God created the first man, Adam, a psycho-physical fusion—a wholistic duality of mind and body (Genesis 2:7). With humankind, God’s “breath of life” (Hebrew: neshama) also brought about another uniqueness, a self-consciousness, sentient, and sapient being reflecting personality attributes similar to God’s own. In God’s Creation, Adam (mind and body) was said to be a living being (Hebrew: nefesh khayyah)—often translated soul.
Soul eradication is the error that the unique dimensions of personhood: intellect, emotions, sexuality, volition, etc., which are conjoined with the animating life force inherited from the fallen First Adam, are in sum total: “flesh.” Thus according to soul eradicationists, the goal of Christian living is to transcend and dwell exclusively “in the spirit,” entirely separated from the “soulish” realm. Accordingly, their interpretation of spiritual growth via the truths of Romans 6-8 leads progressively toward a spirituality that is: anti-intellectual, emotionless, asexual, and passive (“let go, and let God”). One will often hear that the realm of the senses are “carnal” and that the believer’s “soulishness” must be crucified!
The origin of this erroneous teaching is hard to identify. The view is held and promoted by a number of individuals and groups (past and present) within the “Christian deeper life” movement—and even some individuals who share an appreciation for the works of Miles J. Stanford. The error seemed to gain traction with Christian teachers who engage in highly-speculative forms of tripartite anthropology(1)—e.g., Watchman Nee, Col. Bob Thieme, etc. For example, the official website for Nee states the following:
The Tripartite Man – In the early years of his Christian life, Watchman Nee came to see that man is composed of three parts: spirit, soul, and body (1 Thess. 5:23). He came to see that the soul is the personality of man; the body is the outward part of man for contacting the physical world; and the spirit is the inmost part of man for contacting the spiritual world. Since God is Spirit, we must worship and serve Him in our spirit (Rom. 1:9; John 4:24). Believers are regenerated by the Spirit of God in their spirit, the Spirit of God witnesses with their spirit (Rom. 8:16), the Lord Jesus is with their spirit (2 Tim. 4:22), and they are one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17). The spirit must be divided from the soul (Heb. 4:12) so that believers can walk, live, and work in their spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25) and be spiritual men (1 Cor. 2:14-15).
So in the view of Nee and his followers, regeneration occurs exclusively in the realm of spirit, a realm separate from soul (human personality). The ontological wholism evident throughout both OT and NT is missing. This spirit/soul dichotomy bears an uncomfortable similarity to the spirit/matter antithesis of the ancient Gnostics, who considered the spirit good and matter to be evil, the soul/body distinction of Platonism, or the philosophical idealism found in pantheisitic monism. Was this a case of West-meets-East in a worst sense of the term? In short, these views are at odds with the various authors of the NT.(2) For Nee, it is highly likely his view were assimilated while under the ministry of T. Austin-Sparks, just prior to the release of Spark’s 1939 polemic on tripartite anthropology, What Is Man? In the Preface to that book, Sparks makes this startling admission on page 7:
No claim is made to any expert knowledge. The contents represent more the result of observation and experience amongst Christian people over a wide area during a good number of years, than of study of the subject itself.
And again on page 20:
But may we repeat, before commencing a new chapter, that ours is no academic or technical undertaking. For this we have neither ability nor inclination.
For any Bible-believing Christian with an appreciation for the veracity of the Written Word of God, Spark’s statements should immediately raise warning flags. While the tripartite theory of the human being warrants serious consideration, it necessitates scholarly evaluation and grounding in the original Greek texts, not anecdotal speculation based on observation, experience, or both. Disturbingly, trichotomists who claim to have experienced “crucifixion of their soul-life,” often cast a condescending eye or judgmental comment toward those “carnal” brethren whose expressions of intellect, emotions, sexuality, will, etc. differ from their own. Their claim to “super-spirituality” seems to often result in a highly-sectarian spirit, legalistic attitudes, and division amongst those who love the Lord. There is something seriously amiss here. Christian growth author, Miles Stanford attempted to counter this erroneous ‘soul-eradication’ view. In chapter Seven of Position To Person, he wrote:
Your Essential Identity – Your Father, in eternity past, formed you positionally as an individual in His mind. He formed you actually (condition), as a later date, in your mother’s womb. The Fall did not unmake you as that particular person; neither did your new birth unmake you as that same person. What is intrinsic to your personhood you never lose; your identity is eternally the same.
Whatever alteration you pass through in your new birth as to soul and spirit, whatever change awaits your body at the Rapture, you will never lose your essential identity in which your Father conceived you prior to the foundation of the world.
Further, in Chapter 39 of The Complete Green Letters, he gave this summation:
The following quotation from a message by Norman F. Douty seems to sum up what we have been seeking to share.
When we say that Christ’s life has come into us to displace ours, what do we mean? We do not mean that this life of the Lord Jesus has come in to displace our personality. When I speak of our fallen life, I do not mean the human personality as such. I mean the poison which permeates our personality, the poison of sin which has degraded and defiled and distorted our humanity.
It is not that this new life of the Lord Jesus comes in to take the place of our personality, to take the place of our faculties created by God, but it comes in to take the place of the sinful life which is operating in our personality and employing our faculties. The vessel is the same, but the contents are different–the same vessel, the same person, the same faculties, but the contents different. No longer this sinful element, but the very holy nature of the Lord Jesus Christ filling, interpenetrating, permeating.
Our Father is not seeking to abolish us as human beings and have the Lord Jesus replace us. He is seeking to restore us as human personalities so that we may be the vehicle through which Christ will express Himself. Therefore you find that whenever God gets hold of a man (or woman), instead of abolishing his personality, He makes it what He intended it to be. Redemption is the recovery of the man, not the destruction of the man. And when the Lord Jesus in us is brought to the place He is aiming for, there will not be an atom of the old life left, but the man will be left–glorified in union with the Lord Jesus Christ. When it comes to personal tastes (e.g. music, art, food, etc.) or cultural preferences, which do not directly or indirectly violate moral precept, there can be danger in standing in judgment on other believers. J. B. Stoney wisely wrote:
We as members of the Body of Christ are made for heaven, we are heavenly; not of the earth, though on it. When this truth first came out, we tried to carry it out in the wrong way, turning away from this thing and that thing in order to be heavenly. That is legality (Ministry II:246).
(1) Dichotomist anthropology generally sees soul and spirit as synonyms. A careful study of the dichotomy vs. trichotomy view warrants familiarity with the literary forms of: synecdoche, parallelism, and synonymity.
(2) Body, Soul & Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate, John W. Cooper, Eerdmans Publishing, Second Edition, 2000. Using knowledge of the original languages, Professor Cooper engages in sound argumentation and draws logical conclusions. The author demonstrates intellectual integrity in approaching the subject. However, this reference does not represent a ‘blanket’ endorsement for all views of the author.