Home > S. Lewis Johnson > Trichotomy Versus Dichotomy: The Body, Soul and Spirit

Trichotomy Versus Dichotomy: The Body, Soul and Spirit


Note:  Please refer to this more recent message on the topic, a more thorough treatment of trichotomy and dichotomy.

The last message in S. Lewis Johnson’s “The Divine Purpose” was a “Q&A” session with a lot of different topics.  Here is an interesting question, a less important topic but one I had not considered before:  what is the difference between the soul and the spirit?

Most Reformed Theologians (such as Lewis Berkhof) see the soul and spirit as synonymous, the same thing — a dichotomy:  body and soul/spirit.

Dallas Seminary, and S. Lewis Johnson, hold to a trichotomy:  body, soul, and spirit.  The spirit is the seat of man’s thoughts, the mental aspect.  Consider 1 Corinthians 2:11 —  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

The soul is the emotions, the heart, of the person.  Scripture here includes Luke 1:46-47, Mary’s Magnificat, in which she says that my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced.  Johnson notes that some here see merely a parallelism between two thoughts, a common feature of Jewish poetry.  However, he adds, it’s not that simple, because the second part, about the spirit, is in the past tense:  my spirit has rejoiced.  As an aside here, I later looked up the passage in multiple translations.  The KJV and its variants, and the New American Standard, render it “has rejoiced,” but the ESV and NIV state it in present tense.  Since S. Lewis Johnson knew the original Greek very well, I’ll defer to his point on this.  (Sometimes he even read, to his audience, Bible verses directly from the Greek, translating it as he was reading it, for a slightly different variation than the available English translations.)

1 Thessalonians 5:23 is another verse that supports trichotomy:  Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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  1. April 27, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Interesting, but the question that I have yet to find answered is, “What difference does it make?” Is there a fundamental wrong result of one position or the other?

  2. April 28, 2012 at 9:32 am

    I have addressed this issue in more detail, including that question of “what difference does it make?” in this more recent post: http://scripturethoughts.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/body-soul-and-spirit-trichotomy-or-dichotomy/

    I have now updated this post to include a link to the more recent post.

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