In Christian theology, the tripartite view (trichotomy) holds that humankind is a composite of three distinct components: body, spirit, and soul. It is in contrast to the bipartite view (dichotomy), where soul and spirit are taken as different terms for the same entity (the spiritual soul).

Scriptural basis


The primary proof texts for this position are as follows:

Genesis 2:7

"Then 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." (JPS Tanakh)

Trichotomists see in Genesis 2:7 the first implications of the constituents of man's nature.[1] Delitzsch, commenting on this passage, says, "We cannot consider with sufficient care Gen. 2:7; for this one verse is of such deep significance that interpretation can never exhaust it: it is the foundation of all true anthropology and psychology."[2] John Bickford Heard refers to Genesis 2:7 as a revelation of the material cause, the formal or efficient cause, and the final cause of man's threefold nature.[3] The material cause—the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground. The formal or efficient cause—God breathed into his nostrils the breath (neshamah) of life. The final cause—man became a living soul (nephesh). The question is whether Genesis 2:7 refers to two or to three distinct facts and thus whether Genesis 2:7 describes two or three distinct parts of man's constitution. Trichotomists believe that God's breath of life, when breathed into man's body of dust, became man's human spirit.[4][5][6] Proverbs 20:27 uses the same Hebrew word (neshamah) for the spirit of man, indicating that God's breathe of life and man's spirit are closely related.[7] George Boardman describes the Divine Pneuma and the human pneuma as "constitutionally akin" [8] while Heard ascribes to them the same nature.[9] For Michael Schmaus[10] and most trichotomists, the human spirit is the focal point of the image of God.

1 Thessalonians 5:23

"And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (ASV)

Proponents of the tripartite view claim that this verse spells out clearly the three components of the human, emphasized by the descriptors of "whole" and "completely".[11][12] Opponents argue that spirit and soul are merely a repetition of synonyms, a common form used elsewhere in scripture to add the idea completeness.

1 Corinthians 2:12–3:4

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, bringing together spiritual (men, pneumatikois) with spiritual (things, pneumatikà). 14 But the soulish man (psychikós) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But the spiritual man (ho pneumatikòs) appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. 16 For "who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
3:1 And I, brothers, could not speak to you as to spiritual men (pneumatikois), but as to carnal men (sarkínois), as to infants in Christ. 2 (I gave you) milk to drink, not solid food, for you were not yet able (to receive it), for even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still carnal (sarkikoí). For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not carnal (sarkikoí), and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when someone says on the one hand, “I am of Paul,” but another, “I am of Apollos,” are you (acting like) men?

In this passage, the Apostle Paul divides men into three categories based on their responses to apostolic teaching: those who are spiritual (pneumatikos, 2.13, 15; 3.1), those who are soulish (psychikós; 2.14) and the Corinthians who are carnal (sarkivós; 3.1, 3). Each is driven or controlled by some aspect of their being, whether the spirit, the soul or the flesh. If the spirit and soul are identical, Paul's argument is meaningless.

Hebrews 4:12

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (NIV)

Proponents of the tripartite view claim that this verse spells out that there is a clear difference between soul and spirit,[13][14][15] though they may be so intertwined and similar that they would be hard to separate without scriptural clarity. Opponents argue that there is no real separation here (though there must be some difference, at least in emphasis, if two different words are used), but the two are only used as a metaphor of things hard to differentiate, like the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Colossians 2:11

" in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ;"

Before salvation, the soul was stuck to the body.

Romans 7:22–23

"For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members."

After salvation, the soul is trying to follow the spirit. The spirit is known to be the new man or new nature. At the same time, it is trying not to follow the old man or old nature (body). The soul can either follow the spirit and do what’s right or follow the body and do what’s wrong.[16][17]

Historical development


Old Testament


The Old Testament consistently uses three primary words to describe the parts of man: basar (flesh), which refers to the external, material aspect of man (mostly in emphasizing human frailty); nephesh, which refers to the soul as well as the whole person or life; and ruach which is used to refer to the human spirit (ruach can mean "wind", "breath", or "spirit" depending on the context; cf. Ezek. 37:1–14 where ruach is translated as all three). In the Old Testament basar occurs 266 times, nephesh occurs 754 times, and ruach occurs 378 times with at least 100 times referring to the human spirit.[18]

According to trichotomists, the full anthropology of man and the proper distinction between his inward parts (Psa. 51:6) while latent in the Old Testament, do not receive a clear treatment until the New Testament. Genesis 2:7 "rather implies than asserts the trichotomy of spirit, soul, and body"[19] and must be "illuminated by the light of subsequent Scriptures"[20] to reveal its full import. This corresponds with what many theologians call progressive revelation.[21][22][23] As with Genesis 2:7, other verses in the Old Testament directly correlate man's spirit (ruach) with God's breath (neshamah) (Job 27:3; 32:8; 33:4; 34:14). However, the revelation of the human spirit is obscure in the Old Testament, as is the revelation of the Holy Spirit or the Trinity. Not until the New Testament is the nature of God fully and explicitly revealed and likewise not until the New Testament (especially the Epistles) is the nature of man fully and explicitly revealed.[24][25]

Heard explains:

We have only another caution to make before entering on our task; it is that revelation being a progressive manifestation of the truth of God, the discovery of man's nature must also be progressive. In the same way that the plurality of Persons in the Godhead, and their relation to each other, was only gradually unfolded in Scripture, so we may expect it to be with the trichotomy of man's nature, spirit, soul, and body. As in the case of the doctrine of the Trinity it was not fully understood until the Spirit was given, so the distinction of Psyche and Pneuma is implied rather than taught when the race was still in its spiritual infancy....It would be out of harmony with the “analogy of the faith,” if the tripartite nature of man were fully described in those books of the Bible which only contain implied hints of the plurality of persons in the Godhead. All we shall see of the subject will confirm this view of the harmonious way in which doctrines and duties, the nature of God and the nature of man, are unfolded together.[26]

The relation between body and soul itself wasn't clear to the ancients, much less the relation between soul and spirit. The physiology and psychology of the Hebrew and the Archaic Greek world was speculative, and so, reasoning on imperfect data, they spoke of various physical organs as the seat of thought, feeling, and decision.[27] The heart primarily was the seat of thought and feeling, the kidneys the seat of reflection (Psa. 16:7; 26:2; Prov. 23:6), and the bowels the seat of affection (Gen. 43:30; Phil. 1:8). It wasn't until the Alexandrian physicians (e.g. Erasistratus and Herophilus) and the Classical Greek philosophers (e.g. Plato and Aristotle) that a more accurate understanding of man's inward parts began to emerge.

Intertestamental period


During the intertestamental period, two factors shaped and "enlarged the semantic domain of the Greek and Hebrew words for the parts of man"[28] and set the stage for a more complete and accurate understanding of the nature of man. The first factor was Greek philosophy. The Greek philosophers, unlike the Greek poets,[29] clearly distinguished the material from the immaterial part of man, defined the functions of the soul in more precise terms, and in general expanded the vocabulary for the parts of man. The second factor was the translation of the Septuagint. The translators of the Septuagint incorporated the linguistic developments of the Greek philosophers into the biblical revelation when they translated the Hebrew into Greek.

Good explains:

Although the classical Greek writers did not arrive at the same realization as the New Testament writers, their use of certain key words in Greek gave the New Testament writers a greater and more precise vocabulary to work with in describing the parts of man. After Plato and Aristotle, there was a richer array of words to describe the inward parts of man, particularly the mind (e.g., nous, noëma, di-anoia, and phronëma).[30]

Dichotomists often argue against the tripartite view of man by discrediting it through its apparent connection with Platonism.[31][32] However, Plato and the Greek philosophers, strictly speaking, were dichotomists.[33] Plato did divide man into three parts,[34] but his trichotomy was different from Paul's trichotomy in essence, function, and primacy. Plato's divisions were a tripartite division of the soul (See Plato's tripartite theory of soul). He conceived of man's soul as consisting of an appetitive, irascible (spirited), and rational element.[35] In Timaeus 30 he also divided man into nous (mind), psychë (soul), and söma (body), with nous being the noblest part of the soul. When Plato does speak of spirit (thumos not the pneuma of Paul) he means something essentially different from Paul.[36] The three parts of man are not equivalent for Plato and Paul and the master faculty for Plato (nous) is a subordinate faculty for Paul. "To discredit trichotomy by a similarity with Platonism confuses similarity with source. One could likewise attribute the source of the dichotomist view with Greek dichotomy (mater and spirit); some writers have argued for such a connection."[37]

New Testament


Trichotomists believe that a tripartite view of man is clearly taught throughout the New Testament (see the Scriptural Basis section above). The writers of the New Testament, like the writers of the Old Testament, consistently use three primary words to describe the components of man's nature: sarx, used 151 times (and söma about 129 times), refers to the physical aspect of humanity; psychë, used 105 times, refers to the psycho-logical aspect of humanity; and pneuma, used 385 times total in the New Testament, refers to the human spirit in approximately 80 of those instances.[38]

In the New Testament, finer distinctions can be made between the functions and relations of man's inward parts.[39]

A full treatment of man's nature must consider the New Testament use of such words as flesh, body, spirit, soul, heart, mind, and conscience. For instance, dichotomists often dismiss the distinction between soul and spirit in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 as a piling up of terms for emphasis, that spirit and soul is "rhetorical tautology".[40] They claim that if 1 Thessalonians 5:23 proves that man is composed of three parts, then Mark 12:30 must prove that man is made of four parts since Jesus enumerates heart, soul, mind, strength. However, trichotomists see only three parts here based on their understanding of how the Bible uses the terms heart, soul, and mind. The heart is a composition of the soul plus the conscience,[41] and the mind is the leading part of the soul. Thus, Mark 12:30 is well within the parameters of a tripartite view of man.

Early Church


The tripartite view of man was considered an orthodox interpretation in the first three centuries of the church and many of the early church fathers (see Supporters of a Tripartite View chart) taught that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit. Irenaeus, Tatian, Melito, Didymus of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Cesaraea, all held to the distinction firmly according to its supporters.[42][43][44]

However, there arose, primarily, three historical errors, the fear of which have caused a "prejudice against trichotomy": the pseudo-Gnostic view, the Apollinarian error, and the semi-Pelagian error. "But", Delitzsch argues, "in the face of all these errors, its opponents must confess that man may be regarded trichotomically, without in the least degree implying the adoption of such erroneous views."[45]



In the 4th century, after Apollinaris of Laodicea employed it in a manner impinging on the perfect humanity of Jesus, the tripartite view of man was gradually discredited by association.[46] Apart from this heretical doctrine, which was condemned at the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381, Apollinaris was an orthodox theologian and contemporary of Athanasius and Basil of Cesaraea.

In History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff remarks:

Apollinaris, therefore, taught the deity of Christ, but denied the completeness (teleiotes) of his humanity, and, taking his departure from the Nicene postulate of the homoousion, ran into the Arian heresy, which likewise put the divine Logos in the place of the human spirit in Christ.[47]

The fact that an early heresy called Apollinarism emerged is itself witness that the early church held the tripartite view of man according to Pester.[48] This heresy taught that in Christ the human spirit was replaced by pure, divine Logos. If the early church taught that man consisted only of body and soul, this heresy never could have gained traction. Some theologians believe that Apollinaris himself, however, confused the Pauline trichotomy with the Platonic trichotomy by confounding the pneuma (ru’ah) with the nous.[49]

Heard explains:

The Greek Fathers, generally speaking, understood the psychology of Scripture aright; but unfortunately confounding the Platonic Logos or Nous with the Pneuma of the New Testament, they either distinguished the pneumatical and psychical as the intellectual and the carnal man respectively (which was the root error of the Gnostics), or confounded in a semi-pantheistic way the human Pneuma with the divine, which, in the case of Origen and Apollinaris, led to distinct heresies, which the Church afterwards formally condemned. The consequence of this was, that in the reaction against these errors, the Latin Church generally, as guided by Augustine and Jerome, rejected altogether the distinction between Psyche and Pneuma, for which the Latin tongue was not flexible enough to find equivalents, and so the usual dichotomy of man into body and soul only became the prevailing view throughout the West.[50]



After Apollinarianism was condemned at Constantinople in A.D. 381, another heresy tarnished the Pauline distinction of soul and spirit. The Semipelagians, after Pelagius, used the distinction to teach that "the spirit is excepted from the original sin which affected the body and soul" [51] and that therefore, human nature is essentially good and retains genuine freedom in the will to initiate salvation. Contrary to Pelagius' view of human nature, Augustine taught that, because of original sin, the human nature we receive at birth has been "wounded, hurt, damaged, destroyed" [52] and that, therefore, man is incapable of doing or desiring good apart from the sovereignty of grace. In maintaining the doctrine of original sin against the Pelagian party, Augustine ultimately held to the dichotomist conception of man and thought it safer to pass by the distinction of soul and spirit as an "unprofitable distinction".[53]

Heard, however, argues that the distinction of soul and spirit "so far from making void the doctrine of original sin, actually confirms and explains it":[54]

Had Augustine but recognized the trichotomy, and taught that the ruach, or pneuma, or spiritus—i.e. the inspired and Godlike part of man—was deadened by the fall, and that in that state of spiritual injury a propagation of soul and body from Adam to his posterity must ex traduce carry with it a defective, and hence a diseased constitution, his refutation of Pelagius would have been sufficiently convincing, without hurrying him into an exaggeration in the opposite extreme...[55]

Augustine's immense influence on the history of Western Christian thought, in form and content, swayed decisively the decision for the dichotomous view of man. Heard says, "the authority of Augustine decided the course of the Western Church in rejecting the distinction as mystical, and tending to deprave the doctrine of man's fall and corruption."[56] George S. Hendry in a chapter entitled, The Holy Spirit and the Human Spirit, concludes that "the denial of a created spirit in man, both in ancient and in modern theology, is bound up with a one-sided, Augustinian conception of grace."[57]

Interest in the human spirit waned in the mediaeval church, "whose tendencies were scholastic rather than exegetical, and whose philosophy was thoroughly Aristotelian."[58]



With the Reformers, the rejection of trichotomy stems from an apparent incompatibility with their doctrine of sovereign grace, following Augustine. Since Plato, the conception of the human spirit involved an aspiration (eros) for the beautiful, good, and eternal. Early Christians similarly expressed this longing of the human spirit as a longing for the divine Spirit of God and thus established a correlation between philosophy and theology.[59] This insatiable longing was seen as the “index of an ontological orientation of the creature toward the Creator."[60] Augustine famously expressed this longing in his Confessions when he said, “Thou has made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee (Augustine, Confessions, p. 3.).” For Aquinas, “it is natural to ascribe the desire of the finite for the infinite to the human spirit.”[61] Luther identifies the human spirit as “the highest, deepest, noblest part of man, by which he is able to grasp incomprehensible, invisible, and eternal things.”[62] “It soon came to be felt, however, that such a view could not be held in conjunction with the main emphasis of the Reformation."[63] The longing for God, even though unconscious, obscure or misinterpreted, in unregenerated man clashed with the Reformers’ understanding of total depravity. They reasoned that since man is spiritually dead, he is totally passive and cannot even aspire for God. Thus “man was to all intents and purposes ‘de-spirited’.”[64] However, this reduced man to an inanimate object, like a stone or tree, and severely undermined man’s humanity. Man was "a kind of unfeeling and inept material that had to be moved from one place to another."[65] The doctrine of sola gratia, under the influence of Augustine's understanding of grace, undermined human freedom by stressing that grace is not merely indispensable but irresistible. "Fundamentally, the objection was that Augustine had resolved the paradox of inevitability and responsibility at the expense of responsibility, and that he glorified grace by belittling nature and free will."[66] Hendry, a Reformed theologian, and other trichotomists do not see any necessary conflict between man possessing a distinct, created human spirit and the sovereignty of grace, so long as "the nature of spirit and its activity be properly understood."[67]

Among the Reformers, Luther stands out, possibly, as a major exception to the prevailing dichotomist view. Pelikan has noted that in Luther's writings there is support for the “trichotomist idea of human nature as made up of body, soul, and spirit; but there are also places in his writings which seem to speak for the dichotomist idea of man's material and nonmaterial nature as the two parts of his being."[68] In his Biblical Psychology, Delitzsch also ascribes the trichotomous view to Luther, in an appendix entitled "Luther's Trichotomy" where he quotes at length Luther's commentary on the Magnificat.

Luther writes:

Scripture divides man into three parts, as says St Paul (1 Thess. 5:23)... And every one of these three, together with the entire man, is also divided in another way into two portions, which are there called Spirit and Flesh. Which division is not natural, but attributive; i.e. nature has three portions spirit, soul, and body... In the tabernacle fashioned by Moses there were three separate compartments. The first was called the holy of holies: here was God's dwelling place, and in it there was no light. The second was called the holy place; here stood a candle-stick with seven arms and seven lamps. The third was called the outer court; this lay under the open sky and in the full light of the sun. In this tabernacle we have a figure of the Christian man. His spirit is the holy of holies, where God dwells in the darkness of faith, where no light is; for he believes that which he neither sees nor feels nor comprehends. His soul is the holy place, with its seven lamps, that is, all manner of reason, discrimination, knowledge, and understanding of visible and bodily things. His body is the forecourt, open to all, so that men may see his works and manner of life.[69]

Others, including John Bickford Heard, George Boardman, James Stalker, Watchman Nee, and Witness Lee have used the tabernacle to illustrate the tripartite man.

At the turn of the 19th century in Germany, there was a major resurgence of interest in the tripartite view of man (see chart). Hendry accounts the initial thrust of this resurgence to philosophical concerns. "The development of the philosophy of spirit in post-Kantian idealism, originating in Germany, may be interpreted historically as a revolt against the suppression of the spirit in Protestant theology; for it was in its initial intention an affirmation, or reaffirmation, of the human spirit."[70]

Supporters of a tripartite view


Many of the theologians below are cited by Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology,[71] Augustus H. Strong's Systematic Theology,[72] Jan Jacob van Oosterzee's Christian Dogmatics,[73] John Bickford Heard's Tripartite Nature of Man,[74] and Henri de Lubac's History and Spirit.[75]

Name Born Died Theological tradition Major works supporting Trichotomy Referenced by
Justin Martyr 100 165 Early Christian apologist On the Resurrection[76] Van Oosterzee, Heard
Tatian 120 180 Early Christian apologist Tatian's Address to the Greeks[77] Van Oosterzee; A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs[78]
Clement of Alexandria 150 215 Church Father Berkhof
Melito ? 180 Bishop of Sardis Van Oosterzee
Hippolytus of Rome 170 235 Presbyter of the Church in Rome Commentary on Daniel, Book 2, Ch. 38 Henri de Lubac
Origen 184 253 Church Father De Principiis, Book 2, On the Soul[79] Van Oosterzee, Berkhof, Henri De Lubac[80]
Irenaeus 2nd century 202 Church Father Against Heresies[81] Van Oosterzee
Eusebius 260/265 339/340 Roman historian & Bishop of Caesarea Commentary on the Psalms 102, v. 20[82] Henri de Lubac
Apollinarius ? 390 Bishop of Laodicea in Syria Berkhof
Didymus of Alexandria 313 398 Coptic Church theologian Commentary on Ecclesiastes;[83] Commentary on the Psalms[84] Richard A Layton;[85] Henri de Lubac
Basil of Caesarea 329 379 Church Father Homily 21[86] Henri de Lubac
Gregory of Nazianzus 329 389/390 Church Father and Archbishop of Constantinople Poems, bk. 1, sec. 1, 8 (On the Soul)[87] Henri de Lubac
Gregory of Nyssa 335 395 Church Father On the Making of Man 8.4–6[88] Berkhof
John of Damascus 645/676 749 Church Father Strong
John Climacus 7th century ? 7th-century Christian monk The Ladder of Divine Ascent[89]
Martin Luther 1483 1546 German Reformer Commentary on the Magnificat[90] Delitzsch
Thomas Jackson 1579 1640 English theologian, Arminian
Thomas White 1593 1676 Roman Catholic priest and scholar
Philip Doddridge 1702 1751 English Nonconformist leader A Paraphrase and Notes on the First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians[91]
Magnus Friedrich Roos 1727 1803 German Lutheran theologian Outlines of Psychology drawn from the Holy Scriptures Berkhof
Seraphim of Sarov 1754 1833 Russian Orthodox Theologian St. Seraphim of Sarov's Conversation with Nicholas Motovilov
Adam Clarke 1762 1832 British Methodist theologian Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert 1780 1860 German Theologian Van Oosterzee
Karl Friedrich Goschel 1784 1861 Prussian Right Hegelian Herzog, Realencyclopadie, article "Seele" Strong
August Neander 1789 1850 German theologian and church historian History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles[92] Strong
Hermann Olshausen 1796 1839 German theologian Opuscula Theologica[93] and Commentary on 1 Thes. 5:23 Strong, Berkhof
Leonhard Usteri 1799 1833 Swiss Reformed theologian Entwickelung Des Paulinischen Lehrbegriffes[94] Strong
August Friedrich Christian Vilmar 1800 1868 German Neo-Lutheran theologian Dogmatik: Akademische Vorlesungen G. C. Berkouwer[95]
Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer 1800 1873 German Protestant theologian Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament[96]
Johann Tobias Beck 1804 1878 German theologian Outlines of Biblical Psychology[97] Strong, Berkhof
Henry Alford 1810 1871 Anglican theologian and scholar New Testament for English Readers[98]
Frederic Charles Cook 1810 1889 English churchman and linguist The Speaker's Commentary[99]
Johann Gottfried Hausmann 1811 1901
Gustav Friedrich Oehler 1812 1872 German Lutheran theologian Theology of the Old Testament Berkhof
Søren Kierkegaard 1813 1855 Danish Lutheran The Concept of Anxiety, The Sickness Unto Death, Johannes Climacus, or De omnibus dubitandum est. A Narrative
Franz Delitzsch 1813 1890 German Lutheran theologian Biblical Psychology Berkhof
William Smith 1813 1893 English Lexicographer Smith's Bible Dictionary[100]
Theophan the Recluse 1815 1894 Russian Orthodox Theologian The Spiritual Life
Jan Jacob van Oosterzee 1817 1882 Dutch Divine Christian Dogmatics Strong
Charles John Ellicott 1819 1905 Anglican theologian Destiny of the Creature[101] Strong
A. R. Fausset 1821 1910 Anglican theologian Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary[102]
Karl August Auberlen 1824 1864 German Lutheran theologian Geist des Menschen im Biblischen Sinne Strong, Berkhof
George Boardman the Younger 1828 1903 Baptist "The Scriptural Anthropology." Baptist Quarterly Vol. 1[103] Strong
Andrew Murray 1828 1917 Dutch Reformed Church The Spirit of Christ[104]
John Bickford Heard 1828 ? The Tripartite Nature of Man[105] Strong, Berkhof
Henry Liddon 1829 1890 English Theologian John Laidlaw[106]
Hermann Cremer 1834 1903 German Protestant theologian Biblico-theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek[107] Strong
C. I. Scofield 1843 1921 American Theologian Scofield Reference Bible[108]
G. H. Pember 1837 1910 Plymouth Brethren Earth's Earliest Ages[109]
Otto Stockmayer 1838 1917 German Holiness Movement Watchman Nee in Spiritual Man
F. B. Meyer 1847 1929 English Baptist pastor and evangelist Watchman Nee in Spiritual Man & Latent Power of the Soul
James M Stalker 1848 1929 Scottish preacher Christian Psychology[110]
Clarence Larkin 1850 1924 Protestant (Baptist) Dispensational Truth or God's Plan and Purpose in the Ages[111]
Jessie Penn-Lewis 1861 1927 Protestant (Welsh) Soul and Spirit, War on the Saints
Mary E. McDonough 1863 1962 God's Plan of Redemption[112]
Lewis Sperry Chafer 1871 1952 American Protestant Theologiian Systematic Theology Vol. 1&2[113] Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest in Integrative Theology[114]
George H. Lang 1874 1958 Plymouth Brethren Firstfruits and Harvest[115]
Evan Roberts 1878 1951 Welsh Calvinist Methodist War on The Saints[116]
Robert Lightfoot 1883 1953 Anglican Priest and Theologian John Laidlaw[117]
William Theodore Heard 1884 1973 Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church
Arthur W. Pink 1886 1952 Reformed The Great Change, Regeneration, Or, The New Birth,[118] Gleanings in Genesis[119]
Herbert Lockyer 1886 1984 All the Doctrines of the Bible[120] John Woodward
Theodore Austin-Sparks 1888 1971 British Christian evangelist What is Man? John Woodward
Ruth Paxson 1889 1949 Protestant Life on the Highest Plane[121]
Watchman Nee 1903 1972 Chinese Christian Preacher The Spiritual Man, The Release of the Spirit
George S. Hendry 1904 1993 Reformed Theologian The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology[122]
Witness Lee 1905 1997 Chinese Christian Preacher The Economy of God
E.C.Bragg 1912 1995 American Evangelical Theologian
Lehman Strauss ? 1997 Baptist Man A Trinity (Spirit, Soul, Body)
Mark G Cambron 1911 2000 Bible Doctrines[123] John Woodward
Lester Sumrall 1913 1996 American Pentecostal pastor and evangelist Spirit, Soul and Body[124]
S. Lewis Johnson Jr. 1915 2004 American Presbyterian Theologian Man and his Nature, part 1[125]
Gleason Archer 1916 2004 American theologian Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties[126]
P. B. Fitzwater ? ? Christian Theology A Systematic Presentation[127] John Woodward

A form of trichotomy is also held in Latter Day Saint theology. In the Doctrine and Covenants, a revelation of Joseph Smith Jr. states: "And the spirit and the body are the soul of man" (D&C 88:15).

See also



  1. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 47-48. "It is referred to in Gen. 2:7, in such terms that we cannot fail to see that an exact system of psychology is here alluded to... We may amplify and illustrate the psychology of Gen. 2:7, but here is substantially, and in the fewest possible words, all that we know of the sources of man's nature and their union-point, the soul."
  2. ^ Delitzch, Biblical Psychology, p. 90.
  3. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature, p. 41.
  4. ^ Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, p. 147. "He then breathed into this form the creature spirit, which, because it originated after the manner of breathing, may just as well be called His spirit as man's spirit, because it is His breath made into the spirit of man."
  5. ^ Lee, The Spirit With Our Spirit, p. 63. "The breath of life is not God Himself, God's life, or God's Spirit. But it is very close to God, very close to the life of God, and very close to the Spirit of God... The breath of life produced the spirit. Actually, it was the breath of life becoming the spirit."
  6. ^ Boardman, Scriptural Anthropology, p. 184.
  7. ^ Hendry, Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, p. 106. Although, this does not mean that man possesses a spark of divinity or that between God and fallen human beings there is some continuous element.
  8. ^ Boardman, Scriptural Anthropology, p. 185.
  9. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 42-43. "The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of lives. We speak of the formal and efficient cause as one, not because we wish to confound the agent [the Lord God] with the instrument [the breath of life], but because the instrument is in this case of the same nature as the agent. The Lord God is the efficient cause—doubtless the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. But the instrument He uses is the breath of lives. It is clear that the breath is here of the same nature as the Being who breathes it."
  10. ^ Hendry quoting Schmaus' Katholische Dogmatik, p. 332. "It is in his spirit that man is the image of God, that he bears the lineaments of God, that he is akin to God."
  11. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 73-74. "The apostle had desired that the very God of peace should sanctify them wholly, ολοτελεις. The word ολοτελής, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, is clearly contrasted with the following ολοκληρον, and the contrast is that between totus and integer, complete and entire. In the one case the apostle prays that their salvation may be complete as a whole (totus), in the other entire (integer) in every part. The complete sanctification of the believer thus suggests those parts of man's nature that the Divine Spirit is to enter and entirely (entierement, i.e. inwardly) sanctify by His indwelling power. If sanctification is to be complete as to the end, so it must be as to the means; if of the whole, so of the parts. The τελος in the first compound suggests the end, which is our whole sanctification; the κληρος, of the second, suggests the means, that we may be sanctified in every part. Sanctification thus rests on these two conditions, that the Holy Spirit shall possess each of the three parts of our nature, and' possess them entirely."
  12. ^ Lee, Footnotes. Recovery Version of the Holy Bible. "Wholly: Or entirely, thoroughly, to the consummation. God sanctifies us wholly, so that no part of our being, of either our spirit or soul or body, will be left common or profane. Complete: God not only sanctifies us wholly but also preserves our spirit, soul, and body complete. Wholly is quantitative; complete is qualitative. Quantitatively, God sanctifies us wholly; qualitatively, God preserves us complete, i.e., He keeps our spirit, soul, and body perfect."
  13. ^ Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, p. 109. "And as for the essential condition of man, I certainly agree entirely with the view that the spirit and soul of man are distinguished as primary and secondary, but not with the view that spirit and soul are substantially one and the same... there occur to us two New Testament passages (viz. 1 Thess. v. 23 and Heb. iv. 12) which here claim special consideration, because they denominate, not only casually but designedly, the condition of man's being; and their logically rigid trichotomic mode of expression cannot be summarily set aside with the assertion, that in them is meant the condition of man's life, and especially of the Christian's life, not in relation to its three distinct elements, but assuming the existence of only two elements, only in reference to its three distinct relations."
  14. ^ Delitzsch quoting Eduard Karl August Riehm in Biblical Psychology, p. 111-112. "The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in naming (ch. iv. 12) ψυχη and πνευμα in juxtaposition, as composing the immaterial substance of human nature, announces a trichotomic view of the nature of man."
  15. ^ Ellicott, Destiny of the Creature, p. 107.
  16. ^ "What does Romans 7:22 mean?".
  17. ^ "Tripartite: Body, Soul, and Spirit". Real Bible Believers. 5 April 2020.
  18. ^ Good, 1997, p. 47.
  19. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 40.
  20. ^ Boardman, Scriptural Anthropology, p. 327.
  21. ^ Boardman, Scriptural Anthropology, p. 327. "Since the course of Divine revelation has ever been marked by a progressive unfolding of what it had always germinally contained, it is reasonable to believe that the Pentateuch is to be explained by the Epistles, not the Epistles by the Pentateuch."
  22. ^ New Scofield Reference Bible, p. ix. "The Bible is a progressive unfolding of truth. Nothing is told all at once, and once for all. The law is, 'first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn.' Without the possibility of collusion, often with centuries between, one writer of Scripture takes up an earlier revelation, adds to it, lays down the pen, and in due time another man moved by the Holy Spirit, and another, and another, add new details till the whole is complete."
  23. ^ Hodge, Systematic Theology Abridged, p. 168. "The progressive character of divine revelation is recognized in relation to all the great doctrines of the Bible. .. What at first is only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded in subsequent parts of the sacred volume until the truth is revealed in its fulness."
  24. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 68. "It would have been contrary to the proportion of faith that there should have been a complete psychology before there was a complete theology. The Holy Ghost was not given, for Jesus was not yet glorified; and as the sphere of the Spirit's operation is in the pneuma, witnessing to our spirits that we are the sons of God, it is only what we might expect that the intimations of the existence of the one should be as enigmatic as those of the other. Till the person of the Holy Ghost was explicitly taught, His sphere of operation was not disclosed."
  25. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 69. "If this be so, then we are prepared to expect the same reticence of the Old Testament with regard to the spirit of man as with regard to the personality of the blessed Spirit of God. The psychology of the Old Testament is incomplete, even as its theology is, and in the same degree. The deeper insight given in our dispensation into the operations of the Godhead correspond to and prepare the way for a deeper insight into the operations of our own inner nature."
  26. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 39.
  27. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 50-56.
  28. ^ Good, 1998, p. 50.
  29. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 27-36. Heard goes into a lengthy discussion on the differences in view between the Greek philosophers and poets.
  30. ^ (Good, 1998, p. 50.
  31. ^ Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 191.
  32. ^ Marais, Psychology, 4:2496. Online.
  33. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 65.
  34. ^ "Plato openly put forward a challenging theory according to which he allocates to the psyche a tripartite structure, according to different goal directed actions (both rational and irrational); these are not oriented only towards good, but towards honor or pleasure as well." Calian, George. Plato's Psychology of Action and the Origin of Agency. Affectivity, Agency (2012), p. 12
  35. ^ Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 16.
  36. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 66.
  37. ^ Woodward, ch 5. Online.,id,89,sv,1.html
  38. ^ Good, 1997, p. 47.
  39. ^ Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, p. 208. "In the New Testament, especially in the Pauline writings, the psychologic mode of expression is much sharper and profounder."
  40. ^ Ellicott, Destiny of the Creature, p. 105.
  41. ^ Lee, Knowledge of Life, p. 117.
  42. ^ Boardman, Scritptural Anthropology, p. 189.
  43. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 5.
  44. ^ Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 191.
  45. ^ Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, p. 106.
  46. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 5. "With the error of Apollinaris, who denied to Christ a human pneuma, the reaction came, and the trichotomy fell into disfavor, and was neglected even in the East."
  47. ^ Schaff, History of the Christian Church, p. 711.
  48. ^ Pester, 1996, p. 44.
  49. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 65.
  50. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. ix.
  51. ^ Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, p. 106.
  52. ^ Pelikan, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, p. 300.
  53. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 6.
  54. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 13.
  55. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 7.
  56. ^ Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 12.
  57. ^ Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, p. 113.
  58. ^ Boardman, Scriptural Anthropology, p. 189.
  59. ^ Modern day exegetes have interpreted Eccl. 3:11 and Hag. 2:7 along similar lines.
  60. ^ Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, p. 97.
  61. ^ Aquinas, Thomas, Summa contra Gentiles, III, 25
  62. ^ Luther, Martin. Luther's Works, ed., Jaroslav Pelikan. St. Louis: Concordia, 1956. Vol. 21, p. 303.
  63. ^ Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, p. 98.
  64. ^ Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, p. 99.
  65. ^ Pelikan quoting Faust, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, p. 323
  66. ^ Pelikan quoting Faust, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, p. 320
  67. ^ Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, p. 114.
  68. ^ Pelikan, Luther's Works Vol. 21, p. 303.
  69. ^ Delitzsch quoting Luther, Biblical Psychology, p. 460-462.
  70. ^ Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, p. 101.
  71. ^ Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 191-192.
  72. ^ Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 484.
  73. ^ Van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, p. 366.
  74. ^ Heard, The Tripartite Nature of Man, p. x.
  75. ^ de Lubac, History and Spirit, p. 178-179.
  76. ^ Justin, 'Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1, p. 298. "For the body is the house of the soul; and the soul the house of the spirit." Online.
  77. ^ Tatian, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 2, p. 70. "We recognize two varieties of spirit, one of which is called the soul, but the other is greater than the soul, an image and likeness of God: both existed in the first men, that in one sense they might be material, and in another superior to matter."
  78. ^ Bercot, Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, p. 627.
  79. ^ Origen, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, p. 289. "It appears that the soul is something intermediate between the weak flesh and the willing spirit." Vol. 4, p. 359. "For as man is said to consist of body, and soul, and spirit, so also does sacred Scripture, which has been granted by the divine bounty for the salvation of man."
  80. ^ de Lubac, History and Spirit, p.172-181. Lubac offers a lengthy analysis of the source of Origen's anthropological trichotomy.
  81. ^ Irenaeus, Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 532. "For that flesh which has been moulded is not a perfect man in itself, but the body of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the soul itself, considered apart by itself, the man; but it is the soul of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the spirit a man, for it is called the spirit, and not a man; but the commingling and union of all these constitutes the perfect man." p. 534. "There are three things out of which, as I have shown, the complete man is composed- flesh, soul, and spirit. One of these does indeed preserve and fashion [the man]- this is the spirit; while as to another it is united and formed- that is the flesh; then [comes] that which is between these two- that is the soul, which sometimes indeed, when it follows the spirit, is raised up by it, but sometimes it sympathizes with the flesh, and falls into carnal lusts."
  82. ^ Patrologia Graeca 23:1267D. Online.
  83. ^ Eccl.T. 124.19–28, 337.8–24
  84. ^ Patrologia Graeca 39:1256B, 1324A, 1400A, 1577C. Online.
  85. ^ Layton, Didymus the Blind, p. 186, note 31
  86. ^ Basil, Homily 21, no. 5. (Patrologia Graeca 31:549A).
  87. ^ Patrologia Graeca 37:452.
  88. ^ On the Making of Man.Online.
  89. ^ Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent. "I called with my whole heart, says the Psalmist, that is, with body, soul, and spirit. For where the two last are gathered together, there God is in the midst of them" (28.61)
  90. ^ Martin Luther, Luther's Works, ed., Jaroslar Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), 21:303–304.
  91. ^ The Works of the Rev. P. Doddridge, Volume 9 (1805). "May the God of peace himself... sanctify you entirely, in all the parts of your nature; and [I pray God that] your whole constitution, or frame, your rational spirit, your animal soul, and your body, animated by it, may be so kept blameless....It is very evident, that the apostle, in the following words, refers to a notion which... prevailed among the rabbies as well as the philosophers, that the person of a man was constituted of three distinct substances, the rational spirit, the animal soul, and the visible body." p. 536. Online.
  92. ^ Neander, History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church, p. 394-395. Online.
  93. ^ Olshausen, Opuscula Theologica, p. 134.
  94. ^ Usteri, Entwickelung Des Paulinischen Lehrbegriffes, p. 384.
  95. ^ Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, p. 210
  96. ^ Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, on 1 Thes 5:23.
  97. ^ Beck, Outlines of Biblical Psychology, p. 31.
  98. ^ Alford, New Testament for English Readers, Vol 2, p. 936-937. "Sensual- we have no English word for the quality here implied in the Greek word psychikos; and our biblical psychology is, by this defect, entirely at fault. The psyche is the center of the personal being, the 'I' of each individual. It is in each man bound to the spirit, man's higher part, and to the body, man's lower part; drawn upwards by the one, downwards by the other. He who gives himself up to the lower appetites, is fleshly; he who by communion of his spirit with God's Spirit is employed in the higher aims of his being, is spiritual. He who rests midway, thinking only of self and self's interests, is the psychikos, the selfish man, the man in whom the spirit is sunk and degraded into subordination to the subordinate psyche... Not having spirit- not directly the Holy Spirit of God, but the higher spiritual life of man's spirit in communion with the Holy Spirit. These men have not indeed ceased to have a spirit, as a part of their own tripartite nature: but they have ceased to possess it in any worthy sense: it is degraded beneath and under the power of the psyche, the personal life, so as to have no real vitality of its own.
  99. ^ The Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611): With an Explanatory & Critical Commentary & a Revision of the Translation, by Bishops & Other Clergy of the Anglican Church. Vol. 3. New York: Scribner, Armstrong &, 1881. pp. 258, 330–331, 729–730. Online.
  100. ^ The article on Resurrection is where the support lies. It is written by Rev. Daniel Raynes Goodwin, but as Smith is the general editor, he seems to condone this view. Smith's Dictionary of the Bible. Rev. and edited by H.B. Hackett & Ezra Abbot, Vol. 4. 1870, p. 2712 Online.
  101. ^ Ellicott, Destiny of the Creature, p. 106-125.
  102. ^ Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, On 1 Thes. 5:23, Jude 19
  103. ^ Boardman, Baptist Quarterly Vol. 1,Online.
  104. ^ Murray, The Spirit of Christ, pp 159–160, 193.
  105. ^ Heard, The Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 62-114.
  106. ^ Laidlaw, The Biblical Doctrine of Man, p. 67
  107. ^ Cremer, Biblico-theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, p. 503-510, 582–586.
  108. ^ Scofield Reference Bible, Note on 1 Thes. 5:23. Online.
  109. ^ Pember, Earth's Earliest Ages, p. 74-77.
  110. ^ Stalker, Christian Psychology, p. 47-65.
  111. ^ Larkin, Dispensational Truth or God's Plan and Purpose in the Ages, p. 97-98. Online.
  112. ^ McDonough, God's Plan of Redemption, p. 16-17. "The terms 'inner man' and 'outer man', or their equivalents, are employed in modern psychology, but the psychology of the Bible is more analytical inasmuch as it indicates a subdivision of the invisible part of man, thus teaching us that man is not dichotomous but is a trichotomous being.
  113. ^ Chafer, Systematic Theology, p. 180-187
  114. ^ Online.
  115. ^ Lang, Firstfruits and Harvest, Ch 5. "This threefold composition of man is implied everywhere in the Word of God, and sometimes is distinctly stated." Online Archived 2013-02-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  116. ^ Roberts, War on The Saints, p. 209. "Christ wrought out for man upon Calvary's Cross salvation of spirit, soul, and body, from the dominion of sin and Satan; but that full salvation is wrought out in the believer through the central action of the will, as he deliberately chooses the will of God for each department of his tripartite nature."
  117. ^ Laidlaw, The Biblical Doctrine of Man, p. 67.
  118. ^ Pink, Regeneration, Ch 2. Online.
  119. ^ Pink, Gleanings in Genesis, p. 107. "Is it not clear then that the ark divided into three stories more than hints at our threefold salvation in Christ? The salvation which we have in Christ is a threefold one, and that in a double sense. It is a salvation which embraces each part of our threefold constitution, making provision for the redemption of our spirit, and soul, and body (1 Thes. 5:23); and further, our salvation is a three tense salvation—we have been saved from the penalty of sin, are being saved from the power of sin, we shall yet be saved from the presence of sin."
  120. ^ Lockyer, All the Doctrines of the Bible, p. 143-145.
  121. ^ Paxson, Life on the Highest Plane, p. 24-28. On p. 26- "Man, then, is a trinity; spirit, soul, and body are the integral parts of his triune being." Online.
  122. ^ Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, Ch. 5.
  123. ^ Cambron, Bible Doctrines, p. 20, 62–63, 120–134.
  124. ^ Sumrall, Spirit, Soul and Body (Springdale: WhitakerHouse, 1995).
  125. ^ Man and his Nature, part 1. Online.
  126. ^ Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 260. "Quite clearly then, the spirit is distinct from the soul, or else these verses add up to tautological nonsense. We therefore conclude that man is not dichotomic (to use the technical theological term)but trichotomic."
  127. ^ Fitzwater, Christian Theology A Systematic Presentation, p. 309.


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