There are generally two* views of Man

Notably, A W Pink ascribes to the Trichotomous view (or Tripartite).

Also notably, R C Sproul views the Trichotomy as heretical.

Personally, I believe that the Platonic Tripartite view is dangerous or heretical, but the Bible does seem to indicate at least some type of trinitarian mirroring of the image of God in Man.

What is an overview of these two perspectives and how much support is found in the Bible for both?

*An argument can be made for a Quadrichotomous view (Body, Soul, Mind, Spirit), but can be covered in another question

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    Good question. Something that's been on my mind a bit since we started saying "and with your Spirit" instead of "and also with you" at Mass last year. But the Spirit is the Holy Spirit that comes on one at Baptism or, in the case of a priest, the Spirit with which he was ordained.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 16:47
  • I think today we might call this primarily opinion based, but essentially, there's only two kinds of answers. One supports the dichotomy and another that supports the trichotomy. I'm not going to vtc, but perhaps there's a better way to word that last sentence.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 22:34
  • @fredsbend - if there's a better way of wording the closing sentence, I would be happy to see it ... this is the best I could come up with :)
    – warren
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 5:27
  • @warren I was hoping you could come up with something. lol. There's only the two answers so far and it's not really a trolling subject. I'd just leave it alone. I actually might have an answer, as annihilationists typically have a dichotomous view, but not necessarily in the way you think.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 18:59
  • @fredsbend - this question dates back over 2 years .. with good answers given :)
    – warren
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 21:45

2 Answers 2


Which is the "safer"/"more Biblical" view, and why?

My instinct is that it might be safer to understand the Dichotomous view primarily based on my own experience in transitioning from a Trichotomous view early in my Christian life.  Having said that, someone like A.W Pink probably has a healthy version of the a Trichotomous view and I would not call it heretical.

My introduction to the Trichotomous view was very early in my Christian life by reading Watchman Nee and just a few years later I tossed out his books as I had then encountered Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones and saw a clear difference between Biblical exposition and a kind of mysticism that Nee promoted. The reason why the Trichotomous view (in this case) led to a sort of mysticism is that the ‘spirit’ as ‘opposed’ to the ‘soul’ was focused on as the true Godly part, and one was encouraged to sort of ignore the mind, emotions and will and try to reach out for a more ‘spiritual’ state ---- in communion with God.

As I started to read older Bible commentaries and works from reformed theologians from the 16-18th centuries, I noticed a switch to a Dichotomous view that seemed more aligned with a spiritual sense of God through understanding of his Word. To make a long story short I sort of adopted the Dichotomous view without really thinking about it.

Now many years later I will just summarize the perspective that I have found in various older Bible commentaries, in support of the Dichotomous view.

First let me quote a book that others have noted that provides a good summary of both views:

The dichotomous theory.  Strong states the theory thus: The immaterial part of man, viewed as an individual and conscious life, capable of possessing and animating a physical organism, is called psuche; viewed as a rational and moral agent, susceptible of divine influence and indwelling, this same immaterial part is called. The pneumu, then, is man’s nature looking and capable of receiving and manifesting the Pneumu the psuche is man’s nature looking earthward, and touching the world of sense. The pneumu is man’s higher part, as related to spiritual realities or as capable of such relation. Man’s being is therefore not trichotomous but dichotomous, and his immaterial part, while possessing duality of powers, has unity of substance.

The trichotomous theory  This theory holds that man consists of three distinct elements: body, soul, and spirit. 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. Some add to this last statement “and immortal life.” This can, however, not be made an essential part of the theory. Those who take this extreme view hold that at death the body returns to the earth, the soul ceases to exist, and the spirit alone remains to be reunited with the body at the resurrection. (Lectures In Systematic Theology, Henry Clarence Thiessen, P160)

Second let me explain why a good understanding of the dichotomous theory does have some similarities with the trichotomous theory, but better explains that commonality.

The basic situation when looking at many places in scripture where the soul or spirit are spoken of, one quickly finds that the meanings overlap but also convey separate senses. Therefore in general the spirit means something different than the soul even though they are indicating the same vital non physical lfe of man.

From a basic standpoint of occurenes in the Bible in the Old Testament נָ֫פֶשׁ (soul) is used almost always as the English ‘soul’ but commonly just ‘life’ or functions of the mind, will or heart that are more often related to ‘desire’. In the New Testament ψυχῆς (soul) is alsmot always ‘soul’ or ‘life’.  Looking at the word ‘spirit’ we find similar but different meanings.  ר֫וּחַ (spirit) in the Old Testament is almost always ‘Spirit’, ‘spirit’, or ‘wind’. In the New Testament (πνεύματος) it is almost always just ‘Spirit’ or ‘spirit’.

I think this establishes Strong’s definition quite well for the soul is therefore the essential life of man ‘looking earthward’ and the ‘spirit’ that same principle of life breathed (like wind) into man from God, that can look towards and experience God.  One must accept this different cast used by spirit or soul upon the principle of life in man, because later the idea of carnal and spiritual are assigned to these different aspects. This is where the commonality of both views occur.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 we have a phrase a ‘natural man’ does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. Here the natural man is ψυχικὸς psuchikos (natural, of the soul or mind) is used which has a strong relationship to the word soul (ψυχῆς - psychēs).  In verse fifteen in contrast to the carnal man, we find the phrase 'he that is spiritual'. Spiritual πνευματικὸς (pneumatikos) has a strong relationship to the word 'spirit' πνεύματος (pneumatos).  So sometimes 'soul' indicates an identification with the unregenerate parts of man' soul (or essential life) being considered 'carnal' and the regenerate parts of man’s soul (called spirit) being spiritual.  This division is what commentators often notice. For example, in Hebrews where the word of God is said to divide spirit and soul, the carnal and spiritual parts of a man might be understood.

The other thing of notice, that I have found commentaries often do, when they context does not allow a carnal or spiritual division, is refer to the 'seat of emotions' as the soul  and the 'mind' denoted by spirit, such as loving God with 'soul and mind', or 'who knows the thoughts of a man accept the spirit of a man'? (Math 22:37, 1 Cor 2:11)

Conclusion: A  dichotomous view is a safer view as it seems more grounded in the Bible and in reformed theology. In an in-depth analysis of the soul and the spirit, one finds different aspects of the 'same single vital immaterial life God breathed into Adam' called soul or spirit. However, the soul and spirit often denote different aspects of that life. In a believer, in the struggle of sin, they often denote the difference between the carnal and spiritual mind and affections, for the soul looking heavenward (spirit) is very actively opposing its former lusts (soul looking earthward). When this distinction is 'over pressed', however, a 'Trichotomous view' is established that is not common with earlier theologians. In its more extreme version, like in Watchman Nee, it starts to promote ‘super spirituality’ and ‘mysticism’ that could become ‘less safe’ as it no longer rests on spirituality by God's word but by 'inner motions' and 'senses' - actually encouraging a carnal view of the spiritual life.


Thank you for your Dichotomous representation and presentation. If we boil the trichotomy down there is undeniably soul and body, a dualism and dichotomy. Yet, the trichotomy is a fuller view giving interpretation to the evil and Good inclination present the body, depicting 3 entities. Here is my understanding and practice which does not only contemplate theology but applies biology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, theology, theosophy and pathology from my views as a gnostic Christian and mystic.

We are Spirit, Soul and Body. Body is the vessel of Soul and Spirit. Spirit and Soul are the dialogue of the Mind/Psyche. Spirit is the Christ-Self, our True Self, synonymous with God. When the Christ-Self is embodied, even for a moment, the character of the Body becomes a Godman (Human) in their role and script for whoever is having the Lesson. Taking this further explains why some Experience GOD talking to them through people, etc.

The Spirit is a mixture of our Conscience and Conscious (Aware Attention) with our Soul being a mixture of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Love and Fear-- the polarities. Being mostly Unconscious and oftentimes Subconscious the Soul entity is ever downloading and seeking to replay what has been recorded. More often than not what is replayed is inappropriate for the Times and space, and so labeled Sin.

The effort of our Spirit is to influence our Soul into discarding the tapes, patterns, behaviors and speech that is ineffective for Progress, in addition to being inappropriate and misunderstood-- all of which generally describes Sin-- while renewing, revisiting and reviewing tapes which are enriching, enlightening, elevating, and enhancing. Then, from a new inward Position of Mind (Spirit and Soul connection) containing more Good that evil, more Love than fear, and more Right than wrong We appear to ourselves and those around us to be "New Creatures". Although, our Body looks the same or similar as before.

Moreover, our Soul is a reflection, image and likeness, substance and identity from our Spirit. Only on a smaller scale of Authority, specifically fashioned to be "obedient" to replaying habits and nature that is practiced (recorded). Our Soul desires what is pleasurable above what is painful, and with Its limited authority will decide how to make this happen.

Our Spirit has limitless Authority to interfere, intervene whenever a time and space has been recognized to be appropriate. Our Spirit is more objective, impersonal, eternal, immortal, All-Knowing and by the Hebrew definition of Knowing, Experiencing-- All-Experiencing; thus Experiencing all there is in Oneness. Our Lord, our Spirit is One and is equally reachable and redeemable inside of all Humanity-- as Yeshua (Jesus the Christ) said and lived. All of Humankind is intimately interconnected and interdependent, connected to one another by this indwelling Spirit that is your Self, my Self, the ALL in all Self; not the Body, name, from or history.

The Spirit animates the Body giving the Body movement, breath and Being. The Body is the temple of the Spirit (the Living GOD). The Human Soul is able with Awareness to observe the marvelous Doings of the Creator-Mind by virtue of the human body-- the localization point of Spirit. Matter is the temple of Spirit.

Utilizing language already familiar, the Body is a reflection of the Mind, man is the image of GOD, Soul is of the likeness of Spirit and Unconsciousness is of the same substance as Consciousness-- so on and so forth.

You and Your Father are One as Jesus prayed You would realize in John 17 (17:8-11). All things applicable to Yeshua (Jesus the man and Christ) are applicable to You!!!

*Matthew 28:18 *Luke 10:19-20 *Luke 17:21 *John 10:30 *John 10:32-38 *John 17:8-11

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    You've said a lot here but didn't really support it with anything. There's some verses listed at the bottom, but that is not helpful in making your case. If those verses support your statements, you should edit this post so that the verses are quoted and explained and shows the support for your statements.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 22:39
  • 1
    I agree with @fredsbend - I feel like this is a the start of an excellent answer .. but sans references, is going to be less than helpful
    – warren
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 5:28

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