Re: Spirit, Soul, Body

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu May 07 1998 - 18:01:06 EDT

At 5:29 PM -0500 5/7/98, Eric Weiss wrote:
>Though this may wander into theology, I have difficulty seeing that
>Hebrews 4:12 and I Thessalonians 5:23 are sufficient proofs for a
>trichotomous view of man. Especially in Hebrews 4:12, it seems to me the
>division/dividing of soul and spirit (ACRI MERISMOU YUCHS KAI PNEUMATOS)
>is not a dividing of or separation of soul from spirit (an idea
>popularized by authors like Watchman Nee - RELEASE OF THE SPIRIT) but
>rather a piercing that is so deep as to divide soul and spirit - the two
>terms being used almost synonymously - i.e., it goes into a man's
>innermost being. On the other hand, I've read that the Hebrew view of
>man might even be as a unitary being, i.e., not even the dichotomous
>view (i.e., that man is a body and a soul/spirit) which is what is
>normally argued for against Nee's position.
>I'm primarily seeking help with the translation of the Greek in these
>two verses that would help clarify whether they support or don't support
>either a trichotomous or a dichotomous (or even a unitary) view of man -
>I'm not arguing for one view against the other EXCEPT as the Greek
>should be rendered.

Well, personally I'd be rather cautious about assuming a fully uniform
conception of human psychology in all NT writers: certainly, as I think I
remarked a day or two ago, SARX doesn't appear to have quite the demonic
associations for the gospel of John as it does in the unquestioned letters
of Paul.

It may be a bit more difficult to decide about the author of Hebrews (oh
yes, Priscilla?), who is clearly familiar with Greek philosophical notions
as well as with Greek rhetoric, but one POSSIBLE way of looking at the
implicit psychology of Heb 4:12 is to see the PNEUMA as representing the
"breath of life," the RUACH, breathed by God into Adam's nostril's to make
him a NEFESH, "a living creature." And that really is a unified whole that
can't be thought of as a separable body and soul in terms of Platonic
dualism. On the other hand, YUCH is sometimes used in Greek to represent
the NEFESH, and it is just possible--I don't say this is more than a
guess--that the author of Hebrews is thinking of that line between what
makes a human being alive as a creature and the creature as a whole that
cannot subsist without the life-giving RUACH.

In sum, I'd be leery of trying too hard to derive a clear and consistent
anthropology from different NT writers--and it's hard enough to try to get
a clear sense of what the author of Hebrews means in this passage.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243

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