Dichotomy and Trichotomy: on the nature of man

These are notes from various texts on Man’s essence.   A fuller essay comes later.  I advance the thesis–though I will modify it at points at another time–that man is composed of two elements: bshr (flesh) and ruach (cf. A.A. Hodge, p.299ff).

Against Trichotomism:

Definition:  man has three distinct elements–rational spirit, animal soul, and body.

Supposed biblical evidence: 1 Thess. 5:23 (I pray that your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless).

However, the NT often uses the words psyche and pneuma interchangeably.  Both are used to designate the soul as the seat of the intellectual faculties (Matt. 16:26).  Both can be used to designate the soul as the animating principle of the body (James 2:26).  Deceased persons are both called psuchai (Acts 2:27) and pneumata (Luke 24:37).

Hodge’s discussion good, but inadequate.

The above was taken from A.A. Hodge’s fine Outlines of Theology.   I agree with him that the bible doesn’t teach trichotomy, but he leaves some issues untreated.  He hasn’t fully broken with the Hellenic scheme of a scale of hierarchy with regard to man’s Soul and Body. He speaks of “higher” and “lower” principles (301).  Though to be fair to Hodge, in rejecting trichotomy he has rightly rejected the heart of Hellenism.

Image and Likeness

By eikon the Fathers understood the natural constitutional powers of man.  By homoiosis they understood the matured and developed moral perfection of man (Hodge 305; Hodge identifies this system but doesn’t address it except to indirectly suggest it is the precursor of the Roman donum superadditum,  Maybe so, but there are differences between the East and Rome on this point, though there are similarities).

Bavinck gives a more satisfactory discussion.  He notes their interchangeable usage in Genesis 1:26 and 5:4; but in 1:27 and 9:6 only the image is referred to.  In Genesis 5:1 and James 3:9 only the likeness (Bavinck II: 532).    Bavinck adds, “Image tells us that God is the archetype, man the ectype; likeness adds the notion that the image corresponds in all parts to the original” (ibid).


One comment on “Dichotomy and Trichotomy: on the nature of man

  1. olivianus says:

    What evidence do you see for a ghost in the shell? A disembodied ghost? Where is that taught in the bible?

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