Doctrine of Man (Part 5)

October 14, 2013     Time: 00:24:13

In our lesson, we have been looking at the biblical doctrine of man and specifically at Paul’s anthropological terms. We looked at the word soma and saw that that refers to the “body” or the physical side of human being. We looked at the word sarx which, although it has a theological use, can also be used in a theologically neutral sense to mean “flesh” – the organic stuff out of which animal bodies are made. Then, finally, the word psuche which is the Greek word for “soul.” We get our word psychic from this Greek term psuche.

Paul, in his letters of the New Testament, doesn’t teach a consistent dualism of soma (body) and psuche – body-soul dualism. He will often use other words as well for that immaterial part of man like the Greek word pneuma – which is the word for “spirit.” We get our word “pneumatic” as in a pneumatic drill from this Greek word pneuma. So Paul doesn’t always speak of soul and body. Sometimes he will use the word pneuma or spirit to indicate the immaterial part of man. Look, for example, at 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here Paul uses all three of these terms – the soma, the psuche, and the pneuma (the spirit).

But the Bible does teach a duality of this immaterial part of man in addition to the physical part of man. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:16 into chapter 5:10, he says,

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.

Here Paul speaks of our outer nature, the body; he uses the metaphor of a tent which connotes frailty and a transitoriness – a tent is not a permanent dwelling, it is going to be struck down.[1] This represents our earthly body. He speaks then of the resurrection body that we shall receive as a house not made with hands. The contrast between the transitory frail tent and this substantial building from God shows the immortality and the incorruptibility of the resurrection body in contrast to this earthly body in which we live. In between our death and our eventual resurrection comes this intermediate state where we are without a body. Paul talks about being away from the body and at home with the Lord. He speaks of this state as a state of nakedness. It is the soul existing without its body. Paul says that it is not that we want to be in that kind of a state; he says what we’d really prefer would be to not be unclothed (that is to say, have the body stripped away from the soul and left naked) we would rather be further clothed. The verb here has the idea of pulling on top clothing, like pulling on a sweater over your shirt. Paul is saying we’d rather live until the return of Christ so that we receive our resurrection bodies immediately without having to go through this intermediate state of nakedness existing as a disembodied soul. But, whether we do go to be with the Lord by dying and so going into that intermediate state or not, he says we are of good cheer because to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord and that is better.

So here I think you can see the importance of this body-soul dualism in Christian theology. As I said a couple of weeks ago, the materialist who denies that there is any soul distinct from the body has to think that when a person dies that person is extinguished. He literally ceases to exist and there is no intermediate state of the dead as the souls await the resurrection because there are no such things as souls. And it seems to me that that is very difficult to reconcile with the teaching of a passage like this which I think clearly contemplates the existence of the soul in a disembodied condition.

So whether we refer to the immaterial part of man as soul or spirit is of secondary importance. What is important is that we are not in the biblical view, in Paul’s view, simply material entities. Rather, we have an immaterial component called the soul or spirit which will continue to exist after the death of the physical body until its reunion with the resurrection body at the return of Christ.


Question: Do you think it is possible to reconcile a view like non-reductive physicalism with the existence of a soul after the body? Could God somehow preserve that in the absence of the material body and then reinstate it later?

Answer: OK, the question was could we have a view of the relation between soul and body which would be a non-reductive physicalism? That is to say, a view which would not say that the mind is the brain or is the body but it is somehow contingent upon or emerges from the brain. It seems to me that such a view can’t make sense of a passage like the one I just read from 2 Corinthians which suggests that the soul can continue to exist in the absence of the physical body and brain. So the mind is not just a supervenient reality; that is to say, a reality that depends upon its material base for its existence. If you say, well, no my non-reductive physicalism doesn’t say that this base is essential to the existence of the soul then I guess I don’t understand the difference between that and dualism. That just seems to me to say that the soul is something distinct from the body and therefore can exist without it.[2]

Attempts to Systematize Data

Trichotomous Nature

Let me proceed then to talk about different attempts to systematize this. One attempt is to interpret human persons as trichotomous in nature. That is to say that human beings have three parts that make them up: the body, first of all, and then secondly the soul, and then the spirit. So there are really three parts to the human person, a trichotomy. This is the view of human beings that was adopted by the early Greek church fathers and represents the heritage of Platonism. On Platonic doctrine the soul is that which animates the body and makes the body alive and animals have souls as well as human beings. But the spirit is a higher faculty than that and is distinct from the soul. The Greek church fathers adopted such a trichotomous view.

Dichotomous Nature

By contrast, the dichotomous view holds to dualism of the body and soul or spirit – whatever you want to call it, it is that immaterial aspect of man so that we are made up of two parts – the material aspect and the immaterial aspect. This is the view that was adopted by the Latin Western theologians. Those church fathers that lived in the Latin speaking realms of the Roman Empire tended to be dichotomous where as those who were in the Eastern Greek speaking part of the empire were trichotomous.

Unitary Nature

Now, today, many theologians would want to have a sort of unitary view or what we might call anthropological monism. That is to say, human beings are just made up of one thing – a unitary nature – and there is no dualism whatsoever in human beings. We are just physical bodies – you are your body. You are identical to your body and there is no immaterial aspect to your being. These thinkers will often ridicule dualists as believing in a “ghost in the machine” to quote the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle.[3] Our bodies are like a machine supposedly inhabited by this ghost – the soul – which moves it about and animates it and Ryle rejected that kind of dualistic view as absurd. Similarly, in theology, after the First World War, many theologians tried to play off the doctrine of the resurrection against dualistic views of human nature. They would often insist that the Bible does not teach the immortality of the soul but it teaches rather the resurrection of the body. And to believe in the immortality of the soul is to reject the Jewish view of immortality which is resurrection of the body – the physical body – in favor of a Greek view of immortality in which the body is sloughed off, the body is regarded as evil, the material is regarded as less worthy and the soul then would be freed from the prison house of the body and will fly away to heavenly realms. These theologians said that this Greek view of the soul and body which depreciates the body in favor of the soul is fundamentally un-Jewish. The Jewish view is the resurrection of the physical body and therefore we should reject dualistic views in favor of some kind of anthropological monism that we just are our bodies and that these will be raised from the dead.

I mentioned before the influence of existentialism upon theology in this regard.[4] German theologians like Rudolf Bultmann who had absorbed the influence of German existentialism identified the body with the “I” or the “self” of a person and said, therefore, on that view the resurrection of the body really doesn’t even entail the resurrection of the physical body. So the materialists and the existentialists are kind of taking different views of exactly what human beings are.

It seems to me that this is an illegitimate attempt to play off the doctrine of the resurrection against a dualistic view of human nature. In fact, as we will see in a few moments, the typical Jewish view affirmed both of these – namely, both the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul. But I am getting ahead of myself.



We’ve got then three alternatives to contrast – trichotomous, dichotomous, and this unitary or monistic view of human beings. Which of these represents the most biblical view? I would argue that a form of dualism-interactionism best represents the biblical view. By that I mean that the human being is made up of two components (a body and a soul or spirit) and that these interact with each other in order for that human being to function as a human person – in order to think in this life. If you look in the Old Testament for example, although you do not have clear distinctions drawn there between the soul and the body as we saw, nevertheless the Hebrew idea of Sheol seems to be the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek idea of a disembodied soul. The people who go down to Sheol are regarded as wraiths, as having a kind of shadowy existence in the underworld in these nether realms of the dead. It is not that they are just extinguished, but they seem to be the sort of equivalent of what the Greeks would regard as a disembodied soul – not really fully human in a proper way but nevertheless still existing.

During the intertestamental period, dualism became the standard Jewish belief. If I could have my Jewish pseudepigrapha, I would like to read a couple of passages from some of this very interesting intertestamental literature on this topic. For example, in the book of 2 Baruch 30:1-5 we read as follows:

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.

In 2 Baruch, the author envisions the souls of the righteous dead as kept by God in treasuries – some sort of treasure box – and when the day of the resurrection comes, the bodies will be raised then the souls of these righteous dead will be taken from these treasuries and united with their bodies and they will go into the immortal state.[5]

Similarly, in the book of 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. . . . For it will last for about a week of years. . . . This is my judgment and its prescribed order; and to you alone have I shown these things.”

So here the prophet is given a vision of the resurrection of the dead and in it again we find the same thing that we saw in Baruch: the earth gives up those who are sleeping in it – the bodies of the dead are raised – and then these chambers in which the souls of the dead are preserved are opened, and these souls are reunited with the body. So this is the sort of Jewish view of the resurrection that we have expressed here.

Next time, I will look at a third piece of Jewish intertestamental literature, the book of 1 Enoch, and look at the view of the resurrection there. I think we’ll find the same thing in all of these. The standard Jewish view is a dualistic view – the souls of the righteous dead are preserved by God until the resurrection on the judgment day when they are reunited with the bodies and the persons then go into everlasting delight or into everlasting torment.[6]


[1] 5:08

[2] 10:17

[3] “Such in outline is the official theory [dualism]. I shall often speak of it, with deliberate abusiveness, as ‘the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine.’ I hope to prove that it is entirely false, and false not in detail but in principle.” Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind, (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 5.

[4] 14:55

[5] 20:00

[6] Total Running Time: 24:13 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)