Brethren Archive

Man: A Triune Being – Spirit and Soul and Body

by John Ritchie

The rapid spread of Materialist views, which declare that the body alone is the man, and of Annihilationist doctrine, which insists that at death the human organism is dissolved, and the man ceases to be—i.e., becomes extinct in his entire being—is a cause of sorrow to all who love the truth. There is a certain plausibility and cunning in man’s way of stating these errors, which tends to carry conviction to minds untaught in the truth of Scripture, and thus they are led into the by-paths of error. By the truth alone shall we be preserved—therefore, it should be earnestly sought for as hid treasure, and, when found, held fast in faith and love for our own preservation and edification, then held forth for the help and blessing of others.


Man’s triunity

Man, as created by God, and living on earth in mortal flesh, is a triune being, composed of “spirit and soul and body” (1 Thess. 5:23). These three parts constitute the man. He may be, and is, in the language of Scripture, identified with either, according to the line of truth being revealed. He usually is so with the “body” when his relation to others is in view, and with the “soul and spirit” when his attitude toward God is under consideration. It is the possession of spirit” which makes man a moral and accountable being, fitted for acquaintance and intercourse with God, and which links him, in his hopes or fears, with a life and a world beyond the present.


The creation of man

The words in Genesis 1:26-27, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion,” are peculiar to man’s creation. Other forms of life had already been brought forth, by the “waters” and the “earth” (vv. 20, 24), but in man’s creation, Elohim—the Triune God—acts directly and deliberately. Genesis 2:7-25, gives the details of his creation in the concrete, as the earlier mention of it does in the abstract—not two events, but the same in different aspects. This record of man’s creation is neither mythical nor parabolic, but literal. It is assumed as historic fact by the Lord (Matt. 19:4-6) and the inspired Apostle (1 Tim. 2:13-14), and is fundamental to revealed truth concerning man in his present condition (Rom. 5:12-19) and future state (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Evolution, in its modern aspects, virtually denies this record, although it is endorsed by the Son of God (Matt. 19:6), Who in Scripture is honoured and owned as man’s Creator (John 1:3).


The body of man

“The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” There was first the figure of clay, formed of the dust, concerning which it is written—“Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19). Into this lifeless form, God inbreathed “the breath of life.” The body is spoken of in Scripture as man’s “tabernacle,” which he may “put off” (2 Pet. 1:14), in which he may be “at home” (2 Cor. 5:6), or from which he may be “absent” (v. 8). It is said to be “mortal” (Rom. 8:11), that is, subject to death, as a result of the fall. Men may kill it (Matt. 10:28), and it may see corruption (Acts 13:36), from which it will be delivered at resurrection (John 5:28-29). Materialists say the body is the man, ignoring spirit and soul as Scripture describes them and their functions, and denying consciousness or any survival after death. With Annihilationists, death is the “extinction” of man’s being.


The soul of man

Derived, as Genesis 2:7 informs us, from the inbreathing of the Creator, which raises him far above the beasts, which are said to have “soul” (Gen. 1:30, margin), man is the offspring of God (Acts 17:28), formed to have dominion, in the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7), even though now fallen from his first estate. Man is linked with the inferior creatures by being, as they are, “a living soul,” and distinguished from angels, who are only “spirits” (Heb. 1:7, 14), but not “souls.” While man is alive in the body, he is a “soul” (see Ezek. 18:20; Lev. 5:2, 4; 7:20, where the person—the individual—is clearly meant); when out of the body, he is then called a “spirit” (Heb. 12:23). It is the intermediate link between spirit and body, and the life of the latter. To it are ascribed the functions of loving (1 Sam.18:1), hating (2 Sam. 5:8), desiring (Job 23:13), longing (Ps. 84:2). Affections, appetites, desires belong to the soul. The soul is said to be the seat or spring of sin—“the sin of the soul” (Mic. 6:7)—for it atonement is said to be made (Lev. 17:11), and as it is by the soul needed, so by it is it made, as we read, “When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed. He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:10-11).

“The spirit of man which is in him” (1 Cor. 2:11), “formed within him” (Zech. 12:1), a separate entity in each individual, his highest part, linking him with God, who is the “Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9), and the “God of the spirits of all flesh” (Num. 16:22; 22:16), which is equivalent to saying, of all men (see Gen. 6:12; Luke 3:6), saved and unsaved. This “spirit” which animates and controls the bodily organism is from God Himself, and without it the body is “dead “ (James 2:26). At death it returns to God who gave it (Eccl. 12:7). In the case of the believer, it is received by the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:59), and exists in consciousness apart from the body (Heb. 12:23). To the spirit is ascribed the functions of intelligence, understanding, and judgment. It can “know “(1 Cor. 2:11), be “ stirred” (Acts 17:16), be “provoked” (Ps. 106:33), while by it moral and spiritual qualities may be developed, such as a “right spirit” (Ps. 51:10), a “meek and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 3:4). “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1: 47) tells of its capability of spiritual joy, while the Spirit of God bearing witness “with our spirit” (Rom. 8:16) tells of its capability for intercourse with the Divine.


In life and death

While spirit, soul, and body continue in the harmonious relations to each which constitute the man; he is in LIFE, as that word is ordinarily used. When the triunity breaks up—when the soul and spirit leave the body—the condition is reached which is called DEATH. Neither of the three component parts becomes extinct, but their disruption breaks up the man—the man dies. The body returns to dust; the spirit to God who gave it. The former we know by sight; the latter comes to us as a revelation from God (Eccl. 12:7). Death is separation: never extinction. Even Annihilationists are compelled to admit that something survives, in which the identity of the man is preserved till resurrection and judgment (John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:12). This “something,” Scripture informs us, is the disembodied spirit, which, liberated from its tenements continues to exist. The question remains—Where?


The unclothed state

At death, the tenant leaves the “earthly house” in which through life he had dwelt (2 Cor. 5:1). The spirit “puts off” the tabernacle, in which it had sojourned through earthly years (2 Pet. 1:13-14). In the case of the Christian—the man who has been born of God (John 1:12-13), who has become a possessor of eternal life (1 John 5:13), and on whom as a seal the Spirit of God rests until the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30), the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23)—the emancipated spirit “departs to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). When Stephen was being stoned to death, he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). It is there, absent from the body, and at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8, R.V.) in conscious blessedness—“very far better” (Phil. 1:23, R.V.) than it ever could be in mortal flesh. Thus, the ransomed spirit of the saint awaits the coming hour of resurrection, when it will be re-united with a spiritual body, fitted to its new conditions, and capable of heavenly and eternal glory.

The unbelieving and unsaved sinner passes at death from his present condition of spiritual death (Eph. 2:1), and alienation from God because of sin (Eph. 4:18), to Hades, there to consciously suffer torment while the body is in the grave, and surviving brothers living in sin on earth, where the Bible is known (Luke 16:23-31), reserved under punishment to the day of judgment (2 Pet. 2:9, R.V.), when “death shall deliver up their bodies, and “Hades” their souls, to be re-united, and the man re-constituted for judgment (Rev. 20:13), followed by the final doom, the second death, the damnation of the entire person in Gehenna (Mark 9:43-49; Rev. 20:15; 21:8).


Scriptural definitions

The current use of certain popular theological but unscriptural phrases in this connection, has done much to give the enemies of the truth a foothold, which they are not slow to use in making their onslaughts. “Immortal soul,” “never-dying soul,” “sudden death is sudden glory,” and other similar expressions, are not Scripture, nor does Scripture teaching warrant their use. They are sentiment and excrescence, arising from erroneous views or interpretations read into God’s Word. Immortality is a word which only applies to the resurrection body, yet to be put on (1 Cor. 15:54), which no man yet possesses, notwithstanding the phraseology of religious newspaper obituaries and tombstones, where someone is said to have “departed this life, and entered upon a glorious immortality.” The Apostle’s injunction—“Hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13)—is nowhere more needful than in the consideration and discussion of subjects which are matters of controversy, and concerning which we have nothing save the words of Divine revelation to guide and assure us. Man’s present tripartite nature, his dissolution, his ultimate destiny, and his endless being, are pre-eminent among such, and we do well to abide by and cleave to the inspired words of Holy Scripture in seeking light for ourselves and giving instruction to others, on a subject of so vast and transcendent importance.


Questions and answers

1.—Does death, in Ezekiel 18:20, where the words are, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” mean extinction?—No; neither there nor anywhere else, where it is used in Scripture. Annihilationists say that the judgment of sin is the death of the soul. But Scripture never so speaks. Nor does it speak of the death of the body. It is the man who dies, not his body or his soul. The word in Ezekiel 18:20, is the person—the individual—not the father for the son, but the person who sins, he shall die. The word “soul” is so used in 1 Peter 3:20; 4:19.

2.—What do the words, “shall not see life,” in John 3:36, mean?—If he never sees life, must he not be exterminated? Existence and life are not synonymous. All have the former—saint and sinner alike; only the former have “life,” as the word is here and elsewhere used. (See John 17:3; Rom. 6:23) Eternal life is the possession of the believer now, and in the future. The unbeliever “hath not life” (1 John 5:12) now; and of him it is said that he “shall not see life” hereafter. Yet he exists without it, as we know. That he shall continue to exist while never seeing it, is equally sure, as the closing words of the verse, “The wrath of God abides on him,” solemnly tell. Wrath cannot “abide” upon a nonentity. Endless existence is common to all men and angels; eternal life is the present possession of believers only (John 5:24). Immortality, which applies to a condition of life in the future, they look for (Rom. 2:7), and will “put on”, (1 Cor. 15:53) at the coming of the Lord.

3—How was the word spoken to Adam, in Genesis 2:17, “Thou shalt surely die,” fulfilled?—Not by natural death, for he lived 930 years. Nor was it “extinction of his being,” as Annihilationists say, for neither “in the day” Adam ate of the tree did his being become extinct, nor is it now. Nor did the promise of redemption suspend or postpone the sentence. When Adam sinned, the threatened death came upon him that day. His near relationship to God was broken. He was severed from His presence by sin; such is death in its deepest sense (see Eph. 2:1; 4:18). Yet he existed, as sinners still exist “without God”; so Rom. 5:12-13, clearly tells us. And if, while now without life in Christ, fallen angels and sinful men exist, so, in the disembodied and the eternal states; they shall exist, as Scripture fully shows (see 2 Pet. 2:4; Rev. 20:10; Luke 16:23; Rev. 20:15).


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