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THEOLOGY > Man > Nature of Man > An Intricate Unity 


Your hands have made me and fashioned me, an intricate unity; yet You would destroy me. Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay. And will You turn me into dust again? Did You not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese, clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews? You have granted me; life and favor, and Your care has preserved my spirit (Job 10:8-12, emphasis added).

Job refers to himself as “an intricate unity” (Job 10:8), a fitting description of the individual. He speaks of “me,” “I,” “clay,” “dust,” “skin and flesh,” “bones and sinews,” “life,” and “spirit”; surely, these are not all separate entities, but are simply means used by Job to refer to himself. To “me” was given: “clay,” “dust,” “skin and flesh,” “bones and sinews,” “life,” and “spirit”; together these different elements constitute the person, the “me.” Job is not one of these, he is all of these.

The phrase, “an intricate unity” is the translation of two words that speak of a “unit” and a “circle”; thus, the phrase speaks of oneness, something that is contained and conveys the sense of harmony. Man is not parts but a whole, a unit.

Hebrew thought viewed man as a unity, not as a combination of distinct and independent pieces. This does not deny the fact that different aspects of man can be discussed, for instance, the material and the immaterial, or the body, soul, and spirit, or the heart and mind.

Each of these concepts carry peculiar emphases, but the point is that these are not separate components or parts that are all placed together to form man, with each having separate existence. These are merely means of referring to different aspects of man—man is the total of these things, and each one of the things can be used as a synonym for man. And all of these must be present for man to be man.

Throughout the history of the Church, there has been debate over the nature of man; the discussion has focused on two main views: Dichotomy, man is two-part; and Trichotomy, man is three-part.

Dichotomy understands spirit and soul to be virtual synonyms, meaning that man is two-part: body and soul/spirit, or material and immaterial. This is the view of the Western Church, Anselm, Godet, Hodge, and Strong. According to this interpretation, the material, the body, can be seen; but the immaterial, the soul, cannot be seen—the body dies but the soul is immortal. Until death the soul inhabits the body.

Trichotomy uses three passages: I Cor. 15:44, I Thess. 5:23, and Heb. 4:12. This is the view of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Eastern Church. Some claim “soul” speaks of animal life (man’s relation to man) while “spirit” speaks of spiritual life (man’s relation to God).

But this discussion of two-part (body, soul) versus three-part (body, soul, spirit) seems to be contrived and limiting, forcing man into a pre-conceived mold. Biblical Anthropology is made to conform to one of these perspectives, preventing a comprehension of the whole person and the resulting implications of a fuller and more Biblical understanding of the nature of man.

In addition, would not the following passages imply other possible anthropological positions?

“You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5); is this a different view of the three-part position: “heart,” “soul,” and “strength”?

“serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12; 30:6); is this a different view of the two-part position: “heart” and “soul”?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37); is this a different view of the three-part position: “heart,” “soul,” and “mind”?

“you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30; Lu. 10:27); is this a different view which we could call the four-part position: “heart,” “soul,” “mind,” and “strength”?

“love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength” (Mk. 12:33); is this a different view of the four-part position: “heart,” “understanding,” “soul,” and “strength”?

“will guard your hearts and minds” (Phil. 4:7); is this a different view of the two-part position: “heart” and “mind”?

Are all of the above views flawed because none of them includes all the various aspects of man that are mentioned in the texts? Should the correct view be one that combines the aspects from all of the above verses? Then consider a five–part view: “heart,” “soul,” “mind,” “understanding,” and “strength”; add to these five parts the “body” and the “spirit” and your have a seven-part view!

Which view is correct, and which version of the view is correct:

two-part:  body and soul; or heart and soul; or heart and mind;
three-part:  body, soul, and spirit; or heart, soul, and strength; or heart, soul, and mind;
four-part:  heart, soul, mind, and strength; or heart, understanding, soul, and strength;
five-part:  heart, soul, mind, understanding, strength;
seven-part:  body, spirit, heart, soul, mind, understanding, strength?

It seems that the very question of which view is correct invalidates the basic concept that seeks to understand what constitutes man’s nature in terms of parts. Man is not to be considered from the perspective of the parts of his nature, but from the encompassing perspective that his nature is a unity—remove any part and you do not have man.

What is man?

Man is body;
man is body, soul;
man is body, soul, spirit;
man is body, soul, spirit, mind;
man is body, soul, spirit, mind, understanding;
man is body, soul, spirit, mind, understanding, heart;
man is body, soul, spirit, mind, understanding, heart, strength.

What is man? Man is all of the above, and whatever else the Scriptures ascribe to him.

Man is “an intricate unity.”

David proclaims:
“I will praise You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
marvelous are Your works,
and that my soul knows very well.”
Ps. 139:14


Speaking of the body and soul, Donald Guthrie stated: “The one cannot exist without the other. Indeed Paul never links the two ideas in a description of a person, since either covers both, i.e. the whole person” (New Testament Theology, 165).

“It is more correct to say that man is a body rather than has a body” (Complete Expository Dictionary).

“Recent scholarship has recognized that such terms as body, soul, and spiri are not different, separable faculties of man but different ways of viewing the whole man” (George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 457).

“The heart holds so great a place in Israelite anthropology, it is so far the quintessence of the man, that we may be tempted to assimilate it to nephesh and say: man is a heart” (Edmond Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, 166).

NOTE:  In the above verse from Psalm 139, do the words “I” and “soul” speak of different entities, or are the words different means by which David speaks of himself?

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