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Last week, I presented an alternate view to the 3-part: body, soul, spirit division of the human person. My point was that the Bible uses “soul” and “spirit” synonymously. Because Bill Gothard uses the 3-part system as the basis for many of his teachings (if not the basis, then at least connected with). However, if a logical, biblical alternative can be presented, then it calls into question all of Bill’s teachings connected with the topic.
In this second article, my desire is to answer the most common Bible verses most used by trichotomists to build their case for the 3-part system.
“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12)
First, let me remind you that these two verses are the ONLY references to the “spirit” & “soul” being distinct. As presented in the last article, the normal usage of the two words is synonymous.
Second, in both verses, no functional definitions were given to distinguish between the two. What the Bible lacks, Bill Gothard supplies. Since the Bible doesn’t tell us what the difference between the words is, Bill decides to step in and create his own definitions: the “soul” is the mind, will, and emotions and the “spirit” is the part of us which relates to God.
Third, the reason these verses separate “spirit” and “soul” is not to emphasize their distinctiveness. In Heb. 4:12, the writer is trying to illustrate the piercing power of the word of God. He does this by stating that it can divide, “soul and spirit…joints and marrow”. The very point of this passage is that even though it is extremely difficult to separate “spirit” and “soul” or “joints” and “marrow”, the word of God has the ability to do so. If anything, this verse argues for the unity of the “spirit” and “soul” far more than the separateness of them.
In 1 Thess 5:23, Paul is trying stress the concept of entirety. He is praying that God sanctify the church in every area of its being. Paul expresses this by using several words which overlap (body, soul, & spirit). Is not thinking a function of both the body and the soul? Is worship not done with both our knees and our spirits? A similar expression is used is in Matt 12:30, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”. Here, “spirit” and “body” is ignored entirely and other words are added, “heart” and “strength”. Surely, Jesus is not saying that we don’t have to love God with our “spirit” or “body”. Neither can our “heart” be readily separated from “soul”, “mind”, and “spirit”. The word usage is designed to communicate entirety. We are to love God with ALL we are and be sanctified in EVERY aspect of our lives.
My goal is not necessarily to trade trichotomy for dichotomy. In fact, It is important to stress the unity of our humanity. You cannot simply slice and dice one part from another. Our emotions (an immaterial aspect) can be affected by our hormones (a material aspect). Stress (immaterial) can have a negative impact upon our health (material). Physical exhaustion can impact our spiritual vitality (just ask Elijah, 1 Kings 19:1-5). Though we are both physical and non-physical, we are an essential unity which God designed uniquely in His creativity.
I have seen two major problems created by Gothard’s trichotomy: First, Gothard falls back upon Platonic dualism in his approach to sin and holiness. He argues that those things which appeal to our bodies are “sensual” (evil) while those things which appeal to our spirit are “holy”. (Gothard makes the case that since the rock beat appeals to the body, it is evil – using the same logic, I could argue that ice cream is a sin too, along with sex, medicine, and pizza!) See examples below from the Basic Seminar Textbook…
The illustrations above assume that the desires of the spirit are good while the desires of the body are evil. However, 2 Cor 7:1 states that the spirit can sin just as much as the body, “ let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” Also, it is equally wrong to say that every physical desire is bad. The first chapter of Genesis states God made our material world “good”. Where then does evil come from? Surprisingly, evil does not come from the physical world, it comes from the spiritual world! Jesus said, “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them… For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7:18-22)
Gothard’s understanding is actually rooted in Greek philosophy. Plato taught that the body was evil and the spirit was good. Thus, the more we could deny the body and focus on the “spiritual”, the better off we would be. In fact, the Greeks believed that when humans died, they were released from the “bondage” of the physical realm. However, Christianity teaches the opposite. The bible teaches that at the end of time, God will resurrect and transform our physical bodies and we will live with Him on a “new” physical heavens and earth. The Bible never paints the body as a problem to be rid of; it pictures the body as something worth rescuing from the curse of sin.
The second problem created by Gothard’s trichotomy is that he separates the soul (mind, will, emotions) from the spirit in interpreting scripture. He argues that the Bible is “spiritually” discerned. “Why is it important to read the Scriptures to an unborn child? The Scriptures are understood by spiritual perception. Therefore, even though the intellectual ability of an unborn child is not developed, the spiritual perception of that child is developed.” (Advanced Seminar Textbook p.310) Gothard uses his “spirit” as the sole means of interpreting many verses (And usually the result is that he misses the point of many passages entirely!) Look at what he says in Men’s Manual I (p. 80)…
What this nonsense effectively does is give anyone permission to skip over logic, reason, and scholarship. Forget a commentary, try “What is ‘the Spirit’ telling your ‘spirit’?” The problem is that Gothard claims the ultimate authority is your “spirit” in interpreting scripture. But if someone is using bad exegesis, would it not be better to counter it with good exegesis? After all, how in the world are we to combat what the “Spirit” is telling someone else? There isn’t. Which is exactly what Gothard wants – so he can make the scripture say anything he chooses (While claiming the high ground of “the Spirit’s” interpretation).
Believing that humans are made up of a body, soul, and spirit is NOT a sin. However, making up extra-biblical definitions for them and then building un-biblical teachings upon them IS. I would encourage you to reconsider the teachings which Gothard connects with his trichotomy views and reevaluate whether or not they are based upon a logical, contextual, interpretation of the scriptures, or is he doing what he often does – pulling them out of his hat.