 27:50, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” & John 12:27, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” & John 13:21, “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” & Hebrews 12:23, “and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” & Revelation 6:9, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.”
(3b. Against) Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” If the soul and the spirit were the same, they could not be divided.
(4a. For) “Spirit” (as well as “soul”) is ascribed to brute creation: Ecclesiastes 3:21, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?” & Revelation 16:3, “The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.”
(4b. Against) The term “spirit” or “soul” may be used for animal “life” or “animation” but never in the unique sense in which a human spirit or soul is used. Human spirits continue beyond physical existence, unlike the animals, and human spirits are in relationship with the divine spirit of God (Matthew 17:3, “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” & Acts 7:59, “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” & Galatians 6:8, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” & 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ).
(5a. For) Body and soul are spoken of as constituting the whole person (Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” & 1 Corinthians 5:3, “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.” & 3 John 2, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.”).
(5b. Against) The spirit, soul, and body are spoken of as constituting the whole person (Mark 12:30, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” & 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” & 1 Corinthians 3:4, “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?”).
(6a. For) 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 distinguish between the soul and the spirit.
(6b. Against) It is the spirit of man that deals with the spiritual realm. The soul is the dimension of man that deals with the mental realm, man’s intellect, the sensibilities, and the will–the part that reasons and thinks. The body is the part of man that contacts or deals with the physical realm. hebrews 4:12 does literally speak of the separation of the soul from the spirit (see also 1 Thess. 5:23 above; John 3:7-8, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” & Romans 2:28-29, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” & 1 Corinthians 2:14 and 14:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned…For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.”).
The Trichotomist Position: Man as a Threefold Being: Body, Soul, and Spirit
(1a. For) Genesis 2:7 does not absolutely declare that God made a twofold being. The Hebrew text is plural, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [lives], and man became a living being.”
(1b. Against) It is not said that man became spirit and soul. And further, “living being” is the same phrase used of animals and translated “living creature” (Genesis 1:21-24, “So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.”).
(2a. For) Paul seems to think of the body, soul, and spirit as three distinct parts of man’s nature (1 Thess 5:23 – see above). The same seems to be indicated in Hebrews 4:12, where the Word is said to pierce “even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.”
(2b. Against) Paul is emphasizing the whole person, not attempting to differentiate his parts. Hebrews 4:12 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. The soul and spirit are laid open.
(3a. For) A threefold organization of man’s nature may be implied in the classification of man as natural,” “carnal,” and “spiritual,” in 1 Corinthians 2:14 and 3:1-4, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned…But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?”
(3b. Against) Body and soul are spoke of as constituting the whole person: 1 Corinthians 5:3, “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.”& 3 John 2, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” & Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
(4a. For) In Luke 8:55, we read about the girl whom Jesus raised from the dead that “her spirit [pnuema] returned.” And so when Christ died, it is said that “he gave up his life,” “he dismissed his spirit,” (Matt. 27:50). “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:27). Pneuma refers to a life principle apart from the soul.
(4b. Against) Pneuma (spirit)and psyche (soul) are used interchangeably throughout the New Testament. Both represent one life principle.
Above adapted from H. Wayne House. Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1992.