Theological Models of Man’s Makeup: Alternatives
Monism is the theological model that believes man is comprised of only one part. Although soul and spirit are identified as aspects of human nature, they do not consist in separable parts of man. Monism opposes both dichotomy and trichotomy, the usual evangelical models of man. As Philip Hefner contends, “Contemporary understanding of the human being and the human personality structure do not allow either a dichotomous or a trichotomous view, except metaphorically.”
In his discussion of the models of man’s constitutional nature, Millard Erickson (as a dichotomist) writes:
Monism insists that man is not to be thought of in any sense composed of parts or separate entities, but rather as a radical unity. In the monistic understanding, the Bible does not view man as body, soul, and spirit, but simply as a self. The terms sometimes used to distinguish parts of man are actually to be taken as basically synonymous. Man is never treated in the Bible as a dualistic being.
Monism has been the trend in academic circles in the past century. Liberal theologians as well as neo-orthodox scholars have been advocating it. Wayne Ward summarized this trend by stating, “Present theological and psychological emphasis is almost altogether upon the fundamental wholeness or unity of man’s being . . . “
This monistic perspective is also held by some evangelical scholars:
Today the dichotomy/trichotomy issue has been largely superseded by an emphasis on the unity of the person. According to Scripture I do not consist of composite ‘parts,’ whether two or three; I am a psychosomatic unity.
Likewise, Anthony Hoekema avoids the use of the terms “dichotomy” because it de-emphasizes man’s essential unity.
We must reject the term “dichotomy” as such, since it is not an accurate description of the biblical view of man. The word itself is objectionable . . . It therefore suggests that the human person can be cut into two “parts.” But man in this present life cannot be so cut . . . The Bible describes the human person as a totality, a whole, a unitary being.
Both Milne and Hoekema concede that man’s immaterial part separates at the time of physical death, thus they actually hold to a form of dichotomy. Physical monism, however, requires the belief that the soul does not survive the death of the body. Some theologians reconcile this in their eschatology, teaching that the soul and body are recreated by God ex nihilo at the resurrection. This view is known as recreationism.
Some theologians advocate spiritual monism. Instead of seeing the body and soul as an individual physical monad, they see man as an indivisible spiritual monad. Thus, the body is regarded as an illusion, as maya in Hinduism. The strong influence of eastern religions in the west has found “Christian” counterparts: e.g., Christian Science, Process Theology, and Gnosticism.
Roman Catholic tradition also supports a monistic view of man. Thomas Aquinas advocated a middle position between the dualism of Plato and the monism of Aristotle (who compared the body with lumber and the soul with an architectural plan). However, Aquinas did write that “man is composed of a spiritual and of a corporeal substance,” and that the soul survives death.”7 But Catholic anthropology in the twentieth century regarded the survival of the soul after physical death as a mystery; man is regarded as an ontological unity. A catechism states,
The unity of the soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body; i.e. it is because of the spiritual soul that the body of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.
Monism is sometimes advocated on scientific grounds. Calvin Seerveld urges evangelicals to discard the outdated belief in body, soul, and spirit as parts of man’s constitution. He bases man’s identity on “the structured thrust of the whole,” which he considers indivisible. Yet, this bias against the distinctive soul of man seems due to its immaterial quality. As George Jennings noted, this contemporary preference by social scientists, anthropologists, and psychologists to abandon the concept of the soul is due to their inability to study the soul experimentally. Jeffrey Boyd described the trend in the Evangelical Theological Society of using “spirit” as a replacement for the term “soul,” with a monistic emphasis on man’s nature. He concluded that many theologians confess that they have not thought enough about the soul, therefore theological anthropology is an underdeveloped and neglected aspect of evangelical theology.
A prominent example of a case for monism is The Body, by John A. T. Robinson. A representative of the Biblical Theology movement, this neo-orthodox scholar assumed a sharp distinction between Greek and Hebrew thought. He agreed with H. Wheeler Robinson’s assessment of the Hebrew idea of personality–man as an animated body, not an incarnated soul. So Robinson affirmed, “Man is a unity, and this unity is the body as a complex of parts, drawing their life and activity from a breath soul, which has no existence apart from the body.” In his work on systematic theology, Millard Erickson identifies major arguments for monism and answers them effectively.
Without going into further detail in responding to monism, evangelicals should be satisfied to examine biblical passages that refute this position. A fundamental testimony against monism is the fact that man’s soul continues to live after the body dies. This necessitates the doctrine of the soul as an element distinct from the physical body. The Old Testament refers to this when Rachel’s soul departed (Gen 35:18), and Ecclesiastes speaks of man’s spirit as returning to God after death (Eccl 3:21). In the New Testament, Christ promised the thief on the cross that they would be in Paradise that very day (Luke 23:43). Paradise would sharply contrast the condition and location of their crucified bodies. The apostle Paul refuted monism when he testified,
For I am hard pressed between the two [whether to prefer longer physical life or martyrdom] having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you . . . We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. (Phil 1:23,24; 2 Cor 5:8; Cf. Heb 12:23; Rev 6:9).*
Other references also indicate the distinction between soul and body. Daniel testified that his spirit was grieved in the midst of his body (Dan 7:15). Jesus warned His disciples not to fear human persecutors: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul . . . ” (Matt 10:28). I. Howard Marshall admits that most current biblical scholars are embarrassed by the dualism in Matthew 10:28, preferring to minimize it. Nevertheless, here a clear distinction is drawn between man’s material and immaterial parts. Franz Delitzsch noted the scriptural case against monism:
If . . . the conclusion be drawn that there subsists no essential distinction between soul and body, Scripture is diametrically opposed to this; for it bids us from the first page to look upon the kosmos dualistically, so also it bids us look at man . . . for the spirit . . . is something essentially different in its nature from matter. According to its representation, man is the synthesis of two absolutely distinct elements.
The apostle John made this clear in his blessing: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in [physical] health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).
These observations show that, although the Scriptures value man’s unity of personhood, there is an undeniable distinction of parts in his being. Further refutations of monism come from some of the biblical arguments for dichotomy.
This view of human nature sees man’s constituent elements as two–the physical and the spiritual. The term “dichotomy” derives two Greek roots: diche, meaning “twofold” or “into two”; and temnein, meaning “to cut.” Augustus Strong states this view:
Man has a two-fold nature,–on the one hand material, on the other immaterial. He consists of body, and of spirit, or soul. That there are two, and only two, elements in man’s being, is a fact to which consciousness testifies. This testimony is confirmed by Scripture, in which the prevailing representation of man’s being is that of dichotomy.
Just As there are two varieties of monism (physical and spiritual), there are two varieties of dualism (Platonic and holistic). Plato’s teaching is representative of Greek dualism. Bruce Milne noted,
Plato saw man as two separable parts, body and soul; at death the soul was liberated, the divine spark in man passing from its shadowy life in the prison-house of the body to the real world beyond physical dissolution.[16 ]
Thus, Greek philosophers regarded the body as intrinsically bad, in contrast to the soul. (This negative attitude toward the body is seen in the criticism of the doctrine of the resurrection by the philosophers of the Areopagus in Acts 17:32.) Descartes’ form of dualism likewise emphasized the separate substances of body and soul.
Holistic dualism maintains the distinction in man’s constitution while emphasizing his unity. This view goes by a variety of titles such as “minimal dualism” (C. S. Evans), “interactive dualism” (Gordon Lewis), “conditional unity” (Millard Erickson), or “psychosomatic unity” (Anthony Hoekema). Lewis and Demarest advocate this position:
To sum up the doctrine of humanness ontologically, . . . the whole person is a complex unity composed of two distinct entities, soul and body, intimately interacting with one another . . . an interacting dichotomy.
How does this view of dualism differ from that of Plato? Lewis and Demarest further clarify this.
The body is not the blameworthy cause of human evil, the inner self is. The existence of the naked spirit after death is an intermediate and incomplete state, not the eternal state. In the eternal state humans are not immortal souls only, but spirits united with resurrection bodies . . . [The body] is not the prison house of the soul but its instrument. The body is not less real than the soul.
If Platonism viewed the body and soul as joined in a bad marriage, holistic dualism sees them as in a harmonious one. Strong arranged the scriptural support for dichotomy in four observations. First he noted the record of man’s creation (Gen 2:7), in which, as a result of the inbreathing of the divine Spirit, indicates that the body becomes possessed and vitalized by a single principle–the living soul. Secondly, Strong observed texts in which the soul (or spirit) is distinguished, both from the divine Spirit–from whom it proceeded–and from the body which it inhabits (Num 16:22; 12:1; 1 Cor 2:11). Various texts distinguish the soul, or spirit of man from the body (1 Kgs 17:21; Gen 35:18; James 2:26). Thirdly, Strong noted the interchangeable use of the terms “soul” and “spirit”: they both are used to refer to emotions (Gen 41:8; Psalm 42:6), Jesus giving of his life (Matt 20:28; 27:50), and the intermediate state of man (Heb 12:23; Rev 6:9). Fourthly, Strong pointed to the mention of body and soul (or spirit) as together constituting the whole person (3 John 2; 1 Cor 5:3; Matt 10:28). Berkhof gave an historical survey of this doctrinal view and then endorses dichotomy. He first noted the biblical emphasis on the unity of man’s person:
While recognizing the complex nature of man, it [the Bible] never represents this as resulting in a twofold subject in man. Every act of man is seen as an act of the whole man. It is not the soul but man that sins; it is not the body but man that dies; and it is not merely the soul, but man, body and soul, that is redeemed by Christ.
Berkhof then proceeded to explore the nature of man’s duality. Occasionalism (suggested by Cartesius) is rejected because it proposes that matter and spirit each function according to their own peculiar laws; these laws are so different that joint action of soul and body are impossible without divine intervention. Another theory of the relationship of soul and body is parallelism (proposed by Leibnitz). This view also assumes that there is no direct interaction between the material and spiritual, yet God is not the source of the apparent harmony of the two in man’s activity. Instead, there is a preestablished harmony so that they act in concert with each other; when the body moves, the soul has a corresponding movement. Berkhof affirms the majority view of dichotomy which he called realistic dualism: “. . . body and soul are distinct substances which do interact, though their mode of interaction escapes human scrutiny and remains a mystery for us.” 
To substantiate dichotomy (instead of trichotomy), the soul and spirit are defined as denoting the same immaterial part of man, yet with distinct connotations. Dichotomist theologians have different ways of clarifying this distinction. Gordon Clark is representative of those which identify “soul” as the combination of body and spirit. Commenting on Genesis 2:7 he writes,
God constructed man out of two elements: the dust of the ground and his own breath, The combination is nephesh . . . In the Old Testament the term “soul” designates the combination as a whole, not just one of the components.
Strong defines soul as “the immaterial part of man, viewed as an individual and conscious life, capable of possessing and animating a physical organism.” Spirit is then described as this same immaterial part “viewed as a rational and moral agent, susceptible of divine influence and indwelling. He elaborated on these contrasts:
The pneuma, then, is man’s nature looking Godward, and capable of receiving and manifesting the pneuma hagion [Holy Spirit]; the psuche is man’s nature looking earthward, and touching the world of sense . . . [man’s] immaterial part, while possessing duality of powers, has unity of substance.
This perspective of dichotomists regarding soul/spirit was summarized by J. O. Buswell:
As soul designates the non-material personal being, usually when there is some reference to his body or his earthly connections . . . so the word spirit designates a personal being in those circumstances in which reference to earthly connections and ordinary human function is absent.
The understanding of spirit as the higher aspect of man’s immaterial being is a consistent feature of dichotomist theologians; they reject, however, the ontological distinction between soul and spirit.
In the attempt to discern the parts of man, a variation on the views described above is that man has a plurality of aspects that defy a decisive distinction of spirit, soul, and body. In addition to studying psuche and pneuma, other aspects of man also need to be identified and incorporated into man’s makeup. The following is a sample list of such faculties with brief definitions.
Heart. The Hebrew term is leb; The Greek term is kardia. There are over seven hundred biblical references to the heart of man. “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov 4:23. Cf. John 14:1). Easton’s Dictionary states, “According to the Bible, the heart is the centre not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life.”
Conscience. The Greek word is suneidesis. The New Testament refers to the conscience about twenty eight times. The author of Hebrews implored, “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably” (Heb 13:18; Cf. Rom 2:15). It is “That faculty of the mind, or inborn sense of right and wrong, by which we judge of the moral character of human conduct” (Easton).
Mind. “Mind” occurs eighty eight times in the NKJV Bible. The Greek words translated thus are nous, dianoia, and sunesis. “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13; cf. Rom 12:2). This refers to the faculty of thought and reasoning.
Will. The Greek tern is thelema. This refers to man’s faculty of volition “. . . who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13: cf. 1 Cor 7:37).
To these terms could be added other aspects of man known from personal awareness and scriptural designation: emotions, imagination, affections, etc. The multifaceted view, however, sidesteps the issue of whether the spirit is a distinguishable “part” of man. This explanation lumps all these spiritual and psychological terms into one category of the non-material side of man or as “man.”
The current academic climate–even among evangelicals–favors the unity of man to the point of disparaging dichotomy and/or trichotomy as “reductionistic.” In a recent textbook on Christian Counseling, the authors claim,
People must always be thought of and related to as a complex unity. Any effort to describe persons in a compartmentalized way is simply an accommodation to our limited reasoning abilities . . . no absolute division of human beings is evident in the text of Scripture.28
However, the scriptural evidence cited above to refute monism applies to the monistic version of this view as well. The ontological distinction of man’s parts precedes the discussion of what should be emphasized in relating to people in counseling. (This will be explored in chapter 8.)
The issues differentiating the multifaceted view and trichotomy can be illustrated in an analysis of the tabernacle (Exod 25-31). This worship structure had a variety of furnishings including the lampstand, the table of showbread, the altar of incense, the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, and the cherubim. In addition to these items in the tabernacle was the ministering priesthood. How many rooms were in this tabernacle? The two rooms were the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Understanding the distinction between these two is essential to perceive the placement of the furnishings and to regulate the high priest’s role on the Day of Atonement. What is the difference between a lampstand and the Holy Place? Although there is an overlap of meaning (because the former was in the latter), the lampstand was a furnishing whereas the Holy Place was a room. Similarly, mind, will and emotions are faculties; the soul is part of man. The significance of the tabernacle as a scriptural symbol of man will be explored in more detail in the following chapters.
This chapter has surveyed the three alternative models of man’s makeup, rejecting monism unequivocally. The case for dichotomy has earned it the status of being the majority position of evangelical theologians. In the next chapter we will examine the trichotomous view of man. As this model is presented and defended, the deficiencies of the models presented above should become more apparent.
*The NKJV translation is used for biblical quotations in this book because of its accuracy, current English, traditional style, and textus receptus manuscript usage. Italicized words are not implied (as in the NKJV Bible editions), but indicate emphasis added by this writer.
1 Philip J. “Hefner, Forth Locus: The Creation,” in Church Dogmatics, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 334.
2 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 524.
3 Everett F. Harrison, ed., Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), s.v. “Trichotomy,” by Wayne Ward, 531.
4 Bruce Milne, Know the Truth (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1982), 97. Evangelicals Robert Pyne and Matthew Blackman advocate monism since they see dichotomy as reminiscent of Greek dualism and trichotomy as “faulty anthropology” (“A Critique of the Exchanged Life,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 163 : 138,39,49). They appeal to scientific studies to buttress monism. However, issues such as man’s soul/spirit distinction are beyond the realm of materialistic science. Revelation is required for definitive information on the spiritual realm (Heb 4:12). For a more detailed response to this article, see chapter 7 and this writer’s paper at http://www.GraceNotebook.com.
5 Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 209-10.
6 Ibid., 212.
7 Ibid., 209.
8 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori: Liguori Publications, 1994) 93; quoted in Boyd, “One’s Self Concept in Biblical Theology,” 209.
9 Calvin Seerveld, “A Christian Tin Can Theory of Man,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 33 (1981): 74.
10 George J. Jennings “Some Comments on the Soul,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 19/1 (1967): 7-11.
11 Jeffrey H. Boyd, “The Soul as Seen Through Evangelical Eyes,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 23 (1995): 161-70.
12 Erickson, Christian Theology, 526.
13 Boyd, “One’s Self Concept in Biblical Theology,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40 (1997): 215.
14 Franz Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1867), 104-105.
15 Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1907), 485.
16 Milne, Know the Truth, 97.
17 Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demerest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 148-49, quoted by Boyd, “One’s Self Concept in Biblical Theology,” 211.
19 Strong, Systematic Theology, 485.
21 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), 192.
22 Ibid., 195.
23 Gordon H. Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1984), 37.
24 Strong, Systematic Theology, 486.
26 J. O. Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), 1:240.
27 Paul Enns, Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 307.
28 Harry Shields and Gary Bredfeldt, Caring for Souls: Counseling Under the Authority of Scripture (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 80-81.