This doctrine of a threefold constitution of man [trichotomy] being adopted by Plato, was introduced partially into the early Church, but soon came to be regarded as dangerous, if not heretical. Its being held by the Gnostics that the pneuma in man was a part of the divine essence, and incapable of sin; and by the Apollinarians that Christ had only a human soma and psuche, but not a human pneuma, the Church rejected the doctrine that the psuche and pneuma were distinct substances, since upon it those heresies were founded. In later times the Semi-Pelagians taught that the soul and body, but not the spirit in man were the subjects of original sin. All Protestants, Lutherans and Reformed, were, therefore, the more zealous in maintaining that the soul and spirit, psuche and pneuma, are one and the same substance and essence. And this, as before remarked, has been the common doctrine of the Church (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol II, p. 51, Hendrickson Publishers, 2003).While that doesn't tell me which view is right or wrong, it does support my observations of those that tend to latch onto the trichotomy train of thought. I like this author's spin.
A question arises at this point which has engaged and divided theologians in all generations, namely, is man a dichotomous being-two parts, material and immaterial with the supposition that soul and spirit are the same-, or is he trichotomous-body, soul, and spirit? It would be readily conceded by all that, under any consideration, there is not the same breadth of distinction observable between soul and spirit as between soul and body, or spirit and body. Distinctions-far-reaching indeed-are implied between soul and spirit; yet these terms are used synonymously. Thus the controversy is between those who are impressed with the distinctions and those who are impressed with the similarities. It would be well to recognize that, when so required, the Bible assigns to these two terms a distinctive meaning and that when no specific distinction is in view the Bible uses them as interchangeable. In other words, the Bible supports both dichotomy and trichotomy. The distinction between soul and spirit is as incomprehensible as life itself, and the efforts of men to frame definitions must always be unsatisfactory. Dallas Theological Seminary. (1944; 2002). Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 101 (101:19). Dallas Theological Seminary.Scripture distinguishes between spirit and soul where helpful and speaks of them interchangeably where that is helpful. It makes me nervous when one or the other is taught as a doctrine and then some other theology is built upon that. I've not seen that done with those of the dichotomy leaning but I've routinely seen that in the trichotomy camp.
Please don't get me wrong, one can hold to the trichotomic view of man’s constitution and be in good company with the likes of von Rudloff, Schubert, Delitzsch, Ellicott, Alford, and Heard as well as popular leaders like Andrew Murray, D. L. Moody and Scofield. My only point is to be careful where you take it and the absoluteness you place on it. Scripture is ambiguous and pitfalls surround it. We would be better suited to focus our attention on man as a whole and how we are to interact with the Living God in all that we are.
What kind of man am I? The important answer is not how many "parts" am I made of but simply whether I am a natural man or a spiritual man (1 Co 2.14-16).
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