I once asked my public-college philosophy students if they thought human beings possessed a soul. A student quipped, “James Brown certainly does!” Popular musicical entertainer, James Brown, may have been called “the Godfather of Soul,” but he’s certainly not the only one to possess a soul.
In this article I will briefly describe how I understand Scripture’s teaching concerning the constituent aspects and ultimate union of human nature. In further installments of this series I will then explain and evaluate three theological views concerning the origin of the human soul.
In his helpful book, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts, evangelical Christian theologian John Jefferson Davis summarizes the meaning of the imago Dei (image of God):
“God created man and woman in his own image and likeness. Creation in the image and likeness of God includes the moral and spiritual nature, intellect, feelings, will, and dominion over the lower creation. God created man and woman as morally responsible agents.”
Being made in the image of God means humans are both physical and spiritual creatures. In fact, the human person represents a union of material (physical) and non-material (spiritual) aspects. There remains a theological debate about how to best describe the Bible’s true perspective concerning the constituent nature of human beings. Some believe in trichotomy—the view that human beings are made up of three component parts (body/soul/spirit). Others embrace the position of dichotomy—the view that human beings are a union of body and soul-spirit.
I view the position of dichotomy as the most biblically consistent position for four basic reasons:
1. The terms “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably in both the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 35:18; 1 Kings 17:21; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59).
2. Some passages refer to more than the three constituent elements of body/soul/spirit (“heart,” “mind:” Matthew 22:37) which makes me think the meaning of the text shouldn’t be taken overly literally. The best interpretation of Matthew 22:37 is the admonition to love God with one’s entire being not in multiple distinct parts.
3. Theologically speaking, both “soul” and “spirit” reference that immaterial aspect of a human being’s nature found in union with the body (Genesis 2:7).
4. The totality of human existence is referenced sometimes in terms of “body and soul” (Matthew 10:28) and at other times as “body and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
These reasons lead me to conclude that human beings, via the imago Dei, are a union of material and immaterial aspects.
In the next installment of the series I will begin a discussion concerning three views of the soul’s origin. So check back with Today’s New Reason to Believe next Tuesday.
To consider all the relevant scriptural passages relating to the constituent aspects of human nature, see Davis’s Handbook of Basic Bible Texts.
For more about the historic Christian view of human nature, see my book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test, particularly chapter 10.