What are the components of a person? body, mind, spirit, soul?

Since this was lost in the muddle and hostility of people in the other thread I would like to confront this question more head on and hopefully without trolls bringing over their vendettas from other topics.

Here are four positions to start with… (please add to these with more numbers 5,6,7 etc…)

  1. There is only the body and its organs like the brain. This even includes some religious sects who believe this body and its organs will or can be resurrected. I suppose this also includes those who speak of a mind or spirit but think these are no more than functions or emergent properties of the body and brain.
  2. There is not only the body and brain, but a mental soul which drives the body like a car and which can therefore drive other bodies just as we drive different cars. This is your classic dualism and loved by Gnostics, believers in reincarnation, and those who like to make the mind into some kind of proof of their beliefs.
  3. There is not only a body and brain, but a soul and spirit also. And the mind consists of various functions of brain, soul, and spirit. When the body and brain dies, the soul continues to exist and the spirit connect it to God… or something like that.
  4. There is not only a body and brain, but also a mind and spirit as well. The body and brain are both physical and biological, while the mind is physical but memetic (produced by a different inheritance than DNA) rather than biological, while the spirit is a non-physical product of the choices made by the physical living organism and continues to exist after the body and mind are gone.

I am described by position 4.

Obviously these 4 don’t cover all the possibilities so I am suggesting people just lay out here what they think people are (at least conceptually) made of and what role these different components play.


When I worked on my senior capstone paper for my Bachelor’s, I had the immense task of tackling this topic. More specifically, I was exploring soul, personhood, and so on and so forth in relation to clones and embryos.

Position #1 is possible (bodily resurrection is crucial for Christian faith), but it seems like this could run contrary to Scripture.

Position #2, from what I have learned, is not really a Jewish concept but a Greek one, so I reject it. The body is incredibly important in Jewish theology–hence the importance of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and why Paul, a Jew, would not have believed solely in a spiritual resurrection of Jesus (sorry, Richard Carrier), but a bodily one. As you say, this position was held by Gnostics, who tended toward either asceticism (the body is evil, deny its needs/urges) or hedonism (the body doesn’t matter, do with it what you will). Neither are compatible with Christianity, which is why Gnostic Gospels like the Gospel of Thomas were kept out of the canon.

Position #3 seems to over-complicate things, but maybe I’m just misunderstanding it?

Position #4 is not one that I had heard of (at least not as you describe it). Interesting!

For my part, I think that there is a physical and spiritual aspect to human beings. However, there’s no real way to distinguish/separate them from one another, and it’s impossible to provide physical evidence for the spiritual aspect of humans because it is, by nature, spiritual, and not physical. So…I’m kind of a Dualistic Monist? In the end, both aspects will live forever due to the resurrection (thank you, Lord Jesus).

That is what I think also

Yes! The only reason objective evidence is even possible is because of the mathematical space-time laws of the physical universe so anything outside of this would have to be a subjective belief (without any reasonable expectation that others should agree) only.

I describe myself as a monist who believes that there are a number of effective dualisms, like that between body and mind as well as another one between physical and spiritual. Frankly I think the monist simply expects there to be an explanation of such dualism rather than sweeping it under the rug with metaphysical substance dualism and “categories of existence.”

Well I think Paul makes it pretty clear in 1 Cor 15 that resurrection is to a spiritual body and not to a physical body.

My admittedly unlearned and unresearched take on things is that reality has both physical and spiritual dimensions. We are holisitic beings with physical and spiritual dimensions to our existence and we are able to perceive and know both physical and spiritual realities.

I think our tendency to try to divide things neatly into two dimensions is a product of our physically embodied existence that depends on our (physically) embodied experience of the world to conceptualize reality. Since our current embodiment is a biological one, we think in those terms. I don’t know that we are equipped to imagine what a spiritual embodiment (i.e. post-resurrection) will be like, but I think it will also have physical properties. I don’t think there is any reason to think reality will cease to have a physical dimension when all creation is made new. So, I don’t find it satisfying when people chop human existence up into mortal and immortal parts and then conflate physical with mortal and and spiritual with immortal. That’s where you run into problems with disembodied souls floating around in eternity.

I think all the divisions between body, mind, soul, and spirit are constructs (useful at times) that we have imposed on an integrated reality to talk about different dimensions of it. Kind of like the distinction between thoughts, memories, dreams, and feelings. There are real distinctions, but they are ones we have constructed to make sense of the way our minds work as a holistic thing.


This is from @Joshua_Wagner only in a PM because of a newbie post limit.

We seem to be agreed on much. However, I would argue that Paul’s understanding in 1 Corinthians 15 is not a spiritual resurrection but a physical one, due to his Jewish understanding of the importance of the body. Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you mean by a spiritual body? The Scriptures appear to indicate that Jesus’ resurrected body was physical, and in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul equates Jesus’ resurrection with our eventual resurrection.

Please elaborate.

First of all, let me elaborate on the monist explaining these dualities and secondly I will address the question of 1 Cor 15.

The explanation I give for the effective duality of mind and body is that these are two different living organisms (self-organizing processes with the ability to learn and adapt to their environment) each with their own needs and inheritance passed on to the next generation. The body learns in the medium of chemistry by evolution and stores what it learns in DNA, while the mind learns in the medium of linguistic representations and learns by experience and communication, storing what it learns in the medium of human communication such as oral traditions, books, and films.

The explanation I give for the effective duality of physical and spiritual is that all physical forms of being are all a part of a single mathematical space-time structure governed by the laws of its geometry, and the spiritual forms of being are not a part of its this structure. Thus physical things are what they are by their relationship to the whole according to the laws of nature and spiritual things are what they are by their own nature alone. Thus physical things are somewhat coincidental and temporary while spiritual things have considerably more permanence, imperishable except for their internal flaws.

Now to speak of 1 Cor 15. A big part of the problem is that the word “physical” has more than one definition. One definition is bodily as opposed to that of the mind. Another definition connected to the science of physics is that of the natural or according to the laws of nature. Thus we have in 1 Cor 15 an elaboration of this contrast between things which are physical in the sense of natural, made of the stuff of the Earth, and thus subject to decay according to the laws of nature. And on the other hand we have the spiritual or super-natural things which are imperishable because the laws of nature do not apply (Matthew 16 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”). But Paul makes it clear that he is talking about a bodily resurrection so it is physical in that sense and so when Paul says this is a resurrection not to a physical body but to a spiritual body, some like to use the word “natural” instead to say it is not a natural body. So he is not speaking of something insubstantial or of the mind but something solid and tangible but not of nature or of the earth but of heaven and I think we can even say spirit, not ghostly but as God is spirit - and you cannot get any more real and tangible than that!



So…I’m kind of a Dualistic Monist?

I describe myself as a monist who believes that there are a number of effective dualisms, like that between body and mind as well as another one between physical and spiritual. Frankly I think the monist simply expects there to be an explanation of such dualism rather than sweeping it under the rug with metaphysical substance dualism and “categories of existence.”

You folks are so close that it seems a shame that you cannot the one step further this issue. You agree that Reality is One, or monistic. You agree that Reality is Many, more than One, or dualistic. Reality has characteristics of One and the Many, but you can’t take the next step to say that Reality is both One And the Many or Three One physical body, Two rational mind. Three relational feelings.

Today we have a serious disconnect between Reality and how we understand it. We understand it as dualism or maybe monism, but it is trinity. This disconnect causes all sorts of confusion and conflict. It cause polarization, because people do not know that they are One in Jesus Christ.

See my paper on the One And the Many on Academia.edu.

God is Trinity or Triune. God created humans in God’s own Image, which is Triune. Ergo humans are not dualist or monist, but triune, Body, Mind, and Spirit.

In investigating this we note that the Father is the Creator of the physical, the Son is the Logos or the Rational, and the Spirit is the Spirit of Love. The body is composed of bones, muscles, and skin. The mind is composed the brain and the rest the nervous system. The spirit works through the emotions and the endocrine system. Three different aspects of the person, but one Person.

I’ve been thinking about this topic recently. I think this is where I’m basically at:

The bible indicates that when we die, we continue to exist apart from the body until Christ returns and we will all be resurrected bodily. Therefore, an immaterial part of us exists (how else could we live on after death?), and it’s called a soul.

As I said, this is a topic I’ve been thinking about recently, so I need to do a lot more study in it. But that’s my basic position. Not sure where it fits with your options @mitchellmckain… kinda #2 but I’m not sure about the stuff on driving etc/how the soul interacts with the body and brain…

Hello, Joshua,

Although the Gospel of Thomas was found among the Nag Hammadi texts (with some fragments of Thomas also found among the Oxyrhynchus papyri), it’s not at all clear that the Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic text. Here’s a link to an interesting article that appeared in Biblical Archeology Review (though unfortunately it’s one of those cases where you can’t read the whole article unless you have sign-in privileges).

Stephen J. Patterson’s detailed analysis of The Gospel of Thomas (The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus) demonstrates the many links between sayings found in the Gospel of Thomas and some similar (and sometimes almost identical) sayings found in the Synoptics. Some scholars have suggested that Thomas depends on the Synoptics, but Patterson presents evidence that the Gospel of Thomas emerged independently from an early school of Christian thought, a school we know little about today.

Patterson’s book includes a wonderful summary table that shows at a glance where Thomasine sayings (or closely related sayings) are found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This is how I first noticed that Matthew uses several Thomasine sayings in the Sermon on the Mount, but out of all the ones Matthew takes up in Matt 5-7, none except for the saying about the lamp under the bushel basket appear in Mark (Mark 4:21 and Thom 33:3). This may be a reflection of the fact that Matthew’s theological concerns were different from Mark’s.


It’s unfortunate about the subscription requirement.

Upon reviewing the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas and reading what I could of the article, I respectfully disagree about a lack of evidence for the Gospel of Thomas being a Gnostic text. I understand that Gathercole may think so, but that does not mean that he is correct in his position. Authorities and experts can be wrong about any number of things, which is why we must study for ourselves. I respect Patterson for his work and scholarship, of course, and Gathercole, too.

Starting out, the text reads that the 114 sayings of Jesus were “hidden words”. Salvation through secret and/or hidden knowledge is a well-known trait of Gnosticism. Taken from the same site (different link): “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke. And Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.” (Patterson and Robinson) Of course, in this false gospel Jesus also says that what is hidden will become revealed (Saying 6). But this makes sense within the Gnostic framework, since what is hidden DOES become revealed to some.

If you review the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, there are sayings quite suggestive of Gnostic beliefs. No, it doesn’t talk about the demiurge or aeons, which Gathercole says is somewhat of an embarrassment to the position that it’s a Gnostic text, but it doesn’t have to talk about these things for it to be Gnostic in essence. And if you (not literally you) were trying to smuggle Gnostic teachings into a Christian text, you wouldn’t be that obvious. Kind of counter-productive. It’s also a completely legitimate strategy to attempt to use teachings of Jesus gleaned from other, especially canonical, sources to pass your text off as genuine.

It’s subtle, but not quite subtle enough. Consider the fact that Gnostics often viewed the feminine as evil due to Sophia, who in Gnosticism was responsible for the birth of the material world and is the cause of evil. The negative sayings about women in the Gospel of Thomas make sense in light of this. Consider Saying 15, which reads as follows:

“When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your face (and) worship him. That one is your Father.” (Saying 15, Patterson and Robinson)

Clearly Jesus can’t be talking about Himself, either, since He was born of the Virgin Mary.

There’s also the infamous Saying 114.

“(1) Simon Peter said to them: “Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.”
(2) Jesus said: “Look, I will draw her in so as to make her male, so that she too may become a living male spirit, similar to you.”
(3) (But I say to you): “Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Patterson and Robinson)

Also note the reference to a “living male spirit”. In Gnosticism, the material world is evil and the spirit is good. Some of the sayings from the Gospel of Thomas present this dichotomy, as Gathercole even acknowledges. (Ngo)

So, while Simon Gathercole may believe that the lack of references to other major, important Gnostic teachings indicates that there’s not much evidence that the text is Gnostic in nature, I don’t think this is warranted (for the reason I mentioned above). And in some of the sayings, Gnostic teaching about the body (and matter in general) and spirit is suggested, rather strongly in my opinion, in the sayings.

As I said, I must respectfully disagree with the conclusion that it is not clear that the Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic text. Thank you for your input, however. :slight_smile:

One of the reasons for belief in the Soul or other driving force for the body is the physical make up of Christ. Without some sort of method for God to exist in human form much of Christianity and all of the Trinity breaks down or becomes a mysterious physical impossibility.
The usual argument against the existence of the Soul is that it seems to be derived from Greek spirituality outside of Christianity. One could say who cares but that does not sit well.
I am not sure that I fit exactly into any of the proposed models but I do believe in the existence of a Soul to drive the body which is individual like a fingerprint and persists into whatever existence Heaven or Hell might accommodate. Christ’s soul being God rather than human, making him 100% human (body) and 100% God (soul). Probably too simplistic but it works for me.


Sounds like the Apollinarian heresy. Orthodoxy is that Jesus is 100% human and 100% God and not that Jesus was only human in body but God in mind/soul. The issue is that Apollinaris taught that human and divine natures were incompatible and had to be separated in some way. This was rejected.

While I have some sympathy with this view, carried to the extreme it is a prescription for the end of human thought. So while I will acknowledge the caveat that our analytical categories are mental constructs and should not be confused with reality, I will not accept that as a reason for the refusal of applying reason to the understanding of things. I certainly reject the sort of mental monism which forbids any categorization as a tool of reason.

For example… the mind is conceptually distinct from the body whether or not it is actually separable in any way from the body. I am not entirely sure either way whether the mind can or cannot be separated from the body… if for example we could make a machine that performed all the same functions of the body then it might be possible for a transference of some kind – maybe but maybe not. But I certainly do not believe in disembodied minds like option 2 above. Option 4 and 1 Cor 15 would only have the mind continue after death as a part of a spiritual (supernatural) body.

1 Like

LOL. That sounds pretty dire. I definitely don’t want the end of human thought. We should apply reason to the understanding of things and it is an essential part of our humanity to categorize things.

Yes, I think so. We can have “access” to other minds through things like books and internet forums and other un-embodied media. And we can continue to interact with other minds through these media after the bodies that embodied them have died. I’m content to put the “how does my mind get resurrected?” question in the “things I will probably never understand” column and move on with life.

I am sorry but I do not understand your crit. I have never said or even thought that the divine and the human natures are incompatible, in fact I would claim the opposite. If they were not then Christ could not be both divine and human.
I guess anything can be called heretical if it is not what you believe.


Good advice regarding any sort of speculation, a sport which I do enjoy. But I consider all such mental exercise unessential and ultimately futile, more for amusement than anything else. Intellect should seek more to serve than to rule.

1 Like

What intrigues me is that the components of a human mind map to components of a human brain and what will we have in the resurrection?

Fortunately that doesn’t much concern me as I expect nothing of the kind. If I’m wrong let it come as an unexpected surprise.

1 Like

Ohhhhh, some might say I was being disingenuous MarkD. I could rephrase the question to a scientific proposition: the components of a human mind map to components of a human brain. And then change it in to a question: what more do we need?

Personally the mapping doesn’t surprise me but neither does it lead me to believe our will is ultimately determined or any of that silliness.

Personality? Even now we cannot explain why different people naturally seem to react differently even if brought up in the same environment. Individuality is still a scientific mystery. We all have the same basic genetic structure so there has to be more to individuality than construction.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.