Doctrine of Man (Part 6)

October 21, 2013     Time: 00:17:03

Last time we began our evaluation of theological anthropology and I suggested that the Bible supports and we ought to affirm dualism-interactionism. I suggested it although in the Old Testament you do not have clear distinctions made between soul and body. Nevertheless, the idea is still there in the concept of a shade in Sheol. A shade in Sheol is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek idea of a disembodied soul.

During the intertestamental period dualism became the standard Jewish belief. We looked at a couple of passages from the Jewish pseudepigrapha, those intertestamental books that are not in the canon and were written under false names. We looked at a passage from 2 Baruch 30 and also from 4 Ezra 7 which indicated that when people die their souls are preserved by God in chambers or treasuries where they are kept until the resurrection of the body at the end of the age. Then when God brings about the judgment day the dead will be raised, the souls will be united with their bodies, and they will be judged by God.

Just one more verse from the Jewish pseudepigrapha to indicate this – this is from the book of 1 Enoch 22:1-5. He writes,

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.

So the view of anthropological dualism is abundantly attested in the Jewish intertestamental literature. The standard view came to be that when a person dies his body (or his bones in particular) rest in the ground until the Day of Judgment and his soul goes to be with God where it is kept until the judgment day and then soul and body will be reunited and the person will be judged.

When we come to the New Testament, the language of the New Testament is indisputably dualistic throughout. It is consistently talking about the soul and the body. That this is meant to be literal rather than just figurative or metaphorical language I think is clearest when you consider the intermediate state between death and resurrection. Take a look, for example, at 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. Paul says,

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.

I think you can recognize here that Paul is expounding the typical Jewish belief about the intermediate state in anticipation of the resurrection.[1] The earthly tent that we live in is this frail, mortal body that is easily struck down. The building from God eternal in the heavens will be the resurrection body which is incorruptible and immortal and powerful. Paul says that we groan while we are in this earthly body; not that we would be unclothed, that is to say, not that the body would be stripped away and we would be in this state of nakedness where he is referring to the state of being a disembodied soul in that intermediate condition waiting for the resurrection of the body. He says it is not that we want to be unclothed – we don’t want to go through this state of nakedness – but he says we want to be further clothed. And the word in the Greek here has the idea of pulling on top clothing, like pulling on a sweater over your shirt, so that you are being clothed on top of the clothing you have. What Paul is thinking of here is receiving the resurrection body without having to go through the state of nakedness, of being disembodied. As we will see later, he believed that for those who are still alive at the return of Christ they will be immediately transformed into their resurrection bodies without the need of passing through the state of nakedness first. So he is expressing here his preference to live until the return of Christ. That is what he really wants so that he doesn’t have to go through this state of disembodiment which is a less then fully human existence. But he nevertheless sounds this note of cheer – he says, still we are of good courage because we know that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. When you are away from the physical body, even as a disembodied soul, nevertheless you are with the Lord. It brings a condition of closer communion to Christ. So he says whether we are in the body or away we try to please him, but his real desire would be, if he had his way, to live until the return of Christ and not have to go through that intermediate state.

It seems to me that this powerfully suggests that soul-body dualism is not just a metaphor or a figure of speech. It is ontological. There really is a soul which survives the death of the body and will be eventually reunited with the body.

Compare in this regard what Paul has to say in Philippians 1:21-23. Here he is contemplating his own possible execution and martyrdom and he says,

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

So for Paul, even though this death of the body would mean this state of disembodiment which is a less than fully desirable state, nevertheless it brings him closer to Christ and therefore is actually better to die and go to be with Christ.

For the doctrine of the resurrection, look at 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. Paul says,

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

What Paul is describing here is the return of Christ bringing with him those who have died – those who have fallen asleep.[2] He brings the souls of the departed dead with him to receive their resurrection bodies. Then Christians who are still alive at that time are immediately transformed into their resurrection bodies. So on Paul’s view, the immortality of the soul does not mean that our ultimate state is to go to some ethereal, disembodied heaven. It is not the platonic idea of the escape from the prison house of the body. Neither is it the annihilation of the soul during this intermediate state. Rather, the soul will go into conscious, blissful communion with Christ to await the day of Christ’s return and resurrection and its reunion with the resurrection body.

In summary of Paul’s view then, when a Christian dies the soul goes to be with Christ until the second coming. When Christ returns the remains of the body, if any, will be transformed to a resurrection body which will be incorruptible, immortal, powerful, and spirit-filled. And the soul will be simultaneously united with that body. Then those who are alive will be similarly transformed to their resurrection bodies. So I think you can see that Paul’s view is essentially the traditional Jewish view with the addition of the Christological focus; namely, it is not going to be simply the judgment day but Christ is the agent who will conduct the judgment on that day. It is at the return of Christ that Christ will then be the judge of the living and the dead. Although he changes the Jewish view slightly by adding this Christological element, he basically affirms the same dualistic view that was traditional in Judaism.

In addition to this, let’s just look at a couple of other New Testament passages that suggest that we are dealing with an ontological dualism of soul and body. Luke 16:19ff – this is Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus said,

There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

Now, it is always dangerous, I grant, to try to draw doctrine out of a parable because a parable is meant to teach a central point and you can’t press the circumstantial details of it for doctrinal precision. But nevertheless it seems clear here that Jesus is assuming this traditional Jewish view – that when a person dies the souls of the evil and the souls of the righteous are separated, that there is a continued conscious existence in that state, and that a person doesn’t simply cease to exist when he is dead and buried.[3] So I think this would also suggest a dualism of soul and body.

1 Peter 3:18-20, Peter says,

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey.

Here, Peter is talking about the state between Christ’s death and burial and his resurrection on Sunday morning, and he says that even though he was dead in the flesh he was alive in the spirit and he went and preached to the spirits in prison. These would be these evil dead who are in Hades. Not only are they alive in this intermediate state but Christ himself exists in this intermediate state. One again, the assumption, I think, is that this is a real state – this state of the disembodied dead before the resurrection – and therefore is not simply a metaphor.

Next time I want to look at a couple more passages in the New Testament that suggest that we are dealing here with serious ontology with respect to human persons. Then we will turn to the question of the origin of the soul and how we best should understand its interaction with the body.[4]

[1] 5:47

[2] 10:42

[3] 15:04

[4] Total Running Time: 17:04 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)