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Tripartite Biblical Anthropology: A Structure for Exegetical and Theological Discussion2 min read

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The current majority view in evangelical Christendom regarding the makeup of man is dualism, that is, two components, the physical (body) and the immaterial (soul or spirit). This view, however, is currently finding challenge from an anthropological monist, or physicalist view, as well as the persistent tripartite view. From the physicalist side, leading theologians like Joel Green are using both biblical and especially scientific data to argue that not only does the bible speak of an essential unity of the human rather than three separate parts, but that modern brain science shows such a high degree of dependence of the soul’s faculties on the body, that it is arguable at best that these faculties support only a substance dualism, if not a non-reductive physicalism (J. B. Green, 2008). In addition, evangelical Conditionalists are arguing towards these same nuanced physicalist/substance-dualist positions based on their challenging of the assumption of the immortality of the soul, a philosophy which they argue is rooted in Platonic dualism rather than scripture (Fudge, 2011, pp. 19–21). From the tripartite side, the modern rise of both Pentecostalism as a tripartite-favoring movement, as well as challenges brought on by the aforementioned challenges to innate immortality, which suggests that dualism cannot account for the persistence of the image of God in fallen man, are challenging the explanatory power of dualism (Yong & Anderson, 2014, p. 271). Bipartism (or in this context, dualism) is under fire from both sides, and perhaps with good reason. Interestingly, though dualism hangs on as the majority view, it was not always the clear orthodoxy of the church, and has had at least one other major historical but modern challenge from the tripartite view at the turn of the previous century in the United States.

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