Bible Psychology: Dichotomy vs.Trichotomy.
(Appeared in The Central Presbyterian, April 14, 1860; vol. 5:15, pp. 1 & 2.)
An extract published in a recent number of the Central
Presbyterian brought this interesting subject to the notice of its
readers. In that passage, remarks were founded on 1 Thess.
5:23—"I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be
preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,"
asserting that the Apostle means to teach the existence of three
parts in man, body, soul, and spirit. The word soul (psuche)
here was asserted to mean that principle which is the seat of
sensation and understanding; while the word spirit (pneuma)
was supposed to mean the moral principle in man. But the
writer spoke as though he regarded these as two distinct,
immaterial substances, which, united to the body, make up the
complex man. If we use the word soul in a general sense, it
might be asserted, on this scheme, that man has two souls. But
does the Bible mean to assert this? Surely it does not.
First, if it be granted that there are two immaterial principles
in the living man, the definition of them given by the above
writer cannot be the one intended by Paul. For all scholars are
agreed that the Apostle here uses language in compliance with
familiar, popular custom, which had been made current by the
Platonic and Pythagorean philosophies. These sects supposed
man to be composed of three substances, one material and two
immaterial; body, soul (psuche) and intellect or spirit (nous or
pneuma). But they never committed the absurdity of attributing
intellection to one, and moral exercise to another of these
principles. For is not all moral affection or exercise predicated
upon some exercise of intellection? The best scholars in mental
science, Price, Jouffroy, Alexander, Cousin, regard the moral
judgments as the very highest and most distinctive exercises of
the pure reason itself. But these old Greek philosophers, whose
views had molded the language of all educated men in Paul's
day, attributed to the psuche only the vitality, instinctive desires,
and appetites, which constitute man, like the horse or lion, a
living animal; and to the spirit, or intellect (or nous), all the
intellectual and moral powers, which constitute man a rational
being. In evidence of this, it is enough to point out, that Plato
taught that when the philosopher dies, the intellect (nous) is the
only principle which enjoys a proper immortality; and the
glorification of the soul consists in its entering upon a career of
sinless, disembodied, intellectual activity, forever.
But second, no sound mental philosophers now believe that
Paul, when he prays for the sanctification of the body, soul, and
spirit, intended to be understood as endorsing the Platonic
Psychology current in his day among the educated Greeks, to
whom he wrote. They justly consider that he intended only to
borrow the phraseology of the day, to express unmistakably the
fact, that the whole man must be sanctified, in all its principles
and powers, be they what they may. For illustration, let us
suppose that some foreign scholar, well acquainted with Scotch
literature, were writing to educated Scotchmen, and should say:
"I pray God your whole nature may be sanctified in the
understanding, in the affections, and in the will." Would it be
fair to insist on understanding, that this learned foreigner
intended thereby to endorse the correctness of, or to express any
opinion, pro or con, on, the prevalent psychology of Scotland,
which thus distributes the exercises of man's immaterial part?
By no means: Common sense would suggest, that he was not
professedly speaking of mental science, but of practical religion.
His obvious purpose was only to express to his Scotch readers,
in language to which they were accustomed, his great idea of a
Third, we can prove to a demonstration, that this view of
Paul's intention is correct. The proof is, that he himself uses the
word soul (psuche) to mean in some places, the very same thing
with spirit (pneuma). And this interchanging of the words
would rather show, that the Apostle, at bottom, recognized only
one immaterial principle in man, the seat at once of sensitive,
intellectual, and moral exercises.
Let the reader consult the
excellent Commentary of Dr. Sampson on Hebrews, chap. 4, vs.
12. Thus, in Hebrews 6:19, "hope" is called the "anchor of the
soul" (psuches). Is it only the animal principle (according to the
old Platonist), or the animal and intellectual as distinguished
from the moral (according to this recent writer), which is
steadied and sustained by a Christian hope? Surely not. "Soul"
is here equivalent to "Spirit."— Again, Heb. 10:39, "Believe, to
the saving of the soul" (psuches). Surely, it is the moral
principle, which faith saves. So in Heb 13:17, Jas. 1:21.
Last: A little reflection will convince us, that the analysis of
man's immaterial part into an animal soul, and a rational spirit,
is incorrect. For according to this, beasts, which these
philosophers supposed to have only a soul, and no intellect,
ought to show only appetites, and no intellection whatever. But
is this so? Do not dogs and horses have memory, and
association of ideas, as well as hunger and thirst?