One of the blessings of preaching regularly, especially if you is preaching through a book or letter in the Bible, is that you are invited to think through issues more fully than you would otherwise. After all, you are teaching others to believe, unless of course you expect them to be asleep.
I say ‘invited’ rather than ‘forced’, because for last Sunday I declined the invitation for part of my sermon. I was preaching on 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28. Verse 23 says
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)
I declined the invitation to mug up on the nature of man – Paul here addresses the whole person as ‘spirit, soul and body’. Clearly the issue for Paul is the fact that God sanctifies the whole person – there is nothing left out. But the verse does suggest how man may be constituted. The verse at first sight seems to suggest three parts: body, soul and spirit.
I’m afraid on Sunday I rather fluffed round this. Though correctly emphasising that the whole believer is to be sanctified, I chose to explain the three-fold description in aspectival terms rather than ontological terms. [What? 😦 ] By aspectival I mean that Paul is looking at the whole man from different vantage points, rather as you would the plans for a building: left elevation, front elevation etc.. Each elevation looks different but still describes the same whole entity. They cannot be separated, because in doing so you would lose the 3-dimensionality of the house. (Incidentally, I did not use this illustration in the sermon, you’ll be glad to know. It’s just too complicated and technical.)
I now realise this is bunk. The components of man must be viewed ontologically. The bible clearly teaches the separation of body and soul. Jesus said,
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (NKJV)
This was brought to my attention while reading Calvin (Inst. I.XV.2).
I did some further reading on this and found three views of man:
Monism: Man is a total “one” before God. This is the view I had adopted on Sunday. The view sees terms such as soul and spirit as too imprecise to make them distinct entities. This view adopted by Berkouwer. The advantage of this scheme it seemed to me was that it fitted in with the Jewish view of the unity of man and did not pander to the dualism of human nature found in Greek philosophy.
Dichotomy: Man is soul and body. This is indicated by Jesus’ words above, and other verses (Ecc 12:7, 2 Cor 5:1-10). Scripture speaks of separation of the two at death. However this dichotomy should not be seen as Greek dualism. The two entities are united in one being, akin to Jesus’ human and divine natures, distinguishable but indivisible.
Trichotomy: Man is body, soul and spirit as suggested by 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Other verses suggest a distinction between soul and spirit (e.g. Heb 4:12, 1 Cor 15:44).
Reymond calls monism ‘nonsense’ (A New Systematic Theology p. 419) and adopts the dichotomous view. Calvin says that dichotomy ‘ought to be beyond controversy’ (Inst. I.XV.2). I tend to agree with this view. Monism does not seem to do justice to Scripture, while the trichotomy view, though better than monism, seems exegetically weak. However, I have only read these arguments through the eyes of pro-dichotomy authors!
The lesson here, is to examine every argument and statement before preaching it. It’s irresponsible not to. These things could be life and death.