A Response to “Spirit, Soul, and Body” by Andrew Wommack

Andrew Wommack believes that man is made up of three parts: the body (material), the soul (immaterial), and the spirit (immaterial). This view is known as trichotomy; however, Wommack doesn’t stop there. He claims that when a person is saved, his spirit is made completely perfect. However, his soul and body are not. His soul is described as “a valve on a faucet” which “controls the rate and volume of the flow of the spirit into your body,” leading to sanctification, joy, health, wealth, and prosperity. In terms of sanctification, this is a sort of Keswick trichotomy-seeing faith as giving us access to the hidden “blessings” locked up in our spirit. (This is a viewpoint which, according to J. I. Packer in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit, “sounds more like an adaptation of yoga than like biblical Christianity” [p. 26].)

In response, I will question whether trichotomy is a doctrine that is clearly taught in the Bible. Then, I will argue that even if trichotomy is true, Wommack’s view of our “spirit” is false. Much of this response comes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, pp. 472-482.

Part 1: Trichotomy

Wommack bases his trichotomy on 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” However, this is not a slam-dunk case for trichotomy—as Grudem points out, “Paul could simply be piling up synonymns for emphasis,” as Jesus does in Matt. 23:37 and Mark 12:30. If we extend Wommack’s line of reasoning to those passages, then we also need to say that man is made up of six parts: body, soul, spirit, mind, heart, and strength. There are very few other passages that can be used to establish trichotomy (and these can be addressed in a similar fashion). It is a dangerous thing to establish an entire doctrinal system on the questionable interpretation of a few scattered verses.

In fact, trichotomy is, to say the least, a questionable doctrine. This is for the following reasons:

  1. Scripture uses “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably. See John 12:27 and 13:21; Luke 1:46-47 (Hebrew poetry uses parallel lines to repeat the same statement using different words).
  2. Man is often said to be composed of “body and soul” or “body and spirit.” See Matt. 10:28, 1 Cor. 5:5, 1 Cor. 7:34, and 2 Cor. 7:1. Also note Rom. 8:10, 1 Cor. 5:3, Col. 2:5. Descriptions of man as being dichotomous-composed of a body and a soul/spirit-far outnumber apparent references to trichotomy.
  3. Everything that the soul is said to do, the spirit is also said to do; and everything that the spirit is said to do, the soul is also said to do. For example, both can experience emotions (Acts 17:16, John 13:21, Prov. 17:22 with Ps. 42:1-2, 35:9, 119:20). Also, our spirits can know, perceive, and think just as our souls can (Mark 2:8, Rom. 8:16, 1 Cor. 2:11). The spirit and soul are indistinguishable in function.

Wommack says that we need to understand trichotomy in order to “tap into” the spiritual realm: “You simply cannot contact your spirit through your five senses or through your mind, will, or emotions.” (Note that this is unbiblical and false given point 3 above.) He quotes John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” It’s not clear exactly how he thinks this supports his point. In fact, Wommack rips this verse entirely out of context; the passage is referring to the fact that we are not children of God by human descent (i.e. because we are Jews or Gentiles) but by the work of the Holy Spirit (see also John 1:9-13). The passage has nothing whatsoever to do with the inaccessibility of the spirit. This is a serious misuse of scripture; Wommack clearly came to this passage with an agenda; his lack of integrity here and his misuse of other scripture should serve as a warning against his teaching.

In conclusion, it’s small wonder that “even Strong’s Concordance fails to distinguish” between soul and spirit (as Wommack himself notes). The biblical authors did not use soul and spirit as technical terms but rather as similar words for the same thing (also mind and heart). Trichotomy is on shaky scriptural grounds; thus, it should not be used to build systems of doctrine and living, as Andrew Wommack has done.

Part 2: Perfection of the spirit

Wommack believes that our spirits were made morally perfect when we were saved. This is contradicted by 2 Cor. 7:1: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Even in a believer, the spirit can be defiled. In order for our holiness to be brought to completion (sanctification), we need to “cleanse ourselves” from the defilement of both body and spirit. This is the biblical picture of sanctification: the change of our character, being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:5-11, Rom. 8:29). This is both the work of God (Phil. 2:13, 2 Pet. 1:3-4) and the work of man (Phil. 2:12, 2 Pet. 1:5-11) in cooperation. (Whereas justification is 100% God’s work and 0% man’s work, sanctification involves both.)

Wommack disagrees, quoting 2 Cor. 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” However, this does not support his conclusions, for two reasons. One, if this is referring to moral perfection, then why limit it to just the spirit? Doesn’t this mean that our soul and body are made perfect, too? In fact, Wommack himself quotes the KJV, which says all things are made new”—not just the spirit! Two, he makes a leap of logic, claiming that “the new has come” implies sinlessness. He is reading this into the text; it is nowhere implied. Rather, this simply refers to the fact that we have been regenerated-that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” as Paul had just remarked in 2 Cor. 4:6 (and again in 5:16!). We are now able to see and discern the things of God, but we are not morally perfect in body or spirit.

Conclusion

Trichotomy is a questionable and probably false doctrine. Even if it be true, it has no impact on sanctification because our spirits have not been made morally perfect. Rather, sanctification involves the transformation of our whole being. Each of us should say, along with the apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15) Praise God that our sinfulness displays the perfect patience of Christ as he transforms us into his image “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

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About Dave

I'm a Christian who has been saved and is being transformed by Jesus Christ and his gospel. I’m also a Purdue University and Faith Bible Seminary graduate.

Posted on October 9, 2007, in The issues and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Interesting. I agree that trichotomy is a questionable doctrine, and would strongly agree with you against Wommack’s bizarre use of it. But I am curious as to why you didn’t mention Hebrews 4:12, which would seem to be the strongest verse in favor of trichotomy, expressly mentioning the division between soul and spirit. Saying that it is “probably false” might be going too far, maybe it would be better to stick with calling it inconclusive.
    Later,
    Joshua

  2. Thanks Josh. I didn’t address Hebrews 4:12 since Wommack didn’t mention it in his article, though Grudem does mention it and I have spent a little time thinking about it. It says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

    I doubt Paul is saying that soul and spirit are two different things for three reasons:

    First, the verse is not a technical description of a human being. Paul is simply saying that whether you picture your inner self as nonphysical (soul/spirit) or physical (joints/marrow), the Word penetrates to the deepest part of who you are, “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Unfortunately for trichotomists, “spirit” and “soul” are practically never used in a technical sense, judging from their overlap and the way that the biblical authors frequently described the nonphysical part of the person as being simply “soul” or simply “spirit.”)

    Second, the point of the verse is not that the Word cuts you up into your constituent elements (soul, spirit, and body). The point is that the Word penetrates deeply into you as a person, into the very core of your being. Just as a surgeon’s scalpel so deeply that it divides joints or marrow, so the Word cuts incredibly deeply into the soul/spirit.

    Finally, if we were to take this as a verse describing a person’s makeup in technical terms, then this verse teaches hexachotomy: soul, spirit, joints, marrow, thoughts, and intentions. Trichotomists like to treat “soul and spirit” as technical terms while brushing aside the others as nontechnical.

    I’ll admit that this is not a slam-dunk case against the use of trichotomy in this verse. Once again, however, this passage is not a good foundation for trichotomy.

    The more I think about it, the fact that Jesus considered the phrase “soul and body” to be adequate to sum up the entire person (Matthew 10:28) is a major strike against trichotomy. (In addition to the other dichotomist passages above.) I do believe trichotomy is probably false, though once again I don’t think it’s an open-and-shut case.

  3. How are we to display the power of God if we are still unworthy sinners? If we are born again and there is nothing that is made completely new-body, soul, or spirit- then what has changed in us that can perform miracles like the apostles did? There spirit is no different than mine I believe the same promise as them??

  4. Phil, I think it’s clear that some things have changed about us — we have been regenerated and partially sanctified. Regeneration refers to our spiritual awakening, a revival from when we were dead in our sins. Sanctification refers to our continual growth in holiness.

    We haven’t been made perfect yet; this is clear from biblical teaching. We are still unworthy sinners (I’m thinking particularly of 1 Timothy 1:15, where Paul refers to himself as the chief of sinners). This knowledge should not paralyze us in hopelessness but rather cause is to rejoice further in the power of God to transform us and work through us in marvelous ways. If we ignore our sinfulness, as Wommack advocates, then Paul teaches that we will forget the “perfect patience” of God (1 Tim 1:16).

    Andrew Wommack is skilled at presenting “fine-sounding arguments” (Colossians 2:4), but they inevitably wilt under the light of scriptures properly interpreted. (Though not everything he says is false; he does have many good things to say about the gospel. It takes discernment to pick out truth from error.)

  5. Sylvia Elizondo

    Because on Nov 4th 2005 I was watching Andrew Wommack I became a follower of Christ, he was teaching on spirit, soul, and body and he said that Jesus says that we have to be born again to see the kingdom of God. This woke me up from the spiritual coma I was on. I surrendered my life to Jesus and God’s love in the form of grace came flooding in my dead spirit and I was born again and God Himself gave me a fleshy heart as oposse to a heart of stone that I had. Oh, I praise The Lord for He is good. I adore Him. Ephesians says in the 2nd chapter that we were dead, and boy did I feel dead before my Lord rescued and forgave me.

  6. Thanks Sylvia…I’m glad to hear that God used Andrew Wommack’s ministry to bring you to Christ.

    I’m grateful that God uses imperfect—even irresponsible—teachers to accomplish His purposes.

  7. Man is indeed a three part being. In the Old Testament man was usually referred to using a dichotomy. In the New Testament, Trichotomy is the norm. Truth is the heart of mn is composed of both soul and spirit and only the Word can separate the two.

    The strongest verse that proves trichotomy is when Paul stated that when he prayed in an unknown tongues his SPIRIT prayed but his MIND was unfruitful.

    If the mind (soul) and spirit are one in the same this would not make sense. The psuche (gr soul) is said to refer to the mental or reasoning faculties of man in some of the best dictionaries.

  8. Why are you so angry? You sound like a know it all, but let me tell you that the only one that knows it all is God, and He is the only one that can deliver us from a snobby attitude. Belive me used to be like you until He came into my life and humbled me. He gave us the scriptures to reveal Himself to us, not so we could reveal ourselves to Him. I say this in love, ask Him to humble you.

  9. Thanks for your thoughts, Gary. However, I don’t agree it’s quite that cut-and-dried. You’re right in that the Old Testament teaches dichotomy; however, numerous passages in the New Testament seem to do so as well. I’m assuming your comment on the Word separating soul and spirit is based on Hebrews 4:12 (a verse I analyzed in an above comment). For the moment, I doubt Paul had a distinction between soul and spirit in mind in the 1 Corinthians 14 reference; I’ll go along with Grudem in saying that “the point is simply that there is a nonphysical element to our existence that can at times function apart from our conscious awareness of how it is functioning.” When I drive a car, I do it by instinct, often with my mind wandering somewhere else. That doesn’t mean I’m driving with my trichotomous spirit; it simply means that I wasn’t engaging my conscious mind. Thanks for bringing that passage up, though; I will take some more time to consider it carefully (I can definitely see where you’re coming from).

    Sylvia, before accusing me of sinful behavior such as unrighteous anger, pride, being a know-it-all, and snobbishness, would you please show me what exactly I said that was sinful? Perhaps you misunderstood my tone (a notorious problem in online discussion). While I’m sure Andrew Wommack is a neat guy, it is clear that he is very often irresponsible in his use of scripture, often approaching the Bible with an agenda rather than for an agenda.

  10. Well, I just want to say that according to what God has done to my heart. Look it is very hard to explain the change without one having experienced getting the devil out of you and now having the very nature of God Himself in you. I can say now that I am a good person, because I can feel good about everything. I am 44 years old and prior to Nov 2005 I was walking around in a haze, a fog, dead dead dead do you understand what takes place in our being, through what Jesus did on the cross. It is so amazing the revelation that takes place when you know that you were a child of the devil and now you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are a child of God. I did not mean to insult you, but you have to realize that when a person knows absolutely nothing about God, and you hear someone say in such simple terms using the Bible that we are to be born again, you start to question your existance. I thank God for people like Andrew Wommack that say it like it is, and does not mince words. Maybe that’s what you don’t like about him, because he rubbed you the wrong way. I went to see him at a church close to my home and took my unsaved husband, and this is what he said.” He tells it like it is, and I did’t like it”. My husband does not realize that It was the message about being self-centered that Andrew takes from the Bible that he did not like. If you are self-centered and you don’t want to change you will not like the person that delivered that message. What do you belive on being baptized with the Holy Spirit? Look the Bible says that we only know in part, but one day we will know everything, because we will see Jesus as He really is.

  11. Sylvia, I appreciate your zeal for our Lord. I just want to make sure that, in my life as well as yours, our zeal is according to knowledge (see Romans 10:2). It’s important to have both. I, too, am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God into a new life. He is renewing me inwardly day by day, conforming me to the image of Jesus Christ His Son. What a powerful God we serve!

    All I’m trying to say about Andrew Wommack is this: be careful about his teaching. While much of his teaching is good, much of it is dangerous, too. I thank God that He has used this man to bring you to Himself. God frequently uses imperfect people and imperfect teachings to accomplish His purposes, just like He is using you and me. I simply want people to examine carefully Wommack’s teachings, to filter the good from the bad. From what you’ve said, it sounds like God has used the good part of his teaching—the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ alone—to bring you to salvation. That’s something we both can be happy about.

    I was confused by one thing from your latest comment, though…what do you mean by “I can say now that I am a good person, because I can feel good about everything”? Could you explain that more clearly for me? Thanks!

  12. Galdly, because compared to the way I used to be, you see you did not know me God and I knew me, and Dave I hated the way I was and when I asked the Lord to change me and make me like Him He did all the glory goes to Him and Him alone. And now my thoughts are different and so are my actions. We should never be too proud to say that we are good, not because of anything that we have done, but what Jesus did on the cross. It might sound like I’m being conceited, but just look at what Paul said, about that it was not him living, but Christ living through him. That is so amazing. You will probably agree with me in the way that you see people now. I don’t see the bad in them anymore, but the good that is in everybody. I see people through the eyes of our Lord with love and compassion. When God is in our hearts there is nothing that we cant’ do and that should reflect the way we live. Like right now I don’t even know you and I feel so connected to you. I’ve praying to God about Andrew Wommack and God has put in my heart that all these teachers have some truth to them, but ultimately there will come a time when our decerning spirits will let us know the things of God, and it’s up to us to make the choice of weather we are going to listen to what the bible says or what man says. Have a great day. Dave how old are you?

  13. Hi Dave,

    Is this all u do to spend ur time here on earth ?? Writing blogs and criticizing people. I too watch Andrew’s TV programs and I think they are awesome and life-changing. My own life has been turned right side up since last year when I started watching his programs.

    I appreaciate ur efforts that u really want to expose the false teachers, but there is a time and place for that. Even the early apostles didnt go about preaching that this is wrong and that is wrong. They didnt force people to give up worshipping idols and their old religious systems.

    All they did was go about telling everyone about Jesus Christ and His finished works and the signs and wonders followed. Therefore people believed and got saved and started experiencing the joy and peace of God.

    Come on man, spend ur time preaching the Gospel and manifesting His powers in people’s lives and blessing them. There is a place for bad mouthing false prophets but dont spend ur entire life pointing out every little mistake of others.

    Slandering others doesnt make u a smart man. It just shows that U have nothing else to do in life. Man, just look at the good things Andrew has done in people’s lives and ask for their comments.

    Have u ever brought healing to anybody’s life ?????? Have u ever given tons of CDs and tapes for free ?

    My Dear brother Dave, I am not writing this criticize u but to make u realize what u r doing. I am saying this out of love for in Christ. The more u have bitterness against anybody, the worse u feel in the end. Its bad for u man. Ask ur self, have u ever been a tremendous blessing to anyone else.

    I have seen a lot people who just keep on criticizing others and end up being bitter in the end. FOrget about what Andrew is doing. Doesnt matter if he is right or wrong, u start living for others and be a blessing to others. Isnt that what Christ expects to be ??????

    Love,
    Sachin

  14. I don’t think I need to reply to this latest comment because it’s just a rehashing of the same argument: Andrew Wommack has done a lot of good and you haven’t done anything worthwhile; therefore, you have no right to criticize him.

    I’m closing the comments on this post and the Joseph Prince post since it’s not worth my time responding to the same points over and over again. Thanks, everyone, for the discussion.

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