Man’s Constitution As A Physical-Spiritual Unity -- By: Robert Gonzales, Jr.
RBTR 6:1 (Jan 2009) p. 29
Man’s Constitution As A Physical-Spiritual Unity
Robert Gonzales, Jr. is the academic dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary (www.rbseminary.org) in Easley, South Carolina, where he also serves as a pastor of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church. He also serves as an adjunct professor for Midwest Center for Theological Studies. He has an M.A. in theology and a Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University.
When we speak of the “constitution” of human nature, we are asking the question, “Of what substance is man made?” The Genesis creation account tells us that God “formed man from the dust of the ground” (2:7). But surely, man is much more than a handful of dust. This fact presents us with a challenge. In view of the complexity of our humanity, how shall we define its “substance” or “substances”?
A Survey Of Major Views Of Man’s Constitution
Although it is sometimes challenging to distinguish the various views concerning man’s constitution,1 we can generally categorize them under three headings: the Trichotomy view, the Dichotomy view, and the Monistic view. As the names indicate, the first view sees man as basically consisting of three parts, the second view of two parts, and the third view of one part.
1. The Trichotomy View
The theological term “trichotomy” literally means, “cut into three parts.” Thus, the trichotomist views man’s constitution as existing in three parts, namely, body, soul, and spirit. This position actually has its roots in Greek philosophy. Many Greeks held a dualistic view of reality in which mind
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and matter were inherently incompatible. Mind belonged to the invisible world and was essentially good. Matter belonged to the visible world and was essentially evil. Since the two are completely incompatible, there must be a third substance to act as a mediator. Thus, some Greek philosophers taught that a third substance called “spirit” united man’s body and soul.2
Although they may have been influenced by Greek philosophy to some degree, the early trichotomists of the Christian church sought to support their position primarily from Scripture. They would appeal to passages like Heb. 4:12, which seems to make a distinction between “soul” and “spirit.” Or they would cite 1 Thess. 5:23, where Paul prays that God will preserve the “whole spirit, and soul, and body” of beli...
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