A Response to “Spirit, Soul, and Body” by Andrew Wommack
- The article in question: “Spirit, Soul, and Body.”
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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).