Written By
S.R. Shearer

[Much of this material was derived from Brent Harris's excellent book, Body, Soul and Spirit]


Most Biblical scholars in the early church saw man as a threefold (trichotomous) being. Even as late as Augustine (A.D. 354-430), the common view was that man was trichotomous - that he possessed a body, a soul, and a spirit. Augustine substantiated this fact very plainly when he wrote in Faith and Creed:

"... there are three things of which man consists - namely spirit, soul, and body ..." [Faith and the Creed (XX:23)].

Augustine was very clear on the matter.

But as Latin Theology (i.e., Roman Catholicism) began to take hold, most theologians abandoned trichotomy and began to see man as simply a two-fold being of soul and body (with spirit being just another name for the soul). This idea, known as dichotomy, continued as the majority opinion down through the centuries and still is the most common view held by the Roman Catholic Church and most of the Protestant churches which came out of the Reformation (i.e., the Dutch Reformed, the Lutheran, the Episcopalian, the Presbyterian, etc.) - all of which, interestingly enough, hold to a post-millennial approach to eschatology (i.e., that the church must take control of the world before Christ can return). [It is interesting to note in this connection, however, that Martin Luther, the father (so to speak) of the Reformation, championed the view that man was trichotomous.]


It wasn't until the rise of evangelicalism in the 1800s [and most especially, the Plymouth Brethren, the group which is looked upon by most church historians as the parent body out from which evangelicalism sprang] and John Nelson Darby that trichotomy once again revived - and it's worth noting in this connection that along with a revived view of man as a trichotomous being, pre-millennialism also revived. Through such books as Dispensational Truth by Clarence Larkin (1918) [which possessed detailed charts and very refined explanations as to man's three-fold nature] and Hal Lindsay's Late Great Planet Earth (1962) Darby's teachings were popularized and gained wide acceptance and public acclaim in conservative church bodies throughout most of the 20th century. But with the rise of the modern ecumenical movement - i.e., the political movement of Protestant and Catholic bodies together to "take the nation back for Christ and the church" - post-millennialism (which "politicizing" promotes) resurfaced along with dichotomy - which post-millennialism of necessity encourages.


But that man is a three-part being seems to be the unwavering view of the Scriptures: that man has a body is, of course, self evident; but that man has a spirit in addition to his soul is also just as evident - at least to those who are disposed to read the Scriptures literally. The Scriptures seem to clearly differentiate between the two. For example, that man has a spirit seems to be very plain from the following Scriptures:

  1. "The spirit (Heb. - ne shamah) of man is the lamp of the Lord." (Prov. 20:27)
  2. "The spirit (Gk. - pneuma) indeed is willing ..." (Matt. 26:41)
  3. "Jesus perceiving in his spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Mark 2:8)
  4. "He sighed deeply in his spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Mark 8:12)
  5. "My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Luke 1:47)
  6. "He was deeply moved in spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (John 11:33)
  7. "Being fervent is spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Acts 18:25)
  8. "I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Acts 20:22)
  9. "Whom I serve in my spirit (Gk. - pneuma)." (Rom. 1:9 NASB)
  10. "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit (Gk. - pneuma) ..." (Rom. 8:15)
  11. "What man knoweth the things of a man except the spirit (Gk. - pneuma) of man which is in him." (I Cor 2:11)
  12. "They refreshed my spirit (Gk. - pneuma) as well as yours." (I Cor. 16:18)
  13. "His spirit (Gk. - pneuma) was refreshed by you all." (2 Cor. 7:13)
  14. "The Lord Jesus be with your spirit (Gk. - pneuma)." (2 Tim. 4:22)

And that man has a soul is also evident from the following Scriptures:

  1. "Why are you cast down, O my soul (Heb. - nephesh)." (Ps. 42:5)
  2. "My soul (Gk. - psuche) is very sorrowful." (Matt. 26:38)
  3. "My soul (Gk. - psuche) doth magnify the Lord." (Luke 1:46)
  4. "Now is my soul (Gk. - psuche) troubled." (John 12:27)
  5. "... were of one heart and soul (Gk. - psuche) ..." (Acts 4:32)
  6. "I call for a record upon my soul (Gk. - psuche) ." (2 Cor. 1:23)
  7. "For they watch for your souls (Gk. - psuche) ." (Heb. 13:17)
  8. "Seeing you have purified your souls (Gk. - psuche) ." (I Pet. 1:22)
  9. "Which war against your soul (Gk. - psuche) ." (I Pet. 2:11)

It should be noted in this connection that the Hebrew word for spirit is ne shamah which means "wind," and the Hebrew word for soul is nephesh which means a "living (thinking) being." They are two totally different words, and mean two totally different things. In addition, the Greek word for spirit is pneuma which means "breeze," and the Greek word for soul is psuche, which - like the Hebrew word, nephesh - means a "living (thinking) being." Again, they are two totally different words, and mean two totally different things.

Finally, the Hebrew word for spirit, ne shamah ("wind"), corresponds to the Greek word for spirit, pneuma ("breeze"), while the Hebrew word for soul, nephesh ("living (thinking) being") corresponds to the Greek word, psuche (also "living (thinking) being").

Thus, when God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him ..." (Gen. 1:26-27) what is meant here is that God made man a three-part being. Since God is a three-part being (i.e., He is triune), He created man a three-part being - body, soul and spirit.


If, however, man has a spirit which is different from his soul, what is the spirit? The spirit is our "inner man" (Eph. 3:16) - it is that portion of our being which is meant to touch (and commune with) God - so that we:

"May be able to comprehend (understand) ... what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height (of Christ); and to know (His) ... love ... which passeth knowledge, that ... (we) might be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:18-19).

The spirit is what Peter refers to as "the hidden person of the heart" (I Pet. 3:4) - and it's precisely this "hidden person of the heart" which differentiates man from the beasts.


The beasts have no such ability to touch God - they were never meant to "commune" with God - only man has this ability (or possibility). Indeed, if only the body and soul are taken into account, then the radical "animal rights" activists (as bizarre as they may seem) are correct when they say that there is little that differentiates man from the beasts - after all, beasts, just like man, think, reason, love, and hate and, ipso facto, they have a soul! To say that they don't - that they just react to stimuli like plants - is asinine. Plants (which have only a body, but no soul) don't think, don't love, don't reason - unlike the beasts and man, they only react to stimuli; they are still alive, but they don't have a soul, and surely they don't have a spirit.


It is important to understand the difference between our soul and spirit because it is in our spirit where we are cognizant of God and where He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. It is the spirit where our fellowship with God begins. It is in our own spirit where we must worship God. This is why Jesus said,

"God is a Spirit (meaning the Holy Spirit): and they that worship him must worship him in spirit (meaning man's spirit) and in truth." (John 4:24)

Our spirit is deeper than our soul. It's deeper than our random thoughts. It's deeper than our outward emotions which we might project to others - it's a place where we can retreat to and always find happiness and joy in Christ - regardless of our outward circumstances. This is what Paul was talking about in II Cor. 6:10 when he said that as a servant of Christ he was "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" - sorrowful in his soul due to the trying circumstances which surrounded him - but always rejoicing in his spirit where he had fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul puts it this way in II Cor. 4:8:

"... we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." (II Cor. 4:8)

Nothing could shake Paul from his deep, abiding trust and peace that was his experience down deep in his spirit - although outwardly, in his soul, he was often bewildered and distressed. Some have likened it to a storm raging on the ocean; but if we go down beneath the waves we find rest and peace. How often we forget, and try to ride out the storm on the surface (in our soul) where the raging waves of confusion and fear predominate, instead of trusting Christ in our spirits. It's in our spirits where "the peace that passes all understanding" is to be found (Phil. 4:7) - the peace which is ours because Christ dwells there. It was in our spirit where we first met God when the Holy Spirit convicted us of our sin. Wasn't it glorious when we first came to know Christ? It might not have made sense in our mind or soul, but down deep inside we knew the gospel was true and that we needed a Savior. That was God speaking to us in our spirit.


It is in our spirits where the consciousness of God is found. Some have said that our spirit is where we are conscious of God, our soul is where we are conscious of self, and our bodies are where we are conscious of the physical world of the senses. Sanctification means bringing our soul into submission to our spirit which is beholding and reflecting God. When we do this, we reflect God to the world. This is what Paul meant when he said that

"... we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18)

This is what true godliness is all about. It's not about learning formulas from "how to" books promoted by "Christian" psychologists and counselors on how to have a good marriage, to be a loving father or wife, to be a caring parent, etc. It's about beholding God in our spirit and reflecting Him through our soul to the world which surrounds us. Our need isn't for more books and seminars, our need is to behold the Lord in our spirit and reflect Him to those who touch us in our daily lives. When we do this, we will automatically be a loving father, because He is a loving father; we will automatically be a loving husband or wife because He is a loving father or wife; we will automatically be a caring parent because He is a caring parent. This is exactly the practice of our Lord insofar as His walk with the Father is concerned. Jesus said,

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." (John 5:19)


And this is what Jesus told us to do:

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
"Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." (John 15:4-8)

It's not working for Christ, but "abiding" in Christ; it's not doing, but "beholding and reflecting."


Finally we come to one last very important matter. I very much suspect that it is not without cause that pre-millennialism and trichotomy go together just as post-millennialism and dichotomy go together. I don't believe that it is a matter of simple happen-chance that historically, whenever pre-millennialism has predominated in the church, trichotomy has also prevailed; and whenever post-millennialism has predominated, dichotomy has likewise flourished. There is a connection between pre-millennialism and trichotomy; and there is a connection between post-millennialism and dichotomy.

Post-millennialism is the effort by Christians (as a corporate body - i.e., the church) to do a work for Christ, specifically to bring in the kingdom of Christ. The arrogance and aggrandizement of self which is implicit in such thinking is overwhelming - this kind of thinking could never take place in the human mind which is fixed upon Christ. It doesn't emanate from a spirit which is "beholding and reflecting" Christ, but from a soul which at best has only a nodding acquaintance with the Lord. Those who truly behold God in their spirit would never countenance the kind of arrogance which could say, "I will do a work for God." This kind of thinking is born of "the pride of life" which is altogether a thing of this world (i.e., it's worldliness). The Bible says,

"For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." (1 John 2:16)

Those who have truly touched the Lord would never be so arrogant and pretentious. Moses saw God, and he hid his face in fear:

"And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
"And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
"Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. (Ex. 3:4-6)

Where is there any "pride of life" here?

Isaiah too saw the Lord, and he recognized immediately how small and insignificant he really was:

"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple ...
"Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. (Is. 6:1, 5)

Where is there any pride here? Where is there any thought of "doing a work for the Lord?" - unless the Lord did the work through him.

And John the Apostle also saw the Lord, and even he - the one who had leaned on Jesus' breast at the

"Last Supper" - fell on his face "as if dead:"
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, "And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me.
"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man ..." (Rev. 1:10, 11, 17)


Yes, the Almighty is our loving Father, but He also is an awesome God! There is no room for impertinence and shallow familiarity with the Lord such as Bennie Hinn so arrogantly exhibits in his preaching - even with those who enjoy a loving relationship with Him (which is certainly not the case with Hinn). He is not called "Lord" (i.e., master, sovereign) for nothing! Job, God's "friend," had to learn this lesson the hard way! - who are we, then, to tell God that we will do a work for Him? - the titanic arrogance of it all! Those who say such things only reveal that they have no real relationship with God at all - that their presumed relationship with God is nothing more than an empty pretense.

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
"Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
"Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
"Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
"Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place;
"Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?
"Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.
"Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,
"Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?
"Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.
"Then Job answered the LORD, and said,
"Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.
"Then answered the LORD unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
"Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
"Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous ...?
"Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty (if you can).
"(Can you) cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him.
"(Can you) look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place.
"Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret.
"(If you can do these things) then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee. (Job 38, 39, and 40)


Post-millennialists, nonetheless, say that they are going to conquer the world for Christ - and in saying this, they reveal that they have never really known God at all. Indeed, it's not without cause that someday they may very will hear those dreadful words, "I never knew you" (i.e., "I never had an intimate relationship with you"):

"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
"And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matt. 7:22-23) [And one must bear in mind here, that these are people are not "out-right" sinners, but people who evidently thought they were "doing a work for God."]

Their relationship with the Lord is all of self (soul) and nothing of the spirit. Because they know nothing of the spirit - nothing about "beholding and reflecting" the Lord - it's altogether natural for them to have a dichotomous view of man. How could it be otherwise?


Post-millennialism (and, ipso facto, dichotomy) emphasizes "doing" over "beholding;" "works" over "reflecting" - and, more than that, it emphasizes the church over Christ. In post-millennialism, it's the church that is going to bring in the kingdom, not Christ. Christ is seen as merely an observer in heaven while Christians on earth do all the work. And more than that, in the post-millennial scheme of things, the individual is de-emphasized, and the church is emphasized. In post-millennialism, the church is everything - and, as a result, unity is stressed; but it's not the unity which flows out of the individual as a natural consequence of "beholding and reflecting" Christ in one's spirit, it's the unity that is brought about by outward control - a control which flows from church officers (elders, pastors, "apostles," "prophets," etc). It's the kind of unity that is brought about by "outward conformity," not the inner leading of Christ in our spirits.


The unity that post-millennialism brings is dependent on hierarchy - the orderly arrangement of church officers in a kind of giant pyramid which emphasizes rank and position. How high up one is in this pyramid determines how "close" one is to God. One is required to "submit" to those who are "above," and to "rule over" those who are "below" - and one's spirituality is measured by one's submission to authority (i.e., to one's submission to control).

The order which post-millennialism promotes is based on a military-like discipline, a discipline which is enforced by an outward chain of command. The thought that all men have equal access to Christ through the spirit (trichotomy) is anathema to post-millennialism - it strikes at the military-like order which post-millennialism promotes. The belief that each individual Christian has a spirit and can be led individually by that spirit without resort to "outward authority" is a threat to post-millennialism's pyramid-like structure and scheme of things. For post-millennialists to admit that man is a trichotomous being and ipso facto not dependent on hierarchy to guide and direct him is tantamount to destroying the necessity for post-millennialism's pyramid. The thought that each individual Christian can "know" God in his spirit independent of those "above" him in the hierarchy is an abomination and sacrilege to post-millennialists.


But Jesus promoted no such hierarchical scheme of things. Jesus taught the exact opposite. He said,

"Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
"But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister (i.e., servant);
"And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (i.e., slave):
"Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto (i.e., served), but to minister (i.e., serve), and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:25-28)

Instead of teaching man to be dependent on an outward hierarchy, Jesus said,

"... ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie [i.e., the same anointing (which is truth and no lie) teaches all of you the same things]. (I John 2:27)

And exactly what is this anointing? Jesus said that it is -

"... the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)

And again, Jesus said,

"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me ..." (John 15:26)

So important did Jesus believe the "Comforter's" ministry to be to the individual Christian - a ministry which stands totally outside any form of hierarchy - that Jesus said,

"... It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (John 16:5-7)


Trichotomy emphasizes the importance of the individual believer's walk with Christ - it's not that our "corporate" walk with other believers isn't important, but that the starting point for all our relationships with other believers, including our relationship with others in the church, is our individual walk with Christ. Trichotomy teaches that all believers - regardless of intellect and regardless of their station in life or their position in the church - have equal access to God through the Holy Spirit which indwells their human spirit, just as all the branches in the vine have equal access to the nourishment which the vine alone provides; Jesus said,

"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5)

And John the Apostle said,

"And now, little children, abide in him ..." (I John 2:27-28)

The secret is abiding in Him! - that's where everything begins. It's not intellect that counts, nor even seminary training, nor worldly success, nor your "station" in the church or in life that counts - but abiding in Him and abiding in His Word. If a Christian does these things, everything else will follow, including a vibrant loving relationship with others as well as a fulfilling life in the church.


Yes, the church is important. Indeed, the Bible says that the church is the "Bride of Christ" (Rev. 21:9); but we must always bear in mind that the church flows out of the Lord, not the Lord out of the church. The Lord comes first, then the church. Out of our individual relationships with the Lord flows the life of the church. If our individual walk with the Lord is wrong, then our life in the church will be wrong, and all the seminars, and all the books, and all the sermons aren't going to help; but when the individual believer "beholds and reflects" the glory of the Lord, then the church also will reflect and mirror the Lord's splendor - and not until. Put another way, the health of the human body depends on the health of the individual cells of the body, not visa versa. When all the cells of the body are healthy, then the whole body will be healthy - and not the other way around.

Some people speak of the church as if it somehow had its own identity apart from its individual members; but the church has no life of its own. It has life only because we - as individual members - have life. The church has no life apart from the individual members which compose it. The church reflects the glory of the Lord only insofar as its individual members are "beholding and reflecting" the glory of the Lord. Paul put it this way:

"And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; "for through Him we (as individual members) ... have our access in one Spirit (i.e., the Holy Spirit) to the Father.
"So then you (as individual members) are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household,
"having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,
"in whom the whole building (i.e., the church as a corporate body of believers), being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord ..." (Eph. 2:17-21 - NASB)

According to Paul, the order is this: first there are the individual members, who as individual members are touching and communing in their individual spirits with the one and only God-given Holy Spirit (i.e., the Comforter), and its through each individual member's touch with the one and only Spirit of God that we are quite effortlessly brought into oneness and then built together into a holy Temple (habitation) unto the Lord.


©Copyright - Antipas Ministries