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What makes us human.
Both body and soul are part of the grand design by which God creates all human beings.
In chapter 23 of his work Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson takes as his task the examination of human composition; that is, his project in systematizing theology, writ large, sees him scrutinize the three views by which one is able to understand the makeup of human beings. The question under consideration is, Are human beings comprised of two or more constituent parts or are they unitary wholes? How one answers this metaphysical and theological inquiry will affect one’s understanding of the “substance” which makes one human.
A view that has risen in popularity as a result of modern scholarship is monism. In this understanding, there is absolutely no division among the elements which make up human beings. Instead, mankind exists in “radical unity.” That is to say, there is no segregation between a person’s body, soul, and spirit. Rather, the person is reckoned merely as the “self.” What impales this view is its rather overemphasis on the Hebraic view of human nature, which did not distinguish between the terms “flesh” and “body.” Proponents of this view cling to the merits of linguistics rather than biblical data.
Another perspective that was popularized in various circles of conservative protestantism is trichotomism. In the trichotomistic understanding of human composition, there are three elements at work: body, soul, and spirit. Human beings, then, are physiological, psychological, and theological creatures. This view of human makeup seems to be expressly articulated by the apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:23) and the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 4:12). The third view is also the most enduring: dichotomism. This perspective finds its metaphysical moorings stretching as far back as the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. In short, proponents of this view consider human beings to be comprised of two elements — body and soul — with “soul” and “spirit” often seen to be interchanged.
This seems to be what the apostle Paul argues for throughout 1 Corinthians 15. Other texts which can be read to affirm this viewpoint are Ecclesiastes 12:7; Matthew 6:25; 10:28; and 1 Corinthians 5:3. Taken to its extremes, dichotomism can negatively impact one’s view of life and death. However, in a graphic exhibition of this concept stands the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1ff). Significantly, the remains of countless valiant men are made to stand again, with sinew and flesh covering them again:
But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezek. 37:8–10)
Similarly, one might navigate to the earliest beginnings of human creation, when Adam was formed from dust (Gen. 2:7), in which it is observed that both body and soul are part of the grand design by which God creates all human beings.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013).