Watchman Nee On Body, Soul & Spirit

(A)theists often argue over dualism. For the record, I’m not a dualist. I concur with the Bible’s depiction of a human being as a tripartite (three-part) entity. Most Christians follow in Descartes’ footsteps by defining a human being as a soul with a body. However, this position is not biblically grounded. Several verses point to either a clear or implied distinction between body, soul and spirit (cf. Hebrews 4:12, Luke 1:46-47, 1 Thess. 5:23, etc.). Watchman Nee explains the respective functions of each entity, with his usual clarity and eloquence:

It is through the corporal body that man comes into contact with the material world. Hence we may label the body as that part which gives us world-consciousness. The soul comprises the intellect which aids us in the present state of existence, and the emotions which proceed from the senses. Since the soul belongs to man’s own self and reveals his personality, it is termed the part of self-consciousness. The spirit is that part by which we commune with God and by which alone we are able to apprehend and worship Him. Because it tells of our relationship with God, the spirit is called the element of God-consciousness. God dwells in the spirit, self dwells in the soul, while senses dwell in the body. —Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man V.1, p26

The implications of this are profound (for Christians at least). Most Christians I know accept the Cartesian split, furnishing great ground to the enemy’s deceptions. How so? Discernment between the spiritual and the natural is of paramount importance, but if we don’t understand the difference between soul and spirit, we risk mistaking the wanderings of our mind (soul) as the activity of our spirit. I can testify from experience that this is a dangerous place to be.


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