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Marc Roby: We are beginning our third year of this podcast by resuming our study of biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, at the end of the last session, you said that we could define soul, or spirit, as the immaterial part of man, which includes the essence of who he is, and which lives on after his physical death, and has as essential attributes the faculties of reason, morality and free will.

Dr. Spencer: That’s correct.

Marc Roby: If we use this definition, what would say about the higher animals. Do they have a soul?

Dr. Spencer: I would have to say that I don’t know for sure. It may be that there is no immaterial part to animals, which would require that their abilities to reason are very limited and that they are not truly capable of making real, free-will decisions. Whatever “decisions” they do make would then have to be comparable to “decisions” made by a very complicated machine. They are entirely determined by the nature of the machine. But I find that idea a bit hard to swallow given animals I have known well in my life.

Marc Roby: They do have personalities, and it is hard to think of them as being just biological machines.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. And so, I’m certainly open to the possibility that there is some immaterial aspect to the higher animals, but the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. If there is, then perhaps you could call it a soul or spirit, but it would be of an entirely different nature than our spirit because it is not made in the image of God and is not capable of fellowship with God. The Bible is clear on that much.

Marc Roby: And so, at the end of the day, that is the most important thing about our nature. We are made in the image of God and are able to have fellowship with him.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely the most important thing, yes.

Marc Roby: There is one other question about higher animals that I find intriguing, although obviously not of critical importance. Are they morally accountable? In other words, do they know the difference between right and wrong and will they in any way be held to account for their actions?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the animals I’ve owned certainly seemed to know when they had done something wrong! But I only know of one Bible verse that speaks to the issue, although I’m open to having our listeners point out others. In Genesis 9 we read about God’s blessing Noah and his family after the flood was over. In Verse 5 God says to them, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” [1]

Marc Roby: Now that’s very interesting. God will demand an accounting from every animal.

Dr. Spencer: Now I haven’t studied this verse, and this may just be a way for God to make clear how sacred human life is, but it is possible that it literally means animals will be called to account in some way as well. There are obvious problems with that view though. First, does that mean that animals go on living in some sense too? There is no indication of that that I know of in the Bible. And second, there is no distinction here between higher and lower forms of animal life. What if someone dies from a spider bite? I simply cannot believe that spiders make moral choices and will be held accountable. At the end of the day, I think we simply have to say that we don’t know.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else you would like to say about dichotomy and trichotomy, or the soul and spirit?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to point out the obvious fact, which we have noted before, that the word spirit gets used in different ways and those who believe in dichotomy sometimes use the word in a way that is more consistent with trichotomy.

For example, when we say that an unbeliever is spiritually dead, we don’t mean that the immaterial part of the person has ceased to exist or function. If that were the case, the whole person would be dead as we have noted. I don’t think this causes any great difficulty for most people, but it is worth pointing out.

Marc Very well. But before we wrap up our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy, there is one passage relating to men and animals that we didn’t examine, but which I think it would be good for us to comment on because it speaks about the spirits of animals as well as men.

Dr. Spencer: What passage do you have in mind?

Marc Roby: In Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 we read the following: “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” Now, what would you say about those verses?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, we need to recognize that they come from the book of Ecclesiastes, which relates to us the attempt of a man, called the Teacher, most likely Solomon, to understand the meaning of life in the face of life’s trials and troubles and the fact that everyone dies, no matter how good or noble the person is. In much of the book he examines the questions from what appears to be a purely materialistic point of view.

I like what J. Vernon McGee said about this book, he first noted that Solomon also wrote the book of Proverbs and then wrote that “In Proverbs we saw the wisdom of Solomon; here [in Ecclesiastes] we … see the foolishness of Solomon.”[2]

Marc Roby: That statement brings to mind 1 Corinthians 1. In Verse 20 Paul wrote, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Dr. Spencer: That fits Ecclesiastes perfectly, although in the end the Teacher does conclude that you need God to make sense out of life. In fact, in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible it says that “Ecclesiastes is really intended to be a tract for the conversion of the self-sufficient intellectual”.[3]

Marc Roby: I’m sure the book has other uses, but I do like that statement. Human beings should never think of themselves as self-sufficient.

Dr. Spencer: No, we shouldn’t. But, returning to the verses you read. Solomon is relating to us his own thoughts here, as he tells us in Verse 18. And, while this biblical account of Solomon’s thinking is infallible, his thinking was not. In other words, you don’t want to build any doctrine from these statements.

If you read the whole book you get the point clearly. Thinking about the meaning of life apart from God leads to vanity, or meaninglessness. In these verses Solomon is allowing his thoughts to roam; he is considering the fact that all men, like animals, die. And when he speaks about the “spirit of the animal”, I take it to simply mean the life of the animal as opposed to the physical body.

Marc Roby: Which again illustrates the fact that the words soul and spirit have a wide range of usage.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, and it also illustrates that we need to be very careful with our biblical hermeneutics.

Marc Roby: Are we finished then with our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are.

Marc Roby: What are we going to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at what is the most important aspect of human nature since the fall; which is our sin.

Marc Roby: Why do you say it is the most important aspect of our nature?

Dr. Spencer: Because sin is the cause of all of the trouble we experience in life, including death itself, and it is the cause of our being under the wrath of God and needing a Savior. If our sin is not dealt with, our eternal destiny is hell. But if our sins are forgiven, our eternal destiny is heaven.

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t think of anything that comes even close to that in importance.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I, because there isn’t anything that comes even close. Jesus himself said that there is only one thing needful in this life[4], and that one thing is to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, which is how our sin can be dealt with. We also read in Mark 8:36 that Jesus asked his disciples the rhetorical question, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer to this question is, it does him no good at all since the soul lives on after the body dies, and our eternal state is, literally, infinitely longer than our time in this life. Therefore, even if someone truly became the ruler of the whole world and had all of the world’s riches at his disposal, if that cost his immortal soul it would, in fact, be the worst possible thing.

Dr. Spencer: It is unimaginably bad in fact. We, as finite human beings, have a serious problem in understanding eternal issues. We simply cannot grasp eternity. It is something we have to work at very hard.

Marc Roby: I’m always reminded of that fact when we sing the hymn Amazing Grace. The last verse speaks about heaven and says, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That blows your mind. But that lyric is not just poetic, it is mathematically true. The Bible tells us we will spend all eternity in heaven with God. That is infinitely long. It never ends. And so when we’ve been there ten thousand years, we have, quite literally, been there zero percent of the time we will be there!

Marc Roby: And the same is true for those miserable souls who reject God’s offer of salvation and find themselves in eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is, most regrettably for them, true. It isn’t a popular topic in this day and age, but it is true nonetheless. And so, the topic of human sin is extremely important. If we don’t properly understand our problem, we cannot properly understand the cure.

Marc Roby: A proper diagnosis is essential to getting the right cure even when dealing with physical ailments.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s obvious to everyone. If I have a serious skin cancer and my doctor misdiagnoses it as a harmless rash, I’m not going to get the proper treatment and I am likely to die as a result. So, a proper diagnosis is critically important.

In the same way, if we misunderstand the true nature and extent of our sin problem, we will not take advantage of the only cure available. We may be satisfied with some other supposed cure, which won’t really take care of our problem and will lead us to eternal hell.

Marc Roby: And the nature of human sin has been a constant source of heresies since the beginning of the church.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly has. It was the fundamental issue that divided Saint Augustine and Pelagius in the early fifth century. It was the central issue that divided Luther and Erasmus in the sixteenth century, it was central to the reformation of the sixteenth century, it was at the core of the controversy between Arminians and the reformed church in the early seventeenth century, and it is still a common point of contention today.

Marc Roby: How do you want to approach this topic of sin?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by spelling out as clearly as I can the biblical doctrine. There are three main components to the doctrine of sin. The first is the cause of sin, the second is the nature of sin, and the third is the definition of sin.

Marc Roby: Alright, what do you want to say about the cause of sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, let’s look at what God said when he finished his creative work. We read in Genesis 1:31 that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” In other words, there was no sin in the original creation. Therefore, we must say that when God finished creating this universe, it was entirely good. God is not the author of sin.

But, at some point, Satan, who was an angel, became proud and tried to usurp God’s authority. As a result, he was cast down and a number of other angels who had followed him were also cast down. The Bible tells us very little about this and I want to stay focused on anthropology for now, so I’m not going to say any more about it at this time.

Marc Roby: There is great mystery involved in Satan’s fall. How could a perfect being in perfect fellowship with God become wicked and rebel?

Dr. Spencer: That is an unanswerable question I think, but it happened. And, after Satan fell, he became God’s enemy and came and attacked God’s greatest creation, man. He attacked man by tempting him to also sin by desiring to be god. And, tragically, Satan succeeded. Adam and Eve sinned. And, when they sinned, they died, just as God said they would. They died in all three senses of the term as we noted in our last session: spiritually, physically and they became subject to eternal death.

Marc Roby: And to be explicit in remembering what we covered last time, by spiritual death we mean that they were separated from fellowship with God, by physical death we mean that they immediately started the process of physically dying, which culminates in the temporary separation of our body and spirit, and by eternal death we mean that they came under God’s wrath and, had he not saved them, would have been separated from God’s blessings in eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all true.

Marc Roby: And the first thing they did after sinning was to try and clothe themselves and then to hide from God.

Dr. Spencer: Sin always brings guilt and shame and causes us to want to hide from God, who is holy and just.

But the tragedy is much deeper than just Adam and Eve becoming sinners, because when Adam sinned, he did so as the representative of all mankind. When he died in the three senses we just spoke about, his nature changed. We noted last time that Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21 that unbelievers are alienated from God and are enemies in their minds because of their evil behavior. In other words, Adam’s sin caused him to have a sinful nature. And everyone who is descended from him by the ordinary means of reproduction inherits that sinful nature. This is the doctrine of original sin.

Marc Roby: And that doctrine is repulsive to natural man and has itself been the cause of a number of controversies.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it has definitely been the cause of a number of controversies. But the biblical teaching about it is quite clear as we will see. The controversy only arises because man, in rebellion against God, refuses to accept God’s testimony about what happened.

Marc Roby: I look forward to hearing about this, but we are nearly out of time for today, so this is probably a good place to stop. Let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, Vol. III, pg. 105

[3] Zondervan, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1976, Vol. 2, pg. 188

[4] See Luke 10:42

[5] Quoted from: Trinity Hymnal, Revised Edition, Great Commission Publications, 1990, Hymn 460

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. We ended last time in the middle of discussing the view called trichotomy, which means that man is composed of three distinct parts; a body, soul and spirit. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed with that discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s take a look at another point made by trichotomists, which is summarized well by James Boice in his Foundations of the Christian Faith. He writes that “It is possible, though not certain, that in the Pauline writings the spirit of a man or woman is considered as being lost or dead as a result of the Fall and as being restored in those who are regenerated.”[1]

Marc Roby: Well, I’m not sure that I see a problem with that statement. Paul certainly spoke about people being dead in their sins and being raised to life by faith in Christ. For example, in Colossians 2:13 he wrote that “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” [2]

Dr. Spencer: He does use that imagery quite often. In the verse you just read, it is clear that when Paul said “you were dead in your sins” he did not mean that you had ceased to exist. You were walking, talking, making decisions and so on. But you were dead toward God.

Marc Roby: And we often refer to that as being spiritually dead.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. For example, when Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately died in three different senses of the word. First, they immediately died spiritually, meaning that they lost communion with God. Second, they immediately became subject to physical death; meaning they started to age and their ultimate physical death was certain. Third, they also became subject to God’s wrath, which, had God not later saved them, would have led to eternal death, in other words, eternal hell.

When we speak of an unbeliever being spiritually dead, we are using language that is consistent with trichotomy. If the spirit is only responsible for our relationship with God, and there is a separate part of us called the soul that is responsible for our reason, moral nature and will, then it could be true that our spirit is actually dead even when we are still alive.

Marc Roby: I think I see the problem now. If, as we have labored to show, dichotomy is the proper biblical position, then it certainly doesn’t make sense to speak of someone’s spirit being dead and his soul being alive at the same time since the words spirit and soul both refer to the immaterial part of man, which is not only responsible for his capacity to worship and have fellowship with God, but also for his reason, moral nature and will. If the spirit were dead according to that definition of the spirit, then we would be physically and spiritually dead; in other words, we would cease to exist. As we have argued, the body cannot live without the spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I think another point of confusion has to do with the term, “death.” People often tend to think of death as being the equivalent of “ceasing to exist.” Even truly born-again Christians can fall into that trap. But that idea is unbiblical. It is clear that everybody’s spirit continues to exist eternally after their bodies have died as we have noted before. In fact, as Wayne Grudem defines it, “Death is a temporary cessation of bodily life and a separation of the soul from the body.”[3]

Marc Roby: I like that definition. In fact, the key idea is separation in each of the categories of death you mentioned a moment ago. Spiritual death means that we, body and soul, are separated from God’s blessing because of our sin. Physical death means that our soul and body are temporarily separated. And eternal death means that sinners, in both body and soul, are forever separated from God’s blessing. Nobody ever actually ceases to exist, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, you have never met a mere mortal.[4]

Dr. Spencer: And eternal death is even worse that being separated from God’s blessings, sinners in hell are actively under his wrath, which I find too terrible to even contemplate. Spiritually dead people are alienated from God and totally depraved in their souls. To say they are dead doesn’t mean that they don’t have a spirit or that their spirit no longer exists. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21 that we were once alienated from God and were enemies in our minds because of our evil behavior. That is what is meant by saying that someone is spiritually dead; they are alienated from God and are his enemy in their mind.

Marc Roby: But thanks be to God, he saves his people by applying the redemption accomplished by Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And he does that by regenerating sinners by the power of the Holy Spirit. We’ll talk a lot more about this later, but for now it will suffice to say that regeneration is a work of God whereby he gives us a new heart and a new spirit as he promised in Ezekiel 36:26. In other words, he makes us spiritually alive.

Marc Roby: Not only so, but the born-again person is united to Christ by faith; he is no longer separated from God, but has been brought into God’s very family! In John 10:10 Jesus told us that he came so that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” This is life that will transcend the grave and continue with God forever.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, your mentioning the grave reminds me of what Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” This wonderful promise would not make sense unless we understand life and death biblically. When Jesus says that Christians shall live, even though they die, he means that we will remain reconciled to God, under his blessing, even in the hour of our physical death. Though our spirit will leave our body at the moment of death, that spirit shall be perfected and immediately be with the Lord in heaven.

Marc Roby: And when Jesus said that we shall never die, he meant that we shall never experience eternal death – separated from God’s blessing and experiencing only his curse in hell. Instead, we shall be with God in heaven, enjoying his presence and blessing forever.

Dr. Spencer: What a glorious promise that is! Now we have drifted off topic and although the digression was useful since it clarified what the Bible means when it speaks about death, I think its time to get back to talking about trichotomy. We were discussing the trichotomist idea that an unbeliever’s spirit is dead, but his soul is alive. Boice had said this idea was a possible interpretation from Paul’s writings.

But Paul never stated that our spirit is dead before we are regenerated. He did write that we are dead, as in Colossians 2:13, the verse you read a few minutes ago. And another example is Ephesians 2:1-2, where we read, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

Marc Roby: And, as we have discussed, to be “dead in your transgressions and sins” means to be separated from God, to be his enemy. It does not have to mean that your spirit is dead.

Dr. Spencer: And since Paul says that you use to live this way, if dichotomy is the right view, your spirit cannot be dead. This is precisely why Boice says that if Paul meant that our spirits were dead before they were regenerated, it would, in fact, be evidence for trichotomy. But, as we just saw, in both the verse you cited, Colossians 2:13 and the ones I cited, Ephesians 2:1-2, Paul does not say that our spirit or soul was dead, he says that we were dead, and he clearly means dead in terms of our relationship with God.

Marc Roby: Alright, but what about 1 Corinthians 2:12-14? Paul does speak about the spirit in those verses, so we should take a look at them.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should look at them to be complete. In 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 we read, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: It is important to point out that in all but one instance in these verses the word spirit is capitalized in the NIV, which means that they interpret it as referring to the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. The one exception is when Paul wrote that “We have not received the spirit of the world”, which clearly can’t be the Holy Spirit.

Marc Roby: No, it can’t. And, praise God, Paul didn’t just say that we have not received the spirit of the world, he said that we have received “the Spirit who is from God”.

Dr. Spencer: And I think it is abundantly clear, and therefore doesn’t require any argument to support the interpretation, that “the Spirit who is from God” must refer to the Holy Spirit. Which is why the NIV capitalizes the word.

Marc Roby: That does seem fairly obvious.

Dr. Spencer: The next reference to the Spirit in those verses is when Paul says that we speak, “not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit”. Now I suppose it is possible that a trichotomist could interpret this as referring to our supposedly new spirits, and the assumption would then be that when we are born again, we receive a spirit that comes with knowledge, which can then be imparted to our soul. But I think that is reading an awful lot into the verse that isn’t stated and it is far more natural and reasonable to say this wisdom is taught to us by the Holy Spirit, which is, again, why the NIV capitalizes the word there.

Marc Roby: I certainly agree that is by far the more reasonable interpretation of what Paul meant.

Dr. Spencer: And now, finally, the last sentence in that passage says that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” When Paul refers to “the man without the Spirit”, it is virtually certain that he is speaking about someone who has not yet been regenerated. It could be, as trichotomy would say, that the man has no functional spirit. But I think it is far more likely that the NIV is correct in capitalizing the word Sprit here, meaning it is referring to the Holy Spirit, which believers receive when they are regenerated. To receive the Holy Spirit means to be influenced or controlled by him. This seems to be the far more natural reading in context.

Marc Roby: And the Bible clearly teaches us that believers have the Holy Spirit, for example, in Romans 8:9, Paul wrote, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great verse to make this point. Therefore, I conclude that when we read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God”, it most naturally fits with dichotomy. In the end, when all of the evidence we have discussed is considered, I have to conclude that trichotomy is wrong and that the biblical view of man is dichotomy.

Marc Roby: And yet, as you stated last time, this is not an essential doctrine. Christians are free to disagree about this point.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Christians are definitely free to believe dichotomy or trichotomy or even to simply say that they don’t know which is right. James Boice said that this “debate need not overly concern us”[5] and I think he was right about that, but with one caveat I’ll get into in a moment. He also said that “In this area the particular words used are less important than the truths they are meant to convey.”[6] He went on to say that if someone adheres to dichotomy, “they nevertheless recognize that there is something about man that sets him off from animals. That is all that the distinction between spirit and soul in the three-part system means.”[7] And by the “three-part system” he is, of course, referring to trichotomy.

Marc Roby: I’m not sure that all trichotomists would agree that this is all they mean, but there certainly is a sense in which Boice is correct in framing this as an argument about semantics. You mentioned a caveat in your agreeing that the debate need not overly concern us. What is that caveat?

Dr. Spencer: There is a danger inherent in trichotomy, depending on exactly what one takes that to mean.

Marc Roby: What is that danger?

Dr. Spencer: Well, if a person thinks of the soul as being the seat of our intellect and the spirit as being the seat of our ability to commune with and worship God, there is a very serious danger of thinking that the soul is corrupted by sin and is, therefore, less reliable than the spirit, which is thought to be more pure. This view can then lead to a very anti-intellectual, mystical type of Christianity, which is contrary to the Bible as Grudem points out.[8]

All through the Bible we are called to think carefully about God and our lives. Our faith must not be purely subjective. Biblical Christianity is based on objective truth, not our feelings.

Marc Roby: Yes, when you say that I immediately think of Romans 12:2, where the apostle Paul commands us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic verse. But there are many others that speak about the importance of using our minds. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments. In Isaiah 1:18 we read, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” In other words, we are to listen to God’s word to understand his plan of salvation. He has a way of taking care of our sins and we must use our minds to understand it.

And then, as just one more New Testament example, in Acts 17:11 we read about the response of the people in Berea to the message preached by Paul and Silas, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Marc Roby: And Christ told us, in Mark 12:30 that we are to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Examining the Scriptures clearly requires the use of our minds and also assumes that the Scriptures are our ultimate standard for truth.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Christians are called to think carefully and to have the Bible be our ultimate standard, not our feelings or some mystical experience.

Marc Roby: Alright, so to begin to wrap-up our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy, the whole question seems to hinge on how you define soul and spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s true. Grudem remarks, correctly, that “If we define ‘soul’ to mean ‘the intellect, emotions, and will,’ then we will have to conclude that at least the higher animals have a soul.”[9]

In our discussion so far, I have deliberately avoided giving a precise definition of the soul, or spirit. We did say, by quoting Charles Hodge, that “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will.”[10] And we also noted that our souls live on after our physical bodies have died and so they in some way contain the essence of who we are, and we have recognized that the soul or spirit is the immaterial part of man.

Marc Roby: Well, we could simply put all of that together and say it is our working definition of soul or spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. If we put it all together, we would define soul, or spirit, as the immaterial part of man, which includes the essence of who he is, and which lives on after his physical death, and has as essential attributes the faculties of reason, morality and free will.

Marc Roby: That seems like a reasonable working definition, and it looks like a good place to end for today. It’s hard to believe, but with this session we have completed two full years of this podcast.

Dr. Spencer: That is very hard to believe. And we really appreciate hearing from our listeners. So, even if you don’t have a specific question, we’d like to hear from you. You can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to respond.

[1] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 152

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 816

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, Revised and expanded edition, Macmillan Pub. Co., 1980, on page 19 Lewis wrote, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

[5] James Boice, op. cit., pg. 151

[6] Ibid, pg. 152

[7] Ibid

[8] Wayne Grudem, op. cit., pg. 482

[9] Ibid, pp 480-481

[10] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, pg. 97

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. In our previous session we discussed dichotomy, which is the biblical view that man is composed of two elements: a body and a soul. And we noted that the essential attributes of the spirit or soul include the ability to reason, to make moral decisions, and to have a free will. Dr. Spencer, what more do you want to say about dichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that the Bible presents both the soul and spirit as being capable of sin, which is a problem for some, but not all, who believe in trichotomy.

Marc Roby: Why is that a problem for them?

Dr. Spencer: Let me quote from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology text, which we have been loosely following on this topic. He wrote that the trichotomist “generally thinks of the ‘spirit’ as purer than the soul, and, when renewed, as free from sin and responsive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.”[1]

But, whether or not a trichotomist is disturbed by the idea of the spirit being sinful, the fact that both the soul and the spirit are represented as sinful in the Bible is again evidence that the words soul and spirit are used interchangeably in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Can you give some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. In 1 Peter 1:22 we read, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart”. This verse says “having purified your souls”, which clearly implies that the souls were not pure, in other words were sinful, prior to these people being born again. I should note that I have quoted the English Standard Version (ESV) here, rather than our usual New International Version (NIV), since the ESV translates the Greek more literally. In this particular verse the NIV says “yourselves” rather than “your souls”. We’ll come back to this point later.

Marc Roby: And, although it is off topic, we should probably also point out that when Peter says they have purified their souls, he certainly does not mean they are sinlessly perfect.

Dr. Spencer: No, he doesn’t mean that at all. But, to go on with the illustration that soul and spirit are used interchangeably, in 2 Corinthians 7:1 we read, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” [2] This verse clearly states that sin has contaminated our body and spirit, rather than saying our body and soul.

Marc Roby: Another verse immediately comes to my mind, in Hebrews 12:23 we read about “the spirits of righteous men made perfect”, which clearly implies that their spirits were not perfect before. In other words, their spirits were sinful.

Dr. Spencer: And that is speaking about the spirits of believers being perfected at death, so it also clear that our spirits are never perfect in this life.

And I think that is sufficient to establish that the Bible speaks of both the soul and the spirit as being capable of sin, and it never distinguishes between the two in that regard, but rather, uses the terms synonymously.

Marc Roby: Well, those verses alone would also seem to conclusively show that any trichotomist who thinks the spirit is without sin needs to reconsider that idea.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but as we’ll see when we cover trichotomy, some trichotomists certainly agree that the spirit is sinful. So now I’d like to move on to Grudem’s last argument in favor of dichotomy.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: That everything the soul is said to do in the Bible is also ascribed to the spirit, and everything the spirit is said to do is also ascribed to the soul. To illustrate this point, I’m going to look at the three attributes that we said are essential for the soul or spirit: reason, conscience, and will.

Marc Roby: OK, what about our reason?

Dr. Spencer: In Proverbs 2:10 we read that “knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” Clearly, if knowledge is pleasant to the soul, then the soul must be capable of reason. It can’t just be a faculty that deals with morality or desire. But then, in Mark 2:8 we are told that “Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking”, which clearly ascribes rational thought to his spirit. Also, in Job 32:8 we read that “it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” Which clearly says that our spirit is the source of our understanding, or, we could say, reasoning ability.

Marc Roby: And by referring to the “breath of the Almighty”, it alludes back to Genesis 2:7 where we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Dr. Spencer: And it also equates that breath with our spirit. So now let’s turn to the second aspect of our spirits; our conscience, or we could be somewhat more general and speak of our moral nature, our sense of right and wrong. In 2 Peter 2:8 we are told about Lot, who was living in the wicked town of Sodom, and Peter tells us, “that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard”, which clearly speaks of his soul as the seat of his moral nature. But, in Matthew 5:3 Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When Jesus refers to the poor in spirit, he isn’t speaking about those who have poor reasoning abilities or a lack of will, he is speaking about them recognizing their sin and need for salvation. So this is speaking again about their moral nature, but now ascribes it to the spirit. Similarly, we are told about John the Baptist in Luke 1:80 that “the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” I think this strength of spirit is again speaking about his moral nature and his ability to understand the things of God.

Marc Roby: Certainly being morally upright goes along with understanding the things of God. And that leaves us with the third essential attribute of our spirits, the will, or we could say our affections or desires.

Dr. Spencer: In Job 33:19-20 we read that “a man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones, so that his very being finds food repulsive and his soul loathes the choicest meal.” Which places his desire, or in this case his lack of desire, his loathing, in his soul. But then, in 2 Samuel 13:39 we read about King David and are told that “the spirit of the king longed to go to Absalom”. So his desire, in this case his longing to see his son, is ascribed to his spirit, not his soul.

Marc Roby: Very well, do you want to say anything else about dichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, just one more thing. Let’s look at the example of worship. Both our spirits and our souls are said to worship. In Mary’s song of praise to God, called the Magnificat, she began by saying, in Luke 1:46-47, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. To rejoice in God or glorify God are both aspects of worship and the synonymous parallelism in this verse indicates that soul and spirit are used interchangeably; in other words, our soul can be said to worship God, and our spirit can be said to worship God; there is no difference.

Marc Roby: That is an interesting point. Are we ready to examine trichotomy now?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. Let me begin by explaining a bit more about trichotomy. First, of course, the fundamental belief is that man is made up of three distinct elements; body, soul and spirit. According to Charles Hodge, the most common view in trichotomy is that the body is the material part of man; the soul is the principle of animal life; and the spirit is the principle of our rational and immortal life.[3] He goes on to say the spirit, which is peculiar to man, includes reason, will, and conscience. While the soul, which we have in common with animals, includes understanding, feeling and sense perception.

Marc Roby: I’m not sure how you can differentiate between reason, which Hodge says belongs to the spirit, and understanding, which he says belongs to the soul.

Dr. Spencer: I don’t see how to do that either, and I should point out that Hodge himself believed that the proper biblical view is dichotomy, he was simply explaining what trichotomists typically believe. But I think this simultaneously shows one of the things many people find attractive about trichotomy, myself included, and also one of its severe weaknesses.

Marc Roby: OK, you’ve now piqued my interest. What are you referring to?

Dr. Spencer: The attractive feature is the idea that there is some similarity, beyond the purely physical, between man and the higher animals. It seems clear that higher animals, like dogs, cats, horses and so on, have personalities, some reasoning abilities and that we can have a form of relationship with them as a result. They are clearly self-aware and have some kind of rudimentary feelings and understanding.

Marc Roby: Alright, I see how that can be an attractive component of trichotomy. How is it also a weakness?

Dr. Spencer: Because it is so hard, if not impossible, to define the threshold. As you pointed out about the words Hodge used; how do you differentiate between reason and understanding? How do you carefully draw a line between the kind of mental processes that the higher animals are capable of and those that human beings are capable of? We are learning more all the time about what animals can do, and some of it is quite surprising.

Therefore, I think it is simply trying to draw too fine a line to divide the functions of soul and spirit. We must acknowledge that some animals are capable of a rudimentary form of reasoning, that they are self-aware and that they make decisions. And yet, there is a clear difference between even the highest animals and man. We are the only creatures made in God’s image.

Marc Roby: And we can’t get inside the head of a horse or a dog to find out exactly what they think or feel. We have to deduce that from their actions.

Dr. Spencer: That is very important. People can draw all sorts of conclusions about what they think is going on in the minds of animals, but the bottom line is that we really don’t know. On the other hand, the Bible is clear that only man is made in God’s image, and he is given dominion over the creatures. That makes the difference very clear and very large. But we can certainly admit that some animals have far more capable brains and, as a result, they have personalities and we have an ability to have a relationship with them. I just don’t want to go so far as to say that they have a soul and then try and distinguish that from the spirit.

As we’ve seen, the words soul and spirit are used pretty much interchangeably in the Bible. In addition, they are both sometimes used as a synecdoche as well.

Marc Roby: Now that statement requires a definition. A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part of something is used to refer to the whole.

Dr. Spencer: And so, as an example, when we read in Psalm 130:6 that “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning”.  The word soul is being used as a synecdoche. Clearly the whole man must be waiting. And yet, to say that “my soul waits” does have added meaning as well. It seems to imply that there is a deep spiritual need involved in the waiting. You wouldn’t be likely to say that “my soul waits for the bus I take to work every morning.”

Marc Roby: No, I can’t imagine anyone saying that. And, of course, this figurative usage does complicate any attempt to precisely define the words soul and spirit. They, along with heart, are frequently used in the Bible, and elsewhere, to refer to strong feelings or deep-seated needs and they often have at least some sense of being used as a synecdoche. We see expressions like, “my heart is troubled” or someone ,“being troubled in spirit”. Clearly the whole person is affected by the trouble, but at the same time these expressions imply a deep inner trouble.

Dr. Spencer: And, as you noted, that does make it more difficult to precisely define these terms. And given the arguments we’ve made about the words soul and spirit being used more-or-less interchangeably and the evidence that man is composed of only two parts, I conclude that the biblical view of man is dichotomous. But now I would like to present some of the case often made in favor of trichotomy.

Marc Roby: Very well, please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: I’m again going to loosely follow the treatment in Grudem here[4], so any listeners interested in examining this topic in more depth can look there. One of the verses often used in defense of trichotomy is 1 Thessalonians 5:23, which says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Marc Roby: Well, that verse certainly mentions spirit, soul and body as three distinct things.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. And we must admit that it is consistent with trichotomy. But the question is, does it demand, or even teach, a trichotomist view? I think the answer is clearly “no”.

I would say that Paul is simply giving an extended list for emphasis without necessarily implying that these are distinct elements. As a similar example, consider Mark 12:30, where Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Are we to interpret this to mean that heart, soul, mind and strength are all distinct elements of man? Virtually everyone would admit that our soul includes our ability to reason, but isn’t that what mind refers to as well? We really don’t want to get overly literal in interpreting statements like this. We should accept them at face value as being the kind of things people say all the time for emphasis.

So, for example, if I tell you that some baseball player is the life and soul of his team, you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to figure out how I distinguish between life and soul. We all know what I mean.

Marc Roby: Yes, I think that point is clear. What other verses are used to defend trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: A similar verse is Hebrews 4:12, which says that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Marc Roby: Again, a simple reading might indicate that the soul and spirit must be different if they can be divided one from another.

Dr. Spencer: But the verse does not say that they can be divided from one another. Look at the other part of the verse; joints and marrow. A sword cannot separate a joint from the marrow, which is inside our bones.

I think Grudem has the right interpretation here, he wrote that “The author is not saying that the Word of God can divide ‘soul from spirit,’ but he is using a number of terms (soul, spirit, joints, marrow, thoughts and intentions of the heart) that speak of the deep inward parts of our being that are not hidden from the penetrating power of the Word of God.”[5]

Marc Roby: Yes, that makes good sense. And this is a fascinating discussion, which I look forward to completing. But we are out of time for today.

Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to respond.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg 475

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 47

[4] Grudem, op. cit., pp 477-481

[5] Ibid, pg. 479

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. In our last session we introduced three views about the fundamental nature of man: monism, which means that man consists of just his physical body – this is a materialistic view of man; then dichotomy, which means that man has both a physical body and a spirit; and finally, trichotomy, which means that man has a body, soul and spirit, where the spirit and soul are considered to be separate entities. So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to begin our examination of this topic today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, last time I noted that the fact that man is a volitional creature argues persuasively against monism and I said we wouldn’t consider that further. But I’ve reconsidered that and would like to at least briefly present a case to show that monism is also antithetical to biblical Christianity.

Marc Roby: Well, it would certainly seem to not agree with Genesis 2:7, where we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [1] This verse at least strongly implies that there is an immaterial part to man.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And I think a rock-solid case can be made by pointing out that the Bible clearly teaches us that our spirits live on after our physical bodies die. For example, when Christ was crucified there were two thieves crucified with him. One of those thieves was saved even while he was hanging on the cross dying and in Luke 23:42-43 we read that he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and Jesus graciously replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Marc Roby: What amazing grace. We should probably point out that the thief had demonstrated his repentance and faith when he rebuked the other thief. We read in Luke 23:40-41 that when the other thief continued to mock Christ, this thief, now saved by grace, said to him, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” So, he was saved the same way we all are, by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And faith is always accompanied by repentance.

Dr. Spencer: That is the gospel in all of its glorious simplicity. But the point I wanted to make from this is that both Jesus and the thief were dying or, to be more precise, their physical bodies were dying, and yet Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.” I think that is pretty clear evidence that our spirits live on after our physical bodies die.

Marc Roby: What Paul wrote to the church in Philippi also comes to mind. In Philippians 1:21-23 he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”.

Dr. Spencer: That is also very clear evidence. Paul did not think that his physical death would be the end of him. There are a number of other verses we could cite, but I think that is enough. The clear teaching of the Bible is that our soul lives on after our body is destroyed. But there is still more that we can learn from these verses.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: We can learn something about the natures of our physical body and spirit. Jesus told the thief “you will be with me in paradise”. He didn’t just say that the thief’s spirit would be with him. And Paul thought that when he died, he would be with Jesus, not just his spirit. And it is very interesting that he said, “if I am to go on living in the body”. It clearly shows that the body is not the most important thing. It is a physical vessel for our spirit. If you think about that for a minute it seems clear that our spirits are what make us who we are, they are the seat of our intellect, emotions and personality. Our physical bodies are houses for our spirits. Our bodies cannot exist independently, but our spirits can.

Marc Roby: That is interesting. But we want to avoid going too far with that idea. The ancient Greeks thought that the body was evil and the spirit was good. They envisioned the body as sort of a prison for the spirit and thought that death freed the spirit from that prison.

Dr. Spencer: And we do want to avoid that extreme. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who is well-known to all junior-high math students because of the Pythagorean theorem, was one of the philosophers that taught that view. And not only did they consider the soul good, they considered it divine. This view came from a religion called Orphism, which also taught that our souls go through reincarnation until they are sufficiently purified to return to the divine realm.[2]

Marc Roby: That sounds suspiciously similar to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Dr. Spencer: It does sound very similar to them. But the Christian view, or we should say the biblical view, is that both the body and soul were created good. They have both been corrupted by sin, which is most obviously evident in our physical bodies by the facts that we all get sick and we age and die. But it is also evident in our souls, or spirits. It shows up in our corrupt thinking, especially about God and eternal realities, and it shows up in all of the sinful human emotions and thoughts which plague mankind; selfishness, greed, lust, deceitfulness, arrogance, hatred and so on.

Marc Roby: Sadly, I have to agree that the corruption of sin is all too evident.

Dr. Spencer: And you can’t separate us from our bodies without loss. Our bodies are vessels for our spirits, but they are still important. In fact, we want to be careful and not imply that you can separate our bodies from our souls without changing who we are to some degree. Clearly our emotions are affected by, and have an effect upon, our bodies. We see, hear, feel, taste and smell and these all have an effect upon our emotions.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. It would seem impossible to take away our bodies without significantly impacting who we are.

Dr. Spencer: Our bodies are part of who we are as human beings. Which is why, when God redeems us, he redeems us body and soul. Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 we read, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And when Paul speaks about the body that is sown, he is using an agricultural metaphor and is comparing the burial of a body to sowing a crop.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And, as Paul says, that body is raised as a spiritual body. I don’t want to spend a bunch of time on this now, but let me just quickly say that by calling it a “spiritual body” Paul is not saying it is immaterial. Our final eternal state will be with our resurrected bodies and they will be physical bodies, although different from the ones we have now. The condition where our spirit lives without our body after death is a temporary condition.

Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:20-21 that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful destiny to look forward to. And I think we have reasonably established that monism is unbiblical and, therefore, unchristian. What do you want to say about dichotomy and trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by stating that a truly born-again Christian can believe in either dichotomy or trichotomy. This is not an essential doctrine. In fact, while I think that the proper biblical doctrine is dichotomy, I do have some sympathy for trichotomy. Although, in some sense I think we get into an issue of semantics as we will see and, in addition, we get into some things that we simply don’t fully understand and about which the Bible does not supply us with answers.

Marc Roby: And it is never wise to be dogmatic on any doctrine about which the Bible is not clear.

Dr. Spencer: No, that wouldn’t be wise at all. But with that caveat stated, I do think the biblical teaching is clearly that man is made up of two, and only two, parts. Our physical bodies and our immaterial spirit or soul. We see this dichotomy in many places in the Bible. For example, right after telling us that God will be our Father and we will be his sons and daughters, Paul concludes, in 2 Corinthians 7:1, by saying, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” He only lists two elements here, body and spirit, and that is a common theme throughout the Bible.

Marc Roby: In fact, the words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem gives a couple of very good examples I’d like to share.[3] First, he notes that “in John 12:27, Jesus says, ‘Now is my soul troubled,’[4] whereas in a very similar context in the next chapter John says that Jesus was ‘troubled in spirit’ (John 13:21).”

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a good example. What is the second one you want to share?

Dr. Spencer: It comes from the virgin Mary’s song of praise to God, often called the Magnificat. We read in Luke 1:46-47 that she began by saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Grudem points out that this is a clear example of Hebrew synonymous parallelism, wherein the same idea is repeated using different words. We discussed synonymous parallelism in Session 42 when we were going through hermeneutics. But it is a clear example to show that the words soul and spirit are used as synonyms.

Marc Roby: Yes, that whole song is a beautiful poem of praise and these first two verses do clearly show that the words soul and spirit are used as synonyms. It also makes me think of a similar Old Testament example. In Job 7:11 we read, “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” This verse also uses synonymous parallelism and again establishes that soul and spirit are used interchangeably.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem also points out a number of other ways in which the terms are used interchangeably. For example, when someone dies, we will sometimes read about their soul departing, but in other cases we read about the spirit leaving.

In Genesis 35 we read about the death of Jacob’s wife Rachel while she was giving birth to Benjamin. In Verse 18 we read, “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying)” (ESV). But in John 19:30 we read about Jesus’ death, “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” So, Rachel’s death is described as her soul departing, but Jesus’ death is described by saying he gave up his spirit.

Marc Roby: I noticed that you quoted the English Standard Version for Genesis 35:18, rather the the 1984 NIV that we usually use.

Dr. Spencer: I did that because the NIV translated the phrase, “As she breathed her last”, rather than “as her soul was departing”. This is the only place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word used there is translated that way. The translation accurately represents the meaning of course, but is not true to the original.

Marc Roby: And I prefer the sound of “as her soul was departing”.

Dr. Spencer: And so do I. The Hebrew word used there, nephesh, is used 757 times in the Old Testament.[5] The NIV translates it as life 129 times, as soul 105 times and then with an astonishing collection of words for the other 523 times, including 5 times using the word spirit and 16 times using the word heart.

I point all of this out because it illustrates that the words for soul and spirit have a broad range of meanings as we will discuss more later. But, in general, this word refers to the essence of life. It is, for example, the word used in Genesis 2:7, which we’ve looked at before. We read there, “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” When it says that “man became a living being”, the same Hebrew word, nephesh, is being translated as “being”. Both the King James and the American Standard versions, say “man became a living soul.”

Marc Roby: That does make it clear that this word is related to the essence of life. Which even in modern English is sometimes referred to as a man’s spirit, or soul, or heart.

Dr. Spencer: We do use those same words. But the main point Grudem makes here is that you never once see the Bible say that a person’s “soul and spirit departed”, or anything like that.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is pretty clear evidence that they are synonymous terms.

Dr. Spencer: And there’s a lot more. Grudem also points out man is sometimes referred to as “body and soul” and sometimes as “body and spirit”, when the clear intent of the passage is to represent the entirety of the man; in other words, both his material and immaterial parts.

So, for example, in Matthew 10:28 Jesus commands us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Clearly by referring to “soul and body”, Jesus means the whole person. And then, when the apostle Paul commanded the church in Corinth to excommunicate a man, we read in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” I have again quoted from the ESV because it makes the contrast between the flesh, or we could say the body, and the spirit clear. That contrast is lost in the NIV, but is present in the original Greek.

Marc Roby: I think you’ve made a reasonably strong case for dichotomy being taught in the Bible. Is there more to say?

Dr. Spencer: There are a couple of more topics to consider before we move on to examine the biblical case made by those who believe in trichotomy. But before we move on to look at them, I want to remind our listeners what we mean by spirit or soul.

Last time I quoted the theologian Charles Hodge and I’d like to repeat a portion of the quote I read then. As I read this, I want our listeners to think of spirit or soul every time Hodge uses just the word spirit. In his Systematic Theology he wrote, “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will. A spirit is a rational, moral, and therefore also, a free agent. In making man after his own image, therefore, God endowed him with those attributes which belong to his own nature as a spirit.”[6]

Marc Roby: He says that the spirit, or soul, is the seat of three things then: our ability to reason, our moral nature, and our free will.

Dr. Spencer: And these agree with an argument I made last time. Namely, that if you assume a materialist’s view of man, then we are just atoms in motion obeying the laws of physics, and you cannot explain volition, or free will. And you can take that argument further. Since you can’t explain volition, you really can’t explain reason in any meaningful sense of the term.

A purely materialistic view of man could certainly allow for some kind of very sophisticated reflex responses and even reflex responses that have been adapted over time, which could present fairly complex patterns of behavior. But you would never cross the threshold into having what most of us mean when we talk about reason. Adaptive machines can do many things, but they can’t really think in any meaningful sense of that term.

Marc Roby: I can imagine that it would be very difficult to precisely define the dividing line between the behavior that a very sophisticated adaptive system could exhibit and the behavior necessary to infer real intelligent reasoning.

Dr. Spencer: It would be very hard to do indeed. People have tried to define what is required to establish intelligent behavior, like the famous Turing test,[7] but I really don’t want to get into that now, so I will leave it deliberately vague.

Marc Roby: OK. You’ve mentioned free will and reasoning. By referring to our conscience Hodge also noted our moral nature. What about that?

Dr. Spencer: In order to be moral creatures, there must be some ultimate standard for morality by which we are to be judged. Otherwise, all we are really talking about is our own personal ideas of right and wrong, and no one person’s ideas are any more worthy than any other person’s ideas.

The only possible source for an absolute moral standard is God. So, if you have a purely materialistic view of man, which involves rejecting God, you also have lost any possibility for an objective moral standard. In that case, Hodge’s reference to our conscience would be meaningless. It could, at best, refer to our personal ideas of what is right or wrong.

Marc Roby: OK, so we’ve established that three essential attributes of a spirit or soul are an ability to reason, a conscience and free will.

I think this is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 60

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 473-474

[4] Grudem quotes from the ESV here. The NIV uses the word heart instead of soul, but the original Greek has the word soul (ψυχή).

[5] The numbers given here come from: Edward Goodrick & John Kohlenberger, The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan, 1990, pg. 1546

[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 97

[7] For a brief introduction, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, last time we pointed out that the biblical view of women is a high view – they are to be capable, strong, educated and wise people. But we then also introduced the idea that women are to be under authority. How do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I first want to say that men are to be under authority too. Every single human being alive is under authority, usually in multiple ways. We are all under God’s authority of course and, in addition, we are under authority in our society and in church, and most of us are also under authority at work as well. In addition, wives and children are under authority in the home.

Near the end of our last session we read 1 Corinthians 11:3, where the apostle Paul wrote, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” [1] And we noted that to be “the head” means to be in authority. We also noted that not every woman is under the authority of every man. Paul is simply giving the normal structure in a family here.

Marc Roby: I know that some have proposed that by head in this passage Paul is not referring to authority, but to the husband as the source of love and service.

Dr. Spencer: That idea has been stated by a number of commentators, but Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology that when an exhaustive search of ancient Greek literature was undertaken to determine how to interpret the word, not a single counter example was found in over 2,000 examples. In every single case, the person referred to as the head was the one in authority. That is also clear when you look at the other passages in the Bible relating to this topic. So there really isn’t any doubt that Paul intended head to refer to authority.

In Ephesians 5:22-24 Paul gave this command, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Marc Roby: That isn’t a popular passage in the modern church.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. But it is a part of God’s word and we dare not ignore it. And note that the word head is used here as well. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body. The head rules the body. That is the clear meaning of the term.

And then, immediately after these verses, Paul gives an even more difficult charge to men. In Verses 25-27 he commands husbands, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Marc Roby: That is a very serious charge. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her! I would much rather be told to simply obey.

Dr. Spencer: And so would I. Being a proper biblical leader is not an easy job. It does not mean that you decide everything in favor of what you want to do or that you lord your authority over others, or that they bow and scrape before you and pander to your every desire. A proper biblical leader must work hard to discern the will of God, to know what is going on with those under his authority, and to make the decision that is best for those under his authority, not himself.

Marc Roby: Certainly Christ’s decision to be crucified was not the best decision from the perspective of his immediate personal happiness.

Dr. Spencer: No, it obviously was not. We are told in Luke 22:42 that on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus was on the Mount of Olives and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Marc Roby: The cup of course referred to the cup of God’s wrath, which Jesus endured for the sake of his people.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and what a terrible cup it was. And that is the standard given to us as husbands. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her! None of us succeed in doing that of course, but that is the standard. And Paul said more about the duties of the husband in the verses I read.

Marc Roby: Let me read those verses again in Ephesians 5:25-27. Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Dr. Spencer: We are to give our lives for a purpose. It is to make our wives holy. And we are to do it by “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”, which refers to our responsibility to function as a prophet in our home. By prophet here I don’t mean foretelling the future, I simply mean one who speaks the word of God. We are to bring the Word of God to bear on each and every situation. In other words, we have no authority to do what we want to do. We only have authority to see to it that God’s will is done.

Marc Roby: And just as Christ said, “not my will, but yours be done.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And doing that takes serious effort and self-sacrifice. It isn’t easy to be a good leader. And men, in their natural sinful state, rebel against God’s assigned role. Men don’t want to lead.

Marc Roby: And women don’t want to obey.

Dr. Spencer: And neither do children. Sin is universal. We are all rebels in our fallen nature. But when a person is saved, he or she will embrace God’s word and will begin to strive to live the way God tells us to live. And that is for the man to be the head of his home and to rule for the good of his family. The wives are to submit to that rule and to help in ruling the children.

And, after dealing with husbands and wives in Ephesians 5, Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:1-3, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—’that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”

Marc Roby: And in the very next verse Paul again gives instruction to fathers. He wrote in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: Notice that this, in a sense, is the same command given to men in regard to their wives. In both cases we are to turn to the Word of God for guidance. We are to be a prophet in our home. Our authority is given to us by God and must be used in accordance with his instruction. We have no freedom to go outside of that.

Marc Roby: And a wife is under no obligation to obey a command that is contrary to the Word of God. When the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, commanded the apostles to not preach the gospel anymore, they went on preaching. They were then arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin to account for their actions. We read in Acts 5:29 that “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!’” And that principle applies to all delegated authorities; we must obey God if a delegated authority tells us to sin.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. But we do need to be careful, because there are a lot of details not spoken of in the Bible. I don’t want to repeat a lot of what we covered before about authority, but as just one example, if I tell my children that they need to be in bed by 9 O’clock, that is a perfectly legitimate and proper command that they are duty-bound to obey, even though the Bible says nothing about what their bedtime should be.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s true. And you’re right, we do need to stay focused on the topic at hand, which is what it means to be made male and female in the image of God.

Dr. Spencer: And the point I have been laboring to make in that regard is simply that there is an authority structure within the godhead that is to be mirrored in our human relationships. All of us are sinners and our natural tendency is to rebel against the Word of God. So we need to be aware of that tendency and fight against it.

Men must lead. Wives must submit to their husbands, and children must honor and obey their parents. Listeners who are interested in getting more detail about authority in the home can go to our website and listen to Sessions 28 through 30. But I think we’ve said all that needs to be said to establish that our functioning under authority is an important aspect of our being made in the image and likeness of God.

Marc Roby: And before we move on, perhaps we should again emphasize the equality that exists among God’s people. In Galatians 3:27-28 Paul wrote that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great thing to emphasize again. The fact that a policeman has authority over me in some situations, or that my boss has authority over me at work, in no way implies that they are superior human beings or that they are worth more in the sight of God than I am. Authority has nothing at all to do with our value as human beings. Just as the members of the Trinity are all ontologically equal, so are we all ontologically equal.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a wonderful truth. All people are made in the image of God, whether they are on the lowest rung of a social ladder or they are kings, Nobel laureates or world-famous artists or musicians. But we are all under authority, which has been ordained by God for our good. Dr. Spencer, what else do you want to say about being made in the image and likeness of God?

Dr. Spencer: That we are given dominion over the creatures. Going back to Genesis 1:26 we read that God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Marc Roby: That rule is another example of authority.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. God gave us authority to rule the animals and there is also a clear implication in Genesis 1 and 2 that we are given authority to use the material resources of the earth as well. But in all of this we must view ourselves as God’s representatives. All of creation belongs to God, not to us. And we must be good stewards of what he has entrusted to us. To pollute and ravage the land with no regard for the future would be sin. We should be responsible in our use of the resources God had given to us.

Marc Roby: Are we finished with talking about what it means to be made in the image of God?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. We have, in a sense, the most important thing left to discuss.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: The fact that we have a spirit or soul. Let me quote from the theologian Charles Hodge. In his Systematic Theology he wrote, “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will. A spirit is a rational, moral, and therefore also, a free agent. In making man after his own image, therefore, God endowed him with those attributes which belong to his own nature as a spirit. Man is thereby distinguished from all other inhabitants of this world, and raised immeasurably above them. He belongs to the same order of being as God Himself, and is therefore capable of communion with his Maker. This conformity of nature between man and God, is not only the distinguishing prerogative of humanity, so far as earthly creatures are concerned, but it is also the necessary condition of our capacity to know God, and therefore the foundation of our religious nature.”[2]

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Genesis 2:7 where we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful picture of the creation of man. It makes it clear that we have a material part, which came from the dust of the ground, and an immaterial part, that which makes us living beings.

Marc Roby: But there are differing views about the nature of man, even among Christians.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and that is what I want to take some time to consider next. Wayne Grudem does a good job of discussing this topic, which he calls the Essential Nature of Man, in Chapter 23 of his Systematic Theology.[3]

He points out that there have been three different views held by Christians over the years; monism, dichotomy and trichotomy. Monism is the belief that man is essentially made up of just one kind of substance. Dichotomy is the view that man is both body and soul, or spirit. In this view soul and spirit are assumed to be essentially synonymous. And finally, trichotomy is the view that man has a body, soul and spirit and these are three different, distinct things.

Marc Roby: It would seem that monism is the view that an atheist would have to take.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s true. If you have a materialist worldview, as an atheist must, then the physical is all there is and so our physical bodies are all there is to us, and that is monism. There is nothing separating us from animals, or plants, or even rocks, except the sheer complexity of how all the physical elements are put together.

Marc Roby: That has always struck me as really a very silly view.

Dr. Spencer: It strikes most people that way. Even people who do not describe themselves as religious, or spiritual, let alone Christian, do not accept the idea that there is nothing else to being a human being but the purely physical. But even if you ignore the spirit or soul, the sheer complexity of living beings is way too great to be the result of purely blind natural processes. As I said way back in Session 1, I find atheism to be intellectually untenable in part because of the extreme complexity of living organisms, whether animals or people.

It is simply impossible for me to believe that they can arise by any natural process, and the mathematics shows that the probabilities are so tiny that having trillions and trillions of universes with trillions and trillions of livable planets that are trillions and trillions of years old wouldn’t even make a noticeable dent in the probability of producing a living being by natural processes.

Marc Roby: And, even if you did create such a being, there is still the question of how you produce a self-aware, volitional being.

Dr. Spencer: That was another of my reasons for saying I think it is intellectually untenable to be an atheist. All physical laws are either purely deterministic, like the motions of billiard balls, or random. And no combination of randomness and determinism produces real volition. And yet, even atheistic philosophers and scientists have to admit that man appears to have the ability to make real choices; in other words, we have a free will.

Marc Roby: It would seem silly to deny such an obvious fact.

Dr. Spencer: Oh but they do deny it. Notice that I said they have to admit that man “appears” to have a free will. They simply agree that we must keep up the charade.

The late professor Marvin Minsky, a co-founder of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence laboratory, wrote that “Everything, including that which happens in our brains, depends on these and only on these: A set of fixed, deterministic laws. [and] A purely random set of accidents.”[4] He goes on to explain that because this is so difficult for us to accept, “We imagine a third alternative … called ‘freedom of will’”.[5]

And he then explains, “No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will: that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. … We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it is false”.[6]

Marc Roby: Now that is strange. To be forced to maintain a belief that you know is false.

Dr. Spencer: I would say that it is a clear sign that your worldview has a serious problem. In this case, it is a clear sign that a materialistic worldview simply cannot account for free will. If we are truly just a very complex assemblage of chemicals all functioning under the laws of physics, then we have no free will. We make no real decisions. We are just atoms in motion and nothing more.

Marc Roby: That doesn’t strike me as a realistic possibility, and if it is true, then our having this conversation is truly amazing – not to mention completely pointless.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And so I will not be looking at monism any further. But I would like to discuss dichotomy and trichotomy in the light of what the Bible tells us.

Marc Roby: I look forward to that, but I think that this is great place to end for today. So let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 97

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994

[4] Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind, Simon and Schuster, 1986, pg. 306

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg. 307

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Last time we started going through the statement in Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”.

Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed the fact that man was created male and female and with a reasonable and immortal soul. The next thing noted in this statement is that we were endued with knowledge. What do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: I’m going to treat the next three things listed, which are knowledge, righteousness and holiness, all at the same time. In order to do this, I want to examine three verses from the Bible, which are, by the way, the verses cited by the Confession itself at this point.

Marc Roby: If I may begin, the first verse the Westminster divines cite is Genesis 1:26, where we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is also the verse we began with in our previous session and which led to the discussion of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

And the second verse they cite is from the New Testament, Colossians 3:10. But, in order to have a complete sentence, let me read Colossians 3:9-10. Paul wrote, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And the final verse they cited was Ephesians 4:24. I’ll read Verses 22-24 in order to get a complete sentence. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And let me begin our examination of these New Testament passages by pointing out that both of them speak about an old self and a new self. The old self, of course, refers to an unregenerate person, in other words, a person who has not been born again. In other words, an unbeliever, someone who is still an enemy of God as Paul says in Colossians 1:21, where we read, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

And then, both passages also speak about a new self, which refers to a person who has been born again. The passages then tell us some things about the change that takes place when a person becomes a believer.

Marc Roby: There is also an interesting difference in the two passages that is worth pointing out before we go on. In Colossians 3:9-10 the past tense is used. We are said to have “taken off” our old self with its practices and to “have put on the new self”. Whereas, in Ephesians 4:22-24 we are commanded to “put off your old self” and “to put on the new self”, which describes something we are to do, not something that is a completed past event.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an interesting and important difference. There is a very real change that takes place when a person is born again and confesses Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the apostle Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And so, when the past tense is used, it is a clear indication of this change. It is evident in the life of a believer immediately.

Marc Roby: And yet, we are certainly not immediately made perfect.

Dr. Spencer: No, we’re not. And that is why the Bible also uses the present tense to talk about the continuing change that must take place in the life of a believer. Hence, we can be said in Colossians 3 to have taken off our old self, and then in Ephesians 4 be told to put off our old self. Both are true. And we will discuss this in more detail later, but for now I want to focus on the changes that are being made because they all tell us something about the image and likeness of God.

That image was radically defaced in the fall, but in Christ it is being restored. And so, as we already read, Colossians 3:10 says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And so, clearly, knowledge is a part of the image with which man was originally made.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must note that for our knowledge to be in any way the image of God’s knowledge, it must be true and correct knowledge. The fall caused man to believe in lies. Paul tells us about unbelievers in Romans 1:21-23 and says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

Marc Roby: That is the exact opposite of the progression taught in our schools today. Pagan religions that worship images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles didn’t come first and Christianity didn’t evolve from those religions. True worship came first and those pagan religions came when man rebelled against God. They are a perversion of true worship, not the first step in an evolution of religion.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. Mans thinking became futile and our foolish hearts were darkened. We didn’t start out that way in the Garden. We became fools as a result of sin.

Marc Roby: And we read in Psalm 14:1 that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the denial of God is the essence of foolishness and rebellion. And it is the source of our knowledge being corrupted by lies. This does not, of course, mean that an unbeliever is incapable to having any correct knowledge. Unbelievers can know many things that are factually correct and can use that knowledge to make useful objects and do useful work. But, at the core of the worldview of an unbeliever there is a lie. And that lie does corrupt many specific areas of knowledge as well, certainly including anything having to do with eternal realities, the nature of God or the nature of man.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have established, I think, that to made in God’s image includes the fact that man was made with true knowledge. Although that knowledge certainly was not exhaustive knowledge about our world.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. We aren’t told exactly how much Adam and Eve knew before the fall and it isn’t really important for us to know that. But what they knew, was true and correct. And, most importantly, their knowledge about God, however extensive it was, was true and correct.

Let me quote the theologian Charles Hodge about this knowledge. He wrote that “Adam knew God; whom to know is life eternal. Knowledge, of course, differs as to its objects. The cognition of mere speculative truths, as those of science and history, is a mere act of the understanding; the cognition of the beautiful involves the exercise of our aesthetic nature; of moral truths the exercise of our moral nature; and the knowledge of God the exercise of our spiritual and religious nature.”[2]

Marc Roby: And we could add that Adam not only knew moral truths, but he lived in accordance with them.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite right. In fact, Hodge also wrote that “The knowledge here intended is not mere cognition. It is full, accurate, living, or practical knowledge; such knowledge as is eternal life, so that this word [knowledge] here [in Colossians 3:10] includes what in Eph. iv. 24 is expressed by righteousness and holiness.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that quote provides a perfect segue to our discussion of the next verse cited by the Westminster Confession, which is Ephesians 4:24. This verse says that we are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And we can again conclude that since the new man is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”, that must also have been the case for Adam and Eve prior to the fall. In redeeming his people from their bondage to sin, God is restoring the image that sin defaced, and that image included our being like God in righteousness and holiness.

Marc Roby: I think most people have a fair idea of what it means to be righteous, it is to do that which is right. And to be holy means, in this context, to be morally pure or blameless.

Dr. Spencer: And it is important to add that to be righteous is to do what is right in the sight of God, not what man thinks is right. Although the two terms righteousness and holiness can certainly be distinguished, Hodge points out that “These words when used in combination are intended to be exhaustive; i.e., to include all moral excellence.”[4]

Therefore, we can conclude by saying that when the Westminster Confession says that God “endued [man] with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image”, it means that man was created with a true and proper understanding of who God is and who man is and that he was morally upright and faultless. He obeyed God’s precepts perfectly.

Marc Roby: And the result of his perfect obedience was perfect happiness and perfect fellowship with God.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: Your statement that man was created with a proper understanding of who God is and who man is also reminds me of the first line to Calvin’s great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which says that “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: And the similarity to his statement was quite deliberate. Properly understanding the Creator/creature distinction is crucial for us to be good image bearers. An ambassador always has to remember his place. He represents his government and country. He has no authority to do or say what he wants to do or say.

Marc Roby: That’s a good analogy to keep in mind. As Christians, we are to always represent Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. But let’s get back to the statement from Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It says that “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We have now discussed all of this except the last phrase, which says that man was created having the law of God written in his heart and with the power to fulfil it.

Having the law written in the heart is again an aspect of being endued with knowledge. That knowledge, as we have seen, includes moral knowledge.

Marc Roby: So the thing that is added by this last phrase is that man was created with the power to keep the moral law.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Theologians, as is often the case, have a Latin phrase that they use for this. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were posse non peccare, which means that it was possible for them to not sin. Of course, they were also posse peccare, which means that they were able to sin. God did not prevent their sinning.

In any event, the Confession is right in telling us that man was created with the power to keep the moral law. If that were not so, Genesis 1:31 would not be true. We read there that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Marc Roby: How sad it is that it didn’t remain very good.

Dr. Spencer: That is very sad indeed. All of the troubles we experience are the result of human sin. God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory, not the immediate pleasure of man. We will get to the effects of sin as the last topic in our study of anthropology, but for now I want to continue looking at our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve finished looking at the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, so what is next?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to read a fairly lengthy passage from Charles Hodge about what is called the essential image of God in man. But before I read it, I need to tell our listeners about Aristotle’s distinction between the essential nature of something and the accidental nature.

The essential nature, or essence, of a thing is its fundamental nature.[6] If you take away the essence, you take away the thing itself. The accidental nature of a thing includes all of those aspects that are not essential to its being.[7] So, for example, the essential nature of a chair would include the fact that you can sit on it. Its accidents might include the fact that it is made out of wood, or metal, or that it has four legs as opposed to a single large pedestal.

Marc Roby: Alright, that makes sense. So what is the quote from Hodge?

Dr. Spencer: Hodge wrote, “While, therefore, the Scriptures make the original moral perfection of man the most prominent element of that likeness to God in which he was created, it is no less true that they recognize man as a child of God in virtue of his rational nature. He is the image of God, and bears and reflects the divine likeness among the inhabitants of the earth, because he is a spirit, an intelligent, voluntary agent; and as such he is rightfully invested with universal dominion. This is what the Reformed theologians were accustomed to call the essential image of God, as distinguished from the accidental. The one consisting in the very nature of the soul, the other in its accidental endowments, that is, such as might be lost without the loss of humanity itself.”

Marc Roby: If I might try to summarize and explain, Hodge is saying that both man’s original moral perfection and his being a rational, volitional being are essential to his being made in the image of God.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s accurate. I’m not absolutely certain what would be considered accidental in this context, but I suppose the physical form of man; namely that we have a head, two arms, two legs and a torso might be the sort of thing that is meant. In any event, what is important, and the reason I read the quote, is that it tells us that reformed theologians have emphasized man’s original moral perfection and the fact that he is a rational, volitional being as being essential to our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Is there anything you want to add before we conclude for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, one thing. The fact that we are moral, rational creatures is also essential to our performing the one function that clearly distinguishes us from the animals. The great Puritan theologian John Owen wrote that “The approaching unto God in his service is the chief exaltation of our nature above the beasts that perish.”[8] He also wrote, in the Greater Catechism, “Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness.”[9]

Marc Roby: That’s wonderful. Our being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from all other creatures and it is what enables us to worship and serve God, which is our greatest joy.

And now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d appreciate hearing from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 101

[3] Ibid, pg. 100

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

[6] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 751

[7] Ibid, pg. 739 (see page 150 and especially footnote 59 for further explanation of essence and accidents)

[8] Quoted in: Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 670

[9] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to discuss what it means to be made in the image of God. In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’”. [1] Which raises the obvious question, “What does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?”

Marc Roby: In Session 95, when we were discussing 1 John 3:2, which says in part that when God appears at the end of the ages, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” You quoted the theologian John Murray who said that “it must not be thought that likeness to God is absolute. There is a sense in which to aspire after likeness to God is the epitome of iniquity.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We need to be very careful with this concept. Murray also said that the “genius” of the devil’s temptation to Eve was to twist the meaning of being made in God’s likeness. Man was made in the image of God, he severely defaced that image when he sinned, and if we are in Jesus Christ, then God is working through his Holy Spirit to restore that image. We are, as Paul said in Romans 8:29, being “conformed to the likeness” of Jesus Christ, who is God.

But nowhere are we told that we will be “like God” in the sense the devil implied in tempting Eve. We will always be creatures. We will never possess deity. We will not have omnipotence, omniscience, self-existence or any other of God’s attributes to the full degree God does.

Marc Roby: In other words, we must always be mindful of the Creator/creature distinction.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. God is self-existent, we are created. God is immutable, we were made mutable as is evident from the fall.

Marc Roby: Although in heaven we will be confirmed in righteousness and unable to sin.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God that’s true. But even then we won’t be immutable, we will still learn and grow in knowledge and understanding for example. We will never be God, but we were created in his image.

Marc Roby: And so we return to our original question. Bearing in mind the Creator/creature distinction, what does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?

Dr. Spencer: Wayne Grudem points out that our English words image and likeness do a pretty good job of representing the Hebrew words they translate. An image of something can be a statue or photograph for example and it can be used to represent the original. For example, Federal office buildings in this country typically display a picture of the current president in the lobby. The picture is there to honor him and could be said to represent him as the head of the government. Grudem proposes that to the original audience the statement in Genesis 1:26 would simply have meant, “Let us make man to be like us and to represent us.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s reasonable. But it still leaves open the question of what it means to be like God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Grudem points out that there have been three main views in the history of the church about what this means.[4] One is, “the substantive view, which identifies some particular quality of man (such as reason or spirituality) as being the image of God in man”. This view was held by Luther and Calvin, and many early church writers. Secondly, there have been “relational views, which held that the image of God had to do with our interpersonal relationships”. For example, Karl Barth saw the image as having to do with man being created male and female. Thirdly, there was “the functional view, which holds that the image of God has to do with a function we carry out, usually our exercise of dominion over the creation”.

Marc Roby: Well, those all seem like reasonable possibilities.

Dr. Spencer: And I think they all have merit and, in fact, are probably all correct. I suspect, as Grudem says, that “The expression refers to every way in which man is like God.”[5] And yet, I do think there is value in spending some time looking at a few of the specific things that this expression represents.

Marc Roby: Very well, which of the possibilities do you want to explore?

Dr. Spencer: Lets take a look at what the Westminster Confession of Faith says. It deals with this in Chapter IV, which is on Creation. In Paragraph 2 it says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We are told seven important things in this statement, all of which I think are involved in what it means to be made in the image of God. The first thing stated was that God created man male and female.

Marc Roby: How is that related to being made in the image of God?

Dr. Spencer: Because God is triune, or we could say tri-personal, the fact that man was created male and female makes us better able to mirror his nature. When Jesus taught his disciples that they should not divorce, he said in Mark 10:6-8, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.”

Marc Roby: I think it is important to point out that in a proper biblical marriage the expression “the two will become one flesh” has a much deeper meaning than just the physical union of a husband and wife.

Dr. Spencer: That is very important. There is a profound emotional and spiritual unity in a proper marriage. The physical relationship alone can never make a successful marriage.

Marc Roby: Which may be part of the reason so many marriages end in divorce. People, especially men, tend to focus on external appearance and the physical relationship.

Dr. Spencer: I suspect you’re right about that being a significant contributing factor to the high divorce rate. The most important aspect of a successful marriage is the spiritual aspect. That is why God commands Christians to only marry “in the Lord” as we’re told in 1 Corinthians 7. In that passage the apostle Paul is giving instructions about marriage and he wrote, in Verse 39, that “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”

Marc Roby: And that command applies to men as well as to women and it also applies to being married the first time, not just after a spouse has died. We can infer that from what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 he commanded, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” To be “yoked together” speaks, of course, of two oxen being connected by a wooden yoke and working together to pull a plow or cart. And Paul goes on to explain why we should not be yoked together with unbelievers, he writes in the last half of Verse 14 on through the first part of Verse 16, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”

Dr. Spencer: Paul doesn’t leave much room for doubt, does he? He asks four rhetorical questions, starting with, “what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” The obvious answer to that question is, “nothing”. And the others are equally obvious. Light cannot have fellowship with darkness. There is no harmony between Christ and Belial – which is referring to Satan. A believer and an unbeliever have nothing in common when we speak about the most fundamental issues in life, and there can be no agreement between the temple of God and the temple of idols. Paul then seals the whole argument by pointing out that “we are the temple of the living God.” Because God lives in his people by the Holy Spirit, we cannot form the most intimate relationships with unbelievers, we cannot be “yoked together”.

Marc Roby: This does not prohibit us from normal day-to-day interactions with unbelievers of course. We must still live in the world, and that even includes entering into contractual obligations with unbelievers and so on.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. But I think the modern church has gone very far into the opposite error of living as if there were no truly significant difference between believers and unbelievers. That cannot be true. We’re getting too far off topic to spend any significant time on that now, but the Bible speaks from beginning to end about the need for separation. We are not to live as the world lives. We are to represent Christ, in other words we are to function as God’s image bearers, which brings us back to our topic.

A Christian husband and wife have a very deep spiritual unity in addition to the physical and emotional unity present in a healthy marriage. And that union of two persons does a better job of representing the triune God than an individual person can.

Marc Roby: I can imagine someone asking why, given that we are made in the image of a triune God, there are only two in a marriage.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem deals with this question.[6] He points out that the analogy between marriage and the Trinity is not perfect and secondly, and most importantly, that the Bible does not explicitly answer that question. Nevertheless, we can speculate that the difference may be a reflection of the fact that God is much greater than we are. Also, when a human father and mother have a child, there are three. Which makes the analogy to the Trinity somewhat better.

Marc Roby: But what about single people? There are also made in the image and likeness of God.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. And they are not in any way inferior to those who are married. Nor are married couples who can’t have children in any way inferior to those that do. We don’t want to make too much of this aspect of our being made in the image and likeness of God. But we also don’t want to make too little of it. The fact that human beings exist as male and female is a very important part of who we are. And for people who are still single, or childless, there are still other important relationships that express the fact that we do not exist as individuals in isolation. The most important human relationship for a Christian is with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And that is expressed most tangibly in our being an active part of a local church.

Marc Roby: Alright. Getting back to the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, it goes on to say that God “created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls”.

Dr. Spencer: And the fact that we have “reasonable and immortal souls” is a very important part of our being made in his image and likeness. First of all, we have a soul. There is some debate among Christians as to whether there is a difference between the soul and spirit or whether those are two names for the same thing, but I want to put off that discussion for a later podcast. For the moment, let’s use the words soul and spirit as being interchangeable. The main point is that “God is Spirit” as Jesus told us in John 4:24, so our being made in his image includes the fact that we also have a spirit or soul.

Marc Roby: And the Confession says that our souls are “reasonable and immortal”.

Dr. Spencer: Which is also very important. Man’s ability to reason is one of the things that clearly separates us from animals. I’m not denying that some animals have the ability to reason in a limited sense, they can solve certain puzzles and problems and some of the higher animals can clearly communicate in various ways, but there is a clear difference between even the highest animals and man. I don’t want to spend time trying to quantify or specifically delineate the difference, I’ll just assume for the moment that the difference is obvious to all, or almost all, of our listeners.

The second thing said is also critically important; our souls are immortal. The clear teaching of the Bible is that when we die physically, our bodies cease functioning and are separated from our souls. But we go on living. The body is, in some sense, a physical habitation for the soul. But the essence of our being is immaterial, it is our soul. And that does not cease to exist when our body dies.

Marc Roby: The best passage I can think of to support that statement is in the book of Hebrews. In Chapter 12 the writer tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus and his heavenly kingdom. In Hebrews 12:22-24 we are encouraged by reading, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Dr. Spencer: Praise God! He offers us salvation through Jesus Christ and that salvation culminates in our spending eternity with him in heaven. And, as you noted, this passage speaks about the immortality of the soul, because we are told that there is a great assembly right now in the heavenly Jerusalem, and that assembly includes thousands upon thousands of angels as well as “the spirits of righteous men made perfect.”

If we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a result of being united to him by faith, then when we die our souls, or spirits, are instantly perfected and come into the very presence of God. We then live in that perfected but disembodied state until God finishes his work of creating the church. At which time Jesus will come to earth again to judge the living and the dead and we will receive our resurrection bodies.

Marc Roby: What a glorious hope that is!

Dr. Spencer: I agree, and we will spend more time on all of that when we get to soteriology and eschatology, but for now we want to stick to the fact that man has both a material part, which is our physical body, and an immaterial part, which is our soul or spirit. The immaterial part is by far the most important. We can live without a physical body, but without a soul or spirit to animate them our bodies would be nothing but dead lumps of highly organized chemicals.

Marc Roby: That isn’t a particularly flattering way to put it, but I think that your meaning is clear.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, we must also point out that our spirits are not the same as God’s spirit. As always, there is the Creator/creature distinction. God created us, body and spirit. Our spirits are immortal only because God has determined to keep them so. We don’t have the power of life within us. We are not self-existent. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are not God and we never will be.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we done with what you want to say about the soul for now?

Dr. Spencer: We are. And to recap, in examining the statement made in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV, Paragraph 2, we have noted that we are made in the image of likeness of God in terms of our being male and female, and in terms of having reasonable and immortal souls. The next thing that the Confession mentions is that we have knowledge.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to discussing that, but I think this is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 306

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 443

[4] Ibid, see footnote 8

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg. 455

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s spirituality, which is the first of his communicable attributes we are considering. Dr. Spencer, you ended last time by saying that God has revealed a number of things about the nature of spirit to us. What has he revealed?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s first look at the words used. I mentioned last time that both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as spirit in our Bibles also mean breath or wind. Let’s stick with looking at the Greek word for spirit, which is πνεῦμα (pneuma). This is a very interesting word and has a long history of usage in classical Greek prior to the time of the New Testament.[1]

Since breath is associated with living beings it should not be surprising that the word for breath would be closely associated with the idea of life. In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Friedrich notes that “it is natural that via the sense ‘breath of life’ πνεῦμα itself should take on the direct sense of ‘life’ or ‘living creature’.[2]

Marc Roby: That does make sense. Certainly, the expression “breath of life” is a familiar one even today.

Dr. Spencer: It definitely is a familiar way to speak of the vital force that animates physical bodies. Also, since wind is capable of doing significant work, it also should not be surprising that the word for wind would be associated with a forcible influence of one being on another. In his section dealing with the use of the word in ancient Greek myths and religion, Friedrich writes that “The ‘breath’ of wind or of breathing is a form of being and mode of presentation in which especially higher divine powers of the most varied kinds, which man cannot control, impart something of the vital essence and power which they are to man or nature, whether it be for good or evil.” [3]

When he speaks of “higher divine powers of the most varied kinds” we must remember that he is writing about the usage in Greek myths and religion. But this makes it clear how the word was used and how it would have been understood even prior to the writing of the New Testament.

Marc Roby: In other words, one spiritual being can influence another, just as the wind can influence objects.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is the idea. And that influence can be for good or evil as he says, which is a point we will come back to later. Another interesting point that Friedrich brings out is that wind does not have a beginning.[4]

Marc Roby: That is an interesting observation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. It isn’t something you normally think about, but where does a wind begin? There is no answer to that question. Of course, we all understand that if we are going to be scientific about it a wind is just the movement of air in the atmosphere, which is a continuous entity surrounding our earth, but if you think about it more poetically, the wind has no beginning or end, it simply exists. It can be stronger or weaker and it can change direction, but it has no beginning or end.

Marc Roby: I like the poetic view better. Does Friedrich say anything else that will be helpful to our discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, there are three more things I would like to mention. First, he points out that because of the use of πνεῦμα as the breath or principle of life, it is often synonymous with the Greek word for soul, which is ψυχή (psuchā).

Marc Roby: That shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone. The words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in English as well.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. And they are often used interchangeably in the Hebrew Old Testament too. But going into that would get us very much off topic, so for the time being let’s stick with the Greek word for spirit.

Marc Roby: Alright. What is the second thing you wanted to mention?

Dr. Spencer: Friedrich notes that because the wind is seen as having no beginning, “The concept of the generative and life-creating cosmogonic power of wind is thus widespread in primitive mythology.” Cosmogony is the study of the origin of the universe, so when he refers to the “life-creating cosmogonic power” of the wind I take it to mean the origin of life in our universe.

Marc Roby: That is again interesting, and certainly fits with God, who created all things, being the only life-giving spirit. In Genesis 2:7 we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [5] What is the third thing you want to tell us about?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that even though there is a long history to the use of the Greek word, the New Testament use is still very different. Friedrich notes that “The constitutive factor of πνεῦμα in the Greek world is always its subtle and powerful corporeality. Because of its material character it is never spiritual in the strict sense, as in the NT. It is never wholly outside the realm of sense.”[6] This is a clear difference between the use of the term in the Bible and its prior use prior to that outside of the Bible. In the Bible, the word spirit is never used of a physical being.

Marc Roby: I guess it is hardly surprising that the New Testament usage would introduce a unique element. After all, the New Testament is not telling us about some mythological character in a story, it is telling us about the true and living God, the Creator of the universe. What else do you want to say about the word spirit?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of things about the word that are fairly obvious, but it will be worthwhile to list some of them. I think the first thing anyone thinks of when you see the word spirit is that it is something that is invisible. In other words, it is not made of ordinary matter.

Marc Roby: I would think that is one of the primary things that Jesus is teaching us in John 4:24 when he says that “God is spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that. And it is worth noting that this is again primarily, although not entirely, a negative description of God. He is not visible.

Marc Roby: In that sense this is like the incommunicable attributes we discussed, which we noted are often described negatively.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right.

Marc Roby: What else can we say about a spirit?

Dr. Spencer: Another thing that comes readily to mind is that a spirit does not have a body. This goes along of course with being invisible, if by “body” we mean a body made out of matter as we are. But it is an important thing to say. Remember that when we discussed God’s omnipresence we noted that God is everywhere in the totality of his being. That is not possible if he has spatial dimensions at all, even if they are in different dimensions than the three spatial dimensions we experience.

At the same time, we must recognize that the Bible clearly indicates that at least some spirits can make themselves visible to us as having bodies. For example, in John 20:11-12 we read about Mary Magdalene going to visit Jesus’ tomb on Sunday after his crucifixion and we are told that “Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.”

Marc Roby: An even more dramatic interaction is described in Genesis 32, where we read about Jacob wrestling with God in the flesh. We are first told that Jacob was wrestling with a man and the man touched his hip and somehow disabled him. Then, in Genesis 32:28, we read that “the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a better example. Not only could Jacob see this man, he could wrestle with him. Now, there is debate about whether Jacob wrestled with an angel or a theophany, which is a manifestation of God himself. Hosea 12:4-5 tell us about this wrestling match; and we read there, “He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there—the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown!” For our present purposes it doesn’t matter whether this was an angel or God himself. The point is that some spirits can manifest themselves in physically tangible ways.

Marc Roby: That is one of the most amazing events described in all of Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And the name Israel means one who struggles with God.

Marc Roby: Alright. We have established that spirits are invisible and do not have bodies, although some of them can in some way at least manifest themselves as visible, physical beings. What else do we know about them?

Dr. Spencer: We know that that they are self-conscious, moral and volitional beings. This is obvious from the fact that Scripture consistently portrays God and angels as being personal beings who make real decisions and that angels are morally accountable for their decisions. It is also something we can deduce based on our own nature.

Marc Roby: Can you explain that last statement?

Dr. Spencer: Sure, I have two different arguments to present to support this position. First, I noted last time that it is impossible to explain volitional creatures like us if the material universe is all that exists. Atoms in motion according to the laws of physics cannot explain any creature that makes real decisions. And I noted that the Bible calls this non-physical part of us our spirit.

So, the spirit is the part of us that makes us self-conscious, volitional beings and it is our decisions that can be judged as morally good or bad. Our bodies simply carry out the decisions we make. I don’t think you can blame your feet and legs for carrying you into sin. Our physical brains are obviously involved as well and even though we know a great deal about the electrochemical functioning of the brain, we know next to nothing about how thoughts and memories work and we know absolutely nothing about how the spirit works with our physical brains.

Marc Roby: But we can say that our spirit must, somehow, be able to influence our physical bodies.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Although my spirit is what makes real decisions, my physical brain must send certain signals down the nerves of my body in order for my body to do anything, even just to continue breathing or to keep my heart pumping. Now it is certainly possible that thinks like my heart pumping and breathing, in other words functions of what is called my autonomic nervous system, may not need to involve my spirit; they could very well be entirely physical. But if I do something voluntary, like lifting my arm, that decision is made by my spirit but my arm only raises when the proper signals are sent to the muscles involved, which requires my physical brain to also be involved. At this time we have no idea how the spirit might interact with our physical brains, but we don’t need to worry about that. All we need to notice for now is that spirits are obviously able to interact in some way with our physical universe.

Marc Roby: I agree that it is obvious there must be interaction. You said you had two arguments to support the contention that we can deduce the fact that spirits are self-conscious, moral, volitional beings from our human nature; what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second is that our spirits can exist independently of our bodies, but the opposite statement is not true. The Bible is clear about this. First, you have the statement in Hebrews 12:23 about “the spirits of righteous men made perfect” being in heaven. When we die, our spirits go to either heaven or hell and await the second coming of Jesus Christ, which is when there will be a resurrection of our bodies as well. But during that time, we exist as pure spirit.

Marc Roby: And in Luke 23:43 we read that Jesus Christ told the thief who repented on the cross that “today you will be with me in paradise.” That had to have been in his spirit since he body was still hanging on the cross and we know that our bodies will not be resurrected until Christ returns.

Dr. Spencer: That definitely is further evidence of the clear teaching of the Bible that our spirits, or souls, will exist independent of the body after we die. Theologians call this the intermediate state. Further biblical support is provided by what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8. He wrote that he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” So, it is clear that he expected to come into the Lord’s presence immediately after dying, which again had to be in his spirit. There are many other examples we could give from Scripture, for example the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from Luke 16. In Verse 22 we read that when Lazarus died, “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” Notice that not only is Lazarus portrayed as going to heaven immediately, which had to be in his spirit, but we are also told that Abraham was there even though Abraham had been dead for nearly 2,000 years at that time. We also have the evidence of the mount of transfiguration, which we read about in Luke 9:28-36. In that instance, Peter, James and John were witnesses not only of Christ’s glory, but also of his talking with Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah were obviously not there in their physical bodies, those had been dead for over 1,000 years. And yet they were talking with Jesus.

Marc Roby: I also think about Paul’s comment about his experience of heaven, in 2 Corinthians 12:2 he says, “Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another interesting example. Paul leaves open the possibility that it was only his spirit that was shown heaven. It may have been a true out-of-body experience.

Marc Roby: I think that is enough evidence to make the case that our spirits can exist without our bodies and that they are still conscious persons and able to interact with others.

Dr. Spencer: The biblical view is clear that our spirit is the seat of who we are. The body is merely a physical house for the spirit.

Marc Roby: But we don’t want to go the way of the ancient Greeks then and conclude that the body is evil and the spirit is good.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely not. That is a heresy which is, in fact, completely the opposite of the truth. We are told in Genesis 1:31 that when God finished creating this universe, including man, he “saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” We can conclude that our physical bodies were very good in their original state. We are sinners as a result of the fall of Adam and it isn’t our physical bodies that are the seat of our sin, it is our spirit, or soul. The spirit is the seat of who we are, our personality and thinking. Therefore, it is our spirit that is the cause of sin, not our body. Remember that a minute ago I read Hebrews 12:23 about “the spirits of righteous men made perfect” being in heaven. Think about that; if our spirits need to be “made perfect”, it is obvious that they have something wrong with them now. Of course, our physical bodies have much that is wrong with them too, but this is the result of sin, not the cause of sin.

Marc Roby: Let me summarize what we have learned so far. Spirits are self-conscious, intelligent, moral, volitional, personal beings. There are beings that are pure spirit, including God and angels, but man has a dual nature, he has both a physical body and a spirit. Our spirit is the essential element. It is the seat of our personality and decision-making ability and can exist without the body.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good summary.

Marc Roby: And I think that is about all the time we have for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email any questions or comments they might have to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you and may answer your question or present your comment in a future session.

[1] Gerhard Friedrich (Trans. By G. Bromley), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, Eerdmans, 1964-1976, pp 354-359

[2] Ibid, pg. 336 (parenthetical reference omitted)

[3] Ibid, pg. 343

[4] Ibid, pg. 340

[5] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[6] Friedrich, op. cit., pg. 357

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