On Genesis 2:7
Dualists often use Genesis 2:7 as proof of the belief that man is a soul composed of body and spirit (bipartite), since it states, וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה (vayehi ha-adam lenefesh chayya)—“and the man became a living soul.” They reason, “If man is a soul, then he does not have a soul.” For example, Edward D. Andrews wrote,1
If this interpretation were correct, then this would contradict the apostle Paul who later wrote in 1 Thessalonians that man has a body, spirit, and soul (i.e., he is tripartite).2
23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. KJV, ©1769
As Georg Lünemann commented on this verse,3
„Die Totalität des Menschen wird hier zerlegt in die Dreiheit: Geist, Seele und Leib.“
“The totality of man is here divided into three parts: spirit, soul, and body.”
To resolve the apparent contradiction, it needs to be recognized that the Hebrew word נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) is often used in the Tanakh to indicate the entire human. For example, both Exo. 21:16 and Deut. 24:7 discuss the crime of kidnapping and its penalty. In Exo. 21:16, the scripture refers to the kidnapper as a גֹנֵב אִישׁ (gonev ish), “stealer of a man,” while in Deut. 24:7, it refers to the kidnapper as גֹּנֵב נֶפֶשׁ (gonev nefesh), “stealer of a soul,” thus equating אִישׁ (“man”) and נֶפֶשׁ (“soul”).
There is also the occasional occurrence of the phrase נֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם (nefesh ha-adam)—“the soul of [the] man.”4 If man has a soul, then how can he himself be a soul? This question is, of course, a direct counter-question to those who cite Gen. 2:7 in support of dualism by asking, “If the man is a soul, then how can he have a soul?”
Therefore, recognzing that man has is tripartite, per the apostle Paul, the solution for the contradiction is that the Hebrew word נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) in Gen. 2:7 (as well as Deut. 24:7) is being used as a synecdoche. Wilbur Lingle writes,5
As evidence that the soul is physical, a J.W. may point to Bible verses in which the word “soul” is used to mean the entire person. For instance, Genesis 2:7: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”...
Is this a problem? It need not be. We readily admit that an entire person is often called a soul... The use of the word “soul” for the entire individual is simply a synecdoche, a common figure of speech in which the name of the most important part of a thing is applied to the entire object.
That נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh),6 a part of man, is used as a synecdoche for the entire man, is by no means a novel idea. Augustine himself wrote,7
For when we say that Jacob is not the same as Abraham, and Isaac is neither Abraham nor Jacob, certainly we confess that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are three. But when it is asked, “Three what?”, we respond, “Three men,” calling them in the plural by a particular noun. But, if we were to say, “Three animals,” then by a general [noun], for man, as the ancients have defined him, is a rational, mortal animal. Or, as our scriptures usually say, “Three souls,” since it is acceptable to call the whole from the better part, that is, [to call] both body and soul, which is the whole man, from the soul.
Cum enim dicimus non eundem esse Iacob qui est Abraham, Isaac autem nec Abraham esse nec Iacob, tres esse utique fatemur Abraham, Isaac et Iacob. Sed cum quaeritur quid tres, respondemus tres homines nomine speciali eos pluraliter appellantes; generali autem si dicamus tria animali, homo enim sicut veteres definierunt: animal est rationale, mortale; aut sicut Scripturae nostrae loqui solent, tres animas, cum a parte meliore totum appellari placet, id est ab anima, et corpus et animam quod est totus homo.
Augustine cites Gen. 46:27, where it states that “souls” came out of Egypt instead of “men,” as just one example of synecdoche, although scripture is replete with other examples.
On 1 Corinthians 15:44
If man indeed is tripartite, what is the significance of the distinction between the “soulish body” (σῶμα ψυχικόν) and the “spiritual body” (σῶμα πνευματικόν) by the apostle Paul? I could not reason more capably than Heinrich Meyer who wrote the following on the distinction:8
The body which is buried is ψυχικόν [“soulish”], inasmuch as the ψυχή [“soul”], this power of the sensuous and perishable life (comp. on 1 Corinthians 2:14), was its life-principle and the determining element of its whole nature (consisting of flesh and blood, 1 Corinthians 15:50). The ψυχή [“soul”] had in it [the soulish body], as Oecumenius and Theophylact say, τὸ κῦρος καὶ τὴν ἡγεμονίαν [“the supreme power and the rule”]. The resurrection-body, however, will be πνευματικόν [“spiritual”], i.e. not an ethereal body...which the antithesis of ψυχικόν [“soulish”] forbids; but a spiritual body, inasmuch as the πνεῦμα [“the spirit”], the power of the supersensuous, eternal life (the true, imperishable ζωή [“life”]), in which the Holy Spirit carries on the work of regeneration and sanctification (Romans 8:16-17), will be its life-principle and the determining element of its whole nature.
In the earthly body the ψυχή [“soul”], not the πνεῦμα [“spirit”], is that which conditions its constitution and its qualities, so that it [the earthly body] is framed as the organ of the ψυχή [“soul”]; in the resurrection-body the reverse is the case; the πνεῦμα [“spirit”], for whose life-activity it is the adequate organ, conditions its nature, and the ψυχή [“soul”] has ceased to be, as formerly, the ruling and determining element. We are not, however, on this account to assume, with Rückert, that Paul conceived the soul as not continuing to subsist for ever,—a conception which would do away with the essential completeness and thereby with the identity of the human being. On the contrary, he has conceived of the πνεῦμα [“spirit”] in the risen bodies as the absolutely dominant element, to which the psychical powers and activities [the soul] shall be completely subordinated.
Meyer cites Theophylactus of Bulgaria in part; the following is more of the relevant passage:9
“It is sown a soulish body; it is raised a spiritual body.” — “A soulish body,” the [body] that is controlled by the soulish influences, and in which [body] the soul has the supreme power and the rule. But, “a spiritual [body]” is the [body] which abounds in the operation of the Holy Spirit and controls everything by that [Holy Spirit].
So, in summary, the σῶμα ψυχικόν is called such because the ψυχή is the dominant element in it, while in the σῶμα πνευματικόν, the πνεῦμα is the dominant element, subordinating the still-existing ψυχή to itself. Τhese bodies each are named after their dominant element.
1 Andrews, p. 146
2 1 Thes. 5:23
3 Lünemann, p. 154
4 Lev. 24:17; Num. 9:6–7, 19:11, 19:13, 31:35, 31:40, 31:46; 1 Chr. 5:21; Eze. 27:13
5 Lingle, p. 86
6 Latin anima, Greek ψυχή
7 Augustine, Book VII, Ch. 4, pp. 939–940
8 Meyer, pp. 378–379
9 Theophylactus of Bulgaria, p. 776
Andrews, Edward D. Your Word is Truth: Being Sanctified in the Truth. Cambridge: Christian Publishing House, 2016.
Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis. Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Prima. “De Trinitate” (“On the Trinity”). Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 42. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1843.
Lingle, Wilbur. Approaching Jehovah’s Witnesses in Love: How to Witness Effectively without Arguing. 3rd ed. Fort Washington: CLC Publications, 2004.
Lünemann, Georg Konrad Gottlieb. Kritisch exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament, Zehnte Abtheilung, Kritisch exegetisches Handbuch über die Briefe an die Thessalonicher. 4th ed. Vol. 10. Göttingen: Vandenboeck and Ruprecht, 1878.
Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians. Trans. Bannerman, David Douglas. Ed. Dickson, William P. New York: Funk, 1884.
Theophylactus (Θεοφύλακτος). Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Græca Posterior. “ΠΡΟΣ ΚΟΡΙΝΘΙΟΥΣ ΠΡΩΤΗΣ ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗΣ ΕΞΗΓΗΣΙΣ” (“Exegesis of the First Epistle to the Corinthians”). Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 124. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1864.