Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST005/2 The Nature of Man.


The Nature of Man.

In considering the nature of Man we are thinking of him as he came from the hands of God and not as ruined by sin. While in some points his nature has not changed, in others it has. There are four subjects to be considered,

  • the Constituent Elements of Man's Nature.........
  • the Origin of the Soul........
  • the Image of God in Man and........
  • Man's Moral Nature as created by God. (or the nature of Primitive Holiness).

(a) The Constituent Elements of Human Nature.

It has become usual to speak of human nature as spirit, soul and body, but actually there are two theories concerning this subject. There are those who maintain that the elements of human nature are only two, that which is purely material, the body, and that which is non material, spirit.

This theory says, however, that the spiritual part of man has two aspects, one of which looks toward God and makes fellowship with God possible, the other towards earth and this life. Dr.Clarke puts it this way. "The non-bodily part of man may be viewed in its relation to God, or in its relation to the life that it is living in the body on the earth.

On the one hands it may be viewed as coming from God, adapted to communion with God, and capable of His indwelling; and in this highest relationship it is usually called spirit. On
the other be viewed as living a constituted life, related to the body which it inhabits and active in the experiences of earthly existences; and in this lower relationship, it is usually called soul.

It is not that the lower faculties constitute the soul and the higher the spirit, but that the entire non-bodily part bears one name as inhabiting the body and related to the present worlds and the other as kindred to God and capable of fellow-ship with Him. (Outline of Christ.Theol.p.l83).

The illustration has been used of a two" storied house. The upper story represents the non-material part of man and has two windows, one locking down to earth and the other up to heaven. This theory is called Dichotomy (from two greek words meaning in two parts" and "to cut or divide").

The Scriptural backing for this theory is found in the fact that at creation first the body was created, and then God breathed into that body the breath of life, which seems to imply only two distinct parts in man; and also in the fact that the words "soul" and "spirit" often seen to be used interchangeably.(See Genesis.41:8; John 12:27; 13:21; Matthew.10:28; 27:50; Psalm 42:6; also 1 Corinthians 5:3 & 6:20 where body and spirit seem to represent the whole man).

It should be pointed out, though, that the philosophical distinction between soul and spirit; described by Clarke and illustrated by the idea of the two-storied house, does not seem to be borne out by Scripture in that the word "spirit" is used of the brute creation (Eccles.3:21) and the word "soul" is used of God Himself (Isa.42:1; Jeremiah 9:9; Hebrews 10:38).

There are others, however, who maintain that the two instances in the New Testament where man is undoubtedly described as body soul and spirit. (1 Thess.5:23; Heb.4:12) settle the matter and that man must be composed of three parts.

They also state that there seems to be a distinction made between soul and spirit in the New Testament. This theory is called "Trichotomy" (to cut or divide into three parts). There is not a great deal of difference, really between the two theories and the two instances mentioned above where body, soul and spinit are definitely stated, may only have been the normal way of speaking; as it is today, without necessarily implying that the non-material part is composed of two distinct clements.

As the difference between the two theories is not very substantial, it is not possible to be dogmatic. It must also be remembered that conciousness of himself is never three, but always one, and therefore all we can know on the subject is what can be gathered from Scripture.

Raymond sums up the matter in the following words - "God formed man's body of the dust of the earth, and breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a living soul. This has been understood to teach that there are two, and only two, elements in the human constitution, one material and the other spiritual, the one matter and the other mind.

These two are substances, entities, actually existing things, united in a manner to human thought inscrutable, mysterious, incomprehensible, yet really united, and so united as to constitute one nature, a nature individualized, one, and yet both material and spiritual.

It is only by the actuality of such union that certain facts of consciousness can be conceivably possible, such as pain from a fleshly wound. A spirit cannot be punctured by a pin, and though a dead body be punctured, pain is not produced.

Matter is indispensable to the phenomenon, and mind to the consciousness produced by it. Man is not materialized mind, nor spiritualized matter, nor is he some what that is neither or a somewhat between the two; but he is both, material as to his body, spiritual as to his mind, mysteriously united during his earthly existence in one individual person."  (Syst.Theol.Vol.2 p.24).

(b) The Origin of the Soul.

Another problem that arises is that concerning the origin of the soul. The body is clearly produced by natural birth but what of the soul? There are three theories.


This is the theory that souls are existent separately from the body and are allotted to a certain body when it is born. This was Plato's theory and it is one of the main tenets of Hinduism in the form of the transmigration of souls.

Origen held the theory in this early church but it was never considered correct or orthodox. It is only right also to say that this theory was not the same as that held by Hinduism. It can be discounted as being contrary to Scripture and also to human psychology in that there is no real memory of a past life nor continuity of personal consciousness from one life to another.


This theory maintains that God specially creates a new soul for every body born into the world. It bases its truth Scripturally on such texts as - "For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made." (Isa.57:16).

"The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth and formeth the spirit of man within him." (Zech.12:1)

"Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live." (Heb.12:9).

Philosophically and physiologically the theory rests on the assumption that the soul cannot be conceived and generated from human parents as can the body. This is not unanswerably so however, as will be seen later, and also the above Scriptures can be reasonably explained on the basis of the original creation and the immanence of God in the support and direction of His universe.


The word comes from a Latin one used for the training of the vine for propagation and is the theory that the soul is produced by natural birth from the parents as is the body. Man is a unity and procreation produces the whole man as is implied in the words "Adam begat a son in his own likeness" (Gen.5:3). Such passages as Gen.46:26; Heb.7:9,10; John 18:13 & 3:6; and Acts 17:26 seem likewise to favour the theory.

While Origen`s theory has been universally condemned there has always been difference of opinion as to which of the other theories is correct. There is not sufficient evidence to be dogmatic on the subject. In the early church Jerome held to Creationism and Tertullian to Traducianism; Augustine, while feeling that Traducianism explained more the presence of sin in the races refused to be definite either way.

Since the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church has for the most part maintained Creationism, the Lutheran Church Traducianism, and the Reformed Church, with the exception of H.B.Smith, Shedd and A.A.Strong, have favoured Creationism.

Neither theory is free from serious problems and objections.The great objection to Creationism is that it appears to make God the author of sin, or at least its condoner, in that He deliberately creates souls for those born as a result of fornication or adultery. There is the problem too, as to how the soul becomes defiled.

The Creationist would say that it is through contact with the sinful race and through the with holding of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The theory likewise would seem to destroy the fact of the unity of the race in that it is not mankind that is procreated but merely fleshand blood. Also it does not seem to provide a reason for the continuation of sin in the human race.

On the other hand Traducianism raises its own set of problems. Can souls be passed on through human procreation as the body can? Also the theory seems to be contrary to the philosophical principle of the simplicity of the soul, and it would seem from the theory that the child would have part of its father's soul and part of its mother's.

Traducianism likewise creates a difficulty in connection with the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. If Traducianism is true, surely He must have been born with a taint of sin, seeing He had a human mother. Creationism would, of course, avoid this difficulty. It does not seem an insuperable difficulty though, when we remember that we are definitely told that the Holy Spirit formed the body of our Lord within the womb of Mary and the formation of the soul can well be included in this.

Berkhof raises an objection to Traducianism on the grounds that it fails to give a satisfactory answer to the question why men are held responsible only for the first sin of Adam, and not for his later sins, nor for the sins of the rest of their forbears. This is a doubtful objection because it seems to be based on a doubtful premise. Does the Bible teach that we are legally counted responsible for the first sin of Adam (as Berkhof . implies) or is it that Adam's sin brought sin into the race and therefore, henceforth all were members of a sinful race and thus spiritually defiled and dead?

We close the discussion with a quotation from Dr.Raymond — "By far the larger portion of Christian thinkers have either entertained no opinion as to the origin of souls, not finding in their minds anything decisive in revelation, and not seeking to be wise above what is written, or have been divided between Creationists and Traducianists.

It is conceded on the one hand, that if one can hold the doctrine of immediate creation, without affirming that God creates sinful souls, without denying inherited depravity, and without supposing that God in any way or degree sanctions every act of procreation with which His creative power is connected, his theory, though an error,will probably do him no harm.

And on the other hand, it is conceded that if one can hold to the theory of traduction without affirming the numerical unity of the substance of all human soul, without affirming also the abscission and division of the essence of the human soul (that is, by asserting that the human person is only a part of the common humanity, an individualized portion of humanity), and without affirming the guilt and sinfulness of the humanity of Jesus Christ, then probably, though traduction be an error, it will as to him be harmless." (Syst.Theol. Vol.2 pp.35,36).

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