The following is part of chapter 11 of Anthony Hoekema's book Created in God's Image.

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One of the most important aspects of the Christian view of man is that we must see him in his unity, as a whole person. Human beings have often been thought of as consisting of distinct and sometimes separable "parts," which are then abstracted from the whole. So, in Christian circles, man has been thought of as consisting either of "body" and "soul," or of "body," "soul," and "spirit." Both secular scientists and Christian theologians, however, are increasingly recognizing that such an understanding of human beings is wrong, and that man must be seen in his unity. Since our concern is with the Christian doctrine of man, we now look anew at the biblical teaching about human beings, to see whether this is so.

What we ought to observe first of all is that the Bible does not describe man scientifically; in fact, "the general judgment [of theologians] is that the Bible gives us no scientific teaching about man, no "anthropology" that would or could be in competition with a scientific investigation of man in the various aspects of his existence or with philosophical anthropology." Further, the Bible does not use exact scientific language. It uses terms like soul, spirit, and heart more or less interchangeably. This is because "the parts of the body are thought of, not primarily from the point of view of their difference from, and into relation with, other parts, but as signifying or stressing different aspects of the whole man in relation to God. From the standpoint of analytic psychology and physiology the usage of the Old Testament is chaotic: it is the nightmare of the anatomist when any part can stand at any moment for the whole."

It is therefore not possible to construct an exact, scientific, biblical psychology. Some have attempted to do so; most notable among them is Franz Delitzsch, whose System of Biblical Psychology was originally published in 1955. But even Delitzsch had to admit that "the Scripture is no scholastic [or didactic] book of science" and that "it is true that on psychological subjects, just as little as on dogmatical or ethical, does the Scripture comprehend [or contain] any system propounded in the language of the schools."

In 1920 the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck wrote a book entitled Biblical and Religious Psychology. But he, like Delitzsch, admitted that "[the Bible] does not furnish us with a popular or scientific psychology, any more than it provides as with a scientific account of history, geography, astronomy, or agriculture... Even if one wished to try it, it would be impossible to draw from the Bible a psychology that would in some way meet our need. For not only would one be unable to give a complete account of all the various data, but the words that the Bible uses, such as spirit, soul, heart, and mind, have been borrowed from the popular language of the Jews of those days, ordinarily have a different content than that which we associate with those terms, and are not always used in the same sense. The Scriptures never use abstract, philosophical concepts, but always speak the rich language of everyday life."

Though we cannot derive an exact, scientific psychology or anthropology from the Bible, we can learn from Scripture many important truths about man... We should first of all remind ourselves again that the most important thing the Bible says about man is that he is inescapably related to God. Berkouwer puts it this way: "We may say without much fear of contradiction that the most striking thing in the Biblical portrayal of man lies in this, that it never asks attention for man in himself, but demand our fullest attention for man in his relation to God." We may add that the Bible also focuses our attention on man as he is related to others and to creation. In other words, the Scriptures are not primarily interested in the constituent "parts" of man or in his psychological structure, but in the relationships in which he stands.

Trichotomy or Dichotomy?

From time to time, however, it has been suggested that man should be understood as consisting of certain specifically distinguishable "parts." One of these understandings is commonly known as trichotomy -- the view that, according to the Bible, man consists of body, soul, and spirit. One of the earliest proponents of trichotomy... was Irenaeus, who taught that whereas unbelievers have only souls and bodies, believers acquire in addition spirits, which have been created by the Holy Spirit. Another theologian who is usually associated with trichotomy is Apollinarius of Laodicea, who lived from approximately 310 to approximately 390 A.D. Most interpreters ascribe to him the view that man consists of body, soul, and spirit or mind (pneuma or nous), and that the Logos or divine nature of Christ took the place of the human spirit in the human nature that Christ took upon himself. Berkouwer, however, points out that Apollinarius first developed his erroneous Christology in a dichotomistic context. But J. N. D. Kelly says that it is a question of secondary importance whether Apollinarius was a dichotomist or trichotomist.

Trichotomy was taught in the 19th century by Franz Delitzsch, J. B. Heard, J. T. Beck, and G. F. Oehler. More recently it has been defended by such writers as Watchman Nee, Charles R. Solomon (who states that through his body man relates to the environment, through his soul to others, and through his spirit to God), and Bill Gothard. It is interesting to note that trichotomy is also defended in both the old and the new Scofield Reference Bible. In spite of this support, we must reject the trichotomist view of human nature.

First, it must be rejected because it seems to do violence to the unity of man. The very word itself suggests that man can be split up into three "parts": trichotomy, from two Greek words, tricha, "threefold" or "into three," and temnein, "to cut." Some trichotomists, including Irenaeus, even suggest that certain people have spirits whereas others do not.

Second, we must reject it because it often presupposes an irreconcilable antithesis between spirit and body. Actually, trichotomy originated in Greek philosophy, particularly in the view of Plato, who also had a tripartite understanding of human nature. Herman Bavinck has a helpful discussion of this point in his Biblical Psychology. He points out that in Plato and other Greek philosophers a sharp antithesis was posited between invisible and visible things. The world as a material substance was not created by God, so said the Greeks, but stood eternally over against him. A mediating power was therefore necessary that could bind the world and God together and bring them into fellowship -- the so-called world soul. The view of man found in Greek thought, Bavinck continues, is similar: Man is a rational being who possesses reason (nous), but he is also a material being who has a body. Between these two there must be a third reality that acts as a mediator: the soul, which is able to direct the body in the name of reason.

The Bible, however, does not teach any such sharp antithesis between spirit (or mind) and body. According to the Scriptures matter is not evil but has been created by God. The Bible never denigrates the human body as a necessary source of evil, but describes it as an aspect of God's good creation, which must be used in God's service. For the Greeks the body was considered "a tomb for the soul" (soma sema) that man gladly abandoned at death, but this conception is totally foreign to the Scriptures.

We must also reject trichotomy because it posits a sharp distinction between the spirit and the soul that finds no support in Scripture. We can see this most clearly when we observe that the Hebrew and Greek words rendered soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in the Bible.
1. Man is described in the Bible both as someone who is body and soul and someone who is body and spirit: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Mathew 10:28); "An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit" (1 Corinthians 7:34); "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:25).
2. Grief is referred to the soul as well as to the spirit: "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord"(1 Sam. 1:10); "the Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit" (Isaiah 54:6); "Now is my soul troubled" (John 12:27, RSV); "After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit" (John 13:21); "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him" (Acts 17:16, RSV); "For by what that righteous man [Lot] saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds"(2 Peter 2:8, RSV).
3. Praising and loving God is ascribed to both soul and spirit: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47, RSV); "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:3).
4. Salvation is associated with both soul and spirit: "Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21, RSV); "Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:5).
5. Dying is described as the departure either of the soul or of the spirit: "And as her soul was departing (for she died), she called his name Ben-oni" (Genesis 35:18, RSV); "Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the Lord, '0 Lord my God, let this child's soul come into him again'"(1 Kings 17:21, RSV); "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul"(Mathew 10:28); "Into your hands I commit my spirit" (Psalm 31:5); "And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit"(Mathew 27:50); "Her spirit returned and at once she stood up" (Luke 9:55); "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit'" (Luke 23:46); "While they were stoning him, Steven prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit'" (Acts 7:59).
6. Those who have already died are sometimes referred to as souls and sometimes as spirits: Mathew 10:28 (quoted above); "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain" (Revelation 6:9); "You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect" (Hebrew's 12: 23); "He [Christ] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah"(1 Peter 3:18-20).

Trichotomists often appeal to two New Testament passages, Hebrews 4:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23, as specifically supporting their view; but neither of these passages does so.

Hebrews 4:12 reads as follows: "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."

These words describe the penetrating power of the word of God. The author of Hebrews does not intend to say that the word of God causes the division between a "part" of human nature called the soul and another "part" called the spirit, any more then he intends to say that the word causes a division between the joints of the body and the marrow found in the bones. The language is figurative. The next clause indicates the intent of the author: he wishes to say that the word of God judges "the thoughts and attitudes (or intentions) of the heart." God's word (whether understood as meaning the Bible or Jesus Christ) penetrates into the innermost recesses of our being, bringing to light the secret motives for our actions. This passage, in fact, is in many ways parallel to a text from Paul: "He [the Lord] will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts"(1 Corinthians 4:5). There is therefore no reason to understand Hebrews 4:12 as teaching a psychological distinction between soul and spirit as two constituent parts of man.

The other passage is 1 Thessalonians 5:23, which reads: "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly [holoteleis]; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire [holokleron], without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (ASV).

We should observe first to that this passage is not a doctrinal statement but a prayer; Paul prays that his Thessalonians readers may be totally sanctified and completely preserved or kept by God until Christ comes again. The totality of the sanctification prayed for is expressed in the text by two Greek words. The first, holoteleis, is derived from holos, meaning whole, and telos, meaning end or goal; the word means "whole in such a way as to reach the goal." The second word, holokleron, derived from holos and kleros, portion or part, means "complete in all its parts." It is interesting to note that in the second half of the passage both the adjective holokleron and the verb teretheie ("may be preserved or kept") are in the singular, indicating that the emphasis of the text is on the whole person. When Paul prays for the Thessalonians that the spirit, soul, and body of each one of them may be preserved or kept, he is obviously not trying to split man into three parts, any more than Jesus intended to split man into four parts when he said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27). This passage therefore also provides no ground for the trichotomic view of the constitution of man.

The other commonly held view about the constitution of man is that called dichotomy -- the view that man consists of body and soul. This view has been much more widely held than trichotomy. Does our rejection of trichotomy mean that we must now opt for dichotomy? A number of theologians affirm this belief. Louis Berkhof, for example, believes that "the prevailing representation of the nature of man in Scripture is clearly dichotomic."

It is my conviction, however, that we should reject dichotomy as well as trichotomy. As Christian believers we should certainly repudiate dichotomy in the sense in which the ancient Greeks taught it. Plato, for example, advanced the view that body and soul are to be thought of as two distinct substances: the thinking soul, which is divine, and the body. Since the body is composed of the inferior substance called matter, it is of lower value than the soul. At death the body simply disintegrates, but the rational soul (or nous) returns to "the heavens" if its course of action has been just and honorable, and continues to exist forever. The soul is considered a superior substance, inherently indestructible, while the body is inferior to the soul, mortal, and doomed to total destruction. There is in Greek thought, therefore, no room for the resurrection of the body.

But even aside from the Greek understanding of dichotomy, which is clearly contrary to Scripture, we must reject the term dichotomy as such, since it is not an accurate description of the biblical view of man. The word itself is objectionable. It comes from two Greek roots: diche, meaning "twofold" or "into two"; and temnein, meaning "to cut." It therefore suggests that the human person can be cut into two "parts." But man in this present life cannot be so cut. As we shall see, the Bible describes the human person as a totality, a whole, a unitary being.

The best way to determine the biblical view of man as a whole person is to examine the terms used to describe the various aspects of man. Before we do so, however, two observations are in order: (1) as was said, the Bible's primary concern is not the psychological or anthropological constitution of man but his inescapable relatedness to God; and (2) we must always bear in mind what J. A. T. Robinson says about the Old Testament usage of these terms: "Any part can stand at any moment for the whole," and what G. E. Ladd affirms about the New Testament usage of these words: "Recent scholarship has recognized that such terms as body, soul, and spirit are not different, separable faculties of man but different ways of viewing the whole man."

[Dr. Hoekema here discussed at length the various Old and New Testament words appropriate to this topic. I have omitted this for the sake of "brevity."]

We may summarize our discussion of the biblical words used to describe the various aspects of man as follows: man must be understood as a unitary being. He has a physical side and a mental or spiritual side, but we must not separate these two. The human person must be understood as an embodied soul or a "besouled" body. He or she must be seen in his or her totality, not as a composite of different "parts." This is the clear teaching of both Old and New Testaments.

Psychosomatic Unity

Though the Bible does see man as a whole, it also recognizes that the human being has two sides: physical and nonphysical. He has a physical body, but he is also a personality. He has a mind with which he thinks but also a brain which is part of his body, and without which he cannot think. When things go wrong with him, sometimes he needs surgery, but at other times he may need counseling. Man is one person who can, however, be looked at from two sides.

How, now, shall we give expression to this "two-sidedness" of man? We have already noted the difficulties connected with the term dichotomy. Some have spoken of dualism, while others prefer the term duality, as doing greater justice to the unity of man. Berkouwer, for instance, explains that "duality and dualism are not at all identical, and... a reference to a dual moment in cosmic reality does not necessarily imply a dualism." Similarly, Anderson says that "we must make a distinction between a 'duality' of being in which a modality of differentiation is constituted as a fundamental unity, and a 'dualism' which works against that unity."

My preference, however, is to speak of man as a psychosomatic unity. The advantage of this expression is that it does full justice to the two sides of man, while stressing man's unity.

We can illustrate this by looking at the relationship between the mind and the brain. Recognizing that man should be thought of as a unity with many aspects that constitute an indivisible whole, Donald M. MacKay makes these significant comments about the relation between mind and brain: "We do not need to picture 'mind' and 'brain' as two kinds of interacting 'substance.' We do not need to think of mental events and brain events as two distinct sets of events... It seems to me sufficient rather to describe mental events and their correlated brain events as the 'inside' and 'outside' aspects of one and the same sequence of events, which in their full nature are richer -- have more to them -- then can be expressed in either mental or physical categories alone." Again, "We are considering them [my conscious experience and the workings of my brain] as two equally real aspects of one and the same mysterious unity. The outside observer sees one aspect, as a physical pattern of brain activity. The agent himself knows another aspect as his conscious experience... What we are saying is that these aspects are complementary."

Man, then, exists in a state of psychosomatic unity. So we were created, so we are now, and so we shall be after the resurrection of the body. For full redemption must include the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:12-57), since man is not complete without the body. The glorious future of human beings in Christ includes both the resurrection of the body and a purified, perfected new earth.