Donald Grey Barnhouse on the Topic of Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body

This highly respected pastor, author and radio Bible teacher taught, based on inductive Bible study, that man is a tripartite being. He considered this not an insignificant issue, but an important doctrine, especially in understanding how to have victory ovet the temptations of “The World, The Flesh and the Devil.” He wrote as follows:

THREEFOLD ATTACK

In this chapter, we shall show that the enemy attacks us from these different angles because man is a threefold being. We will then show the nature of the difference between these three temptations, and finally, we will show the methods set forth by the Word of God through which the Christian may have victory in each of the three spheres.

When God created Adam, the act of creation is described as follows: “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” (Genesis 2:7). The verse reveals to us that the body was made of the dust of the ground, that the spirit came from the breath of God, and that the combination produced the soul. It would be correct, in the light of this verse, for a man to say, “I am a soul, I have a body and I have a spirit.”

There have been many theologians who have denied the tripartite nature of man. They find no difference between the soul and the spirit. However, the Word of God definitely does make such a difference, and we shall see that the difference is an important one in the psychology [in] back of the differences in temptations that come to a man. One of the most obvious verses which tells us how we are to distinguish between soul and the spirit is in the epistle to the Hebrews: “The Word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two—edged scalpel, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is the critic of the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

BODY, SOUL AND SPIRIT

We shall give only a brief summary of the use of the words body, soul and spirit, for it will not only be instructive for our purpose, but will also show the extent of the task. [See the PDF for the Hebrew and Greek word studies that distinguish soul and spirit.]

…Man is a soul, and as a soul he conserves his own identity though he may have the same name as other men. John Smith on Third Avenue does not get himself confused with John Smith on Fourth Street. The Post Office department may send their mail to the wrong addresses, but if they are sober, they get to their right homes. So do the animals, for our Lord pointed out “the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests” (Matthew 8:20), and we know from observation that each goes to his own home and it is never confused with any other. Evidently an animal or a bird has an individuality as distinct as that of man. The soul is self-consciousness.

MAN’S SPIRIT

The soul, which is the self, the ego, the I, has a spirit… This is what was breathed into Adam when he was created, and this is that which distinguishes man from animals.

No man, be he ever so low in the scale of human intelligences, ever failed sooner or later to recognize that there was something about him and superior to him. Aristotle said that “man is by nature a political animal”; Seneca said that “man is a social animal,” and in another place, “man is a reasoning animal.” Chrysostom said “man is a gentle animal,” and Augustine called him “an earthly animal.” There may be a measure of truth in all of these, but it would be far closer to the truth as revealed in the Scriptures which use the word “soul” and “spirit” to say that man is a religious animal. We substantiate the use of the word “animal” by the usage of the word “soul,” and we substantiate the word “religious” by the usage of the word “spirit.”…

SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY

There is, indeed, a great need for a detailed study of spiritual psychology (note the union of our two words in that phrase), but this is sufficient to establish the fact that man is a soul and that he has a spirit. We do not need to expand the fact that he also has a body. It is, indeed, the body that is the foundation that holds the other two in place so that if the body be destroyed the soul and spirit depart.

Why, then, do some theologians claim that there is no difference between soul and spirit? For much of popular theology is founded on the dichotomy of man into body and soul, rather than on the Biblical trichotomy of body, soul and spirit. Perhaps an illustration will explain. When man was created, he was somewhat like a three-storied house. After the fall, he was more like those houses which had gone through bombing: the third story had fallen into the second; the walls of the second were gaping so that a passerby might see the debris of the two–the house might still be fit for dwelling. When Adam sinned, the Spirit of man fell down into his soul. The two are almost inseparable in the unregenerate.

There is no adjective in our language for the word soul. Previous students have seen the need for such a word, and the great dictionaries give us soulish, but mark it obsolete for more than a century. In the Greek of the New Testament there is such an adjective. The spiritual concepts of lost men are really soulish concepts. They rise from the natural (soulish) man that receiveth not the things of the spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). We do not need to press the obvious analogy that the body is like a cracked wall. In view of the confusion of soul and spirit in the unsaved man, is it not comprehensible that philosophers and theologians have thought that they were one and the same? It is the Word of God that divides the two asunder.

A NEW SPIRIT

When a man is born again, the work of the Holy Spirit plants within him a new spirit. It is a new third story that is held from above by the power of God. As the old man was three-stories held up by the body, and always bearing downward by what we might call a soulish, gravitational pull, so the new man is three stories with the center of his being in the new spirit and is always being pulled upward by a spiritual, magnetic attraction. The Christian life is the development of the forces of the new spirit so that their influences come to combine the whole soul and being of the Christian. “I” am crucified with Christ, means that the old soul has to be dealt with in the only way that will bring any change. “Nevertheless I live” means that the life from above is penetrating the fastnesses of the soul and that the sphere of victory is being enlarged constantly in the life of the believer.

Satan’s entire strategy is, therefore, directed to continuing the confusion of soul and spirit and of using every artifice possible to increase the pull of the flesh which lusteth against the spirit [Gal. 5:16]. Because of the tripartite nature of man, the devil has arranged his attacks to assault each phase of man’s being. Against the body, he brings the temptations of the flesh. Against the soul he brings the temptations of the world. Against the spirit, he comes himself, even though through one of his lesser agents, seeking to win the allegiance of the old spirit to a worship of himself. It is thus important that we distinguish sharply between the three types of temptations. Failure to do so is in itself a victory for the enemy.


from The Invisible War: The Panorama of the Continuing Conflict Between Good and Evil, chapter 21, pp. 172-175. Bold font added for emphasis – JBW
By Donald Grey Barnhouse
(Zondervan, 1965)

Donald Grey Barnhouse (March 28, 1895 – November 5, 1960), was an American Christian preacher, pastor, theologian, radio pioneer, and writer. He was pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1927 to his death in 1960. He earned degrees from Biola University snd Princeton Theological Seminary. (Wikipedia)

Spirit versus Flesh

“I Am Not My Flesh”

“for we [who are born-again have been reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, set apart for His purpose and] are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory and take pride and exult in Christ Jesus and place no confidence [in what we have or who we are] in the flesh” (Phil 3:3 Amplified Translation),

This short video demonstrates how discerning the spirit/soul/body aspects of man gives clarity to defining “the flesh.” Courtesy of VCLI.org

Three Degrees of Religious Knowledge – A. W. Tozer

knowledge

From Man: The Dwelling Place of God (Christian Publications, Inc., 1966).

In our knowledge of Divine things three degrees may be distinguished: the knowledge furnished by reason, by faith and by spiritual experience respectively.

These three degrees of knowledge correspond to the departments of the tabernacle in the ancient Levitical order: the outer court, the holy place and the holy of holies.

Far in, beyond the “second veil,” was the holiest of all, having as its lone piece of furniture the Ark of the Covenant with the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat [Exodus 26:33]. There between the outstretched wings dwelt in awesome splendor the fire of God’s presence, the Shekinah. No light of nature reached that sacred place, only the pure radiance of Him who is light and in whom there is no darkness at all [1 John 1:5]. To that solemn Presence no one could approach except the high priest once each year who blood of atonement.

Farther out, and separated by a heavy veil, was the holy place, a sacred place indeed but removed from the Presence and always accessible to the priests of Israel. Here also the light of sun and moon was excluded; light was furnished by the shining of the seven golden candlesticks.
The court of the priests was out farther still, a large enclosure in which were the brazen altar and the laver. This was open to the sky and received the normal light of nature.

All was of God and all was divine, but the quality of the worshipper’s knowledge became surer and more sublime as he moved in from the outer court toward the mercy seat and the Presence, where at last he was permitted to gaze upon the cherubim of glory and the deep burning Fire that glowed between their outstretched wings.

All this illustrates if it does not typify the three degrees of knowledge possible to a Christian. It is not proper that we should press every detail in an effort to find in the beautiful Old Testament picture more than is actually there; but the most cautious expositor could hardly object to our using the earthly and external to throw into relief the internal and the heavenly.

[Body – external, observed knowledge]

Nature is a great teacher and at her feet we may learn much that is good and ennobling. The Bible itself teaches this: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge” [Psalm 19:1,2]. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” [Prov. 6:6]. “Behold the fowls of the air” [Matt. 6:26]. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” [Rom. 1:20] Reason working on data furnished by observation of natural objects tells us a lot about God and spiritual things. This is too obvious to require proof. Everyone knows it.

[Soul – revealed knowledge]

But there is knowledge beyond and above that furnished by observation; it is knowledge received by faith. “In religion faith plays the part by experience in the things of the world.” Divine revelation through the inspired Scriptures offers data which lie altogether outside of and above the power of the mind to discover. The mind can make its deductions after it has received these data by faith, but it cannot find them by itself. No technique is known to man by which he can learn, for instance, that God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth or that there are three Persons in the Godhead; that God is love or that Christ died for sinners, or that He now sits at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. If we ever come to know these things it must be by receiving as true a body of doctrine which we have no way of verifying [2 Pet 1:20,21]. This is knowledge of faith.

[Spirit – illumined, confirmed spiritual knowledge]

There is yet a purer knowledge than this; it is knowledge by direct spiritual experience. About it there is an immediacy that places it beyond doubt. Since it was not acquired by reason operating on intellectual data, the possibility of error is eliminated. Through the indwelling Spirit the human spirit is brought into immediate contact with higher spiritual reality. It looks upon, tastes, feels and sees the powers of the world to come and has a conscious encounter with God invisible.

[“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” Rom. 8:16].

Let it be understood that such knowledge is experienced rather than acquired.
It does not consist of findings about something; it is the thing itself. It is not a compound of religious truths. It is an element which cannot be separated into parts. One who enjoys this kind of knowledge is able to understand the exhortation in the Book of Job: “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace” [Job 22:21]. To such a man God is not a conclusion drawn from evidence nor is He the sum of what the Bible teaches about Him. He knows God in the last irreducible meaning of the word know. It may almost be said that God happened to him.

Maybe Christ said all this more simply in John 14:21: “I…will manifest myself to him” [John 14:21]. For what have we been laboring here but the sublimely simple New Testament teaching that the Triune God wills to dwell in the redeemed man’s heart, constantly making His presence known? What on earth or in heaven above can be a greater beatitude?


Note:

Bracketed words, bold font and biblical references added.

The distinction between revealed knowledge of faith and the deeper knowledge of confirmed spiritual understanding may be implied by the distinction between two Greek words for knowledge. gnōsis means “knowledge; general intelligence. In 1 Corinthians 8:1,7,10 it denotes ethical/doctrinal knowledge.

The meaning of epignōsis is “precise and correct knowledge; used in the NT of the knowledge of things ethical and divine.”  It occurs, for example, in Ephesians 1:17 (illumined knowledge), Eph. 4:13 (mature knowledge), and 2 Peter 1:3 – “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge [epignōsis] of Him who called us by glory and virtue…”. This distinction is confirmed in Trench’s Synonyms. – JBW

The Tripartite Nature of Man – Ebook

In doing research for Man as Spirit, Soul and Body, I discovered that one of the most scholarly, convincing books available on biblical psychology was published in Scotland in 1875. Since then I have only had a photocopied volume…until I discovered an economical Kindle ebook edition at www.Amazon.com.

Here is a brief quote from the Preface:

“The psychology of the schools is radically different from that of Scripture; yet to this day divines treat the distinction of soul and spirit as if it were only a verbal one, and speak of mortal body and immortal soul in phrases which are unconsciously borrowed from Plato rather than from St Paul. That philosophy should be content with a division of human nature into two parts only, “the reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting,” is neither strange nor inconsistent. The wonder rather would have been if the Pneuma had been detected by those old Greeks who, with all their wisdom, knew not God, and therefore knew not of a dormant faculty of God-consciousness which exists only as a bare capacity for good, not as an active energy or habit in man until he is born from above. Thus the trichotomy of human nature into spirit, soul, and body is part of that “hidden wisdom which eye had not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” till it was taught us by God in his Word [1 Cor. 2:9,10]. The Bible which contains the only sound system of theology, is also the teacher of the only sound system of psychology. Yet divines have paid too little attention to the psychology of the Bible, and in consequence obscurities, if not positive errors, have crept into theology, which can only be cleared up by bringing the light of Biblical psychology to bear on theology.”

The Tripartite Nature of Man: Spirit, Soul, and Body, Applied to Illustrate and Explain the Doctrines of Original Sin, the New Birth, the Disembodied State, and the Spiritual Body by John Bickford Heard

I urge students of biblical psychology to get this classic volume and give it due consideration.

-J.B.W.

A Mind at Ease

 

Dr. Marion Ashton wrote an insightful book about mental health, A Mind at Ease. The diagnosis is holistic and the solution is biblical. The author wrote from a holistic trichotomy perspective:

Another matter which is of great importance if we are to avoid mental tension, is that we should have some understanding of our make-up, and of the laws which govern the healthy functioning of our bodies and minds.

It is not necessary to go into technicalities as regards the nature of man, but there are two things in particular which I believe we need to recognise in relation to this whole question of mental tension.

The first is that our bodies, our minds [souls] and our spirits (the spirit being the organ of God-consciousness), are very closely inter-related. We do all know in experience that our minds are affected by the condition of our bodies. When we are tired or sick, our minds are not as alert as when we are rested and well. When we are spiritually right our bodies are often quickened and helped and our minds renewed.

Although man has different parts he is a unity, and should be considered as a unity. This simply means that if I want to avoid mental tension, and enjoy real mental health, I shall treat seriously the matter of physical health and spiritual health, I shall be prepared to discipline my body, and I will be careful of my ordinary and of my spiritual diet, so that I am feeding both body and soul on those foods which will be most conducive to physical and spiritual health. -emphasis added

Dr. Marion Ashton
ch. 3 THE PREVENTION OF TENSION
https://www.overcomertrust.org.uk/drmaa.htm

An Inductive Exposition

Commentaries that have a more inductive method acknowledge the implications of man as spirit, soul and body as taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

Here is the interpretation of Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament (Abridged Edition):

Throughout the letter Paul has been concerned with sanctification (3:13; 4:3-4, 7-8). Now he prays that God will indeed “sanctify” (i.e., separate to himself) his readers “through and through.” This expression speaks of the ultimate maturity of Christian character. It presents the qualitative side of spiritual advance in its final perfection.

The quantitative objective of the prayer is in the word “whole”. Wholeness pertains to three parts of the human make-up, “spirit, soul and body.” Paul petitions that this wholeness may be “kept” (or “preserved”) and that it may be “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The question arises as to how Paul conceives of the human being in the words “spirit, soul and body.” Among the various explanations of this expression are these four: (1) Paul intends no systematic dissection of human personality. Instead, he uses a loose rhetorical expression emphasizing the totality of personality, … (2) “Spirit” and “soul” are interchangeable, both referring to a person’s immaterial substance. “Body” then completes the picture by referring to the material part: “your whole spirit (i.e., soul) and body.” This sees the human being as dichotomous. (3) Others divide the last sentence of v.23 either into two independent parts or join “may your whole spirit” with the first part of the verse (both of these require adding words that are not in the Greek). (4) Paul saw a human being as a threefold substance, body, soul, and spirit.

Of the four options, this fourth one is by far the preferred interpretation, being generally recognized since the early fathers. The symmetrical arrangement of three nouns with their articles and their connection (in Greek) by means of two “ands” render this the most natural explanation. That Paul elsewhere does not make such a distinction is no argument against trichotomy. A trichotomous understanding of v.23 has so much to commend it that other interpretations cannot compete without summoning arguments from elsewhere. The difference between the material part (“body”) and the immaterial parts (“spirit”; and “soul”) is obvious in other places in Paul’s writings (e.g., Ro 7:17-23; 1Co 2:14-15; 14:14; 15:44).

The “spirit” is the part that enables us to perceive the divine. Through this component we can know and communicate with God. This higher element, though damaged through the fall of Adam, is sufficiently intact to provide each individual a consciousness of God. The “soul” is the sphere of our will and emotions, the true center of personality, which gives us a self-consciousness that relates to the physical world through the body and to God through the spirit. The “body” is the physical side of the human person. This analysis of humankind had been Paul’s training in the OT, though much unresolved mystery remains regarding the interrelationships between the different parts, including the body. How one affects the other is fully understood only by the Creator.

For such a composite creature Paul therefore prays, seeking an unblamable wholeness in the presence “of our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 2:19; 3:13).

Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III Editors: Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament, Abridged Edition (Zondervan, 2004).

Soul/Spirit Distinction: A Practical Issue

Devotional writer, F.J. Huegel addressed the issue of hurt feelings this way:

More Christians go on the rocks, defeated, over the nasty little thing we call “hurt feelings” then over the so-called great crises which test the very fiber of the soul.

I have been slighted. I have not been given the place I feel I merit, or I have been treated inconsiderately, justly. My opinions and feelings have not been consulted. Self has been wounded.

As a result I have began to sink. I am being defeated, not by a monster, but by a mere fly. And yet it is no less defeat. A “scum” covers my spirit formerly free and rejoicing. I have sunk down into the so-called “vessel of the soul.”  I have become soulish.

The stream of eternal life from the throne and from the Lamb has ceased to flow in and out of my being. My step has become heavy, and my face now carries an unhappy, darkened look. I am plainly defeated. Wounded pride did it. I looked at my self and took my eyes off Jesus my Lord.

How different all would have been if my answer had been the sublime answer of death! I would immediately have said, “They crucified my Lord – this is nothing. It is my chance to go a little deeper into the fellowship of my Savior’s sufferings, being made conformable onto His death.  The result will be a fuller participation of His resurrection.

“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it’” (Luke 9:23,24).[1]

Thank you, Lord, for these things that have hurt. Bless those who have hurt me. I forgive as You forgave. I am deeply grateful for this reminder of my nothingness. I am willing to be nothing that You might be all. Amen!”

Now when our answer is the answer of the Cross, nothing can hurt us. We immediately turn everything into a blessing.

  • We go up by going down.
  • We triumph through death.
  • We feed on the holy Cross and live.
  • The kick backward was really a kick forward.

The hurt feeling is immediately seen in light of the Savior’s death which the Holy Spirit as freshly applied, and the stream of eternal life from the throne flows richer and fuller than ever. Our concern is that Christ be glorified, the rest does not matter.


“Frederick Julius Huegel (1889-1971) was born in the United States of German immigrants, and studied English literature and philosophy as he searched for the meaning of life. Huegel came to Christ after reading a book by Anglican author F. Farrar, and dedicated himself to ministry. He served as a World War I chaplain and a long-time missionary to Mexico. Huegel was a prolific writer and well-traveled speaker, focused on drawing people to the power of the cross and the victorious life in Christ.”

What Is the Difference between the Soul and the Spirit?

The blog for Bibles for America features a concise article on the meaning of the human spirit and soul in the New Testament: What Is the Difference between the Soul and the Spirit?:

“The terms soul and spirit have been discussed at length in philosophy and literature, and in the writings of various religions. They’re sometimes used interchangeably because people believe they’re the same thing. But what does the Bible say? Are they different? And why does knowing if they’re different matter? In this post, we’ll look at verses and notes in the New Testament Recovery Version to see the soul and spirit are different. We’ll also discuss why knowing they’re different is important in our relationship with God.” https://blog.biblesforamerica.org/difference-between-soul-and-spirit/

Bibles for America is a non profit ministry, founded in 2020, that distributes free copies of The Recovery Version of the New Testament and Christian literature across the U.S. The Recovery Version is a translation of the Bible by Living Stream Ministry (LSM.org) that is published with extensive footnotes and cross references that clarify a Christ-centered, deeper life understanding of Scripture.

By the way, The Christian Research Institute (a.k.a “The Bible Answer Man” broadcast) devoted an issue of their Journal to retract their previous condemnation of Nee/Lee/”Local Church” (authors that Living Stream Ministry publishes).
https://elcmatters.org/2018/12/14/watchman-nee-an-orthodox-evangelical/

A similar blog post by Bibles for America is “What Is the Human Spirit According to the Bible?”

“‘God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truthfulness.'” (John 4:24 RV)

 

Charles H. Spurgeon on the Soul/Spirit Distinction

“Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) was a British Particular Baptist preacher who remains highly influential among Christians of different denominations, among whom he is still known as the “Prince of Preachers”. Spurgeon was to 19th century England what D. L Moody was to America… A strong figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition,…Spurgeon preached to around 10,000,000 people, often up to 10 times each week at different places” [Amazon.com].

His book, The Soul Winner (Fleming H. Revell, 1895) is a biblical, theological and practical volume of 15 chapters originally prepared for the students at the Pastors’ College.

Like all evangelical he used “spiritually” as an adverb to describe the work of the evangelist and the nature of regeneration of the lost person:

“There are some of us who have, by God’s grace, been so richly blessed that we have all around us a large number of persons who have been spiritually quickened through our instrumentality, people who have been aroused under our ministry, who have been instructed and strengthened by us, and who are all doing good service for God” (p. 65).

But we see it as very significant that this leader also believed in the holistic trichotomy of man. He referred to man’s regenerated spirit as a noun and distinct from the soul.

“Regeneration, or the new birth, works a change in the whole nature of man, and, so far as we can judge, its essence lies in the implantation and creation of a new principle within the man. The Holy Ghost creates in us a new, heavenly, and immortal nature, which is known in Scripture as “the spirit”, by way of distinction from the soul. Our theory of regeneration is that man in his fallen nature consists only of body and soul, and that when he is regenerated there is created in him a new and higher nature—”the spirit”—which is a spark from the everlasting fire of God’s life and love; this falls into the heart, and abides there, and makes its receiver a partaker of the divine nature.” Thenceforward, the man consists of three parts, body, soul, and spirit, and the spirit is the reigning power of the three…” (p. 11).

Note that, although regeneration impacts the whole person (as holistic trichotomy affirms), the new creation” of 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a regenerated human spirit. We also appreciate his observation that the [new human spirit] spirit is the reigning power of the three [body, soul and spirit] which has important implications for sanctification.

Spurgeon mentioned implications of this trichotomous view for evangelism. He considered it harmonious with his Calvinistic theology, teaching the sovereignty of God in salvation: “‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be [Rom. 8:7]’ A new and heavenly mind must be created by omnipotence, or the man must abide in death” (p 13). He also quoted 1 Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man [literally “soulical man”] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (p.12).

Spurgeon observed that “this God-begotten spiritual life in men is a mystery… “(p.13) because it takes place in the realm of the spirit–and perhaps because it is not as explicitly taught in the Bible prior to the progressive revelation of the New Testament. (See “mystery” in 1 Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 3: 1-6).

Considering this example from another well-respected pastoral leader, we would hope that some theological seminaries and biblical counseling organizations would be less dogmatic and exclusive in their view of man as only a dichotomy of body and soul.

-JBW


Page numbers are based on the free PDF edition at http://thesoulwinner.org/ebooks/

In Man as Spirit, Soul and Body, I present the case that man’s spirit before regeneration is not non existent, but dead toward God (Eph. 2:1-4). Unsaved man still has enough faculties of intuition (Rom. 1:20,21) conscience (Rom. 2:15), and creativity (Eccl. 2:1-26) to indicate that there is a human spirit that dignifies him above the animal kingdom.

Joseph Benson’s Commentary

On Thessalonians 5:23-26. And the very God of peace…sanctify you wholly — That is, may he carry on and complete the work of purification and renovation begun in your regeneration, redeeming you from all iniquity, Titus 2:14; cleansing you from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, 2 Corinthians 7:1; stamping you with his whole image…and may the whole of you, ολοκληρον υμων, your whole constitution, the whole frame of your nature, all belonging to you, all of and about you, be made and preserved blameless.

And what the apostle means by this whole constitution, or frame, of their nature, he immediately specifies, mentioning the spirit, the soul, and the body. Here, says Whitby, “the apostle justifies the ancient and true philosophy, that man is, as Nemesius styles him, τριμερης υποστασις, a compound of three differing parts. This was the doctrine of the Pythagoreans, and also that of the Platonists, who held that there is in man a soul irrational, which includes the affections of the body; and a mind, which uses the body as its instrument, and fights against it. This also was the doctrine of the Stoics, whence Antoninus saith, “The three constituent parts of man are σωμα, ψυχη, νους, the body, soul, and mind. Irenæus, and Clemens of Alexandria, and Origen, say the same.” He adds, “those two excellent philosophers, Gassendus and Dr. Willis, have established this philosophy beyond all reasonable contradiction.” It appears also, as the learned Vitringa has very accurately shown, a notion prevailed among the rabbis, as well as the philosophers, that the person of a man was constituted of three distinct substances; 1st, the rational spirit, which survives the death of the body, and is immortal; 2d, the animal soul, which man has in common with the beasts, and which dies with the body; and, 3d, the visible body.

[Benson conceded that other scholars interpreted man as dichotomous. Then he continued…]

“To comprehend,” says Macknight, “the distinction between soul and spirit,” which the sacred writers seem to have intimated in some passages, “the soul must be considered as connected both with the body and with the spirit. By its connection with the body, the soul receives impressions from the senses; and by its connection with the spirit, it conveys these impressions, by means of the imagination and memory, to the spirit, as materials for its operations. The powers last mentioned, through their connection with the body, are liable indeed to be so disturbed by injuries befalling it, as to convey false perceptions to the spirit. But the powers of the spirit not being affected by bodily injuries, it judges of the impressions conveyed to it as accurately as if they were true representations, so that the conclusions which it forms are generally right.” It may not be improper to add here, that the spirit, as distinguished from the two other parts included in the human constitution, seems to be supposed by the apostle (Hebrews 4:12) to be capable of being separated from the soul, his expression being, The word of God is quick, &c., piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; and some have thought that he intimates, (1 Corinthians 14:14-15,) that the one may know what the other does not.


from Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Joseph Paul Benson was “One of the most eminent of the early Methodist ministers in England…In 1766 Mr. Wesley appointed him classical master at Kingswood School. He devoted himself closely to philosophy and theology, studying constantly and zealously… After the death of John Wesley, Joseph Benson took over the Methodist/Wesleyan movement and the organization that Wesley created…The circulation of The Methodist Magazine rose from ten thousand to twenty-four thousand per issue on his watch, and it was one of the most widely read periodicals in pre-Victorian England. He was an able writer, serving as apologist against Joseph Priestley, as biographer of John Fletcher, and as author of a multi-volume commentary on the Bible.”