Bipartite (theology)

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For other uses, see Bipartite (disambiguation).

In Christian theology and anthropology, bipartite refers to the view that a human being is a composite of two distinct components, material and immaterial; for example, body and soul. It is not synonymous with the Greek concept of mind-body dualism, where the two parts of man are in conflict by design, and the mind seeks to be free of the body that is its prison. Rather, in Christianity, the two parts were created interdependent and in harmony. And though man's two parts are corrupted at present, redemption is of the body not from the body.

In theology, the bipartite view of man is an alternative to tripartite and unitary (or monistic) views.

Supporters of a Bipartite View[edit]


John Calvin[edit]

Reformation theologian John Calvin is often quoted as being in support of a bipartite view, as in the quote below:

2. Diversity of body and soul
Moreover, there can be no question that man consists of a body and a soul; meaning by soul, an immortal though created essence, which is his nobler part. Sometimes he is called a spirit. But though the two terms, while they are used together differ in their meaning, still, when spirit is used by itself it is equivalent to soul, as when Solomon speaking of death says, that the spirit returns to God who gave it, (Eccles. 12:7.) And Christ, in commending his spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46), and Stephen his to Christ (Acts 7:59), simply mean, that when the soul is freed from the prison-house of the body, God becomes its perpetual keeper. Those who imagine that the soul is called a spirit because it is a breath or energy divinely infused into bodies, but devoid of essence, err too grossly, as is shown both by the nature of the thing, and the whole tenor of Scripture. It is true, indeed, that men cleaving too much to the earth are dull of apprehension, nay, being alienated from the Father of Lights (James 1:17), are so immersed in darkness as to imagine that they will not survive the grave; still the light is not so completely quenched in darkness that all sense of immortality is lost. Conscience, which, distinguishing, between good and evil, responds to the judgement of God, is an undoubted sign of an immortal spirit. How could motion devoid of essence penetrate to the judgement-seat of God, and under a sense of guilt strike itself with terror? The body cannot be affected by any fear of spiritual punishment. This is competent only to the soul, which must therefore be endued with essence. Then the mere knowledge of a God sufficiently proves that souls which rise higher than the world must be immortal, it being impossible that any evanescent vigour could reach the very fountain of life.
-- Institutes of the Christian Religion I:XV.2
John Laidlaw
-The Bible Doctrine of Man; Or the Anthropology and Psychology of Scripture (1895).
No doubt the underlying distinction found in the primary or physical application of the two terms [soul and spirit ] gives colour and propriety to their usage, and, when firmly grasped, prepares us to understand the expanded meaning which they receive in the special or Pauline passages yet to be considered. [Laidlaw views Scripture as a progressive, not static, revelation]. All through Scripture, "spirit " denotes life as coming from God, "soul" denotes life as constituted in the man. Consequently, when the individual life is to be made emphatic "soul" is used. "Soul," in scripture, freely denotes persons. "My soul" is the Ego, the self, and when used, like "heart," for the inner man, and even for the feelings, has reference always to the special individuality. "Spirit," on the other hand, seldom or never used to denote the individual human being in this life, is primarily that imparted power by which the individual lives. It fitly denotes, therefore, on occasion, when used as a psychological term, the innermost of the inner life, the higher aspect of the self or personality. While therefore we see that the two terms are used over the breadth of Scripture as parallel expressions [such as the Hebrew parallelisms in the Psalms and Proverbs] for the inner life, there is never wanting a certain difference of poise, which can be accentuated when required. The inner nature is named "soul," "after its special, individual life," and "spirit " "after the living power which forms the condition of its special character." Pgs. 90-91.
Gordon H. Clark
-The Biblical Doctrine of Man (1984)
Suppose, under proper laboratory conditions, I mix some sodium with some chlorine and the mixture becomes salt. Salt is not one of the elements : it is the name of the compound. So also in Genesis: God took some clay, breathed his spirit into it, and the combination was a living soul. In the Old Testament the term soul designates the combination as a whole, not just one of the components. Pg. 37
J. I. Packer
“When the Bible speaks about the soul, the nuance is of self as a personal entity. And when the Bible speaks of our spirit, … the nuance is that we are personal selves whose life is sustained by God. … When scripture talks about the human spirit, it is regularly in the context of relationship
R. C. Sproul
-The Origin of the Soul
Jewish-Christian thought, however, sees man as made up of two distinct substances that are not in conflict. Nor does the Bible view matter as being inherently evil. For the Christian, redemption is of the body, not from the body. The Christian doctrine of substantial dichotomy is not dualistic. Man is not a dualism but a duality. That is, we have a real body (material substance) and a real soul (immaterial substance). There is an analogy with the person of Christ in that He has two natures or substances, divine and human, united in one person. That He has two substances does not necessitate a dualism in His person. (Of course the human nature of Christ also includes a human body and a human soul.)

See also[edit]