Is our humanity made up of three parts meaning trichotomy (body, soul and spirit) or two parts, meaning dichotomy (body and soul/spirit). From a theological and philosophical perspective, dichotomy makes the most sense. Trichotomy splits are humanity in ways that reek of Gnosticism and challenge the process of regeneration/sanctification. If our immaterial components are comprised of soul and spirit, which part is linked to our personhood (including will, intellect and emotions) and how does regeneration affect that in ways that aren’t ontologically schizophrenic?
Those defending trichotomy quickly cite certain proof-texts, like 1 Thess. 5:23 as proof that we are made up of three parts. A friend passed on this article recently and highlighted this quote that I thought really addressed why this is not good proof;
The trichotomist must admit, along with the dichotomist and in agreement with Berkouwer, that there is a certain ‘imprecision’ at times in the Bible’s use of the relevant terminology. One has only to consider the several New Testament quotations of Deuteronomy 6:5, for example, to see this. Where Luke 10:27 reads that we should love God with all our heart (kardia) and soul (psychē) and strength (ischys) and mind (dianoia), Matthew 22:37 reads that we should love God with all our heart and soul and mind, omitting strength, while Mark reports in 12:30 that we should love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (reversing the order of the last two Lukan words), and in 12:33 that we should love God with all our heart and understanding (syneseōs) and strength, using another word for ‘mind’ and omitting ‘soul’ altogether. In all, five different words are employed without even mentioning the body. Surely, no one would insist, on the basis of these series of words connected by ‘and,’ that each of these words refers to an immaterial, ontologically distinct entity, and that therefore Luke was a quintchotomist, Matthew was a quadchotomist, and Mark was a sexchotomist. With Berkouwer we must all admit that these parallel admonitions are simply saying that we are to love God with our entire or total being.
So much for using the actual words to prove the case. And to say that our total being is split in two, is ontologically and theologically challenged. Thanks Elizabeth for passing this on.
You can read the entire article here. Wayne Grudem also provides good food for thought on the subject in his Sytematic Theology (pp 472-482).