Doctrine of Man (Part 9)

November 11, 2013     Time: 00:34:27

In our study of the Doctrine of Man, we have been looking at man as created in the image of God. Today we are going to bring that section to a close. I have defended the reality of the soul based upon the biblical testimony to the soul and particularly the intermediate state after death. Last time we looked at some defense of a dualist-interactionist view of the soul and body.

Trichotomy / Dichotomy

I now want to say a brief word about the debate over whether human beings are dichotomous or trichotomous in their composition. That is to say, are we as human beings composites of soul and body or are we composites of some other entity as well, for example, soul, body, and spirit as some verses in the New Testament suggest? Here it seems to me that there isn’t any sort of strong and consistent distinction that can be drawn between the soul and the spirit. If you press this kind of language to give you a different ontological reality that there is a thing – a substance – “the spirit” which is different from the soul then I think you are going to proliferate entities unnecessarily because the Scripture also talks about things like “the heart” and “the mind” and “the inner man.” If you press the language about “spirit” then what about these other entities as well? You are going to get man as a composite of all sorts of things. Rather, I think it is best to see the difference between soul and spirit as a functional difference. As we suggested last time, the soul insofar as it functions in relation to God can be called “the spirit” and the soul and its everyday functions as a rational agent in the world can be referred to as “the soul.” So we do have this spiritual dimension to our lives in that we are created in the image of God, we relate to God, we know God in a way that other animals don’t, but I don’t think that needs to be cashed out in terms of saying there is an additional thing of which we are composed. Rather, this would represent a different function of that immaterial part of our being in relationship to God. That is all I wanted to say about that subject.


Question: I would take the position of a trichotomist because I think that when God breathes in the breath of life, if you correspond breathe and spirit you see man becomes a living soul and there is elements of these other things that you mention that are included in one of these categories like under soul you would have cognition, volition, and emotion but this trichotomous structure corresponds to being made in the image of God. I think this reflects on the Trinity, it reflects on who Christ was. I think the spirit would be our God identity; our soul would be our self identity.

Answer: Why wouldn’t it be enough just to view that as a functional difference? I mean, the verse you quoted about he breathed into man’s nostrils a breath of life and he became a living being. There, that does seem to be imparting soul to an inanimate thing that wasn’t alive apart from God’s breathing into him. That would seem to not distinguish the two, don’t you think?

Followup: It could be. This has been debated a lot but the spirit breathed in him the breath of life and then there are other verses that say the spirit is taken away man dies and becomes the dust. So I think these are distinct enough that they are separate entities but this is been debated a lot.

Answer: If you appeal to passages like that, I think the difficulty is that if God withdraws “the” spirit and yet the soul remains behind then the thing should still be alive.[1] It shouldn’t die. It would have an animal soul but it would lack the spirit so a person wouldn’t be dead. So it seems to me those verses would tend to say that what is being called the spirit in these Old Testament passages just is that immaterial part of us that makes us a living being as opposed to dead or inanimate. I would caution against using the Trinity as a kind of grid to impose on your Doctrine of Man or your anthropology. There is no reason to think that we, in our nature, have to be composed of three things just because there is a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think that you have to be really cautious about trying to impose theological constructs like that on your anthropology.

Question: Would you comment on two verses? The first is 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That doesn’t necessitate triunity but I just wanted you to comment on it. The other is Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit.” I don’t know whether that is just hyperbole there. I don’t know.

Answer: In both of these cases – and these were verses, at least the first of them, we did quote earlier when we talked about trichotomy versus dichotomy – I would see these differences as no more than functional. They represent distinctions that can be drawn in the function of the immaterial part of the human being. But I don’t see any reason to think that these are actual things like the soul and the spirit are two distinct things that somehow inhabit my body.

Origin of the Soul

Let me go on to say something now about the origin of the soul. Here, three – or really now four – views present themselves as possibilities. One would be the pre-existence of the soul. This was the view held by the church father Origen and it is essentially a Platonic doctrine; namely, souls exist with God prior to the creation of the physical body or even the physical world. Then God sends these souls into the world – he incarnates them in particular bodies. So with God are all of these unembodied souls and then God sends them, or incarnates them, into bodies in the world. This view brought upon Origen the condemnation of the early church. He was condemned as a heretic because of his views of the pre-existence of the soul among other things.

Another view would be the Creationist view. That would be the view that God creates each individual soul. A church father who espoused this would be Clement of Alexandria. So, for example, when the sperm and the egg unite to form the body of a human being, at some point in the process God creates a soul and attaches it to the organism that has been conceived. That would be the Creationist view.

The Traducian view was defended by Tertullian and this view holds that just as the body is the causal product of the parents through the sperm and the egg so the child’s soul is produced by the souls of the parents. The souls of the parents give birth to, or produce, the soul of the offspring.[2] It doesn’t require an immediate, miraculous creation of God or intervention of God; rather just as the body of the offspring or the child is produced by the parents so their souls produce the soul of the offspring.

Finally, I want to mention another view which is very recently coming on the scene. It is not a classical view but it is what we might call Emergentism. This is a view that is propounded, for example, by the Christian philosopher William Hasker on the contemporary scene. Emergentism is often associated with non-reductive physicalism – that is to say, the mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain. You will remember we saw that some non-reductive materialists will say that the brain is the only thing that there really is but that it has these sorts of mental states or mental properties associated with it. But that is not an actual thing – there isn’t a real soul. It is a non-reductive materialism. But Hasker wants to push Emergentism further than that to say that when the biological system attains to a certain sort of complexity, the soul will naturally emerge and there will be then a new thing – a mental substance – that will come into existence at that point. So it is a dualism but it sees this mental substance as something that will emerge from a physical system when that physical system reaches a sort of complexity and configuration that is sufficient to serve as the instrument for the soul to think. It seems to me that that sort of a view would be an option for a dualist as well.

Which of these views is best? Well, that is difficult to say and I don’t have any sort of brief to carry on behalf of them.

The first one seems to be excluded because the Scripture never contemplates that human beings somehow preexist as souls before their bodies exist.

Creationism is a view that seems to make sense. If we ask “When does God create the soul?” we cannot be sure of that but it would seem natural to say that this would occur at conception. When the sperm and the egg unite and a new human organism comes into being that God creates the soul. The one thing about Creationism that makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable is this would seem to imply that when biologists or fertility doctors begin splitting cells and producing embryos and so forth they force God’s hand, so to speak, to start creating souls and attaching them to all of these frozen embryos. So in a sense God becomes trapped in the medical proliferation of these cells and gets stuck creating all these souls. That just doesn’t seem right somehow. Now, perhaps what one might say is, well, God doesn’t create souls just because doctors proliferate fertilized eggs; he will only provide a soul to the one that he knows will actually grow up and become an adult or a more mature human being. But that might look a little bit ad hoc. I am not sharing here a decisive objection but just a sort of discomfort that one feels about it.

Traducianism, though, seems even worse to me because it seems inconceivable how all of these millions and millions of sperm could be carrying the soul of the father to the egg where it would somehow, with the soul of the mother, produce the soul of the offspring. The egg and the sperm are not human beings – they don’t have souls, right? Those are not complete human beings.[3] The sperm and the egg don’t have souls so how is it that they are the vehicle that would carry the souls of the parents along so that somehow when they unite another soul is produced as a result? Perhaps I am not understanding Traducianism here but it seems a really odd sort of view.

Finally, as to Emergentism, I think the fear here is that one would lapse into some kind of non-reductive physicalism rather than a real dualism. We would have to hear from these thinkers like Hasker exactly how it is that the complexity of a biological system would produce an immaterial entity like the soul.

All of these views, I think, have their difficulties and this is not an area of specialization that I have delved into in any deep sort of way. So I have no strong opinions about any of these. I find Creationism or Emergentism to be the most attractive of the four of them, I suppose. I would hope that the problems of the discomfort that one feels about these could be resolved.

One issue that all of these raise is, when does the soul attach to the body? Because until the soul is present, you don’t really have a human being – you just have a body, an organism, but not a full human being. This was the question, you will remember, that Rick Warren put to candidate Barack Obama with respect to abortion – when does the developing fertilized embryo or fetus become a human being? And Obama said, “That is above my theological pay grade.” Well, if that is correct, that this is an issue that we don’t know for sure, then it seems to me that caution would say you consider this to be human right from the moment of conception. It is at the moment of conception that we should think that the soul is united with the organism so that it would be for safety’s sake that one would not allow abortion to take place. Someone once gave an illustration that goes like this. Suppose you were sitting at your desk and your little son came up behind you and said, “Hey Dad, can I kill it?” And you would obviously need to ask what it was that he was talking about – was it the roach on the floor or was it his baby sister? And if you don’t know, you would caution “no!” You always would go with the safe answer. So similarly here, even if we don’t know on some of these views when the soul attaches to the body, safety and caution would say that in cases of uncertainty you should assume that it is present. We know that already at 43 days after conception there is brain wave activity so even at that point abortion would be killing a human person. So on that basis I would say that one ought to err on the side of caution when it comes to the ethics of aborting fertilized embryos.


Question: It seems to me that the pre-existing one – I would like to hear your statement again because the reason I fall down on the pre-existing one is, I mean, I don’t have the mind of God of course and I don’t think I can get as deep into it as I need to be asking this question but – I don’t think, as me, a just God would allow abortion. So, consequently, if it is pre-existing and he puts the soul in whenever he chooses to put it in then there would be no such thing as an abortion. I am reading a lot into this. There is a lot of foreknowledge and all of these things that goes into that.[4]

Answer: The Creationist could say the same thing. You don’t need to go with pre-existence. To say that God knowing that this organism is going to be aborted prescinds from attaching to it a soul. You wouldn’t need to say the soul pre-existed. You could just say God doesn’t create it. So on either Creationism or pre-existence you could say what you just said. But, I would say that the idea that God wouldn’t permit little children to be aborted is just really naïve. We live in a fallen world in which the innocent suffer all the time and not just infants in the womb but little children are killed and destroyed. The idea that God wouldn’t permit this kind of innocent suffering just seems to me to be worse than naïve. It would be downright unbiblical.

Followup: I am saying a lot more than what I’m saying. The thoughts are a lot deeper. I don’t have the words to express exactly the way I see this thing but I like the pre-existence for another reason. It all ties together. Since the world is fallen, I think we pre-existed and then I think he sends the souls down to go through this fiery test just like you are refining gold. I think he sends the souls down to be tested.

Answer: All right. Well, I already responded as to what I think about that. But thank you for you voicing your opinion boldly; I think that is great.

Question: Bear with me. I think if you view (this would be dichotomous) when God gives us spirit he gives a self-aware portion – he creates just a portion, this self-aware. That is like your spiritual body which can change. So it will resolve the discrepancy of trichotomy and dichotomy because it is really in one sense functionally there is three because there is spirit and a spirit-body – a subset, self-aware.

Answer: You mean ontologically there are three things, right? On the trichotomous view.

Followup: I am saying really there isn’t a conflict if you view it that way. Your soul is really a subset or a portion of God’s spirit that he gives to you. This resolves the first thing – pre-existence since the spirit God gives to each of us has always been there because it is him.

Answer: Boy! OK, we really got some sort of aberrant views in the Defenders class. That would suggest that I am divine and you are divine, right? If it is really God’s spirit that is in you and not a created spirit, then you are God incarnate.

Followup: Well, yes, if God went through his sprit all flesh were die – man and animal. So if he withdrew his spirit, that’s his spirit he is withdrawing. He will not give a life inferior to what he has. He originally created Adam with his own life. He didn’t create us inferior. As far as the second one, Creationism, he’s not really creating, he’s just, it’s just, it happens in spirit, and the one where the union, it doesn’t happen in the physical world, it is two souls in the spiritual realm are united when the egg and the sperm come together. That is what the Bible says if you join yourself to a harlot you join yourself. It is more ramifications than just a physical act. Things happen in the spiritual realm mapped onto this. So I am really not saying anything against Scripture.

Answer: Well, I think you are! OK. Again, I am glad that you voiced your view.

Question: One other objection I can think to the Creationist view – and this is by no means definitive – it would seem to imply a near continuous creation by God well beyond the whole resting on the seventh day. Creation is supposed to be finished.[5]

Answer: Yeah, now that is interesting. That is true. If you don’t have pre-existence, then God is creating new things, isn’t he? That is an interesting point. The question would be then is that really incompatible with what Genesis says?

Followup: Then you get into the question of: is it a difference in degree, is it a difference in nature, is the creation of the first six days a different type of creation than what we are talking about here?

Answer: Yeah, your concern is saying that according to Genesis, God is in his Sabbath rest. The work of creation is done and yet on the Creationist view God is creating new things all the time, namely, these souls. So that is an interesting point. Thank you.

Question: I wanted to ask a little bit more about the objection you had to the Traducian view. As I understood it, is a sperm and egg carriers of the soul? Yes, I understand that soul and body need to be together to be a complete person but what is a little bit more about what is that objection? Does a soul completely embody every cell in your body and does God remove that soul as you are getting your haircut? This is where I am going with this.

Answer: Yes, if you go back to our discussion of omnipresence, under the Doctrine of God, we talked a little bit about “Is God present in the world the way the soul is present in the body?” which would seem the soul is not spread throughout the body like a ghost such that when you cut off a piece of your hair a piece of your soul goes. There seems to be a way in which the soul inhabits the body so that it is wholly present in all parts of the body but you wouldn’t lose pieces of your soul when you cut your fingernails. But my question about Traducianism – and it is just a question – is how do the souls of the parents produce the soul of the offspring? Given the soul of the father is in his body and the soul of the mother is in her body, how do those two souls get together to produce a third soul? The only way I could think of is it would be attached to the act of procreation – that somehow the sperm would carry the father’s soul and the egg the mother’s soul and that when they unite somehow these souls unite. But that would require you, as I say, to think that every one of these millions and millions of sperm in a typical act of coitus has got the father’s soul in it which would make them human beings, wouldn’t it?

Followup: What I am getting at is – are you claiming that the souls are completely inhabiting the space of the body? That is where I am going with this. Or, could it be possible that, yes, we are united but the soul is completely bound to just that space only. This goes back to the millions of the sperm.

Answer: I think I’m seeing your point. You are saying that in the same way that my soul is in my fingernail but not a piece of the soul, that somehow my soul is also in the sperm and therefore it is not as though we have a proliferation of souls but the one soul is wholly present in all of these different things. That is the best answer I could think of. That is very good. That is the best answer I could think of to the concern that I expressed here.

Question: If we can use Scripture to understand the distinguishment between soul and spirit there is a big thing about the agreement – the will – and so if we think of soul comprised of emotion, intellect, and the will, then in that … when God imparts spirit to each new birth, there is an element of agreement and rejection. So the soul and the spirit whether they agree with one another or they reject each other determines whether this person will continue in spirit and live or they will eventually die.[6] The soul is almost like – it matures with the physical body although it is immaterial but it has more active function in receiving or rejecting the spirit.

Answer: And by the spirit here, you mean the human spirit or God’s spirit?

Followup: God imparts his spirit into humans because we are created in his likeness and in his image. So he not only creates us physically but he imparts his spirit every time a person is born. Whether this spirit stays with the person and grows or is rejected as a person matures . . . the soul takes over.

Answer: I just want to caution here that we be very careful when it comes to thinking of this spirit as something that is God or belongs to God. Because it seems to me that in the verses previously quoted, this is talking about the human spirit, not God’s spirit. As I understand Scripture, it is only people who are regenerate Christians that are indwelt with God’s spirit. That is something that comes as a result of the new birth – of regeneration – that God’s spirit lives within you. But apart from that, human beings are spiritually dead and unregenerate and they are not indwelt with God’s spirit though they have this human spirit that functions in a certain way.

Followup: We talk about the age of accountability and that is when a person knows enough to reject God, to reject the spirit. Before they reject the spirit, God’s grace has always been imparted until a person rejects that.

Answer: I am inclined to agree with you that God’s grace covers those who are not yet to an age of accountability but scripturally I don’t see any grounds for connecting that with the spirit. But these are very interesting questions.

Question: I just wanted to mention to anyone who is flirting with pre-existence that this is a thought within Mormonism and it is also accompanied with other sorts of heresies and things like that. So just be hesitant towards embracing such an idea whenever you are considering it.

Answer: Yes, I didn’t mention the connection with Mormonism because I didn’t want to try to make guilt by association but you are quite right in saying that there are cultic groups that adopt the pre-existence view.

Question: It seems to me that your view of the fallenness of man has to affect this. Because if you see our fallenness as inherited from Adam, you not only need a mechanism for the soul’s creation but you need a mechanism for inheriting fallenness. Pre-existence – you would have to suppose the pre-existing souls are already fallen. Creationism – you have got God creating directly souls that are already fallen. So it would seem to me if you take that view you are really more focused on the last two than you would be the first two.

Answer: That forms a beautiful segue to the next section of the class!

The next time we meet we will move to the second subject of our Doctrine of Man which is man as sinner. So we’ve talked first now about man in the image of God but of course as you remind us we are now fallen humanity so the next portion of our Doctrine of Man discussion will deal with that subject – man as sinner.[7]


[1] 5:08

[2] 10:03

[3] 15:02

[4] 20:18

[5] 24:56

[6] 30:02

[7] Total Running Time: 34:26 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)