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Essentially I'd like to know what trichotomists (i.e. believers in a tripartite nature of man, consisting of body, soul and spirit) have to say about a question I recently asked on Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange, namely, A living soul cannot exist without a body (Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 15:44-45) but killing the body doesn't kill the soul (Matt 10:28). Is this a contradiction?

The answers so far all seem to reason from a 'dichotomy of man' standpoint, in which man is seen as the combination of two basic components: body and breath of life (some see the breath of life as the 'spirit' and the union of body and spirit as the 'soul', others use the words 'soul' and 'spirit' interchangeably). How would trichotomists define the terms and solve the apparent paradox presented in the aformentioned question?

I'm copying and pasting the body of the BHSE question below:

The Passages

Genesis 2:7 (KJV):

7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

1 Corinthians 15:44-45 (KJV):

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

Matthew 10:28 (KJV):

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.

The Logical Contradiction

P1: a living soul is a combination of physical body and breath of life (from Gen 2:7 and 1 Cor 15:44-45)

P2: a human is a living soul (from Gen 2:7)

P3: if human A kills/destroys the body of human B, the soul of human B is NOT killed/destroyed, i.e., the soul remains (from Matthew 10:28)

P4: if human A kills/destroys the body of human B, human B no longer has a body (from common sense)

C1: if human A kills/destroys the body of human B, human B is no longer a living soul (from P4, P2, P1)

Contradiction/Paradox: if human A kills/destroys the body of human B, human B still has a soul (from P3) BUT no longer is a living soul (from C1)

In other words ...

If I kill someone (hypothetically, God forbid) by destroying their physical body, that person would no longer have a body, so by definition they would stop being a living soul (Genesis 2:7, 1 Cor 15:44-45), but paradoxically their soul would remain "unkilled"/undestroyed (Matthew 10:28). They would cease to be a living soul yet their soul would be untouched (??).

Question

How can we make sense of this? Is this a real paradox/contradiction?

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    The easiest way to make sense of it is to accept that scripture is not a set of logical propositions.
    – bradimus
    Jan 22 at 21:29
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    @bradimus - are you suggesting that the Bible is illogical? Jan 22 at 21:55
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    @bradimus - but do you believe that the Bible teaches truths, and that those truths must be logically consistent with each other? Jan 22 at 22:03
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    @bradimus: can you share an example of a non-logical truth from the Bible? Jan 22 at 23:03
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    @Rajesh - right, I edited accordingly. Jan 24 at 21:50

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The fundamental issue here arises from the fact that contra to your assertion, the biblical meaning of "soul" is not straight-forward. Sometimes the Bible appears to use the word to describe a whole person (cf. Gen 2:7, 1 Pet 3:20) - which is the emblematically dichotomous view - and sometimes it appears to describe part of them (cf. Matt 10:28, Heb 4:12) - recognising the latter is the essence of trichotomism.

The resolution to the problem you pose is to recognize that when words are used in different contexts, they can mean different (if closely related) things.

From a trichotomistic perspective, the weak leg of your argument, is your first premise:

P1: a living soul is a combination of physical body and breath of life (from Gen 2:7 and 1 Cor 15:44-45)

The Genesis account describes the formation of the first living soul, but to say that what is there entirely defines a "living soul" (let alone "soul") over-eggs the pudding.

Consider the following analogy:

If we describe human conception in the following terms - "A new human being is formed following sexual intercourse when a (male) sperm fuses with the (female) ovum."

If we then proceed to claim that this necessitates that we define human beings as sperm-ovum fusions then we have gone too far. What's happening here? Well, we haven't taken in to account sufficient data like the fact that as soon as mitosis (cell division) begins, we no longer have a simple sperm-ovum fusion, but something more. This is more evident in the case of identical twins - here, the definition fails us completely as it doesn't suggest the presence of a new human being and if we stick rigidly to it, we will be left with absurdities.

Trichotomism is not readily formalisable to the level of definitional clarity that you are seeking, as it is not a formal philosophical theory built up from defined terms and propositions, rather it is a synthetic biblical doctrine based on the underlying premise of the harmony of scripture.

To call the issue you have raise a paradox (let alone a contradiction) is forcing the use of the term, as you are relying on a definition that is necessarily incomplete (otherwise there would not even be a hint of contradiction).

There are mysteries here that will most likely remain obscure this side of glory, but to this trichotomist, the question, while not definitively answerable, upon the examination of all relevant biblical data is suggestive of the doctrine of "soul sleep" (cf. 1 Cor 11:30, 15:51): Upon physical death, the soul neither ceases to exist, not is it correct to call what remains "a living soul"; our spirit is certainly not destroyed, but for it to manifest it's individuality to an extent akin to (but beyond) a "living soul", it will require a resurrection body.

Perhaps another analogy is in order, think of the temple/tabernacle: The "spirit" of the temple/tabernacle is defined in the Torah - the essence of the system; The "body" consists of the constituent components of the functioning temple/tabernacle - the actual structures and the actual artifacts but also the priests and sacrificial animals etc.; The "soul" would be an instantiation of the system (eg. wandering tabernacle, tabernacle pitched at Shiloh, in Jerusalem, 1st temple, 2nd temple, 3rd temple). In one sense, if you destroy the "body", you also destroy (in some sense - at least according to man's view) the "soul", but (if you believe in the Redeemer of Israel) not finally - it can be "resurrected" and from a God's-eye view, future instantiations are observable realities unless there is a true "casting in to hell".

In answer to the (commented) question "Are all trichotomists 'soul sleepers', or is it just a personal position of yours?" - I don't think that is necessarily the case, but in general, people who analyze things based on a given set of premises and the same data will tend to come to similar if not exactly the same conclusions - so, although I don't have any hard data either way, I would not be surprised if that is the case.

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  • but to this trichotomist, the question, while not definitively answerable, upon the examination of all relevant biblical data is suggestive of the doctrine of "soul sleep" - Are all trichotomists 'soul sleepers', or is it just a personal position of yours? Feb 1 at 18:42

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