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A Biblical Theory of Psychology
The Meaning of Psychology
The term psychology is ordinarily defined as the science which examines the mind, mental states and processes, human nature, and behavior. The word comes from a combination of the Greek word psuché or psyché (which originally meant “the breath” or “the breath of life,” and came to represent the concept of the inner man, the immaterial or invisible part, or the soul) and the suffix ology, which denotes any branch of science or knowledge. Technically, then, psychology is supposed to be the science or study of the immaterial part of man.
We have already discussed the reasons that psychology cannot be considered a true science, but is more accurately understood as a philosophy or secular religion. We also saw the impossibility for psychologists to define and differentiate between the nonmaterial parts of man. We will see why when we examine what the Bible says about the inner man.
The Scriptures use at least four terms to describe the immaterial part of man: the heart, soul, spirit, and mind. The descriptions and functions of these aspects of man seem to overlap.
The biblical term heart (lawbab in Hebrew; kardia in Greek) is the clearest summary of the innermost center of the human being. Perhaps the closest psychological term to the heart is the ego, the Latin word for “I,” borrowed by Freud to denote the “self.” Peter describes the inner man as “the hidden man of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4 kjv), or the “inner self” (1 Peter 3:4 niv). It is the center of one’s being (Proverbs 4:23), where he believes and exercises faith (Luke 24:25; Romans 10:9, 10). It is the location of the human deliberation, where wisdom is employed. Understanding is said to be the function of the mind (Job 38:36), yet the connection to the heart is undeniable. The heart is where a person discerns the difference between right and wrong (1 Kings 3:9).
The heart is the center of courage, emotions, and will. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
The heart is the center of man’s character—who he really is (Matthew 15:18). “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
The Bible describes the heart of man as inclined toward evil. “The hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). “The hearts of men, more-over, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3). “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). “Inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery” (Mark 7:21).
The term soul (nephesh in Hebrew; psuché in Greek) is also used to denote the eternal and immaterial part of man. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Revelation 20:4 clearly relates the soul to the distinct and conscious personality of the human being that continues after death.
In Psalm 42:1, 2 the soul is described as that part of man that reaches out to God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” It seems to be the emotional center of man. It is the soul that is full of anxiety (Psalm 94:19), trouble (Psalm 88:3), joy (Psalm 94:19), and praise (Psalm 103:1). The Scriptures connect the soul with being “downcast” and “disturbed” (Psalm 42:5, 6, 11; 43:5) and in need of finding rest in God (Psalm 62:1, 5). The soul becomes weary (Psalm 119:28) and faints due to sorrow (Psalm 119:81; 126:6), yet it is the soul that gains hope as it waits on the Lord (Psalm 130:5).
The emotions of the soul can be affected by one’s choice, according to Psalm 131:2: “I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Lest one be tempted to use this verse as a proof text for the “inner child” theory, note that this child is still, quiet, and satisfied, resting safely in the arms of God.
The term spirit (neshamah in Hebrew; pneuma in Greek) also refers to the inner man. Proverbs 20:27 equates it with man’s “inmost being.” It is the breath of life that has come from God, for “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26; cf. Matthew 27:50). But it is more than just animation, for it is connected with understanding: “It is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding” (Job 32:8) and thought (1 Corinthians 2:11). It is the immortal aspect of man, according to Ecclesiastes 12:7: “the spirit returns to God who gave it” and Acts 7:59: “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, `Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ ” Like the soul, the spirit longs for God (Isaiah 26:9), and it too is connected with the concept of the heart (Isaiah 57:15; Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31). As the immaterial part of man, it is contrasted with the body when Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41). The spirit communes with God, but the mind must also be involved (1 Corinthians 14:15, 16).
Comparing numbers of passages on the terms heart, soul, and spirit (Deuteronomy 4:29; 6:5; 10:12; 11:13; 13:3; 26:16; 30:2; 1 Samuel 14:7; 1 Kings 2:4; Job 7:11; Isaiah 26:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; and so on) indicates that they are used almost interchangeably. In many cases the term mind can also be interchanged for heart, soul, and spirit. Since the descriptions and functions of these entities overlap at so many points, it would seem impossible to make a clear and absolute distinction between heart, soul, mind, and spirit. For that reason, many biblical counselors prefer to define man as consisting of two parts, the material and the immaterial, or body and spirit (spirit meaning the totality of soul, heart, and mind).
They support this dichotomy on philosophical grounds as well, to contrast their position with the integrationist argument for the threefold nature of man—body, soul, and spirit. Integrationists emphasize the three-part division and have held that illnesses of the body should be treated by physicians, dysfunctions of the soul (and mind) should be handled by psychologists and psychiatrists, and problems of the spirit should be dealt with by the church. More and more, however, since some integrationists define the soul as the combination of body and spirit, spiritual healing has also been taken over by the psychotherapeutic industry.
A Different Trichotomist Argument
Dichotomists—those who hold that man consists of only two parts, body and spirit/soul/heart/mind—have a good argument. The Scriptures do indeed use the terms interchangeably, from a functional point of view. But I would like to present the possibility of a different trichotomist position—that man consists of three parts: body, life (spirit), and mind (heart, soul)—while disputing the integrationist claim that therapy of the soul (mind and emotions) belongs to a separate priesthood of psychologists.
Proof texts can be found to support both positions. Psalm 63:1 presents a dichotomy: “My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,” as does Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” First Thessalonia
My support for a trichotomy is based on a different foundation entirely—the Trinity. God has given us many illustrations of the Trinity in our natural universe: time (past, present, and future), three dimensions (length, width, and height), the three states of water (liquid, gas, and solid), and so on. Of course, these illustrations are limited, for no created thing can adequately explain the essence of God.
Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” Let me explain why it is possible for that image to be triune, consisting of the material (the physical body), life itself (called “the breath of life” or the spirit), and the soul (spoken of as heart, soul, or mind).
There are different kinds of “life.” Plants are living organisms which, though carbon-based, are categorically different from lumps of coal. The plants are material and the coal is material, both having physical substance. But plants have a mysterious capacity for life (metabolism, growth, and reproduction) that inanimate objects do not. Scientists can analyze the chemical composition of plants and can mix the precise amounts of elements contained in a plant seed. They can mold those chemicals into the shape of a seed, placing them in the correct sequence and layer. They could even inject actual plant DNA into their formula. Yet if they were to place their artificial seed in the ground, it would eventually dissolve into the soil without producing a plant. A living seed, however, will spring to life when provided with the proper conditions of soil, water, air, and sunlight. The plant has something rocks do not contain—life itself.
Animals move beyond plant life in complexity. The Bible says that they have a spirit of sorts: “Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21). They are able to experience and express emotions such as fear, love, and compassion. They have limited mental processes which enable them to learn and respond. The Bible refers to the mind of animals: “Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal” (Daniel 4:16). It is clear from this passage that the minds of animals and men are different quantitatively (in capacity) if not categorically.
God’s image in man would therefore be something in addition to material substance and life itself. I intentionally say “in addition to material substance” even though God is a Spirit (John 4:24) and therefore immaterial (Luke 24:39). His image in man is not the physical, but the material aspects of man do reflect certain characteristics of God. Facial expressions, for example, may communicate compassion, love, anger, judgment, and other of God’s attributes. Hands, muscles, and other work-related parts of man reflect the productivity of God. Sexual reproduction reflects the creative aspect of God. Though God is not material, all matter has come from God and is held together by the force of His will (Colossians 1:17). Matter, then, is not antithetical to God, but reveals His creative power and imagination.
What is it that makes man different from animal life and evokes the image of God? The evolutionist would contend that the only difference between animals and humans is that man has developed further than his anthropoid cousins and since, according to their faith, there is no God, man is not reflective of the divine in any sense. Behavioral psychologists treat their patients on the assumption that man is just a more highly developed animal. But there is an emptiness in this philosophy that repels even the irreligious.
What is it that sets man apart? Most integrationists and biblical counselors would agree on this point: The most important difference between human and animal life is man’s spiritual immortality—the eternal nature of his soul and his capacity to commune with God. So then man is composed of matter, life, and spiritual immortality. But when it comes to functionality and counseling, there are only two distinguishable parts—the material (body) and the immaterial (heart/soul/spirit/mind).
Because of the subject of this book, I have deliberately placed the mind as our final consideration. Counseling deals with every area of human life, material and immaterial. The portal to the immaterial part of man is the mind. It is vital, therefore, to understand major Bible teachings about the mind.
Not surprisingly, we are told that the mind is that part of man which seeks to understand by processing thoughts (Ezekiel 38:10) into a rational order (Job 38:36). The mind guides a person in his understanding and decisions (Ecclesiastes 2:3) by following a logical sequence of inquiry: “So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand” (Ecclesiastes 7:25). Such learning is a result of conscious effort: “I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe” (Ecclesiastes 8:16); “Daniel…you set your mind to gain understanding” (Daniel 10:12).
The mind encompasses both deliberate reasoning and involuntary thought, such as dreams. Daniel spoke to the king of the “dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed”(Daniel 2:28). It is recorded that “in the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed” (Daniel 7:1). Involuntary thought may be somewhat analogous to the psychological concepts of the unconscious and the subconscious. However, in contrast to psychological theory, there is no hint in Scripture that the individual is powerless over involuntary thought, for the following reasons: 1) The mind, in partnership with the heart, is responsible for one’s attitudes and behavior: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10); and 2) man’s involuntary thoughts can be “programmed” or influenced by what one feeds his mind: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8); “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
The Bible recognizes the fact that impaired thinking exists. Deuteronomy warns Israel of the consequences of unfaithfulness to God: “The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind” (Deuteronomy 28:28). “Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things” (Proverbs 23:33). Jesus’ family mistakenly believed He had gone over the edge with a messianic complex: “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, `He is out of his mind’ ” (Mark 3:21). Paul was accused of insanity because of his belief in Christ’s resurrection: “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. `You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. `Your great learning is driving you insane’ ” (Acts 26:24).
Demon possession was, and is, the most severe form of mental problem humans can suffer. It may be associated with vio
The power of God working through Christ was more than sufficient to heal those who were suffering from demon possession. “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed” (Acts 5:16). “When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15).
The Natural Mind
The Bible describes three conditions of the human mind: the natural mind (also described as “depraved”), the carnal mind, and the spiritual mind. The natural mind is the human without God: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Though he is aware of the existence of God and His moral laws, he chooses to ignore God, hoping that He will go away.
The Bible explains some of the ways human minds can become impaired. A primary cause is the deliberate turning away from God. Romans 1:28 says, “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.”
Having given man freedom of choice, God allows us to choose our mindset. The contrast between sinful thinking and spiritual thinking is explained in Romans 8:5: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Paul goes on to picture the inevitable results of the two different ways of thinking: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
Paul describes natural thinking as “the sinful mind” that “is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). Man is not passively ignorant about God; he is actively antagonistic toward Him. The human mind is, by nature, rebellious toward God’s precepts. “It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7).
Biblical pathology reveals that unregenerate man has a mind that is willfully blind and distorted. It is incapable of perceiving and understanding spiritual truths without the direct aid of God (John 6:44). As a result, man is plunged into a cycle of sin and destruction such as described in Romans 1:18–32:
18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. 28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
This is such an important passage in developing a biblical psychology that we need to study it thought by thought. Verse 18 plainly declares that man has willfully suppressed the truth. I believe it can be demonstrated that a large percentage of “mental problems” are self-generated by people who are unwilling to face the truth about themselves, their choices, their actions, and the consequences that inevitably result. Psychology calls this process “denial.”
According to verse 19, God has made the truth about Himself obvious to human beings. He explains in verse 20 that the world around us clearly reveals His existence, His power, and even His personal nature, such as His provision for all mankind: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). People are even aware of the difference between right and wrong. According to Romans 2:15, “they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” As a result of this universal information, “men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
The result of man’s willful rejection of God is that “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). The increasingly dysfunctional mindset of modern man is no mystery. It does not require years of psychological training to understand why people are having so many problems of living. It is the natural consequence of turning one’s back on God: “Their foolish hearts were darkened.” Confusion, depression, sadness, and suffering are inevitable without the healing work of Christ.
The ultimate example of denial is found in verse 22: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” The incredible arrogance of evolutionary scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and historians is revealed in their confident statements of falsehood. Regardless of what form it takes—“Man is the product of billions of years of evolution” or “Man’s problems can be solved through education” or “We need the scientific findings of psychological research to solve man’s deepest problems”—the root of their foolishness is rejection of God and His Word. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (verse 25).
In God’s place, man has set
The results are described in ugly detail: sexual impurity (verse 25), degradation (verse 25), shameful lusts (verse 26), lesbianism (verse 26), male homosexuality (verse 27), and the personal suffering that such perversions bring. Venereal diseases, AIDS, loneliness, abuse, suicide, and a host of other self-destructive consequences have flooded our society because man turned from God and He “gave them over to a depraved mind” (verse 28). The media provide ample illustrations of this depravity as pornography oozes its slimy stench by way of movies, television, rock music, magazines, and videotapes. The term “indecency” has become meaningless to the pornographically desensitized modern mind.
The accurate biblical term for nonorganic “mental illness” is mental depravity. It infects every area of human existence. This condition produces “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful” (verses 29, 30). This is not a picture of basically good people who are just dysfunctional, as psychology insists. Humans are willful rebels, intent on disobeying God at every opportunity. Humans actually look for new ways to offend God. “They invent ways of doing evil” (verse 30).
Mental depravity poisons the basic social unit of the family: “They disobey their parents” (verse 30). It impairs the ability to make wise choices: “They are senseless” (verse 31). Mental depravity destroys belief systems and personal integrity: They are “faithless” (verse 31). It produces brutal violence and all kinds of abuses: They are “heartless” (verse 31). It convinces individuals and nations that survival of the fittest is an appropriate sociological tool: They are “ruthless” (verse 31).
To underscore the truth that man consciously rejects God’s principles for living, verse 32 says, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Part of the approval comes because psychology has convinced a willing public that morality is relative and guilt is nonexistent. No one is responsible for anything. Everyone is a victim back through every generation, until ultimately the finger of blame points to God.
By the way, believers have no cause for pride when comparing ourselves to unbelievers. Paul reminds us that “all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). He repeats, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Colossians 1:21). As forgiven sinners, we need to reach out our hands in humility, compassion, and love.
The Carnal Mind
The second type of mind described in the Scriptures is the carnal mind. This describes a person who has a knowledge of God but is still living in obedience to his old nature. Paul describes such people as “those who live according to the sinful nature [and] have their minds set on what that nature desires” (Romans 8:5). This is a condition similar to Solomon’s: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4).
Jesus used a parable to describe carnal-mindedness: “Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away” (Luke 8:13). Their hearts become hard through the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13) and the worries of life (Matthew 13:22). They fall back into former patterns of sin, and as a result “both their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15). Paul pleads with the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes that the carnal mind has been corrupted and “robbed of the truth” (1 Timothy 6:5). Peter says the carnal mind is like a dog returning to its vomit or a sow to the mud (2 Peter 2:22). He writes about the carnal mind, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20). It hardly seems possible that one could be worse off than having never known about Christ, but that is what the passage says. “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (verse 21). How can this be? Because “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).
Most severe counseling problems are caused by natural thinking (the depraved mind) or carnal thinking (the hardened, backslidden mind). The natural mind is characterized by a person who openly rejects God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the written Word of God. The biblical counselor will seek to evangelize the natural mind by presenting the claims of Christ, praying that the Holy Spirit will open the counselee’s eyes to see the truth. One who rejects the authority of the Scriptures can only hope for temporary mental relief found in the shifting psychological theories of the world. But his mind will still be depraved, confused, and dark.
The carnal mind is characterized by one who has “a form of godliness but [denies] its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). When a biblical counselor detects a carnal mind, he must appeal from the platform of scriptural authority. Though the counselee may have returned to his muddy wallow, it is possible that he still has a dim reverence for God and a residual bit of faith in the Word. Psychological therapy will only pull the carnal mind further away from God. While the integrationist counselor seeks to understand the carnal mind through the use of psychological tests, the biblical counselor will apply the Scriptures, for “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The Spiritual Mind
The biblical solution for the natural mind as well as the carnal mind is found in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In 1 Corinthians Paul also describes yet a third type of mental condition: the spiritual mind. He says that the spiritual man has “the mind of Christ” (2:15, 16). It is “the mind controlled by the Spirit” (Romans 8:6).
According to Paul, the spiritual mind will have several characteristics: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23). These qualities are a result of conscious choices to submit to the Holy Spirit. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24, 25).
Peter touches on this process of sanctification when he says that Go
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