Temperament, Character, and Spiritual Gifts: Part 2

Introduction to Temperament

Through the ages attempts have been made to understand differences in behavior. One successful method was developed by Hippocrates about 450 B.C. Hippocrates used a holistic methodology based on observed patterns of similarities in the behavior of different people. From his observations, he identified 4 different patterns of behavior which he called temperaments. Choleric (strong-willed, active, quick-tempered, impatient, independent, practical, confident, decisive, full of ideas, a planner, goal-oriented, sensitive); Sanguine (talkative, outgoing, impulsive, enthusiastic, active socially, enjoys being part of a crowd; Melancholic (self-reliant, thoughtful, reserved, often anxious, striving for perfection, tidy and detail oriented behavior. Phlegmatic (peaceful, calm and easygoing, even-tempered, relaxed, quiet, can deal with unaffectionate/hostile people). Behavior patterns may be combinations of two or more of the 4 temperaments.

A New Approach in the 20th Century

Variations of Hippocrates holistic “pattern of behavior” continued to be used for explaining differences in people’s behavior until the 20th century. In the 20th century most Psychologists chose to use methodologies based on the scientific method in which complex things (like a person) are investigated by separating the whole into meaningful parts. The whole is dealt with by understanding and explaining the contribution of parts to the whole. When possible, interaction between parts is considered.

Holistic Pattern Methods Today

A few Psychologists continued to follow the “holistic” methodologies. Two German Psychologists, Ernst Kretschmer and Eduard Spranger were among those who continued to view individuals as “patterned wholes” not as an assembly of “parts.” Interactions between all the parts of an individual leads to “patterns” which can be discerned by observation and self-reporting. The methodology based on observed patterns inherently incorporates the effects of interactions between parts.

Keirsey Temperament Methodology

Psychologist, David Keirsey, following Kretschmer and Spranger, found repetitions of certain behavioral patterns in his many observations. Analysis of his observations revealed a constant tendency for behavior to sort into exactly four patterns. Since each individual is truly different from all others, variations do exist within each pattern. However, similarities dominate in persons having the same temperament style.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Methodology (MBTI)

The MBTI is Based on a theoretical model developed by Carl Jung (1921). The model was later somewhat modified by Myers and Briggs. They also devised a practical method for identifying the elements of Jung’s model for each person.

  • The modified theory assumes 2 pairs of mental functions (S/N and T/F). Each person prefers one element of each pair over the other element. Next, are 2 pairs of attitudes. In the first pair, each person prefers either devoting their time to people and events (E), or, alternatively, prefers to spend their time focused on their internal thoughts and experiences (I). Second pair: Each person either prefers to deal with the external world seeking additional information before making decisions (P) or prefers to make decisions using information they already have, seeking seek new information only if they must (J). 
  • In real life, everyone can use any and all of the 8 preferences. Most people do at some time use all possibilities. However, using the preferred functions and attitudes is almost effortless, while using other choices requires extra attention and energy. In general, we won’t do so unless there is a strong motivating factor.

Implementation of Jung’s Theory

Myers and Briggs meticulously observed behavior and devised questionnaires intended to reveal a person’s behavior Type.If a questionnaire did not consistently reveal a person’s Type, they revised it. Their questionnaires became excellent at revealing actual behavior patterns. For that reason, even though the holistic pattern method uses a different model, the MBTI provides very good identification of holistic Temperaments. Like Hippocrates 4 temperaments, temperament Styles are 4 in number – NF, SJ, NT, and SP. 

Born Organized

After 25 centuries of observing people trying to understand behavior, the conclusion is that temperament is “inborn.” Temperament doesn’t change – it differentiates.

  • A temperament pattern exists at birth. Few elements of the pattern are manifest at birth. Elements unfold step-by-step as a person matures, and the pattern becomes more distinct. 
  • People follow a similar time-table in the unfolding of their temperament pattern. Unfolding makes manifest that which was present but hidden at birth. Elements are not added to the pattern nor are elements reorganized. As we mature, more elements become manifest. We become more and more recognizable as “what we are designed to be.”

A Way to Think About the Unfolding of Temperament

Consider the category of “trees.”

  • Trees develop from seeds. The blueprint for the mature tree, including the timing of the stages of growth, is there in the seed. Oaks come from acorns, pines from pine nuts, and apple trees from apple seeds. Blossoms and fruit are made manifest at the appropriate age.  An acorn always becomes an oak tree, never another kind of tree. When seedlings first come up, oak and apple seedlings may not look very different from one another. However, detailed examination can reveal which is which. Time will reveal the differences clearly.
  • “Treeness” is a broad concept. The presence of roots, trunk, and branches are essential in defining “trees” as a category of living things. Differentiating “treeness” into specific kinds of trees, we can say things like the “oakness” or “appleness” of a tree determines the form of the tree – the shape of leaves, the roughness or smoothness of the bark, size of the trunk, the type of fruit it produces, etc. The unfolding of the characteristic pattern of a particular type tree is making manifest the details of its nature as it matures. 
  • Likewise with temperament. Our babies are first of all humans. Differentiating “humanness” can be done in many ways. For example, though physical differences or temperament differences, etc. Babies are born with a blueprint for their temperament in their DNA. A baby born with an NT temperament will always be an NT. They will become more and more recognizable as an NT as they mature.
  • The temperaments of 2 newborns may initially seem very similar but seem to become different with time. However, each one continues to have their birth temperament. Their temperaments unfold according to the pattern built into their DNA, but their temperament remains the same even though not all elements may not yet be manifest.

Temperament &Character Interact to Determine Behavior

  1. We will focus on these two important factors affecting normal behavior, but it is important to remember that other factors also affect behavior. Bodily health, constraints from laws and rules, constraints from volunteer associations with individuals and organizations, involuntary associations, etc. all affect actual (or adaptive) behavior. We should think in terms of “natural” behavior and various forms of voluntary and involuntary “adaptive behavior.” 
  • Think of behavior as a “tool” we use to attempt to satisfy our “preferences,” “desires,” or “needs.” Character determines the moral nature of our preferences/desires, i.e., the goals we choose to pursue. Temperament determines the way we choose to pursue the goals we establish. Bad character will likely choose bad goals. If our understanding is inadequate, we are likely to choose unachievable goals. 
  • Behavior is what we actually do to pursue our goals (what we think, say, and the actions we initiate). As “appleness” causes an apple tree to “behave like” an apple tree, it is human personality (temperament interacting with character) that causes a person to act as they do. For example, a person with a godly character and an SP temperament will normally behave in ways consistent with those truths.
  • Basic “humanness” differentiates into individuals in many ways. One of the fascinating ways is personality defined by the interaction of temperament and character.

Background Comments

Like God, in whose image persons are made, people have personal attributes. Understanding differences in personal attributes aids better relationships. We should keep in mind that people are an integrated whole. Every part functions interactively with all the others. It is not truly possible to separate the parts without doing harm and, if we could, the lack of interaction between the separated parts would keep them from working by themselves the way they do together. Breaking things into parts for analysis is the way of science. Proper accounting for interactions after analyzing the separate parts can be daunting.

  • As long as limitations are recognized, it is useful in analysis to think in terms of a person’s separate material parts (hand, foot, kidney, brain, etc.) and separate non-material parts (intellect, emotions, will, etc.). Each contributes something necessary to the whole person. They do so through interactions with other parts. Human will is often thought of as an independent decision making faculty. It isn’t. Many human “parts” work with the will. The whole person is actually involved in making decisions. 
  • Physical and nonphysical parts of a person interact with temperament and character. 
  • Personal attributes seem to fall naturally into two broad categories, one moral, the other morally neutral. For analysis, it is useful to separate the two and that is what we are doing.
  • As we have said, character is defined by the moral principles we use to set goals (principles like being truthful, courteous, and doing our duty). Temperament is defined by morally neutral factors used in choosing the way (or manner) we seek to realize goals (things like desire for order, need for facts before action, and need for flexibility). Character determines the moral nature (good or bad) of what we think and do. Temperament is morally neutral.

Mistaking Temperament Differences for Character Defects

Good character demands we help people who are in need. But the way a person goes about helping is grounded not in character but in temperament. One person may prefer to do only things in which they can be involved on a direct hands-on basis. Another person may prefer to do things in which they can stay in the background unnoticed. These two people may have equally good character, and each may do significant things to help others. But, their different temperaments cause them to approach acts of mercy in such different ways that each may think the other is doing wrong.

Personality, Temperament, and Christ

Personality is the totality of distinctive attributes of mind and behavior that makes you – you. Every Christian’s character is being transformed into Christ-likeness, but temperaments remain the same though we should see improvement in our ability to use our less-preferred functions and attitudes. Our increasingly Christ-like character should improve the moral nature of our thoughts, words, and actions. Temperament is like a tool. A tool cannot of itself be evil. It can be used for evil if a person’s bad character gives rise to an evil purpose leading to the neutral tool being used to accomplish evil.

Relation Between 4 Temperaments And 16 Types

The 4 fundamental Temperament Styles differentiate into 16 types as follows (from: 



Relation to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs listed from most basic need to highest need.

  • Maslow: (1.) Most basic = Physical Needs, (2.) Next = Need for Security, (3.) Next is need for love, (4.) Next is need for self-esteem, (5.) The highest need is for self-actualization. The theory is, as each type of need is satisfied, effort is devoted to meeting the next higher.
  • Temperament modifies this in that self-actualization is to be realized in accordance with 4 temperaments: (1.) For the NF temperament, self-actualization is through self-realization and integrity. (2.) For the NT temperament, self-actualization is through knowledge and competence. (3.) For the SJ temperament, self-actualization is through responsibility and stability. (4.) For the SP temperament, self-actualization is through variation and impulse.

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