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Matthew 10:28:

28 `And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna. [YLT]

28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. [KJV]

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. [ESV]

According to believers in the tripartite nature of man (body, soul and spirit, i.e., trichotomism), why did Jesus omit the word "spirit" in Matthew 10:28?

Did Jesus expect his audience to have an understanding already of the fate of a person's spirit upon death, which is why he thought it unnecessary to say anything about the "spirit"? If so, what was that implicit understanding?

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    Well,I learned a new word today. :-D Jan 21 at 16:53
  • Since my answer demonstrates that the tripartite belief is not consistent with the ancient writings, your question seems to be equivalent to "According to people who believe that 1+1 = 3, why did Jesus omit the word "spirit" in Math 10:28?". I point this out to make clear that if we are concerned with truth we should not make unjustifiable assumptions based on humans' traditional beliefs, especially since many of those beliefs are politically driven.
    – David
    Jan 22 at 12:16
  • @David - if we are going to talk about mathematics, then it's technically possible to prove deductively that 1+1 = 3 is a logical contradiction. For example, by showing from first principles that 1 + 1 = 2 (see discussions about how to do this here, here and here), then showing that 2 ≠ 3 and finally that 2 = 3 (by assuming the false statement as a premise, as in a proof by contradiction). Jan 22 at 13:57
  • @David (cont.) likewise, it would be helpful if you could rephrase your answer in a way that shows precisely how the tripartite position is logically inconsistent. Are you familiar with formal logic and deductive reasoning? Are you familiar with proofs of theorems in mathematics? Can you reword your answer so that you present in a crystal clear manner the premises, the conclusions and where the logical contradiction arises? Jan 22 at 14:02
  • Let's not invoke maths, for 1 x 1 x 1 = 1 (while the accusation leveled against trinitarians is that they think 1 + 1 + 1 = 1, which is what their detractors claim.) Besides, the inventor of the jet engine, Sir Frank Whittle, has shown that 2 + 2 = 5. This has to do with the logarithmic base of the decibel (dB). The sum of 2dB + 2dB is given mathematically by 10 x log [10 to the power of 2/10 to the power of 2/10] and equals 5. (No, I don't understand either but I'm not going to argue against Sir Frank Whittle!)
    – Anne
    Jan 22 at 14:34

2 Answers 2

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As a believer in what some choose to term 'the tripartite nature of humanity' I would say that Jesus omits nothing in the text by only making reference to two nouns:

And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna. [Matthew 10:28 YLT]

The soul is the vehicle of the living spirit. Both are immaterial. But the soul has function and capability. The living spirit is associated with that immaterial soul.

To cover all the necessary texts would require pages of input. My book 'The Son of Man' contains the necessarily lengthy study and is available free of charge as a download, see my profile for the link to my website.

Hebrews 4:12 expresses this:

... the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, ...

wherein the soul is likened to joints (the Greek word used for 'joint' is associated with a chariot) and the spirit is likened to the living tissue of marrow within the bone (from which comes red blood).

Thus the mechanical aspect expresses structure and function (the soul) and the living aspect conveys life itself (the spirit).

Paul expresses the same when he speaks of "spirit soul and body", 1 Thessalonians 5:23. One could punctuate that as spirit: soul and body, for the immaterial spirit resides in the immaterial soul and the organic life (spirit) resides in the body of flesh.

The expression 'body soul and spirit' confuses the whole issue and is not the way Paul chooses to word the matter.

Thus Jesus conveys, in Matthew 10:28, a dichotomy of that which is visible and tangible in the world (the body) and that which is immaterial and spiritual (the soul) within which the immaterial living spirit is present, in life or in death. (I repeat, in life and in death.)

The study of this demands considerable attention to, and understanding of, the Greek word psuche which is a broad concept and is translated into English as both 'life' and 'soul' depending on context, indicating how broad that spectrum is.

It is also necessary to fully appreciate the reference in Genesis to God making Adam a 'living soul' and breathing into him the 'breath of life'; and necessary to appreciate the words nephesh (not exactly 'soul') and ruach (breath, wind and spirit - similar to the Greek pneuma) in Hebrew.

Some suppose (wrongly) that God (somehow and unrighteously, for Adam possessed no inherent righteousness) breathed the 'Holy Spirit' into Adam.

This misconception clouds much of the discussion about this matter.

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These resources provide a good introduction to the Tripartite theory and the Biblical verses that suggest it:

The tripartite division is not always consistent, even by their proponents (see pages 122-123 of the journal article). One way makes the soul ceases to exist upon death. From the journal article:

The simplest and we may say the crudest form of the theory is that "the body is the material part of our constitution; the soul or ψυχή [psychí] is the principle of animal life ; and the mind or πνεῦμα [pneuma] the principle of our rational and immortal life. ... When a man dies, his body returns to the earth, his ψυχή ceases to exist, his πνεῦμα alone remains until re-united with the body at the resurrection. To the πνεῦμα which is peculiar to man, belong reason, will and conscience. To the ψυχή which we have in common with the brutes, belong understanding, feeling and sensibility or the power of sense perception. To the σώμα [sóma] belong what is purely material.

Another way makes both soul and spirit survive death. From the GotQuestions web article:

Those who believe that human nature is a trichotomy typically believe the following: the physical body is what connects us with the physical world around us, the soul is the essence of our being, and the spirit is what connects us with God.

Thus, depending on the verse, trichotomists may use different schemes because the Bible seems to use soul and spirit interchangeably. For Matt 10:28 they can use the 2nd scheme above (GotQuestions: soul is immortal, spirit is what connects us to God). These are possible interpretations of the omission:

  • Jesus omits the spirit component because the focus of the passage is on the soul which both the saved and the unsaved have.
  • Jesus is speaking to believers who are not worried about the spirit, because it is given and is sustained by God. That leaves fear only for the soul component, which Jesus addressed in that passage.
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  • I liked the GotQuestions article's neutral tone: Whether you believe in a dichotomy or trichotomy, offer your body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), thank God for saving your soul (1 Peter 1:9), and worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24). (+1) Jan 21 at 1:40
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator Yes, after reading dozens of GotQuestions articles, the writer seems to simply present Biblical data with minimal extra-Biblical assumptions, focusing on what Bible wants to teach. Thus they leave the development of fuller anthropological theories (which is not that essential to faith) up to the reader, who can either conceive the terms soul and spirit as function (for dichotomists) or as ontological constituents (for trichotomists). Jan 21 at 10:40

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