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  • Writer's pictureJ.D. King

Are Human Beings Made Up of Two Parts or Three?



Throughout history, there has been discussions about what makes up a human: Are we made of two parts or three? I find this discussion fascinating. How about you?

 

The tripartite view, more akin to Greek philosophy, suggests that humans consist of three conflicting components: body, soul, and spirit. The bipartite view, on the other hand, divides us into just two parts: the physical body and the unseen aspects of our being, where the soul and spirit are often seen as one.

 

Interestingly, the Bible supports both perspectives, depending on which biblical verses one looks at.

 

For example, these verses seem to support the tripartite view:

 

  • “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 Thessalonians 5:23).

  • “For 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” (Hebrews 4:12).

 

And these verses support the bipartite view:

 

  • “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

  • “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul: rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

 

Generally speaking, the Old Testament leans towards the bipartite view of humanity, while the New Testament hints at a tripartite view—a least in certain passages. Nevertheless, the distinctions are not as clear-cut as it might seem.


Advocates of the tripartite view argue that the New Testament, particularly Paul's letters, describes human nature as consisting of three parts. They insist the text is unambiguous about this matter. On the other hand, proponents of the bipartite view contend that Paul uses Greco-Roman categories and language, familiar to his audience, but he does this without fully endorsing all the philosophical assumptions.


Both perspectives offer several interesting points, but the most vital issue isn’t whether people are made of two or three parts. In the broader view of human existence, we are not meant to be divided and analyzed this way.

 

I like what theologian N. T. Wright writes. He describes humans as a "differentiated unity." While unique aspects of our existence could be emphasized when viewed from different perspectives, we are still unified beings. Wright explains:

"We need to think in terms of a differentiated unity. Paul . . . nowhere suggests that any of the key terms refers to a particular ‘part’ of the human being to be played off against any other. Each denotes the entire human being, while connoting some angle of vision on who that human is and what he or she is called to be."[1]

 

It's essential to remember that the "separations" men and women experience in death are not the end of the story. The invisible components—soul and spirit—will ultimately be reunited with the resurrected body on the glorious final day of the Lord.


In the fullness of time, all these elements will be reassembled, reaffirming the Lord's intention for a beautifully complex creation. This holistic reality of humanity far surpasses any arguments we might make about the individual parts.

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[1] N. T. Wright. "Mind, Spirit, Soul and Body: All for One and One for All: Reflections on Paul’s Anthropology in his Complex Contexts." Society of Christian Philosophers: Regional Meeting, Fordham University (March 2011).

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