The Doctrine of Man (part 5)

March 15, 2009     Time: 00:42:33

We’ve been talking about the Christian doctrine of man. We’ve been looking at the nature of man. We just completed the section on the biblical data concerning the nature of man. We looked at the nature of man as made of body and soul and therefore has an immaterial element as well as a material element.

There are basically three competing views of the constitution, or the nature, of man that Christians have expounded. The first would be that man has a trichotomous nature – that is to say man is made up of three constitutive parts, and these are typically identified as the body, the soul, and the spirit. This view of man as trichotomous was a view that was popularly held by the Greek church fathers as opposed to the Latin-speaking church fathers. Those in the eastern end of the empire – the Greek church fathers – typically thought of man as composed of body, soul, and spirit. This is a model or understanding of human being that is Platonic in nature. That is to say, it derives from the famous Greek philosopher Plato who also thought of man as trichotomous in nature. That would be one alternative.

The second alternative would be to say that man has a dichotomous nature, that is to say, he is composed of two parts, namely body and soul. The word “soul” or “spirit” could be used for this immaterial component of human nature. Those would be simply taken to be synonyms, not to designate different components of human being. Man is composed of body and soul. This is the view that was prevalent in western theology as opposed to eastern theology. This is the view that dominated in the Latin-speaking West.

Finally, the third view would be the unitarian or unitary nature of man. This would be the view that rejects any kind of dualism. Man is simply made of the physical stuff of which the body is made. There is no soul, or spirit, or immaterial part of man that is distinct from the body. This view attempts to be adopted by certain modern thinkers who are hostile to body-soul dualism or dualism of any sort. I mentioned several weeks ago Gilbert Ryle, a British philosopher, who characterized dualism by saying it was the “ghost in the machine.” The body is like the mechanical device, and the soul he ridiculed as being like a ghost inside the machine in some way. This view that human beings are monistic or unitary rather than dichotomous entered into theology shortly after World War I and became very popular. Today, a number of even evangelical thinkers, such as Nancy Murphy, have embraced this point of view.[1]

Very often the proponents of this unitary view will play off the doctrine of the resurrection against the immortality of the soul. They will affirm that, as Christians, we don’t believe in the immortality of the soul. That is usually derided as a Greek doctrine where the Greeks thought of the body as the prison house of the soul – the body was evil and dragged the soul down. The goal in Greek thought was to be liberated from the body – to be released from the prison house of the body – so that the soul can go to be with the Divine. So Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul and tended to diminish and depreciate the value of the physical body. So these theologians who adopt the unitary view would say we believe in the biblical doctrine of resurrection of the body, not the Greek doctrine of the immortality of the soul. So they would say that we are not in any way dualistic as human beings; we are monistic or unitary.

But having said that, those who were influenced by existentialism (which is a philosophy that emerged in the mid-20th century which had a strong emphasis on the importance of the individual and the subjective) would reinterpret what it meant to say that the body is resurrected by identifying the body with the “self” - the “I”, the “person.” You will remember we examined at length the attempt to say that the Greek word for “body” is used by Paul in the New Testament (soma) just means “I,” it doesn’t refer to the physical body. On this view the resurrection just means the restoration of the self. So you have something of a contradiction in this view that the human being is thought to be just a physical being – just a material organism – and yet at the same time the affirmation of the resurrection of the body doesn’t really mean this physical body is going to be restored, but just somehow the “I” or the “self” is restored. There is a certain tension in this view. Probably evangelicals who take this unitary view would insist on a physical resurrection but they would deny that there is any sort of soul or immaterial element in man that will endure beyond death.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: What is the distinction between spirit and soul in the Platonic view? The soul would be a sort of animating life-force that we would have in common with animals. So often the Greeks would talk about the animal soul. They would say because our bodies are physical organisms – living organisms – we have a soul that is common to other animals. But in addition to that, man is a rational soul so he has a spiritual or mental faculty that distinguishes him from the animals. So the spirit could be distinguished from the soul in the sense that it is equipped with these rational faculties as opposed to animals that have a soul that aren’t rational. In theology very often the spirit will be thought of as that aspect of human being that enables us to relate to God. We are spiritually dead in our sins but this will be quickened and brought to life in Christ so that we can once again have a relationship with God

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I don’t think so. The question was: which is the prevailing view today, at least among evangelicals? I think most evangelicals would be dichotomous.[2] They would think that we are composed of soul and body, though this other view (this unitary view) is gaining some adherence outside of Christian theology. Because of the influence of naturalism and physicalism there is great hostility to any kind of dualism or immaterial component to man’s nature.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This is an interesting question. She wants to know on the dualistic view are our emotions and our ability to love part of the animal physical nature? This is really an interesting question because on the one hand the Bible clearly affirms that God loves us and he is love. On the other hand, the church fathers thought of the passions as properly belonging to the body. It is the physical body that is the source of emotions and passions of various sorts. So traditionally God has been conceived in Christian theology to be impassable. This is one of the attributes of God – he is impassable. By that one means that he can’t be affected by anything outside himself so he doesn’t have any passions. God’s love, on this view, would not be like the sort of compassion that we feel when we are emotionally involved with another person. It would be a love that would not be characterized by these sorts of human feelings, of compassion. I think that this view is very unpopular today. I think that folks tend to recognize that the God that is revealed in Scripture is a compassionate God whose heart yearns for lost humanity, and Scripture reveals God as someone who cares for us like a mother for her children and whose heart is broken when people rebel against him and turn away and perish. A lot of, I think, contemporary thinkers would say that God is not impassable and that therefore these passions don’t simply belong to the body but that these can be part of the soul and therefore God does have emotions. I think that would be the view that would be most prevalent today. It is difficult to find, I think, folks that are going to defend the impassibility of God, though there are some.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: He asks: does it really matter whether it is trichotomous or dichotomous because either way the functions will be discharged by the immaterial part of man versus other functions by the biological part? I think that is right. I don’t see that any great deal hangs on the debate between trichotomy and dichotomy. I think the real debate is between the unitarian view (or monistic view or physicalistic or materialistic view – those are all synonyms) and some kind of immaterial component in human nature. That is the real debate, I think, that needs to be won.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This is a real good question. He asks: wouldn’t the unitary view tend toward a mechanistic view of man that would deny free will because we are just material bodies and therefore ought not to have any more freedom than an animal does? That’s a very good question. When we evaluate these views we are going to be raising this issue of whether or not this monistic view ultimately subverts human being by subverting freedom of the will.

I have to say that those who hold to this view who are Christians, I think, tend to hold to free will. I think of someone like Peter van Inwagen, for example, who is a philosopher at the University of Notre Dame.[3] He is a champion of free will, but he is also a unitarian with respect to human nature – he is a materialist in that regard. The question would be whether or not that isn’t simply inconsistent on his part. His colleague Alvin Plantinga at Notre Dame has recently argued in an article against materialism that you cannot hold to a material view of humanity and still think of human beings as free and having the ability to choose one way or another. We will revisit that issue, but I think you are right in saying that is really going to be an important piece in how we evaluate this.

I did hear about one fellow (I can’t remember his name) who was a materialist or a unitarian with respect to human nature, and as a result of that he became a Calvinist because he thought there can’t be any free will so everything must be determined so he became a Calvinist and said everything is determined by God. That is at least consistent. You can be a Calvinist and be a unitarian if you think that God is the one who has causally determined and who has set up the laws of nature and the initial conditions so that everything will be causally determined by that, including who will and will not receive Christ and be saved.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This is a real good question, too. What happens when you die on this unitarian view? Typically, I think, what these folks will say is that the lights go out when you die because there is no immaterial part of you. You cease to exist when you die because your physical brain and body dies. But, they believe, that at the resurrection God will miraculously recreate you or bring you back to life again.

That creates all kinds of interesting questions. For example, suppose someone dies and his body is completely evaporated, like in the Twin Towers destruction or is eaten by cannibals so that the particles of his body become particles of somebody else’s body. What happens when he is raised from the dead? It would seem like God would have to recreate de novo a new body. But then what is the difference between creating simply a duplicate of the person who has all the same memories and looks exactly like that person and saying he actually recreates the same person over again? Some people have argued that on this view that you cease to exist when you die and then God recreates you at the resurrection really doesn’t differ from God creating a new person who is just a duplicate of you. That is not a satisfactory view of immortality right? You want to live in heaven, not some duplicate of you! Why should he get in and you not? That raises some real profound questions as you can see.

I remember talking to a fellow at Calvin College who is a materialist, and he told me that the reason that he believes in unitarian view of man and materialism is that when he was young, I think he attended his grandfather’s funeral, and his mother said something like, as they looked at the body in the coffin, “He is not here really.” This fellow said to me, “I looked at him and I thought, ‘Yeah, he is here. This is him.’” He said, “I just couldn’t believe in the existence of a soul that somehow had gone on to heaven. This was him and he was dead.” So he now is a unitarian and doesn’t believe that there is anything that survives death. But I think he would believe in the resurrection at the end of the world when God will recreate his grandfather and others and they will go into heaven and eternal life.

But there isn’t any intermediate state on this view unless you believe that God creates a kind of third body when you die that you are embodied in until the resurrection at the end of the world. I’ve heard some theologians take this escape route. Murray Harris, my former Greek teacher, took this route, I think, at least at one time in his life. He thought we have the earthly body, we’ll have a resurrection body, and in between God creates a kind of miraculous intermediate body so that you can survive death. I think that is a really concocted half-way house that is very artificial and has no scriptural support. But you put your finger on a real problem.

Student: [inaudible][4]

Dr. Craig: I don’t think I said that. What I want to say is that the Christian church fathers did not hold to the despicability of the body or the unworthiness of the body as the Greek’s did. In no sense did Christian theologians think that the body was something that was inherently evil or burdensome to the soul. Even though they believed that the soul will survive death, they didn’t think this was some kind of release from a prison house. That is a Gnostic view that diminishes and depreciates the importance of the body.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: They would believe in the intermediate state after death. After your physical death and prior to your resurrection there is an intermediate state which you continue to have a conscious existence and communion with the Lord. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Either your spirit or soul would survive death and go to be with God.

Student: [inaudible] speaking to Moses and Elijah discussing his coming resurrection and the coming freedom that his blood will be shed and buy for man. Truth itself gives us that example of what happens when the soul and spirit can still communicate with its Creator.

Dr. Craig: You mean in the sense that Moses and Elijah are still alive and able to be there?

Student: There bodies were not alive but in some way their spirit or their soul communicated. Not only with Jesus but Peter, James, and John fell down in fear and terror and they heard the conversation. Peter said, Let’s build three tents. He was aware. He knew that they were having this conversation. We don’t know what form or how that took place – it is a mystery of our faith – but we are definitely not asleep and dead and non-coherent by that example of what Jesus showed us.

Dr. Craig: I agree with you. I think there are a number of biblical passages that we can appeal to to show that there is an intermediate state after death and that this unitary view is mistaken, as we will see when I get to evaluation.


Let’s go on to some evaluation of these views.

I want to argue that the Bible supports dualism-interactionism. That is to say, in the biblical view we are functioning wholes as human beings, but we are composed of an immaterial and a material component.

In the Old Testament, one has to admit that there are not clear distinctions drawn with respect to the vocabulary for the immaterial and material parts of man. Remember we saw that the word “soul” can be used to refer to corpses in certain passages. This is no different really than in English. In the child’s nursery rhyme we say “Old King Cole was a merry old soul.” We don’t mean by that that Old King Cole was an invisible, unextended, disembodied mind. We can use the word “soul” sometimes to just refer to a person, not to a disembodied soul. In the Old Testament you don’t have clear distinctions drawn at least terminologically.

Even in the Old Testament the concept of Sheol – the sort of netherworld of the departed dead – is, I think, the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek idea of a disembodied soul. When a person dies, his body rots in the ground but that immaterial aspect of him is in Sheol. There is even in the Old Testament a concept of life beyond the grave even if it is merely in a sort of nether realm or underworld of the dead. It is roughly equivalent to the idea of a disembodied soul that you would have in Greek philosophy.

During the intertestamental period – that is to say, the period between the close of the Old Testament and the New Testament – you find that dualism was the standard Jewish belief about the state of the soul after death. We know this from reading intertestamental Jewish literature such as the pseudepigrapha. What are the pseudepigrapha?[5] As you can tell from the makeup of this word, a pigrapha (or grapha) indicates “writings” and “pseudo” means that these are not authentic. That is to say, these are writings during the intertestamental period which are written as though they were from certain famous individuals even though they are not written by those individuals. Things like the work by 1 and 2 Enoch, or 2 Baruch, or Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and so forth. We don’t quote this as Scripture. I am not quoting these passages as Scripture. You need to understand that. I am not saying these are authoritative. I am simply quoting these as cultural indications of what Jews believed at that time. What you discover reading the pseudepigrapha is that the common Jewish belief during the intertestamental period is dualism. For example, let me read a passage from 2 Baruch 30:1-5.

And it will happen after these things when the time of the appearance of the Anointed One has been fulfilled and He returns with glory, that then all who sleep in hope of Him will rise. And it will happen at that time that those treasuries will be opened in which the number of the souls of the righteous were kept, and they will go out and the multitudes of the souls will appear together, in One assemblage, of one mind. And the first ones will enjoy themselves and the last ones will not be sad. For they know that the time has come of which it is said that it is the end of times. But the souls of the wicked will the more waste away when they shall see all these things. For they know that their torment has come and that their perditions have arrived.

Here is a description of the end of the world when Messiah will come and the world will be judged, and he says before the general resurrection of the dead the souls of the righteous who have been kept in treasuries with God will be reunited with their resurrection bodies and the world will be judged. In this passage the souls of the righteous dead are kept by God in some way – in this intermediate state – awaiting the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead.

Let me read from 4 Ezra 7:26-44.

For behold, the time will come, when the signs which I have foretold to you will come to pass, that the city which now is not seen shall appear, and the land which now is hidden shall be disclosed. And every one who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders. For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left. And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, . . . and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them. And the Most High shall be revealed upon the seat of judgment, and compassion shall pass away, and patience shall be withdrawn; but only judgment shall remain, truth shall stand, and faithfulness shall grow strong. And recompense shall follow, and the reward shall be manifested; righteous deeds shall awake, and unrighteous deeds shall not sleep. Then the pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of hell shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight. . . . Then the Most High will say to the nations that have been raised from the dead, ‘Look now, and understand whom you have denied, whom you have not served, whose commandments you have despised! . . . Look on this side and on that; here are delight and rest, and there are fire and torments!’ Thus he will speak to them on the day of judgment – . . . a day that has no sun or moon or stars, . . . or cloud or thunder or lightning or wind or water or air, or darkness or evening or morning, . . . or summer or spring or heat or winter or frost or cold or hail or rain or dew, . . . or noon or night, or dawn or shining or brightness or light, but only the splendor of the glory of the Most High, by which all shall see what has been determined for them.”[6]

Here in this passage is again described the Judgment Day and the resurrection of the dead – the bodies that are sleeping in the tombs in the ground – shall be raised. But notice that the souls have been committed to chambers, like these treasuries, where they are kept by God until the day of the resurrection. Then they shall be united with the resurrection bodies and shall go into paradise.

Finally, 1 Enoch 22:1-5:

Then I went to another place, and he showed me on the west side a great and high mountain of hard rock and inside it four beautiful corners; it had in it a deep, wide, and smooth thing which was rolling over; and it the place was deep, and dark to look at. At that moment, Rufael, one of the holy angels, who was with me, responded to me; and he said to me, “These beautiful corners are here in order that the spirits of the souls . . . of the children of the people should gather here. They prepared these places in order to put them, that is the souls of the people, there until the day of their judgment and the appointed time of the great judgment upon them.” I saw the spirits of the children of the people who were dead, and their voices were reaching unto heaven until this very moment.

Here again Enoch sees the souls and the spirits of the departed righteous dead who have been kept by God in special places prepared for them until the resurrection.

Again, I want to emphasize I am not quoting this as Scripture. This is simply literary evidence from the time prior to the New Testament that shows that the prevailing view among Jews at this time was dualism. When the body dies, the soul goes to be with the Lord where it is kept or preserved in some way until the resurrection of the body at the end of the world.

Finally, when we get to the New Testament, it is indisputable that the language of the New Testament is dualistic throughout. You constantly have the dualism between soul and body, or spirit and body. No one denies that the language of the New Testament is dualistic. The only question is: is this to be taken literally, this dualistic language? Here I think the answer is that this is meant to be taken literally especially when it concerns the intermediate state of the soul after death. When you have the intermediate state of the dead in Christ described, it is very evident that these persons are still existent, that they are in communion with Christ, and are awaiting the resurrection. In other words, it is exactly the traditional Jewish view that we have attested in the intertestamental Jewish literature. The only difference is that the souls of the righteous dead are said to be with Christ, not kept in treasuries or chambers or sockets, but rather they have gone to be with Christ. So there is a Christian spin on it, but it is the traditional Jewish dualistic view.

Let me just give you some examples of this in the New Testament.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 is one such passage. We’ve looked at this before, but let’s just quickly look at it again.

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heavenly, inasmuch as we having put it on shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan being burdened because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be further clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge.[7]

Therefore, being always of good courage and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we have as our ambition whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body according to what he has done whether good or bad.

Here, as I say, Paul contrasts using the metaphor of the earthly body which will be struck down and the heavenly building which is the resurrection body that we shall someday receive. This state of nakedness that he finds unpleasant is the state of disembodied existence – as the soul is disembodied, the body dies and is stripped away, and the soul has to pass through this period of nakedness. Paul says, I would rather not go through this period of nakedness as a disembodied soul; I would want to be further clothed. The Greek verb here has the idea of pulling on top clothing like a sweater over your shirt. He wants to live until the return of Christ so that he will immediately receive his resurrection body as described in 1 Corinthians 15 without the necessity of going through the state of nakedness first. Nevertheless he sounds a note of courage and says, We still are of good courage because at least we know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Therefore, we need not fear this state of nakedness. We go to be with Christ. So I think that clearly shows that when a Christian dies the lights don't go out. We don't cease to exist. Rather, we go to be with the Lord.

Let me read another passage that I think is relevant to this and underlines it. This is Philippians 1:21-24. Here Paul is contemplating his impending martyrdom. He may be executed. He is in jail. He doesn't know whether he is going to live or die, and he thinks about this possibility of impending martyrdom. He says,

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.

Here Paul contemplates death and he says, If I had my way, I'd really rather die because I'd rather go and be with Christ, and that is far better. But on the other hand, I know I need to remain on in the flesh, in the body, because I've got this ministry to carry out. For your sake, I need to be here. Therefore, in that sense, I need to continue on. But clearly for Paul he is not extinguished when he dies. He doesn't think that is the end. Not at all. Rather, when he dies that is to come into closer fellowship with Christ – to go to be with Christ in a conscious blissful communion which is far better, he says, than this life.

So, again, I think this indicates that in the context of the intermediate state we have to take this language of body and soul literally – that this is not just some sort of a metaphor or literary device or way of speaking, but it is literal that we are composed of body and soul and when the body dies we continue to exist as a disembodied soul.

There are other passages in the New Testament pertinent to this that we will look at next time but I think these two alone give a strong indication of that.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: He asks if Paul's theology here is in a sense an extension of intertestamental Jewish beliefs?[8] I would say yes. Paul, remember, was a Pharisee. He was a Jewish Pharisee. Paul's doctrine of the intermediate state is identical to Pharisaic Judaism and what they believed. The only difference is that Paul sees the resurrection occurring in two stages as it were. Christ, the first fruits, now risen from the dead; and then the rest of us later on at the general resurrection of the dead. When one dies, one goes to be with Christ. So it is a Christian, as it were, extension of common Jewish beliefs about the afterlife.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Are you speaking of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament?

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Whether you think that the books like 1 and 2 Maccabees and other books belong in the canon of the Old Testament (as the Catholic Church does) or whether you think that the canon doesn't include those books (as Protestant churches do), nobody recognizes these pseudepigrapha scriptures. The Catholic Church doesn't recognize 2 Baruch and 1 Enoch. So when I speak of intertestamental literature (if you don't like that term, just think of it as per-Christian Jewish non-canonical literature) we would all agree, I think, on that terminology.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This isn't apocryphal. It is pseudepigraphal.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This isn't the apocrypha. The pseudepigrapha are not the same as the apocrypha which are included in the Catholic Old Testament.


I am going to cut if off there in view of the time. Next time what we will do is we will look at some more New Testament data pertinent to dualism, and then we will look at some arguments for and against dualism as it rages in the contemporary debate.[9]


[1] 5:09

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:00

[4] 20:12

[5] 25:03

[6] 30:40

[7] 35:23

[8] 40:01

[9] Total Running Time: 42:33 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)