In the first part of this series, we took a look at the actual make up of man, dispelling the error that we are made up of body, mind, and spirit. I must be clear here: we have a body, mind, and spirit. But we are actually made up of just body and spirit. Our components by which God has created us is the dust of the ground and the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). However, there are those that attempt to separate man’s essential nature into three components: body, mind, and spirit, saying that the spirit is separate from the mind and doesn’t come alive until a person becomes a Christian. Though a man may be dead spiritually as is evidenced from the scriptures (Ephesians 2:5), it doesn’t mean that their spirit is not active. It means it’s separated from God and in opposition to Him.
Why is this something that’s important to address? Because it is this doctrine that is often used to equate man with God because of His trinitarian nature (three persons in as One). It attempts to elevate man to being the same as God which is not only erroneous but blasphemous. By understanding what the Bible says about the essence of God, we can then have a healthy and biblical understanding of our place in creation and relation to God.
Trichotomists argue that there are scriptures that supports their position. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Scripture says:
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.
At first glance it would seem to suggest three separate parts of man, separating the soul and spirit. However, this argument falls apart when we begin to look at the rest of Scripture.
Paul here is using descriptive terms as a means of emphasis and hyperbole to express every minutiae of an individual. We see this in use by the Lord Himself in Matthew 22:37:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
A body is not even mentioned here. So are we to assume that we don’t have one and that these three elements encompass our being? Of course not for that would contradict the rest of Scripture. The situation is compounded further in Mark 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.
Is the Lord Jesus actually presenting to us four dimensions of human nature, of man’s essence? Or is He, again, using the description as a matter of emphasis for the whole being of man? If the first then throw your Bible away because it’s wholly inconsistent on this and can’t be from God if it contradicts itself. If it is the latter then it is clear that people have this matter confused and are simply not dividing the word rightly.
This same argument can be used for Hebrews 4:12, where Scripture talks about the word of God being a “two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The problem in using that argument for this passage is that we would then have to believe, using the same rules of interpretation in context, that the inward part of man is made up of joints and marrow only which is most definitely not the case. The author is not talking about dividing soul from spirit but is using the deep, inward parts of man to emphasize the depth at which the word of God penetrates. In addition, from this passage, there are only two elements being spoken of which doesn’t support a trichotomous position but a dichotomous position.
The other scriptural arguments that attempt to be presented are weak enough that most can see the error of it immediately. To be fair, they are 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4 and 1 Corinthians 14:14. Both of these passages have absolutely nothing to do with the essence of man and don’t even have a hint of a suggestion in them. Therefore, I won’t lay out the problem with using them as proof texts. However, I’d be happy to address it if someone comments about them and are curious to know.
Study of the scriptures is work. It takes time, dedication, and much prayer. Therefore we must tread carefully and learn from gifted men and women of God who labor in the Word as well as test all things from rightly dividing the Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 2 Timothy 2:15). When we are dedicated to that end, we glorify God and fulfill our ultimate purpose for existence, knowing who we are and what we’re made of.