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Man's Nature

Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

mans-nature

The Creation of Man

Gen. 2:7 “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

When God made man, He made him from the elements of the ground. This was a material mass and nothing else until God “breathed life” into the body. At creation, we see that man is made of a soul and a physical body. While the angels were created as spiritual beings without bodies, and the animals were created only with a physical body and no soul. Some might argue that animals have souls. But there is no evidence to support this. We should not confuse consciousness with having a spirit. Also, Angels either have the form of humans or can assume the forms of people, but they have no physical body. Man, on the other hand, was made with both a body and a soul. He is material and immaterial. James P. Boyce expressed it this way:

"Man alone is possessed of both spirit and body. He is, therefore, the link that binds together the world of spirit and that of matter. His existence is not one only, but twofold. Nor is it made so by such a composition as confounds the two elements by mingling them into a third substance differing from each of these two. It is such as makes a union in one personality of both the natures so that a man is as truly animal as though he were not spirit, and as truly spiritual as though he were not animal. Each nature retains in a mysterious union its own attributes, and properties, absolutely, so that one is merely animal, and the other purely spiritual, and the one personal conscious being is personal and conscious in each, in different or in the same moments, and is also conscious of being at the same time Man, or all that is involved in the united possession of both natures." [1]

Man’s conscience is in his spirit, not his physical nature. His mind is part of his spirit and not part of his body. Some would say that the mind resides in the brain. But the brain is material and when a man dies he still has his conscience and memories. We can see this in accounts such as Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16). The brain is responsible for memories and other mental functions and perhaps could be seen as the connection between the spirit and the body. When a man dies, his body and spirit are separated.

"But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake." Philippians 1:23-24

Monism

This is the idea that man is “one.” Man has a conscious and his consciousness is in his mind. In essence, he is an animal. This is the view of the non-theists and even some theists. This concept it is often associated with materialism or naturalism. Some would say that man is just a highly evolved animal, that thought and emotions (although advanced) are tied to the biological brain. Matter (body) is the source of spirit (thought, etc.).

Trichotomy

The idea that man is composed of three parts finds its origins in Greek philosophy. Plato, following Pythagoras, said that man was composed of a body, soul, and spirit. The distinction between the spirit and the soul is that the soul was life while the spirit was the mind. They said that man was different from the animals because of his conscious mind. Some verse in the Bible seem to support this idea.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

The Trichotomous theory became the dominant view during the Middle Ages. Even early church fathers such as Augustine were proponents of man as a three-part creature.

One of the arguments offered to support the Trichotomous view is that man is made in the image of God. God is Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit). Man is a reflection of God who is composed of body, spirit, and soul.

“...then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7

The theory is that the spirit is the living force and the soul is the spiritual force. When a person dies, their spirit goes to God and their soul goes to heaven or hell.

The problem with using proof texts such as Ecclesiastes 12:7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is that other verses create confusion.

Verses that give a list of attributes should be interpreted as expressions of the entire being and not as parts or elements which make up a human. It should be noted that even the verses quoted from 1 Thessalonians are Ecclesiastes are not from a context that is teaching on man’s creation or even the nature of man.

mans-nature

Monism

This is the idea that man is “one.” Man has a conscious and his consciousness is in his mind. In essence, he is an animal. This is the view of the non-theists and even some theists and it is often associated with materialism or naturalism. They would say that man is just a highly evolved animal, that thought and emotions (although advanced) are tied to the biological brain. Matter (body) is the source of spirit (thought, etc.).

Trichotomy

The idea that man is composed of three parts finds its origins in Greek philosophy. Pythagoras, and later, Plato, said that man was composed of a body, soul, and spirit. The distinction between the spirit and the soul is that the soul was life while the spirit was the mind. They said that man was different from the animals because of his conscious mind.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

The Trichotomous view became the dominant view during the Middle Ages. Even early church fathers such as Augustine were proponents of man as a three-part creature.

One of the arguments offered to support the Trichotomous view is that man is made in the image of God. God is Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit). Man is a reflection of God who is composed of body, spirit, and soul.

“...then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7

The theory is that the spirit is the living force and the soul is the spiritual force. When a person dies, their spirit goes to God and their soul goes to heaven or hell.

The problem with using proof texts such as Ecclesiastes 12:7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is that other verses create confusion.

Verses that give a list of attributes should not be interpreted as expressions of the entire being and not as parts or elements which make up a human. It should be noted that even the verses quoted from 1 Thessalonians are Ecclesiastes are not from a context that is teaching on man’s creation or even the nature of man.


mans-nature

Dichotomy

Some argue that man is made of three parts because the New Testament uses two different words to describe the immaterial part of man. He is spirit (pneuma) and soul (pysche). A.A. Hodges addresses this argument.

"That the pneuma and psuche are distinct entities cannot be the doctrine of the New Testament, because they are habitually used interchangeably and often indifferently. Thus psuche, as well as pneuma, is used to designate the soul as the seat of the higher intellectual faculties. Matt. 16:26; 1 Pet. 1:22; Matt. 10:28. Thus also pneuma, as well as psuche, is used to designate the soul as the animating principle of the body. James 2:26. Deceased persons are indifferently called psuche, Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 6:9; 20:4; and pneuma, Luke 24:37, 39; Heb. 12:23."

Eschatology

“it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:44

This is a very strong verse for the dichotomous view. In the Garden, man is created from the soil and God breathed life into Him. Just as man was created material and immaterial (Gen. 2:7), so in the resurrection, man will be material and immaterial.

Footnotes

[1] James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, p.104

[2] A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, pp. 299, 300.

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