Louis Berkhof On Dichotomy and Hermetical Method

Louis Berkhof

Hermeneutics and exegesis, i.e. the interpretation of scripture, is a difficult task! The Bible consists of multiple genres, contexts, authors, and situations with some writings distanced by over a millennium and this fact makes it very difficult to construct dogmatics from these eclectic texts. Often, two different scriptures will come together in such tension that is paradoxical, making a harmonization incredibly difficult, and dare I say, impossible to conclude what is being communicated. As an example, there are two strong threads in scripture that on one hand argue that man's anthropology consists of two parts (i.e. dichotomy) but there are other scriptures that conclude three parts (i.e. trichotomy). So which is it? dichotomy or trichotomy? 

Reformed Theologians have concluded that Dichotomy is the correct anthropology. So there's some common heremenutical strategies that fail to solve this problem. 1) The first would be to deny that there are two views in tension, and declare that all verses only teach Dichotomy or Trichotomy, and this is absurd in this example. 2) The second would be to harmonize the view, and take the least common definition between the two, such that three may include two, but two may not include three, and come to the wrong answer in Trichotomy. Although, these two methods often come to helpful conclusions, more often than not, we are confronted with solutions that cannot be solved in these two ways.

Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself:
and therefore, when there is a question 
about the true
and full sense of any Scripture 
(which is not manifold, but one),
it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

Karl Barth's analogia fidei has helped me tremendously in working through these tensions in scripture, and has come to wonderful conclusions through it. The analogia fidei is based on Romans 12:6, and I find it explained well anachronistically by the WCF Ch.1 Section 9. Due to an unfair bias against Karl Barth, I've found an example of this hermetical method in Louis Berkhof, in the way that he approaches the problematic texts and comes to the Reformed conclusion of Dichotomy without resorting to the two deficient hermetical methods I listed above. The WCF I.9, is helpful for an orthodox affirmation that although there are many verses in tension with each other, we may work through those less clear verses, and not let them rule us, such that we are able to come to the right dogmatic conclusion.

The following example is from Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology:

There are two passages, however, that seem to conflict with the usual dichotomic representation of Scripture, namely, 1 Thess 5:23, “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”; and Heb 4:12, “For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.” But it should be noted that:

  1. It is a sound rule in exegesis that exceptional statements should be interpreted in the light of the analogia Scriptura, the usual representation of Scripture. In view of this fact some of the defenders of trichotomy admit that these passages do not necessarily prove their point.
  2. The mere mention of spirit and soul alongside of each other does not prove that, according to Scripture, they are two distinct substances, any more than Matt 22:37 proves that Jesus regarded heart and soul and mind as three distinct substances.
  3. In 1 Thess 5:23 the apostle simply desires to strengthen the statement, “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly,” by an epexigetical statement, in which the different aspects of man’s existence are summed up, and in which he feels perfectly free to mention soul and spirit alongside of each other, because the Bible distinguishes between the two. He cannot very well have thought of them as two different substances here, because he speaks elsewhere of man as consisting of two parts, Rom 8:10; 1 Cor 5:5; 210

~ Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg210, http://books.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof.pdf 

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