What makes us Human? Part 2.

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Part 2. Soul Body Union. The Argument Continues.

Opinion Piece

Indeed, this is why the gospel was proclaimed even to those who have died, so that they could be judged in the realm of the flesh like all humans and live in the realm of the spirit like God.

(I Peter 4:6 [ISV])

I think it safe to say that the belief that humans are constituted of both body and soul (bipartite), has been widely accepted in the Christian community1 a discussion of bipartite or tripartite is beyond the scope of this post. However the nature, composition and the interrelationship of these “components”, has produced differences of opinion, discussion and confusion among both, Christian scholars and laity. The question of the unity of body and soul is still being debated after many centuries. An idea of the complexity of the debate is given by John W. Cooper: “[t]here are five theories of body and soul that we must evaluate in the light of Scripture, philosophy, and science: Augustinian substance dualism, Thomist soul-matter dualism, emergentism, non-reductive physicalism, and material constitutionism.”2 Cooper. John W. The Current Body-Soul Debate: A Case for Dualistic Holism
SBJT (The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology) 13.2 (2009): p.34 available at https://sbts-wordpress-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/equip/uploads/2015/10/SBJT-13.2-Summer-09.pdf
This post will look at the way the ancient church looked to resolve the question.

Many scholars agree that the early church understood biblical anthropology by “the early Christian exegesis of the account(s) of the creation in Gen 1:26f.4 on the one hand and Gen 2:75 on the other hand. 3While Gen 1:26f. indicates the creation of man in the image of God (κατ’ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ’ ὁμοίωσιν), Gen 2:7 talks about man being made from the dust of the earth (χοῦν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς). Ulrich. Jörg, The Peculiar Merit of the Human Body: Combined Exegesis of Gen 1:26f. and Gen 2:7 in Second Century Christianity (p. 2) © Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2021 |doi:10.30965/9783657703395_002 It is suggested that some of the early church fathers integrated the reading of the two texts as one event and were propense to the idea of an association or even a unity between body and soul. Therefore they understood, the person as the resultant of body and soul, as an integral unit and not of that of two entities. In other terms, a human being is seen as one entity, composed of two distinct irreducible constituents.

The combination of Gen 1:26f. and Gen 2:7 supports an anthropology of a substantial corporeal body as an integral part of humanity, implied in the intention of the Creator. By combining the soul and body as one entity, it contradicts “tendencies to separate Gen 1:26f. and Gen 2:7 and to interpret Gen 1:26f. as referring to the creation of the soul and Gen 2:7 as referring to the creation of the body”4ibid favouring a concept of bodily resurrection .

Separation occurs only because of sin and death and the disembodied soul continues in an “intermediate” state between death and a future resurrection. “This separation is possible only for God, and it is a mysterious event which defies comprehension: “and it is amazing how [the soul] can come to exist outside [the body] in which it received being.” (Gousmett 2008)5 [John Climacus. The ladder of divine ascent 26. Classics of Western Spirituality, p. 243] J Chryssavgis. Ascent to Heaven, p. 43. cited in Gousmett, Christopher John. Shall the Body Strive and Not be Crowned? Unitary and instrumentalist anthropological models as keys to interpreting the structure of Patristic eschatology. © 1993, 2008 Christopher John Gousmett.  p. 22 Available at https://earlychurch.org.uk/book_gousmett.phpThis view is what enabled them to argue that a man’s “terminus” is to become immortally resurrected bodily beings on the new earth. I think the general consensus amongst believing Christians is the erroneous concept that our final destination is that of disembodied souls in heaven: a spiritualisation of the
eschatological hope.

The idea that the Patristic writers somehow attempted at a synthesis of Hebraic and ancient Greek concepts on the soul, in order to homogenise an acceptable Christian doctrine seems to me a false dilemma postulated by some historians. A reason for this “homogenisation” may be attributed to the fact that “the translation of the Septuagint is an utterly spectacular moment given its spiritual and cultural consequences. This is so because finding Greek equivalents for Hebrew terms was more than mere translation. It marked the meeting of two semantic ‘charges’ coming from different historical experiences” (Chiţoiu 2008).6 The Septuagint simply opened perspectives for understanding which the Hebrew text did not allow. Such a case is the equation of dabar with logos. The Hebrew word dabar (whose root means ‘that which stands behind’) when it is translated by ‘word’ it means ‘sound with meaning’ but it can also mean ‘thing’. Yet, a human being’s dabar is considered an extension of his or her personality, which possesses its own substantial existence. Chiţoiu. Dan, THE DOCTRINE ON LOGOS BETWEEN HERACLITUS AND THE PATRISTIC HORIZON THE RATIONALITY OF THE WORLD FROM THE HARMONY OF CONTRARIES TO INDEFINITE VIRTUALITY European Journal of Science and Theology, December 2008, Vol.4, No.4, 41-58 Available at http://www.ejst.tuiasi.ro/Files/16/41-58Chitoiu.pdfPresupposing they held a view of a dichotomy between body and soul is erroneous. Undoubtedly this may be true of some, but it can be demonstrated that the majority held to a “unified” view.

Justin Martyr writes “For what is man but the reasonable animal composed of body and soul? Is the soul by itself man? No; but the soul of man. Would the body be called man? No, but it is called the body of man. If, then, neither of these is by itself man, but that which is made up of the two together is called man, and God has called man to life and resurrection, He has called not a part, but the whole, which is the soul and the body.7Justin Martyr. Fragments of the lost work of Justin on the Resurrection, 2. ANF 1, pp. 297-298 available at https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01/anf01.viii.viii.viii.html The authenticity of De resurrectione is being disputed and hence the authorship that has historically been attributed to Justin Martyr. Concluding that Justin Martyr held a unitary model of anthropology, his eschatological expectation becomes one that the destruction of the unity of body and soul at death, would be restored through the resurrection (a both-and, instead of either-or).

An excursus to set the context sees Josephus write of the differences in the views held by the Jews in the second temple period:

“The Jews had, for a great while, had three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves. The sect of the Essens; and the sect of the Sadducees; and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees.”8Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (n.d.). The antiquities of the Jews. XVIII.1.2 London: Ward, Lock, & Co. available at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-18.html

Josephus

He describes the Pharisees as teaching both bodily resurrection and an intermediate state. “They also believe that souls have an immortal vigour in them: and that under the earth there will be rewards, or punishments; according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life: and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison; but that the former shall have power to revive and live again.”9ibid XVIII.1.3 This indicates a belief that disembodied souls or spirits survive after death and an expectation that a bodily resurrection will occur at some future time.

Josephus recounts: “But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this; that souls die with the bodies.”10ibid XVIII.1.4 The implication is that the death of bodily life does not envision future resurrection. Sheol or Hades is the final destination of all. He also chronicles: “The doctrine of the Essens is this; that all things are best ascribed to God. They teach the immortality of souls: and esteem that the rewards of righteousness are to be earnestly striven for.”11ibid XVIII.1.5which seems identical to that of the Pharisees.

We see from Josephus that some Jewish thinkers (Pharisaic and Essene) have argued that the soul was created immortal. There is nothing in Scripture which declares that a part of humans is exempt from death and dissolution. The fact that a conscious part of humans survives beyond physical death is more surprising than something to be expected. We wouldn’t expect an engine to run if it had parts missing. The Scriptures say “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ezekiel 18:4 KJV) and “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 KJV). The conclusion here is that the soul is not immortal.

Theophilus writes “But some one will say to us, Was man made by nature mortal? Certainly not. Was he, then, immortal? Neither do we affirm this. But one will say, Was he, then, nothing? Not even this hits the mark. He was by nature neither mortal nor immortal. For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. Again, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself.” Theophilus. 12 Theophilus to Autolycus 2:27 ANF 2, p105 available at https://ccel.org/ccel/theophilus/autolycus_ii/anf02.iv.ii.ii.xxvii.html Immortality is given to it contingent upon conditions. Consider John 3:1-7, specifically verses 5 and 6 ([5] Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6 [ASV]). The fact that there is described a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden in the Genesis account and access to it is granted contingent upon not eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, suggests that the continuation of life is guaranteed under certain restrictions. Otherwise we see man being exiled from the garden where the Tree of Life is located who can no longer partake of it.Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, rejected the doctrine of the inherent immortality of the soul (which he attributed to Origen as having introduced into the church) which saw almost universal acceptance.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

(II Corinthians 13:14 [ASV])

Featured Image: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Footnotes

  • 1
    a discussion of bipartite or tripartite is beyond the scope of this post
  • 2
    Cooper. John W. The Current Body-Soul Debate: A Case for Dualistic Holism
    SBJT (The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology) 13.2 (2009): p.34 available at https://sbts-wordpress-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/equip/uploads/2015/10/SBJT-13.2-Summer-09.pdf
  • 3
    While Gen 1:26f. indicates the creation of man in the image of God (κατ’ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ’ ὁμοίωσιν), Gen 2:7 talks about man being made from the dust of the earth (χοῦν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς). Ulrich. Jörg, The Peculiar Merit of the Human Body: Combined Exegesis of Gen 1:26f. and Gen 2:7 in Second Century Christianity (p. 2) © Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2021 |doi:10.30965/9783657703395_002
  • 4
    ibid
  • 5
    [John Climacus. The ladder of divine ascent 26. Classics of Western Spirituality, p. 243] J Chryssavgis. Ascent to Heaven, p. 43. cited in Gousmett, Christopher John. Shall the Body Strive and Not be Crowned? Unitary and instrumentalist anthropological models as keys to interpreting the structure of Patristic eschatology. © 1993, 2008 Christopher John Gousmett.  p. 22 Available at https://earlychurch.org.uk/book_gousmett.php
  • 6
    The Septuagint simply opened perspectives for understanding which the Hebrew text did not allow. Such a case is the equation of dabar with logos. The Hebrew word dabar (whose root means ‘that which stands behind’) when it is translated by ‘word’ it means ‘sound with meaning’ but it can also mean ‘thing’. Yet, a human being’s dabar is considered an extension of his or her personality, which possesses its own substantial existence. Chiţoiu. Dan, THE DOCTRINE ON LOGOS BETWEEN HERACLITUS AND THE PATRISTIC HORIZON THE RATIONALITY OF THE WORLD FROM THE HARMONY OF CONTRARIES TO INDEFINITE VIRTUALITY European Journal of Science and Theology, December 2008, Vol.4, No.4, 41-58 Available at http://www.ejst.tuiasi.ro/Files/16/41-58Chitoiu.pdf
  • 7
    Justin Martyr. Fragments of the lost work of Justin on the Resurrection, 2. ANF 1, pp. 297-298 available at https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01/anf01.viii.viii.viii.html The authenticity of De resurrectione is being disputed and hence the authorship that has historically been attributed to Justin Martyr.
  • 8
    Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (n.d.). The antiquities of the Jews. XVIII.1.2 London: Ward, Lock, & Co. available at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-18.html
  • 9
    ibid XVIII.1.3
  • 10
    ibid XVIII.1.4
  • 11
    ibid XVIII.1.5
  • 12
    Theophilus to Autolycus 2:27 ANF 2, p105 available at https://ccel.org/ccel/theophilus/autolycus_ii/anf02.iv.ii.ii.xxvii.html Immortality is given to it contingent upon conditions. Consider John 3:1-7, specifically verses 5 and 6 ([5] Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6 [ASV]). The fact that there is described a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden in the Genesis account and access to it is granted contingent upon not eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, suggests that the continuation of life is guaranteed under certain restrictions. Otherwise we see man being exiled from the garden where the Tree of Life is located who can no longer partake of it.

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